Anglers looking to hook some steelhead know The Bend as one of the best places in the Midwest to visit during winter.
St. Joe River Steelhead Run
Similar to salmon in the fall, steelhead make the journey up the St. Joseph River to spawn. They begin their journey in Lake Michigan, enter the river at its mouth in St. Joseph, Mich. and work their way upstream. The winter run will actually begin in late fall. It lasts all winter and then action really picks up in early spring, around March.
Steelhead can travel about 50 miles upstream. Along the way, there are some dams and barriers where steelhead stack up as they make their way through fish ladders. These become hot spots for anglers (more on this later). Twin Branch Dam in Mishawaka is their stopping point.
"That is the end of the road for steelhead on their journey to spawn," says Aaron Podgorski, a well-known fishing content creator based in the Midwest. "They can go no further than that because there is no fish ladder at Twin Branch Dam."
Along with the St. Joseph River, steelhead will also make their way into tributaries. Among the most notable is the Dowagiac River, which connects to the St. Joe in Niles, Mich., about 20 minutes from downtown South Bend.
Steelhead Fishing Hot Spots
Now you know the basic mechanics of the winter steelhead run. The next question is straightforward: Where are the best spots to fish?
Anywhere there is an obstacle the fish have to work their way through is a good place to start. Steelhead will stack up at Central Park in Mishawaka as they make their way through the well-known fish ladder. Similarly, working the waters below the Twin Branch Dam is a great idea given the fish can't go beyond it.
"The area in front of Twin Branch Dam is a beautiful, wide section of river with a mix of sand and gravel," Podgorski says. "There are also deeper holes in this section of river, making this a great winter home and really the perfect spawning grounds for steelhead in the early spring."
Another spot frequented by anglers during the winter steelhead run is Leeper Park in South Bend, which is just north of downtown.
Book a Winter Fishing Trip
If you're interested in visiting The Bend to chase steelhead, it makes a lot of sense for Mishawaka to be your home away from home. Boat launches at Miami "Monkey" Island and Merrifield Park offer access to the river. You can also fish from the bank.
"Central Park is really the perfect place to go if you have a pair of waders and you want to shore fish," Podgorski says.
If you want to fish near the Twin Branch Dam but don't have a boat, you can get to that area from shore from Zappia Park.
Mishawaka has several hotel options for easy, convenient places to stay during the trip. There are also some great restaurants to visit after the sun goes down: Doc Pierce's Restaurant, Caracas Bistro and Mishawaka Public House were among Podgorski's favorites.
Fishing Licenses & Resources
Fishing around The Bend requires proper licensing before you head out. Get the know-before-you-go details at our fishing information hub, including where to get licenses in either Indiana or Michigan. You can also find a list of the top boat launches and other resources.