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Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing

Lake Erie SteelheadLake Erie is a very under-looked lake for its open water steelhead fishing! It quite possibly could be the best of the Great Lakes for open water Steelhead action! Anglers along the south shore from Vermilion into New York get the first shot at the Steelhead as they migrate from the river back out into the Lake. The school ultimatly ends up on the Canadian Shore just off of Erieu before heading back to the rivers in September. How to Catch Steelhead in Lake Erie

Fishing the open waters of Lake Erie for Steelhead is an exiting way to target this elusive fish. Angler will usually troll spoons and plugs on downriggers, dipsy divers, jet divers and other depth control devices.

The Best River Steelheading In The World “Steelhead Alley”

The world famous Steelhead Alley is positioned along the south shore of Lake Erie from Vermilion Ohio, going through Pennsylvania as far as Buffalo New York. The "CORE" of Steelhead Alley is located in the Eastern part of Ohio, just into New York, driven by the aggressive Pennsylvania Stocking Program.

Michigan Steelhead

Michigan Steelhead Rivers

Although the Michigan tributaries are not considered part of Steelhead Alley, its portion of Lake Erie has a large tributary called the Huron River that has been receiving successful plantings of Little Manistee strain steelhead by the Michigan DNR, averaging about 60,000 since 1998. The Huron River offers anglers a late winter early spring fishery much like the Ohio steelhead tributaries.

Ohio Steelhead Rivers

Ohio's primary steelhead streams are Vermilion, Rocky, Chagrin and Grand Rivers and Conneaut Creek. Several other rivers including the Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Huron and Black rivers, and Arcola, Cowles, Wheeler, French, Euclid, Turkey, Beaver and Cold creeks get runs of stray steelhead. While Ohio Division of Wildlife biologists have noted a small amount of natural reproduction, it varies greatly from year-to-year. It is too low and erratic to support the quality fishery that has been developed and that anglers have come to expect. Good quantities of cold, spring water and adequate juvenile trout habitat are also rare in NE Ohio's Lake Erie tributaries. The fantastic fishing has been maintained by annual stocking and by the practice of most anglers to catch and release.

Steelhead Caught By Young Angler

For the near future, the Rocky, Chagrin and Grand rivers are scheduled to receive 90,000 fish. Conneaut Creek is scheduled to receive 75,000 fish from Ohio and 75,000 fish from the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. The Vermilion River is scheduled to receive 55,000 steelhead. Total targeted annual stocking numbers projected from Ohio hatcheries will remain at 400,000. All steelhead for Ohio's program are raised at the Division of Wildlife's Castalia State Fish Hatchery.

These fish migrate out into Lake Erie and spend the summer in the cooler part of the lake before returning to streams during the fall through the spring. Steelhead trout caught by anglers in the streams typically average 25" long and weigh 5-6 pounds. These fish have usually spent 2-3 summers out in the lake. However, there are a good number of fish that are over 30 inches and weigh more than 10 pounds and have spent up to six summers in the lake.

London Strain Steelhead

Pennsylvania Steelhead Rivers

Pennsylvania SteelheadAll the Pennsylvania streams in this watershed are located in Erie County. The streams can be divided into the Western streams, which are west of the City of Erie, and the Eastern streams, which are east of the City. Except for Conneaut Creek, all the creeks are shale bottomed. As a result, the creeks are not well suited for the natural reproduction of trout, steelhead or other game fish (although there have been reports of some reproduction of steelhead in the creeks). Elk, Walnut and Twenty Mile are the three largest creeks, in that order. These creeks support a good fishery at their mouths. Pennsylvaina stocks the “London” Strain of Steelhead that start moving into the Pennsylvania tributaries in late August and September with November being the peak of the run. The majority of Pennsylvania strain steelhead start spawning in March, after the lake shore and tributaries thaw and the days progressively start to get longer. Spawning activity is over by late April with most steelhead dropping down to the lake by early May. In order to help spread the run out over the course of the year the PFBC starts collecting and fertilizing eggs in the fall continuing into late winter. This results in steelhead of different age maturities for that year class.

Elk Creek Because of the strong fall running nature of the Pennsylvania strain steelhead, the PFBC began stocking the upper part of Conneaut Creek to help Ohio develop a fall steelhead run on the Ohio portion of the tributary (Ohio steelhead runs are primarily late winter/spring run fish). Although the stocking was primarily done to take pressure off some of the high pressured tributaries like Elk and Walnut Creeks in Pennsylvania and encourage steelheaders to fish the upper part of Conneaut Creek in Pennsylvania.

New York Steelhead Rivers

New Yorkers catch more steelhead in Lake Erie feeders than in Lake Ontario spawning streams. State biologists have two explanations. First, stocked Ontario 'bows suffer heavy predation from chinook salmon, which are virtually absent from Lake Erie. Second, experts believe the spawning runs in our part of Erie's "Steelhead Alley" include many fish planted by neighboring Pennsylvania.

New York Steelhead

New York's Lake Erie steelhead fishery is supported by an extensive stocking program and natural reproduction. Current NYS DEC stocking targets are 230,000 Washington strain yearlings that are stocked annually between 9 major tributaries. In recent years, the DEC has also stocked surplus Skamania strain steelhead in Cattaraugus Creek when available. Stocked steelhead typically spend two years in the open lake, feeding on smelt and other forage, before maturing and returning to the tributaries as three year olds. Besides steelhead, brown trout and a small number of domestic rainbow trout are stocked into Lake Erie as yearlings. These stockings supplement and diversify the harbor, main lake and tributary fisheries. In addition to stocking, the steelhead population is further supplemented by natural reproduction in the New York tributaries, most notably Cattaraugus Creek and its feeder streams.

New York Steelhead

The Washington strain is a winter run, anadromous strain of rainbow trout (steelhead) derived from eggs imported from the state of Washington. In Washington, the native stock migrate between the Pacific Ocean, where they do most of their growing, and freshwater mountain streams, where they spawn. Similarly, the naturalized Washington strain steelhead in Lake Erie utilize the lake for the bulk of their feeding/growing and the tributary streams for spawning. Mature Washington strain steelhead enter the Erie tributaries as early as mid-September; however the bulk of the run occurs from mid-October through April.

The Skamania strain also originates from the state of Washington. This anadromous strain is considered a summer-run fish as they have the potential to enter streams earlier than Washington strain fish. The DEC has stocked Skamania steelhead in Cattaraugus Creek since 2005 with the hopes of boosting the early runs by having fish enter the creek in late August through September. A portion of stocked Skamania steelhead have a double fin clip: adipose fin and left pectoral fin.

How to catch steelhead

How To Catch Steelhead

Catching SteelheadTypical set-ups are long (9 - 15'), limber, center pin, spinning or fly rods with light line (4-8 lb. test). Common lures in the fall, early winter, and again in the spring include small (1/16 to 1/80 oz.) marabou or synthetic hair jigs tipped with maggots rigged with split shot under a light pencil-thin bobber. Spoons (Little Cleo, KO Wobblers) and spinners (Rooster Tails, Vibrax, etc.) are commonly used on piers, beaches and lower stream reaches. Flyfishers (using 6-9 wt. rods and weight-forward lines) prefer larger, weighted fly patterns, such as nymphs and streamers like woolly buggers, princes, egg-sucking leeches, stonefly and shiner patterns and clouser minnows. Egg fly patterns (single or cluster, sucker spawn, etc.) work well as a single fly or in tandem with a nymph or streamer once the fish move upstream. Salmon or trout eggs are fished as either individual eggs or grouped together in mesh "spawn bags" about the size of a dime or nickel. Eggs can be bounced along the bottom with the current or fished at or near the bottom suspended under a bobber. The fish will be oriented to cover or moderate to deep water pools in the fall, and move into cuts or gravel runs as they make their way upstream for spawning. As stream temperatures warm during the spring, expect fish to be more likely to chase lures or bait and to be found in riffles and runs. Then in mid April - mid May, they move back downstream and into Lake Erie for the summer.

Water temperature

Steelhead Water TemptertureWater temperature of 50 to 55 degrees is ideal because the fish are extremely spunky and aggressive. This is when they will chase lures, such as spinners and spoons. When the water temperature falls below 49 degrees, the fish become sluggish and require a perfect presentation drifted right past them to generate a strike.

Fish begin running the streams in late September or October, when the lake temperature falls to 55 degrees. They return to the lake in April when the stream temperature rises above 55 degrees. Veteran steelheaders carry a thermometer to take a water temperature reading before fishing.

Water level, color

Another important variable to assess is the water level and color. When the streams are low and clear, smaller is better. A single egg is the most popular bait at such times. Many steelheaders have begun using a fluorocarbon leader, which is tied on with a double surgeon's knot or to a swivel, during low, clear conditions because fluorocarbon is invisible in water. Black is a better lure color in clear water--white in murky water. When the water is high and colored, the bigger baits (egg sacks, skein, etc.) tend to work best. Also, even in rain, runoff and rising water usher in fresh runs of fish. The action tends to be better when the streams have crested and started to fall. High, muddy water requires a completely different technique. Under these conditions, fish the fast water with a larger hook (sizes 8 to 12) and four large split shot in a line 6 to 8 inches above the bait using a bottom-bouncing technique with light-colored sacks or maggots.

Steelhead Caught

Sky cover

In the bright sunshine accompanying a cloudless sky, highly reflective baits are irresistible to steelhead. Chrome-headed jigs, a recent development, are also very effective under bright conditions.

With significant cloud cover or during rain and snow, stay away from reflective baits and use egg sacks, skein and other natural baits. The key to successful steelhead fishing lies in evaluating the conditions so you select the appropriate presentation to coax a strike. Once you have hooked and landed one of these screaming silver bullets, you are sure to want to do it again and again.

Big Steelhead

Limits 2010

Michigan - The daily bag limit is three fish per person. A 10-inch minimum size limit is in effect during the entire season.

Ohio - The daily bag limit is five fish per person May 16 – August 31 and two fish per person September 1 – May 15. A 12-inch minimum size limit is in effect during the entire season.

Pennsylvania – Bag limit of three from January 1 through April 14 and a minimum size limit of 15-inches. Bag limit of five (combined species), only two (2) of which may be lake trout 8 a.m. April 16 through Sept. 5 and a minimum size limit of 9-inches. Bag limit of three (combined species), only two (2) of which may be lake trout September 6 through April 12, 2012 and a minimum size limit of 15-inches

New York - The daily bag limit is three fish per person. A 12-inch minimum size limit is in effect during the entire season.

Ontario – The daily bag limit is five fish per person with a sportsman’s license and two fish per person with a conservation license. A no minimum size limit is in effect during the entire season.

Safety

Anglers are reminded that fishing conditions on Lake Erie and its tributaries can change hourly and adjustments are often necessary to improve success. Anglers should take into account such factors as water temperature, cloud cover, water clarity, boat traffic, wave action, structure and the amount of baitfish in the area. Anglers are also reminded to carefully monitor Lake Erie weather and to seek safe harbor before storms approach.

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