Every fall, lake-run rainbow trout, known more familiarly as steelhead, make their way from Lake Erie up into the tributaries. Rivers like the Vermilion, Rocky, Chagrin, Grand and Conneaut are all stuffed with steelhead trout as they come up to spawn.
Each spring the Ohio Department of Natural Resources stocks hundreds of thousands of 6-to-9 inch steelhead in these tributaries. After two summers in the lake, they can grow up to as much as 25 inches and 7 pounds.
If you haven’t been out this year to fish for these, you haven’t missed much as the bite really just started to pick up within the last few days.
The hot and dry fall we had not only toyed with the seasons but really moved back the upstream push of fish.
In Ohio and Pennsylvania, along Lake Erie, we have what are called spate rivers. These rivers are fed by rainfall. Their water level and temperatures are dictated completely by rain and temperature.
When it’s a wetter season than usual, we have high muddy water, which can make for tough wading and fishing.
When it’s a dry season, like this fall, there’s no water in the rivers for the fish to get upstream. So, essentially they’re stuck at the mouth of the rivers until we get rain.
But, finally, this week the rain dances worked as a good push of fish came upstream throughout the Lake Erie tributaries. I had the opportunity to get out and target some of these lake-run fish ... to some success, too.
Personally, I prefer fly fishing for these fish, but there are many methods to successfully catch steelhead. But as someone who ties their own flies while practicing catch and release, I find many joys in fly fishing and simply just being outside to enjoy Mother Nature whether I catch fish or not.
Fishing an emerald shiner (a common baitfish in Lake Erie) imitation fly, the steelhead have been more than willing to chase these patterns. Steelhead spend a majority of their lives in Lake Erie. Fresh into the rivers out of the lake, baitfish imitations and live baitfish have been the early season ticket based on experience and anglers I’ve spoken with.
As the season progresses, the fish begin to think about spawning and can be picky about what they are eating. Remember, these fish are in the rivers to spawn and reproduce. Their behaviors and habitat is much different than most fish people target.
This week, I caught my first steelhead of the year, which is always a special feeling.
What adds to the emotions of steelhead fishing is not knowing where that fish came from. We know walleye, bass and other gamefish live in a certain section of a lake or river. Steelhead can live tens of miles offshore, even in Canadian waters off Lake Erie’s shoreline.
Not knowing the journey the fish has endured to make it’s way back into the rivers adds to their mystique and mystery.
If you haven’t been out yet, now is the time. There are plenty of fish to go around.
Contact Brad Zahar at firstname.lastname@example.org.