Spring Steelies by John Nagy

Blue bells and spring steelhead fishing on an Ohio steelhead tributary

Fly fishing the Lake Erie tributary streams in the spring is in a lot of ways a paradox of the winter steelhead season. To begin with, stream temperatures are pushed from the frigid low 30’s into the 40 degree F plus range. This causes sluggish steelhead already in the streams to become more active and aggressive

The combination of rising air temperatures and spring rains (which thaw lakeshore ice and raise nearshore lake temperatures as well as melt inland winter snow cover and stream ice resulting in higher tributary flows and water temperatures) also brings fresh runs of steelhead in from Lake Erie Erie

Steelhead Spawning Behavior 

Steelhead begin moving from their winter locations (deep, slow moving pools and eddies) to shallow, gravel spawning areas fulfilling their strong reproductive urges. This usually occurs in late February and continues through April. Scientists have determined that this spawning behavior is triggered by a combination of two factors: stream temperatures (40 degrees F or above) and increasing "photo periods" or periods of light versus dark.

Locating spawning areas or "spawning beds" can result in some fantastic (and controversial) steelhead fly fishing during this time of the year. This is not only true for spawning steelhead on their beds but also pre-spawn and "spawned-out" fish located nearby and "drop-back" steelies heading back to the lake.

Ideal spawning beds are basically riffles, which have large-size diameter gravel, are 1-4 feet deep, and have darker color bottoms. Next to these areas are usually deeper runs, pockets, or pools which harbor pre-spawn and post spawn fish, as well as fish that have been spooked off their beds.

Actual spawning involves a female steelhead moving into a spawning area and digging out a "redd". She will do this by turning on her side and making powerful upsweeps of her tail in the gravel. The current washes away loose gravel until a saucer shaped hole has formed which will hold her eggs. Males will be attracted by this activity and begin competing for spawning rights, with the largest and most heavily kyped males winning out. They will use their superior power and large kypes (which are grown for this purpose) to drive inferior males from the redd.

 After the female drops her eggs, about 20 % of what she is carrying, the dominant male will fertilize them (sometimes one, or possible two, sub-dominant male will also participate), and the female moves immediately upstream to begin making another redd. The displaced gravel from this redd covers the previously fertilized eggs downstream. The female will continue this process until she is spawned out.

Fly Fishing Strategies

When you are fly fishing a spawning bed there are several things to keep in mind. If you don’t notice any spawning activity on the bed itself, blind fish adjacent deep-holding areas. As previously stated, these areas can hold steelies that are not in a spawning mode.

Fishing on the beds themselves has a simple strategy; fish for the males. They will be easy to distinguish from the females since they appear almost black while the females are bright silver. If you catch the female first, the males will quickly scatter. These aggressive males become very territorial and are not actually feeding, but will chase flies to dominate a redd.

Before fishing, position yourself slightly upstream of a redd and cast your fly so it reaches stream bottom as it drifts through. Mend your line to maintain a dead-drift and keep a tight line so you are able to quickly set the hook. Try to visually follow your fly through the redd so that you target the males and react quickly to their takes.

More often than not you won’t be able to see spawning fish very well on the bed. This is usually the result of spring run-off, which causes high, turbid water, or a spawning bed with a dark bottom. The dead giveaway though is the female as she turns on her side; the tail shakes giving flashes of silver, or gold in muddy water. Wearing polarized sunglasses on bright days is a tremendous help in seeing these flashes. Mentally mark this spot in the stream and fish to areas just downstream where the males will be holding.

Another effective strategy (again positioned upstream of a redd) is to swing a streamer or baitfish pattern across the redd in front of a targeted steelhead (literally just "nipping" but not touching the nose of the fish). This tantalizing presentation can surprisingly invoke some ferocious strikes. Sometimes just "hanging" the fly (not moving) just in front of a spawning steelhead can also trigger a strike.

The above techniques are obviously not intentional snagging methods but precise "fair hook" presentations especially when watching both your fly and the take of a targeted steelhead. Yes, unintentional snagging can occur on the redds but this usually occurs with "sloppy" presentations by inexperienced steelheader's. To decide whether you elect to fish the redds for steelhead at all (some steelheader's have understandably strong objections to this practice) please see ethics discussion below.

Flies and Equipment 

Effective fly patterns for spring steelhead include yellow, white, and black Wooly Buggers, bright egg patterns (glo-balls, sucker spawns, scrambled eggs and blood dots), various streamer patterns like the Lake Erie Emerald Shiner and Clouser Minnow, Wooly Buggers, Spring Wigglers and bead-head nymphs (prince’s, black stoneflies and green caddis larvae).

Fly rods in the 9 to 10 foot range with medium to medium-fast actions are ideal for fishing egg patterns, nymphs as well as wooly buggers and streamers. Longer 10 ½ foot fly rods (custom made from "noodle" spinning blanks) provide superior line and leader control when trying to achieve drag-free drifts. They also allow for big fish playing capabilities on light tippets due to their soft actions and shock absorbing abilities.

A floating fly line, like the Wulff Triangle Taper, works well on the spawning beds particularly when fly casting at a relatively short distance (30 ft. or less). They have the delicacy of a double taper at short distances, which makes line mending rather easy, and at the same time provide the power of a weight forward to turn over split shot and floating indicators. This is due to their unique triangle taper configuration, which concentrates the bulk of the heavy part of the taper (which can interfere with drag-free drifts) away from the butt of the leader.

Leaders should be kept relatively short (9-10 feet) when fishing the beds. This allows for close in casting in relatively shallow water. In adjacent runs and pools (which are deeper) longer leaders up to 12 to 14 feet work better especially when using a floating indicator. Adding a florescent red section of Sunset Amnesia monofilament to the butt section of the leader is a good way to build a strike indicator into your leader especially when you are not using a float.


Fly fishing steelhead spawning beds seems to have its proponents and detractors. In the Pacific Northwest this practice is strongly discouraged on rivers with wild steelhead feeling it is very detrimental to successful spawning. On the other hand Michigan steelheaders seem to have no problem with fishing on the beds even though 50 % of their fish are known to be naturally reproduced.

The American tributaries of Lake Erie produce a small number of naturally reproduced steelhead (the runs are primarily based on hatchery raised steelhead smolts and fingerlings) so fishing the beds does not have much of an impact on future steelhead runs. An exception are some Western NY Lake Erie tributaries (including Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Creeks which have been documented to have as much as 25% naturally reproduced steelhead). On these tributaries it is not recommended to fish the beds in the spring to protect a developing wild steelhead fishery (several feeders to Cattaraugus Creek are actually closed to fishing in the spring in order protect wild steelhead natural reproduction).

The Canadian tributaries of Lake Erie (Ontario Province) are almost entirely based on naturally reproduced steelhead runs with most tributaries closed in the winter and early spring to fishing.

If you do choose to fish spawning beds in the spring (where legal), land and release steelhead quickly, keep fish in water at all times, keep handling to a minimum and be sure not to wade on known spawning gravel.

Many steelheader's who frown on fishing steelhead spawning beds (including rookie steelheader's who lack presentation skill), prefer to target only pre-spawn, post-spawn and drop-back steelhead in order to protect both established and developing wild steelhead fisheries.

More detailed information on spring steelhead fly fishing can be found in John Nagy’s classic book 
“Steelhead Guide, Fly Fishing Techniques and Strategies for Lake Erie Steelhead”.
John Nagy's "Steelheader's Journal" also makes a great companion book to the Steelhead Guide book.


2023 Fall Steelhead Report and News by John Nagy


Steelhead Alley Nymph Assortment
As of  March 12th, 2024 the Lake Erie water temperature (degrees F) off Toledo was 44 degrees, off Cleveland was 38 degrees, off Erie was 40 degrees and off Buffalo was 39 degrees.*

*Please go to the USGS real-time temperature data in the right menu bar for water temperatures for select Lake Erie tributaries.

As the days or “photo-periods” become shorter and the Lake Erie lake shore begins to nudge down to 68 degrees F, in early to mid September, steelhead (including some brown trout) will begin staging along the Lake Erie lake shore and tributary mouths as a “pre-spawn” movement.

Early cool fall rains and tributary run-off (54 degrees F or less) will initiate the first steelhead “runs” of the season into the lower part of Lake Erie's tributary streams. The smaller size tributaries (which cool quicker in late summer/early fall) will result in some of the earliest steelhead action in “steelhead alley” region of OH, PA and NY.

2022 Lake Erie Steelhead Stockings*

2023 steelhead stocking data not available yet*

Lake Erie steelhead (smolt) stocking numbers for 2022 include: PA (1,079,958/58%), OH (470,912/26%), NY (189,835/10%), Michigan (64,670/4%) and ON (43,225/2%)). This total of steelhead stocking for 2022 was slightly above the long-term average. Since 1993, annual stocking numbers have consistently been in the 1.7-2.0 million fish range for the Lake.

The 2022 stocking strains of steelhead by the Lake Erie fishery agencies are 97% “naturalized” Great Lakes strains (with West Coast origin). They are as follows: PA (Lake Erie strain collected from Trout Run nursery waters), NY (Washington Strain collected from Lake Ontario's Salmon River in NY), OH (combination of L. Manistee River strain/Lake Michigan, Ganaraska River strain/Lake Ontario and Chambers Creek strain) and MI (L. Manistee River strain/Lake Michigan). Note: The most recent fin clips for steelhead done by a Lake Erie Fishery Agency were done by MI in 2020 and 2019 (right adipose fin clip). Prior to that 2016 (by NY) was the most recent year.

2022 Lake Erie Brown Trout Stockings*

2023 brown trout stocking data not available yet*

The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (PF&BC) stocked approximately 75,082 yearling and adult brown trout in its Lake Erie waters in 2022 (the only fishery agency stocking brown trout into Lake Erie presently). This is 38% increase form 2021 and 14% below the long term (1990-2021) average annual stocking of 87,412 Brown Trout.

These fish are in support of a put-grow-take brown trout program that was initiated in 2009. This program supports both an inland PF&BC brown trout fishery for tributary spring trout anglers and a Lake Erie lake-run brown trout fishery based in the Lake (with the potential of trophy lake-run brown trout “running” into the lake shore/tributaries on a fall spawning run).


Fly Fishing Cattaraugus Creek, NY for Steelhead by John Nagy


November Cattaraugus Creek hen steelhead that could not resist a Nagy Steelie Rock Worm.

Of all the steelhead tributaries in the Lake Erie watershed, Cattaraugus Creek in western NY is considered by many steelheaders to be the classic steelhead river. 

Located 30 miles south of Buffalo, NY, in the northern part of the famous “steelhead alley” region (a group of about 50 Lake Erie tributaries extending from Buffalo, NY to Vermilion, OH), it provides the ideal features as well as challenges to keep both novice and veteran “chrome chasers” coming back every season.

The future also looks bright for Cattaraugus Creek, with plans in the works for modification of the Springville Dam to allow Lake Erie migratory steelhead to move to new water above the dam where 34 miles of public fishing access is already in place.

The River: A Land of Glaciers, Indians and Natural Wonders

Hundreds of years ago Native American Indians that fished and hunted along the banks of Cattaraugus Creek encountered natural gas oozing from the river mud. Because of this natural phenomenon the Indians named the river “Cattaraugus” which means “foul smelling banks.” These days steelheaders in the Lake Erie region simply refer to it as the “Cat” for short.

More of a river in size than a creek, the Cat averages 100 foot wide and 2-6 foot deep in its lower reaches on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation. High gradient in nature, it travels 68 miles from its headwaters at Java Lake in Arcade, NY to Sunset Bay at the Lake Erie shoreline, dropping a 1000 feet in elevation along the way.

The Cat is a relatively new river geologically speaking. Twelve thousand years ago, the advancing, 1 mile-high, Laurentide Ice Sheet blocked various northerly flowing rivers in Western NY, forming numerous finger lakes. Low spots in several of these finger lakes spilled over onto the Allegheny Plateau and flowed westerly (toward what is now Lake Erie), forming the Cattaraugus Creek watershed. Since that time the erosive force of water has progressively shaped and lowered the Cat forming its high-cliff canyons, gravel-bottom pools and shale-ledged streambeds that we see today.

The fishable steelhead water on the Cat begins at the Springville Dam, in the lower part of the Springville Canyon, and ends 34 miles down river at the lake shore. There is an undeveloped County Park at the dam (the dam blocks all steelhead migration up river) with some fishing opportunities below the dam and a short stretch of water below the Scoby Hill Road bridge (check for posted signs for this lower section).

Below the dam area begins the magnificent Zoar Valley. The upper part of the Zoar is a broad valley with limited public access except for 3.8 miles of New York State Public Fishing Rights (PFR) lands (two separate sections).

New York State PFR's are permanent easements purchased by the State of NY from landowner’s, giving anglers the right of way to fish and walk along the bank (usually a 33’ strip on one or both banks of the stream).

Below the upper valley, the Cat (and its south branch), flow into a wild and remote, 14 mile long, narrow canyon area known local1y as the “gorge”. This geological and natural wonder contains 400 foot high cliffs, bald eagles, numerous waterfalls and the second largest concentration of old growth forest in NY State.

The Zoar Valley gorge is boulder strewn and contains many rapids in higher flows. A few rafting companies run white water trips through it during spring run-off, but at fishable levels it is very difficult to float due to low water between the deeper pools and runs.

Because there is limited streambed gravel areas in the gorge, steelhead seem to push pretty quickly through it (as a general rule steelhead prefer to hold and rest on gravel lined streambeds) although there is nice pocket water and shale ledges for indicating as well as some decent runs and pools for swinging flies.

Half of the canyon is contained in a 3,014 acre, state owned property known as the Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area (ZVMUA) which is open to the public for outdoor recreation use (including NY State PFR fishing access). 1,492 acres of the ZVMUA was named by the State of NY as a state nature preserve or “Unique Area” to protect it for posterity.

Accessing the ZVMUA is very strenuous and difficult and fisherman need to be aware of debris falling from the cliffs when fishing in the canyon floor as well as river water levels which can change quickly. There is roughly 7 miles of fishable water in the ZVMUA canyon section with numerous marked trails in the canyon accessing the river itself.

Around the town of Gowanda, NY no formal public access is in place within city limits. Good fishing opportunities exist above the Aldrich Street bridge and above the route 39 bridge to the ZVMUA (which begins 1 ½ miles above Gowanda). Be aware of some posted private lands below the ZVMUA towards Gowanada city limits.

A quarter mile down below Gowanda begins the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation of the Seneca Nation of Indians (SNI). SNI lands surround 14 miles of the river down to the lake shore (except for Versailles area and the south bank of the river between Lake Erie and ½ mile north of Lake Erie).

The Cat on the reservation flows into a sand and gravel lake plain area that was formed from glacial outwash from the last ice age. It has bigger water than the Zoar Valley area (particularly below Versailles), containing good size pools and runs lined with gravel, rock and sand that are ideal for swinging flies as well as numerous tighter areas such as chutes, shale ledges and pocket water for indicating.

Non-Indians fishing on the reservation require a SNI fishing license (no New York State license is required though). SNI fishing regulations are in effect on the reservation. Licenses can be obtained at the William Seneca Administration Building on the reservation (https://sni.org /716-532-4900) and also a few authorized vendors on the reservation including the Seneca One Stop at the intersection of Routes 20 and 5.

Steelheaders who have a SNI fishing license are allowed to drive, park and walk just about anywhere on the reservation unless it is specifically posted. Be aware when taking dirt roads to access the river on the reservation. Driving can be hazardous in the loose, sandy soils and it is not uncommon for vehicles to get stuck (even 4WD’s). A good strategy is to park in heavily used parking areas and walk down to the river from there. Expect heavy crowds early in the fall on the lower reservation, with less pressure in the upper reservation (above the town of Versailles).

The Steelhead of the Cat

The steelhead of the Cat are legendary for their aggressive nature in taking flies and strong fighting ability. The majority of steelhead “running” into the Cat every season from Lake Erie are 3 year-old fish, averaging 5 to 6 pounds. Steelheaders commonly catch 8 to 12 pounders, with steelhead over 12 pounds caught every season.

The NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) stocked 56,030 steelhead yearlings into the Cat in the spring's of 2020 and 2021. These juvenile steelhead are obtained from the NYSDEC Salmon River hatchery in Altmar, NY and are of Chambers Creek strain origin. They are popularly known as Salmon River strain, a naturalized Lake Ontario hatchery strain of steelhead which is basically a late fall/winter and spring run fish.

This is substantially down from the NYSDEC annual stocking target of 90,000 steelhead for the Cat due to a new experimental approach to rearing steelhead at the NYSDEC Salmon River Hatchery.

This experimental approach was a recommendation from a study conducted on stocked yearling steelhead in Chautauqua Creek by the NYSDEC. The study showed the stocking size of NYSDEC steelhead smolts are to small to imprint and emigrate out of Chautauqua Creek. Instead they remain stream residents, resulting in poor survivability and very little contribution to the adult steelhead fishery.

The goal of the experiment is to improve the overall size of steelhead smolts stocked into Lake Erie by the NYSDEC. (In recent years NY has had the lowest average mean length of yearling steelhead stocked into Lake Erie by all the fishery agencies). Early results indicate substantial increases in both size and weight as well as a more “consistent” steelhead hatchery product.

Larger stocked steelhead smolts have proven to have better survivability and return rates. Also, the NYSDEC has learned that stocking steelhead smolts well upstream of the lake confluence increases steelhead return rates to their stream of origin. This experiment is planned to continue over the next 2 years.

In addition to stocked fish by the NYSDEC, it is estimated that approximately 25% of all returning steelhead to the Cat are of wild origin. Most of the spawning of wild steelhead in the Cat occurs in its tributaries such as Spooner Brook, Derby Brook, Coon Brook and Connoisarauley Creek.

Steelheaders on the Cat should also expect to catch a few steelhead that have “strayed” from nearby states of Pennsylvania and Ohio (both have extensive steelhead smolt stocking programs) as well as the Province of Ontario which are all almost exclusively wild fish.

Water Conditions and the Seasons

Run-off conditions and associated water clarity are the biggest challenge for steelheaders fishing the Cat on a daily, weekly and seasonal basis. The Cat is similar to most steelhead alley tributaries in that it is heavily dependent on run-off from rain and/or snow melt to get it up to fishable flows. Because it has such a large watershed (551 square miles), excessive and consistent run-off can “blow-out” the Cat for weeks or even months at a time with high, unwadable flows and heavily stained water. It is not unheard of for the Cat to be only fishable for only a handful of days during the fishing season (fall, winter and spring) due to excessive and consistent run-off from rain and snow-melt.

Even when it does finally get down to a fishable flow, water clarity (or lack of) on the Cat can be an issue. The culprit is the Gowanda shale and siltstone contained in the Cat’s high cliff banks and river bottom. During run-off episodes, water erosion causes this very unstable strata to breakdown into fine clay sediment that suspends in the water. Along with topsoil erosion, early run-off flows on the Cat (like many steelhead alley tributaries) are a high, muddy mess. As run-off decreases, water visibility slowly improves as well.

Steelheaders should be prepared for water visibility to vary on the Cat from heavily silted water in early stage run-off to an opaque, chalky green color cast (after 1 week or less of run-off) to a somewhat clearer green tint after a week or more of run-off. Water visibility of less than 12 inches makes fishing very difficult. Steelhead not only have a hard time seeing your fly but they also spread out in the river more (particularly in higher flows) forcing you to work more for them.

During extremely dry fall seasons, the Cat clears up pretty good and maintains a fishable minimum base flow (unlike other Lake Erie tributaries which can be bone dry) due to its large watershed size and spring sources.

When the main branch of the Cat is unfishable, due to high/stained flows, fishing some of its feeders such as the lower section of the South Branch in the ZVMUA, Clear Creek on the reservation and Connoisarauley Creek are worth a try. (Note that the North Branch of Clear Creek and Spooner Brook are closed to fishing from Jan. 1st to March 31st to protecting spawning steelhead).

Also nearby Lake Erie steelhead tributaries such as 18 Mile Creek to the north of the Cat and Silver, Walnut, Canadaway and Chautauqua Creeks to the south provide good alternatives to fish when the Cat is blown-out.

The Cat is primarily a fall steelhead fishery with late September through mid November the best months. Early in the fall, expect steelhead to concentrate on the lower reservation waters. By mid-to-late October fish start moving into the gorge and upper Zoar valley especially with good fall run-off.

Mild winter periods usually mean high, unfishable run-off flows due to rain as well as ice and snow-pack melt. A severe winter can make steelheading on the Cat very difficult if not impossible due to ice-over and heavy snow-pack.

The spring can have excellent fishing to a mixed bag of fresh running, wintered-over and “drop-back” steelhead working their way down to the lake after spawning. Steelhead are spread throughout the river in the spring, with good numbers found early on in the upper Zoar Valley and Springville Dam area. Fishing in the spring is usually better later (May and June) when flow levels and water conditions are more favorable. A great bonus run of smallmouth run-up from Lake Erie into the lower reservation water on the Cat in the spring as well.

Technique, Flies and Equipment

Swinging streamers, wooly buggers, zonkers, spey flies, large soft hackles as well as tubes flies are something steelheaders should not pass up on the Cat. Many sections of the Cat have long runs and large pools of moderate depth, with relatively level bottoms of broken shale and rocks that are custom made for traditional “down-and-across” presentations.

The warm flows of the fall and spring (above 40 degrees F), make steelhead of the Cat very aggressive (particularly the wild fish) and they actively move for flies (referred to as “players”) even grabbing a swung fly on or near the surface. Incorporating materials like marabou, rabbit strip fur, arctic fox tail into fly patterns imparts additional movement to the fly on the swing which can prove irresistible to steelhead. Look for these hard-hitting fish to hold along current seams in moderate to fast runs, pool tail-outs and below mid-stream rocks and obstructions.

Swinging white or lightly colored patterns (size #8-#6/3XL), like Lake Erie emerald shiner or rainbow smelt imitations, work well on sunny days due to their ability to reflect light which attracts steelhead especially in clearer flows. For more stained water, on overcast days and early morning/late afternoon, try swinging larger, dark patterns in black, purple and dark olive which provide a large, bulky profile that steelhead can spot more easily in limited light conditions. Rigging two patterns on the swing, or using tube flies tied as long as 4 inches, can increase your chances of success on the Cat in really turbid water.

John Nagy's Lake Erie Rainbow Smelt tube fly pattern is very effective when swung "down-and-across" in the warm run-off flows of the fall or spring on the Cat.

Warm run-off flows can make steelhead very receptive to added movement to the fly. At the end of a swing presentation (when the fly line straightens out), hold the fly stationary in the water below you and begin twitching it. Also, instead of just directly retrieving your line at the end of the swing, “jerk and strip” it in as you bring it in for the next cast.

Dead-drifting bead-head nymphs, egg patterns, soft hackles, small wooly buggers and streamers is very effective on the Cat for picking up less aggressive and tightly holding fish during the fall (water temperatures typically start to drop below 45 degrees in late October on the Cat). It is especially effective for lethargic fish in the colder flows of late fall and winter (below 38 degrees F). These bottom hugging fish often get cases of “lock jaw” in the ice water flows and require multiple presentations and subtle changes in drift (usually from tippet and shot adjustments) to get hook-ups.

Since the Cat is often stained to some degree, finding areas to dead-drift flies on the big water of the Cat can take work. Look for obvious breaks in the surface water texture that indicate subsurface holding and resting areas for steelhead like below boulders, pocket water areas, shale ledges and streambed cuts and depressions (polarized sunglasses cut the glare on the water to make this easier).

When the Cat does get down to a fishable flow (after a run-off episode) it is mostly shallow and easy to wade (although a stain in the water can make wading difficult in terms of seeing where you are going). This allows the steelheader to wade into close proximity to steelhead lies and “high-stick” nymph with long fly rods, long leaders and floating fly lines by either floating indicator fishing or bottom-bouncing (without an indicator) to achieve drag-free drifts. (See John Nagy's Steelhead Guide Book for detailed information on his Right-Angle-Floating-Indicator Technique).

Holding areas are more difficult to locate in higher flows and stained water on the Cat. Riffles, runs and pools seem to blend together with the steelhead spread out more. Under these conditions find steelhead by working the water methodically until you catch a fish. Mark this spot mentally since more steelhead will likely be holding there.

Neon-colored egg patterns (particularly chartreuse) work great in the stained flows of the Cat. A good setup is to rig an egg pattern (sizes #12-#8) in tandem with a bead-head nymph, soft hackle, small wooly bugger or streamer as the bottom fly. (Note: SNI regulations allow tandem fly rigs on Reservation water but the use of more than one hook is illegal on NY State waters).

Keep both flies relatively close together on the leader (within 6 inches) so the steelhead can see both flies on the drift at the same time. If the steelhead does not take the bright colored egg pattern (which acts as an attractor in the stained flows) he will usually take the more naturally colored fly nearby. Incorporating some flash into egg patterns, nymphs, soft hackles, buggers or streamers can help steelhead spot them in heavily stain water.

Since the Cat normally has some sort of stain to it, tippet size is normally not critical. The stain actually is beneficial in that it allows steelheaders to use heavier tippets, which means more landed fish. For swinging flies, 1X or larger is ideal. For dead-drifting, 2X is a good all around size. In less common, low, clear flows, 3X or less may be necessary when dead-drifting.

High-stick nymphing fly rods for the Cat are on the long side (9 ½-11 feet/6 or 7 line weight) which allows for maximum line and leader control and minimal floating fly line contact with the water (which can interfere with drag-free drifts). They also are somewhat limber to buffer the surges and runs of steelhead after being hooked. Longer, more moderate action rods also help to land steelhead when using lighter tippets and smaller flies, which at times are needed in clearer flows. Smaller two-handed spey rods can act as great “cross-over” rods for both nymphing and swinging techniques.

Fast action, single-handed fly rods (9 ½-10 feet/6 or 7 line weight) for swinging flies have the ability to handle floating lines, sinking leaders, interchangeable sink tip lines or shooting heads depending on the water flows.

Switch” style fly rods are becoming popular for swinging flies on the Cat. These down-sized, double-handed rods give the steelheader the ability to cover the water at greater distances in moderate to higher flows with minimal wading and less casting fatigue all while avoiding rear obstacles. They are ideal for both swinging and nymphing presentations and can perform both standard single-handed or spey type casts. Compact size “Skagit” heads have been developed to work with switch rods to make throwing big flies and heavy sink tips a relatively easy operation.

The Future

The “Springville Dam Ecosystem Restoration Project” on Cattaraugus Creek, NY was initiated in 2004 by the US Army Corps. of Engineers (USACE) and NYSDEC and includes Erie County, NY as a partner. The main purpose of the project is to restore ecosystem connectivity above and below the dam (including steelhead runs) while preventing invasive sea lamprey movement above the dam.

The approved project plan will lower the existing spillway from 38 to 13.5 feet to serve as a sea lamprey barrier. A 15 foot wide rock riffle ramp (denil fish-way) with seasonal lamprey trapping/sorting capability is included in the design. Requests from the National Historic Registry will be fulfilled by preserving a portion of the original spillway on both banks to show the original structure.

Allowing fish to pass through the Springville Dam opens up 75 miles of water to steelhead fishing on the Cat where 34 miles of New York State PFR land easements exist (including 15 parking areas). It would also likely result in significant levels of natural reproduction of steelhead due to the prime spawning, nursery and feeding habitat that exists in Cattaraugus Creek and its tributaries above the dam.

The upper Cat and its tributaries, notably Clear Creek, Elton Creek, Hosmer Brook and Lime Lake outlet, are all of higher quality than any of the tributaries located downstream of the Springville Dam with regards to water quality and spawning habitat. Because these streams support abundant numbers of naturally reproduced resident rainbow and brown trout, and some native brook trout, it is believed that excellent populations of wild steelhead would develop in these streams should access be gained. In the long term this could mean a self-sustaining steelhead fishery in the Cat with minimal (if any) hatchery stockings by the NYSDEC.

However, this could come at a cost to the resident trout populations due to increased competition for food and habitat with juvenile steelhead.

NYSDEC Senior Biologist James Markham has completed a year-round angler survey in the Upper Cattaraugus Creek system in 2020. The survey provided baseline estimates of effort, catch and harvest for the existing fishery (which includes brown, rainbow and brook trout) in the Upper Cattaraugus Creek. This “pre-fish passage” survey will be helpful to determine possible impacts to the local fish community once the steelhead pass over the dam. The survey will continue every 2-3 years after fish passage to document any impacts. A formal report discussing the pre-fish passage data will be available sometime in the fall of 2021.

The NYSDEC has decided to maintain the current inland trout regulations above the dam, meaning that it will primarily be Catch-and-Release, Artificial Lure Only from mid-October until April 1. This keeps in line with the NYSDEC Steelhead Management Plan (completed in 2016) to promote natural steelhead reproduction when practical.

The Project Partnership Agreement (PPA) for the project was signed by the USACE, NYSDEC and Erie County, NY in 2017. Construction was targeted for either 2020 after the sea lamprey spawning run but Project Partners have decided to put the project on hold in 2020 (as well as 2021) due to impacts from the CO-VID 19 Pandemic.

For a video of the Springville Dam PPA signing and discussion of the project go to: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1629197503780864

More information on fly fishing Cattaraugus Creek (including access maps, recommended fly patterns and ideal USGS flow conditions for swinging and “high-stick” nymphing the river) is available in John Nagy's book Steelhead Guide, Fly Fishing Techniques and Strategies for Lake Erie Steelhead (Updated and Expanded 4th Edition). This classic book is available in both print and E book versions (see right menu bar for ordering information).


Swinging Flies for Steelhead by John Nagy

Spring steelheader swinging flies on an Ohio Lake Erie tributary stream

Dead-drift presentations like bottom-bouncing or floating indicating will always be the mainstay for catching steelhead on most Great Lakes tributary rivers and streams. The reason for this is that the tributaries mostly run cold over the course of a steelhead fishing season (late fall through late winter). 

These cold flows (40 degrees F and below) slow down the metabolism of a steelhead making it somewhat lethargic. They typically become finicky, keying in on small egg patterns and bead-head nymphs dead-drifted on or near the stream bottom

A great compliment to this approach is swinging flies for steelhead in the traditional down-and-across manner. Under certain water conditions and river characteristics this technique can be extremely effective with an excitement factor that can shake even the seasoned steelheader!

Traditional swinging techniques were originally developed to catch Atlantic salmon in Northern Europe and the Atlantic Canadian Provinces becoming popular for steelhead in the Pacific Northwest during the 20th century. In recent years, it has developed an enthusiastic following by a growing group of steelheaders in the Great Lakes region.

In the warmer tributary flows of fall and spring (above 40 degrees F) steelhead are more aggressive and will actively move for wooly buggers, streamers, leeches, tube and spey flies on the swing. They actually will “look up” to take a fly swinging fly (above 50 degrees F) and will even chase dry flies “skated” on the surface.

Steelhead caught on swung flies are often referred to as “players” due to their willingness to chase a fly and hit it extremely hard on the swing (some steelheaders have described the take like being mugged on the stream!). This is in marked contrast with dead-drift caught fish, which are generally less aggressive and have a much softer take.

Swing Technique

Before beginning your swing technique, first wade into position (usually toward the middle of the river) and look at the water surface texture to locate current breaks at the head of pools, along parallel “seams” that run through pools and runs and also in pool tail-outs. Steelhead use these breaks as resting areas on their upstream migratory movements and you will want to concentrate on swinging your fly through these areas.

Try standing almost directly upstream to the area you want to swing your fly through (the “target zone”) and begin by casting your fly line at a 45 degree angle downstream to the left or right of the target zone. For a single handed cast (with a sinking leader or sink tip line) using a single or double-haul, followed by shooting the line, makes this easy. A traditional spey or double handed casting approach will allow the steelheader to stand much closer to the river bank and effectiveily reach most target zones.

A fly line with a floating/weight-forward taper design (including steelhead and "switch" taper fly line tapers and the very popular "Skagit" head tapers including the new OPST Skagit Commando lines) is the best fly line for this type of cast. The heavy taper of this line casts sinking leaders and sink tips well while the floating component allows for easy mending when swinging the line.

As the fly line makes contact with the water, immediately throw an upstream mend in the fly line. This will help sink both the fly line and the fly more quickly. Follow up by dropping the rod tip and move it across in front of you, stopping at the point where you want the fly to swing to.

You will notice that a downstream “belly” will form in the fly line as the fly line swings down-and-across. The size of the belly will determine the “swimming speed” of the fly as it swings across in the current. Multiple mends of the fly line eliminates or reduces the fly line belly size, slows the speed of the fly and makes the fly sink deeper. By minimizing line mending you can keep the fly line belly large, causing higher fly speeds on the swing but with higher fly position in the water column.

The tributary water temperature will determine at what level you need to get the fly to on the swing. In warmer flows (above 50 degrees F), steelhead tend to look up more for a fly, so one or no mends are all that are usually needed. In colder flows (below 50 degrees), steelhead tend to keep tighter to the stream bottom and prefer slower fly speeds. These conditions will require at least 1 or 2 mends to get the fly down.

In really cold flows (less than 40 degrees), multiple follow-up mends are needed to initiate strikes from sluggish steelhead. Making an initial cast greater than 45 degrees is also helpful to get flies down to bottom hugging fish.

Fly Depth on the Swing

Fly depth on the swing is also controlled by the sinking system used in the fly line. By using sink tips of different lengths and sink rates (measured in inches per second or grain weight) for the water flow and depth being fished, you can precisely control the depth of the fly. This is analogous to changing split-shot when dead-drifting.

For smaller tributaries, as well as medium to low tributary flows, custom mini-tips (made out of 2 to 6 feet lengths of sinking shooting head material) and sinking leaders (7 to 12 feet) work well. For big tributaries and high run-off conditions standard sink tip lines (as long as 15 feet) work better. Deep, strong currents on big water may call for 24 foot sink tips or “heads” (which are available in 150-600 grains).

Interlocking loop systems allows these leaders and tips to be easily interchanged on the stream depending on the water flow and depth encountered. Several fly line manufacturers sell fly lines that come with an assortment of interchangeable sink tips (of different sink rates) that cover most water conditions encountered.

Density compensated sinking leaders and sink tips (which have a tapered design) compensate for the thinner diameter front section by adding a denser sinking material to the front portion of the leader or tip. This keeps the leader or tip sinking in a straight line (tip sinks at the same speed as the body) resulting in less line hang-ups on the stream bottom, better strike detection and faster hook-ups.

Along with the sinking system, leader length also plays a key role in fly depth. Leaders in the 4 to 9 foot range will keep the fly higher up in the current flow versus a shorter leader (less than 4 feet) which is ideal for keeping the fly down close to the stream bottom when steelhead are moving less for a fly.

Fly depth can be fine tuned by crimping a small amount of shot to the leader or adding various size brass or tungsten beads to the leader. The beads will slide down to the front of the fly during casting and on the swing.

When trying to get the fly down deep on the swing it is best to rely on your sinking system versus using a heavily weighted fly. Keeping the fly as light as possible will allow the fly to have a lively and natural swimming action on the swing. Flies that are too light (like plastic tube body flies) need some weight added to them (like a light conehead) for proper leader turnover.

To methodically cover a pool or run after the initial swing is made with the fly, lengthen subsequent casts in increments of a foot or so until you have satisfactorily covered a desired section of water. Next, take a few steps downstream and begin the entire sequence again.

The Take on the Swing

Most steelhead take the fly at the end of the swing (more likely chasing the fly across the current and hitting it from the side or rear as it stops) so it is important to anticipate the strike at that point. At the end of the swing, hold the fly directly downstream of you in the current and then follow-up with a strip retrieve. This can induce strikes especially with large streamer, leech and wooly bugger type patterns which provide a lot of movement in the current flow.

The Traditional Swing Experience

The traditional swing presentation allows the steelheader to see the river in a larger view, both downstream and bank-to-bank, as he fishes. It is quite a different experience versus the more localized and focused dead-drift method. You become more in-tuned with the larger flow of the river. The casts and mends of your fly line become intimately intertwined with long runs, riffles and pool tail-out’s as you methodically swing your fly through likely steelhead lies.

This slower, more patient approach often rudely becomes interrupted with the jarring take of an aggressive and hard-hitting steelhead which is hell bent on taking your fly (and fly rod) back to Lake Erie!

For more detailed information on swinging flies for Great Lakes steelhead refer to John Nagy’s classic book Steelhead Guide, Fly Fishing Techniques and Strategies for Lake Erie Steelhead (Updated and Expanded 4th Edition) which is available in both soft cover and hard cover editions (signed/including a fly tied by author). John Nagy’s newly released Steelheader’s Journal makes a great companion book to his Steelhead Guide. Both books are available through Great Lakes Publishing. See right menu bar for ordering information.

 John Nagy also offers Solitude Fly Reels (the "guides" reel) and the John Nagy custom made "Noodle" Fly Rod (which has gotten rave reveiws!). See right menu bar for ordering information on those products as well.


Fly Fishing the Grand River, OH for Steelhead by John Nagy

Spring steelheader "swinging" tube flies on the upper Grand River, OH

(This is the first of a series of articles by John Nagy on fly fishing "Steelhead Alley" tributary streams and rivers. Future articles will feature Elk Creek, PA and Cattaraugus Creek, NY)

An ancient and rugged river that is largely untouched by man

The Grand River in northeast Ohio can arguably be called the grandest of all the Ohio Lake Erie steelhead tributary streams. More of a brawling river than a stream (especially after run-off episodes), it drains a 712 square mile watershed that is 98 miles in length, through 4 Ohio counties, including 34 miles of fishable steelhead water from the Harpersfield Dam to it’s concourse with Lake Erie at Fairport Harbor, Ohio.

A River from the Past

          Prior to the last ice age, the Grand River flowed directly north into Lake Erie but gradually became twisted from the southerly glacial movement of the Wisconsinan glacier some 14,000 years ago and developed a more westerly travel before draining north into Lake Erie.
          Designated both wild and scenic river status by the state of Ohio in 1974, the Grand is basically free flowing for most of its length. The upper Grand or lowlands section (above the Harpersfield Dam which prevents most migratory fish movement) has scenic river status and encompasses 33 miles of slow moving water. This upper section is surrounded by a broad flood plain which was formed by an ancient glacial lake. It includes wetlands, swamp forests as well as some agricultural areas.
          Due to the slow moving nature of the river here it contains a tremendous amount of silt and mud in its river bottom. In combination with the exposed shale banks of the lower Grand, this has a tremendous impact on the Grand’s clarity (or lack of) after run-off from rainfall or snow melt.
           Below the Harpersfield dam the Grand has wild river status for 23 miles to the railroad bridge south of Painesville. This area, know as the Grand River gorge, has a much steeper gradient and runs colder, cutting through ancient shale and siltstone beds forming high cliff banks, steep valleys and at times rather difficult access. Densely forested with northern hardwoods and hemlocks in most areas, it is truly wild in nature with practically no development along its banks. At Painesville the river slows and flows north through an urban environment past long gone Indian fishing village sites on its way to Lake Erie.

The Steelhead of the Grand

Like most Ohio Lake Erie tributaries it is primarily a warm water fishery during the late spring, summer months (with great smallmouth and even muskie fishing opportunities) but quickly cools off in the shorter days of September as night time temperatures drop and fall rains occur.
The combination of lower lakeshore temperatures (68 degrees F seems to stage good numbers of prespawn steelhead along the lakeshore), shorter photo periods and good fall run-off initiate’s steelhead migratory movements up the Grand in early fall. By early May it starts to warm up again causing any remaining postspawn steelhead to drop down to the lower river and eventually into the lake.
         The steelhead of the Grand are a mixed bag including a large number of stray fish from Pennsylvania (a “naturalized” Pennsylvania strain which are primarily fall/winter runners) and a significant number of late winter/early spring run steelhead based on the Ohio Department of Wildlife’s direct stocking program of Little Manistee strain steelhead. Also a very small number of stray fish from Michigan and New York as well as some wild fish from the Ontario side of Lake Erie trickle in every season.
According to Kevin Kayle, Aquatic Biology Supervisor for the ODW at the Fairport Fisheries Research Station there is a small percentage of returning steelhead to the Grand based on natural reproduction but no formal data to confirm it. He bases this on past summer sampling of numerous feeder streams to the Grand which revealed decent populations of juvenile steelhead in the 3-5 inch range. These feeders have ideal habitat, water quality and temperatures for both adult spawning and juvenile rearing.
In 1975 the ODW stocked a domesticated rainbow trout known as the London strain (named after Ohio’s London fish hatchery) into many of their steelhead tributaries including the Grand. It was primarily developed for its superior egg survival and growth rates in the hatchery and ability to survive in slightly warmer waters than those inhabited by a typical rainbow trout. This seemed to be a good fit not only for its inland trout streams but also its Lake Erie tributaries which are the southern most of the Great Lakes.
The tributary stockings of the London (a fall runner) resulted in marginal returns from Lake Erie in subsequent years. Growth rates were not impressive either. After a 23 year stocking effort the ODW decided to switch gears in 1989 and try the later running Little Manistee strain steelhead which they obtained from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in exchange for catfish. They received them in the form of juvenile fingerlings which the ODW later raised to 1 year-old smolts in the 6-8 inch size in their hatchery system. They were initially stocked in Conneaut Creek in the spring of 1989 and eventually the Grand, Chagrin and Rocky Rivers in 1995.

John Nagy with a Grand River spring steelhead that took a Nagy Black n' Blue Stonefly Nymph on a dead-drift using the "Right Angle Floating IndicatorTechnique"

The ODW hit pay dirt and found the Little Manistee strain superior in growth, return rates (3.5 to 1) and length of run versus their hatchery raised London strain fish. They now exclusively stock Little Manistee steelhead into the Grand River as well as the Rocky River, Chagrin River, Conneaut Creek, Vermillion River and Ashtabula River. In 2018 approximately 478,408 Little Manistee smolts were stocked into Ohio's steelhead tributaries with 90,076 planted in the Grand River.
According to Kevin Kayle most Little Manistees return after three summers in the lake (averaging 26-28 inches and 5-8 lbs.) but good numbers of two and four summer fish also occur. Five summer fish are not as common but are most likely 30-31 inches and over 10 pounds.

Techniques, Equipment and Flies

Whether you bottom-bounce, indicator fish or swing flies on the Grand is best determined by the prevailing run-off conditions from rainfall or snow melt as well as water temperatures and time of the year you are fishing.
The Grand River, like most Lake Erie tributaries, normally has a low base flow and is heavily dependent on run-off from rainfall or snow melt to get it up to fishable levels (wadable but with some clarity) and help move steelhead up it from Lake Erie. The Grand really never clears up like many other Lake Erie tributaries and can maintain a tea colored cast even when low. Successful steelheaders learn to exploit this characteristic of the Grand (especially when it is running at a good flow and silty) by using bigger, brighter flies as well as heavier tippet. Grand River steelhead have a real sense of security and comfort in stained flows and are rather cooperative fly takers as long as you can get their attention.
The problem with the Grand is that too much run-off over a period of days or weeks can result in unfishable conditions (above 400 cfs). It typically takes about a week or more for it to reach fishable levels (250-350 cfs are ideal for wading and fly fishing) after an average run-off episode but can drop to low conditions a few days later if more run-off does not occur. Too much run-off can keep it “blown” to high and muddy levels for weeks at a time.
When the main river becomes unfishable the Grand’s feeders like Mill, Talcott, Paine, Big and Kellog Creeks can be a saving grace with a egood runs of steelhead not unusual. The downside is possible congested fishing due to the small confines of these streams.
It is to be noted that the Grand (even at fishable levels) can have a persistent stained or even muddy cast. This is usually a result of prolonged periods of high water (weeks/even months) which produces a tremendous amount of silt in the Grand River watershed. Because of the seemingly perpetual off-color nature of the Grand many locals have affectionately dubbed it "the mud hole".
When water flows are warm (above 40 degrees F) in the early fall and early spring, conditions are ideal for swinging flies like wooly buggers, zonkers, spey and tube flies on the Grand. The Grand has a good number of long and fairly broad pools and runs that have relatively level bottoms of broken shale and rocks. These areas are great for the traditional down-and-across technique to active, hard hitting steelhead that are holding tight along current seams and in pool tail-outs.    
Fast action, single-handed fly rods in the 9 1/2 to 10 foot range in 7 to 8 weight line weights are ideal for handling the floating lines, sinking leaders, interchangeable sink tip lines or shooting heads that can be used on the swing depending on the water flows encountered. "Switch Rods" and longer spey or two-handed fly rods are also very effective for swinging flies on the Grand especially during higher flows.
As water temperatures start to cool down in late October, early November (below 45 degrees) and eventually hover in the 30’s by December, dead-drifting egg patterns, bead-head nymphs and soft hackles naturally along the stream bottom to more lethargic, bottom hugging steelhead becomes the mainstay.
At fishable levels this is best accomplished on the Grand by wading into close proximity to steelhead lies (easily done at fishable flows) and “high-stick” nymphing by either bottom-bouncing (without a floating indicator) or indicator fishing using the "Right Angle Floating Indicator Technique". Ideal steelhead resting areas include current seams found in moderate to fast runs and along shale ledges and also current breaks located behind boulders, in pool tail-outs and streambed depressions.
The high-stick rod position, in combination with long fly rods (9 to 12 foot), long leaders and floating lines, maximizes fly line and leader control as well as minimizes floating fly line contact with the water which can interfere with drag-free drifts. Moderate to medium-fast action fly rods can also help buffer tippets from surging and running steelhead. Switch Rods and smaller two-handed spey rods can act as great “cross-over” rods for both nymphing and swinging techniques.
Because the Grand seems to always have a good stain to it steelhead are not very fussy and relatively easy to catch when it has fishable flows. The challenge is to determine where the steelhead lies or resting areas are. A good way to do this is to read the surface texture of the water which can show current seams and current breaks that reveal steelhead holding areas below (polarized sunglasses are helpful for this). In higher flows, when steelhead are spread out pretty good, this can be difficult to do on the Grand since the riffles, runs and pools seem to blend together making distinctions between these areas very subtle.
When dead-drifting flies on the Grand use large, bright egg patterns (sizes #12- #8) in tandem with a bead-head nymph or wooly bugger or streamer to get a steelhead’s attention quickly in stained water. If he doesn’t take the egg pattern (top fly) on the drift he usually will take the more naturally colored pattern nearby, especially if they kept close together on the leader. Adding some flash to the nymph, bugger or streamer can also help steelhead pick them out in heavy stain. Tippet sizes are usually not critical due to the stained water with 3X to 1X the norm.
The Grand has a fair base of aquatic insects including a large, uncased green caddis larvae (size #12) and golden stoneflies in sizes #14-#8. Crayfish and sculpins can also be found in the river bottom with imitations effective for both steelhead and smallmouth.
When steelhead on the Grand start spawning (usually starting in late February) opportunities exist for sight fishing on the gravel. Many steelheaders frown at this activity but since natural reproduction is relatively a small percentage of returning steelhead in the Grand it doesn’t have much of an impact on future runs. A good strategy is to swing flies to aggressive males on the beds (keeping the fly in front of the fish) since catching spawning the spawning female will quickly scatter the group of males jousting for spawning rights with the female. Also dead-drifting egg patterns and nymphs to "egg eating" pre-spawn and post-spawn steelhead (below the spawning beds) is a deadly technique.

The Seasons

In September, steelhead will begin to run the lower reaches of the Grand particularly stray, fall running fish from Pennsylvania. A dry fall can keep steelhead low on the river but good numbers of fish can reach the Harpersfield Dam by December if consistent fall run-off occurs. Fall fishing can be good as long as the river does not blow out at which point it usually takes a week or more to clear.
Winter fishing on the Grand can be greatly affected by excess snow melt and rain which can again blow the river out for extended periods of time. Also, total freeze-up of the river flow in January and February is not unheard of. Another scenario is moderate winter periods with very little snow and ice in the watershed. The result can mean fishable water but with morning skim ice and slush flows (that can burn off by mid-morning) the norm.
Early March usually brings ice-out on Lake Erie and a gradual thaw of the Lake Erie tributaries including the Grand. By late March, the peak of the Little Manistee run is approaching with April and early May the best times for this short but much anticipated run. The gorge area of the Grand usually will hold good numbers of steelhead by April.
The best scenario for a good spring run is to have a solid freeze of the Grand in January and February with an early March thaw and a moderately wet, cold spring. The winter freeze prevents early LittleManistee arrivals from the lake, delays any early spawning activity in the Grand itself for any steelhead “wintering over” and allows for an extended spring season due to the cold temperatures and moderate run-off conditions.
The opposite of this is an overly moderate winter (which seems to be the norm in recent years) with no freeze of the lake shore or river, an excessive run-off from rain and snow melt and a mild early spring. The result is a watered down spring run of Little Manistees that have mostly spawned out by April and are leaving the river early due to excessive water temperatures.
April and May can bring a mixed bag of fish to be caught on the Grand including pre-spawn “chromers”, spawners, spawned out fish and hungry “drop-down” steelhead which start to leave the river in late April and early May as water temperatures get into the upper 50’s and 60’s. Smallmouth bass also start running the lower river from Lake Erie in April as an added bonus to fly fisherman.


The Grand River has been kept relatively untouched to development due to its ruggedness and remoteness which can make it a challenge for the steelheader. The good news is that public access is excellent on the Grand and its feeders with several Lake Metroparks located in the gorge area below Harpersfield (see map) that have parking and rest room facilities. By accessing these parks the steelheader can reach, by hiking, many remote areas on the Grand and fish in relative solitude.
Another approach is to float the Grand in canoes or pontoon boats. With canoe access available at the Ashtabula County Park at the Harpersfield Dam and most of the lower Lake Metroparks a number of float trips of various lengths can be planned. In the Painesville area there exists some urban style fishing at the Painesville City Park and the popular “Uniroyal” hole area.
The Grand River is certainly a challenge for the steelhead fly fisherman not only for its ruggedness but for the stubbornness of its usual high and off-colored flows. But with some careful weather and run-off monitoring the patient steelheader can be rewarded with indeed a grand steelhead experience on this ancient river.

More detailed information on fly fishing the tributary streams and rivers of the Lake Erie watershed (including swinging presentations and the Right Angle Floating Indicator Technique) can be found in John Nagy's classic book "Steelhead Guide, Fly Fishing Techniques and Strategies for Lake Erie Steelhead". John Nagy's "Steelheader's Journal" makes a great companion book to the Steelhead Guide. Both are available for purchase in the right menu bar.