2018 Spring Steelhead Report and News by John Nagy

Spring nymphing steelheader landing large hen steelie on an Erie tributary stream

Record rain-fall (and warm temperatures) this past February brought an early spring (and very good steelhead fishing) to the Lake Erie tributaries. March brought back winter steelhead conditions with cold and snowy conditions for most of March. Warmer temperatures and rainy periods (with melting snow pack) are forecast for the end of March. Lake Erie is basically ice free and most southern shore tributaries are flowing well with no ice problems.

As of March 26th, the Lake Erie water temperature (degrees F) off Toledo was 40 degrees, off Cleveland was 37 degrees, off Erie was 33 degrees and off Buffalo was 32 degrees.

News around the Lake Erie Region

In Ohio

The railroad will be reconstructing a 900 foot causeway (road) across the Grand River (just south of Rt. 84) starting on May 1st of 2018. A temporary causeway was put into place last year to aid in the construction of a new $21 million Norfolk railroad trestle (2 year project) but was disassembled to allow free passage of steelhead spawning runs last December 31st. Some steelheader’s believe that the causeway impeded fall steelhead movements up this winter even though it was designed to allow for some fish passage.

Great Lakes Construction has advised that Steelheader’s (and other recreationalist’s) that restrictions will be in place in accessing this area (from Helen Hazen Wyman Park to Route 86/Beaty’s Landing) starting on May 1st once the causeway is in place again and new trestle construction resumes. Signage will be in place on the river detailing specifics on the restrictions which include no parking along Rt. 84, no foot traffic within a 150 foot or more stretch of the immediate construction zone along the river and watercraft traffic closure from Mason’s Landing and Beaty Landing/Rt. 84.

The new trestle will improve the river flow and habitat since it has fewer foundations (versus the old trestle) resulting in less buildup of trees and debris during high water periods.

In Pennsylvania

This past January, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (PF&BC) Board of Commissioners agreed to purchase a public fishing easement of 3,960 linear feet along the upper part of Conneaut Creek in Spring Township, Crawford County. The easement is located off Fisher and South Creek roads, north of Conneautville, PA. The purchase will add ¾ of a mile of access along the creek.

As of January 2018, the PF&BC has acquired more than 22.5 miles of public fishing access on Pennsylvania Lake Erie tributaries (both with land purchases and easements) under its very successful Lake Erie Access Improvement Program (LEAIP). The program uses money collected from PF&BC Lake Erie fishing permits not only to acquire public fishing access for steelhead fishing but also improve stream habitat and provide public parking areas.

For a detailed interactive on-line map by the PF&BC of Lake Erie fishing access (including LEAIP land purchases and easements) go to: PF&BC Erie Access Map 

In New York

According to James Markham, an Aquatic Biologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), in November 2017, Cattaraugus Creek received a large number of surplus fall steelhead fingerlings (203,000) from New York's Salmon River State Fish Hatchery. This was the second year in a row that the Cattaraugus received surplus fall fingerlings. 

Other stocking news concerns the Lake Erie NYSDEC brown trout stocking program. After 2017, the NYSDEC plans on terminating Lake Erie brown trout stocking for the foreseeable future. Markham says that the most recent 16 year trial of brown trout failed to produce a reliable lake, harbor or tributary fishery. In 2017, 36,480 yearling brown trout were distributed in Lake Erie between Barcelonal Harbor, Dunkirk Harbor, the lower reaches of Cattaraugus Creek and 18 Mile Creek. Fall fingerling domestic rainbow trout will replace the brown trout and be distributed in Chautauqua, Canadaway, Cattaraugus and 18 Mile Creeks.

According to Markham, the NYSDEC domesticated rainbows have been modified over the years in the hatchery system to spawn much earlier than pure strain rainbows (which are spring spawners) and should contribute to the early fall steelhead runs in New York's Lake Erie tributaries.

More detailed information on fly fishing for Great Lakes Steelhead can be found in John Nagy's classic book "Steelhead Guide, Fly Fishing Techniques and Strategies for Lake Erie Steelhead." His new "Steelheader's Journal" makes a great companion book to the Steelhead Guide. Both books are available by going to the right menu bar for ordering information.