By JOHN WISSE|
FAIRPORT HARBOR, Ohio — While the steel industry is struggling, the steelhead industry on the other hand is booming to the delight of fisheries managers and Ohio anglers.
The steelhead trout is a lake-run rainbow trout that is boosting the stock of fishing opportunities in Lake Erie and some of its tributaries in northeast Ohio. Not only has this unique sportfish taken hold in Ohio, but word is spreading among the ranks of fishermen here and in neighboring states that an exciting opportunity awaits those who don’t mind fishing in cold weather.
"This is the second straight outstanding season we’ve had for steelhead trout fishing in northeast Ohio. As long as environmental conditions and decent fishing weather remain stable, then fishing should remain good in the months and years ahead," said Ray Petering, assistant administrator of fish management and research for the Division of Wildlife.
And the outlook for a prosperous steelhead fishery is excellent since the wildlife agency next spring will double to 400,000 the number of steelhead it releases in Conneaut Creek, and the Grand, Rocky, and Chagrin rivers.
About five years ago, the Division of Wildlife began to introduce a new strain of steelhead trout known as the Manistee-strain that originates from Michigan. In a cooperative trade agreement, Ohio exchanges a supply of channel catfish each fall in return for a supply of steelhead trout. When they arrive at the state’s Castalia hatchery, these young steelhead are but a few inches long. Their release comes the following spring as 8-inch fish.
Shortly after release in these four northeast Ohio tributary systems, the young steelhead migrate into Lake Erie where most will remain for a period of two to three years before returning to the tributary streams.
"Generally, our best stream fishing for steelhead trout occurs mid-October through late April and this fall has seen remarkable fishing success in northeast Ohio," said Petering.
Some of these silver-colored trout have also returned to areas where they were not released such as Arcola Creek and the Ashtabula, Cuyahoga and Vermilion rivers. Most of the steelhead now being caught by anglers measure 18 to 30 inches. But this is not a "fish-in-the-barrel" type of fishery where simple luck will produce success.
"You must first be a good river fisherman and know how to read the water, both at the surface and beneath the surface. Adjusting leader lengths, line drag, weight systems, and baits is critical to the success of fishing for steelhead in these rivers. It’s not a situation where you just stand there, cast, and catch a fish time after time without knowing what you are doing and without ideal fishing conditions," said Mitch Carpenter of Columbus.
Steelhead trout can better move inland through tributary streams when water levels are normal or above normal. When water levels are below normal, it does not bode well for steelhead fishing.
Apparently with the drought we have experienced this year, they have been getting just enough rain in northeast Ohio to keep stream levels close to normal this fall and steelhead fishing remains excellent, especially several days after a storm when waters begin to clear again," said Petering.
While some anglers like to cast and drift spawn sacks, crankbaits, and in-line spinners when water temperatures are above 38 degrees, others enjoy fly-fishing for these big trout. Stone fly imitations, pheasant-tail and hare’s-ear nymphs, egg-sucking leeches, and woolly buggers are among some of the favorites used by fly-fishermen when seeking Ohio steelheads.
Steelhead trout are also showing up more frequently on the lines of central basin Lake Erie walleye anglers during the summer. The trolling tactics, spoons, and crankbaits used to catch walleyes are producing more catches of steelhead. A few steelhead are also being caught each year by anglers in lake Erie’s western basin around the islands and near shoreline inlets.
"We have an emerging and exciting sport fishery developing in northeast Ohio that will continue to develop into a significant attraction for Ohio anglers as well as those from out-of-state. We’re beginning to get some national attention and deservedly so because steelhead are becoming a Lake Erie tradition along with walleye, yellow perch, and smallmouth fishing," said Petering.