Les Troyer of Summerset, Ohio (with hat) and Chris Muchow of Pittsburgh, Pa. (both guided by John Nagy of Steelhead Guide Service) display some nice fresh run steelies caught on Elk Creek, Pennsylvania during this past November. Chris is holding a nice hen (female), while Les has a big buck (male). Both fish were caught (and released) using floating indicators, floating fly lines, long leaders and a tandem fly setup of egg patterns and nymphs.|
The steelhead runs had a slow start on many of the southern shore Lake Erie tributary streams this fall due to a lack of precipitation. The exception was the Cattaraugus River in New York, which had excellent runs of fall chromers in late September and October due to its large watershed, and spring feed sources. Run-off conditions improved tremendously during November and many of the Pennsylvania tributaries like Elk, Walnut and 20 Mile Creeks got large runs of steelies and enough water to move them quite a distance upstream. The Ohio tributaries have had moderate runs of steelhead so far, primarily because of the Little Manistee strain steelhead implanted in those tributaries. This steelhead is primarily a late winter, early spring run fish, but some will begin their upstream migration as early as January. Ohio still gets a small number of stray steelies from Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan waters. Cold and snowy weather conditions have put the brakes on steelhead fishing right now on many of the tributaries. But this early freeze should be temporary, with a thaw expected soon. The freeze/thaw cycle is a normal occurrence on the tributaries during the winter months. The steelheader should watch the weather and stream conditions and plan his trips around open water conditions. During ice-over conditions there can still be a few open areas. Look for faster runs and pocket water in the bottom third of the tributaries near the lake. If worse comes to worse, steelheaders have been known to break surface ice in their favorite pool or run and come back later. Surprisingly, winter steelies settle down pretty quickly after this commotion and can become cooperative fly takers. Be careful though, broken ankles and sprained wrists are not worth the effort, especially in really thick ice conditions. When there are open water opportunities in the winter, the bulk of the steelhead will be wintering over in pool eddies and tail-outs, slower runs that have good depth, along shale ledges and in shale streambed troughs. These are prime areas for the steelheader to look for winter steelhead because they provide the slow current flows that lethargic winter steelies are seeking prior to their spawning in late winter. Classic winter steelhead water temperatures are considered at 38 degrees F or below.
More detailed information on fly fishing the Lake Erie Steelhead tributaries is available in John Nagy’s book: “Steelhead Guide, Fly Fishing Techniques and Strategies for Lake Erie Steelhead”, (revised and expanded, 2nd edition). Signed copies can be obtained on the web at: www.fishlakeerie.com/steelhead