Great Lakes Steelhead

a starting guide to what, where, when, & how

What is a Steelhead?

Identification
Oncorhynchus mykiss  Rainbow trout & steelhead have no taxonomic differences (note same gen. & sp.)  Native in the Americas in the north Pacific ocean from eastern Bering Sea to southern California / northern Baja, now reduced to north of Los Angeles  Native in Asia from western Bering Sea to Kamchatka and further south to Japan  Introduced to the Great Lakes in late 1800’s

reducing their survival %) .Biology  Belong to the family Salmonidae – includes salmon. Most repeat spawning fish are female (males spawn with more than one female and expend large amounts of energy. spend 1-3 years rearing and growing before swimming out into open water Spend 1-4 growing years in open water before returning to their native streams to spawn     Are iteroparous (multiple spawn). not semelparous (one time spawn) Winter-run populations mature in open water and run upriver to spawn (run from Nov-April) Summer-run populations mature after run into freshwater to spawn (run from May-October) Average lifespan 6-8 years  Males dominate early portion of runs. females dominate later portion. and char     Taxonomically identical to rainbow trout Are anadramous form of rainbow trout (return FROM the sea to spawn) Born in freshwater. trout.

PA. heavy stocking program begins 1878 – Same strain released into NY’s Genesee River (drains into Lake Ontario)  1883 – the Ontario government stocks Lake Superior streams near Sault St. MN. MI.Great Lakes stocking history   1876 –McCloud tributary strain reared and released into MI’s Au Sable River (drains into Lake Huron). MT. ME. PA. WI. a tributary of Lake Michigan (first known runs) Mid-1890’s – difficulty with brood stock in MI causes hatcheries to change fish to Klamath River strain Late 1890’s – OH. & NY stock Lake Tributaries with McCloud strain       1893 – US Fish Commission intentionally collects McCloud strain steelhead eggs for introduction in the US 1900 – steelhead introduced and present in CO. NY. CT. UT. Marie with what was thought to be upper McCloud River rainbow trout  (later upper McCloud found to be spawning tributary for steelhead) Early 1890’s – steelhead runs begin on Little Manistee River. & WY (many stockings were unsuccessful) 1900’s-1940’s – runs begin to establish . NH. VT.

Great Lakes stocking problems  1950’s – Lake Michigan steelhead population crashes due to arrival of sea lamprey and alewife from Atlantic Coast ocean-going vessels  1960’s – Lake Ontario gets stocked with coho and chinook salmon to help eradicate the alewife problem  1970’s to present – heavy stocking program by PA in Erie and NY in Ontario produce large #”s of fish without suitable habitat to sustain natural reproduction .

BEFORE PACIFIC SALMON RUNS   Fishing is river flow dependant Runs can start as early as May and extend until early October .Seasons  Winter-run populations mature in open water and run upriver to spawn (run from Nov-April) .JUST AFTER PACIFIC SALMON RUNS   Fishing is river flow and weather dependant Runs can start as early as mid-late October and extend until 2nd week of May  Summer-run populations mature after run into freshwater to spawn (run from May-October) .

The Great Lakes .

Clair •Lake St. Clair via Detroit River into Lake Erie •Lake Erie via Niagra River (Niagra Falls) into Lake Ontario (Welland Canal circumvents Niagra Falls) •Lake Ontario via St.The Great Lakes Flow Direction •Lake Superior via St. Clair River into Lake St. Mary’s River into Lake Huron •Lake Huron via St. Lawrence River into the Atlantic Ocean .

Steelhead Fishing Opportunities .

Lake Erie .

catch ratio tends to be higher . PA. averaging 6-8lbs. snowmelt & rain in spring Water flow  Heavier flows give fish confidence to push upriver. extreme cases will seek relief in slower water Steelhead use clarity for cover Seasonal – fall temps at 45 degrees. spring temps in mid-high 30’s Overcast & cloudy days ideal  Behavior in tributaries affected by:     Water clarity    Water temperature Light levels *NOTE:  Lake Erie fish run smaller.Seasons of the Lake Erie Tributaries    Lake Erie tributaries are fall and spring fisheries (smaller creeks freeze in the winter) Predominantly a steelhead fishery Variables that will trigger spawning run    Lake shore temperatures & photo periods becoming shorter (68 degrees F) cause them to stage in estuaries Water temperature (river temps between 54-60 degrees F) Water flow .rain & water tables affect river flow in fall. & Ontario. but due to quantities of fish stocked by NY.

Lake Erie Tributary Flies & Techniques  Flies  Egg patterns (small size #8-14) asst colors    Glo Bug Sucker Spawn Crystal Meth Hare’s ear Pheasant Tail Prince Nymph Egg sucking leech Wooly Bugger Marabou Spey  Nymph patterns (size #6-14)     Streamer patterns (size #4-12)     Techniques     Traditional indicator techniques 90 degree rigs Tight-line nymphing Swinging flies .

Lake Erie Tributary Access & Locations PA Tribs Lake Erie Pennsylvania map (click for map) .

4-Mile through 12-Mile creeks 4-Mile through 12Mile Creeks (click for map) .

4-Mile through 12-Mile creeks •Smaller creeks •8-Mile. more intimate rivers •All limestone creeks •All creeks usually only accessible north of Rte 5 . 12-Mile clear before other rivers •Can generally be crowded (easy access) •Smaller.

Lower Elk Creek Lower Elk Creek (click for map) .

Lower Elk Creek •Premier western Erie creek •Largest runs of fish •Wild reproduction •Good access & room to roam .

Upper Elk Creek Upper Elk Creek (click for map) .

Upper Elk Creek •Good access and fishing when lower river is crowded •Good holding water later fall/winter •More intimate fishing conditions .

Lake Erie Tributary Access & Locations NY Tribs .

Cattaraugus Creek .

Cattaraugus Creek •Lower section (Gowanda & Seneca Nations) •Lower middle section (lower Zoar Valley) •Upper middle section (upper Zoar Valley) .

Cattaraugus Creek •Upper section (Springville dam) .

Other Western NY Erie Tributaries •Chatauqua Creek •Canadaway Creek •18 Mile Creek •Silver Creek .

Lake Ontario .

averaging 10-12lbs.Seasons of the Lake Ontario Tributaries    Lake Ontario tributaries are fall. but due to depth and harder rock substrate. & spring fisheries (larger rivers don’t freeze. sometimes sunny days are excellent *NOTE:  Lake Ontario fish run larger. extreme cases will seek relief. including side channels Steelhead use clarity for cover Seasonal – fall temps at 45 degrees. winter. but slush becomes an issue) Salmon. and steelhead fishery Variables that will trigger spawning run    Lake shore temperatures & photo periods becoming shorter (68 degrees F) cause them to stage in estuaries Water temperature (river temps between 54-60 degrees F) Water flow . spring temps in mid-high 30’s Water clarity   Water temperature  Light levels  Overcast & cloudy days ideal. often exceeding 15lbs. .releases from reservoirs and fall rains  Behavior in tributaries affected by:   Water flow   Heavier flows give fish confidence to push upriver. brown trout.

Lake Ontario Tributary Flies & Techniques  Flies  Egg patterns (larger size #6-12) asst colors    Glo Bug Estaz egg Sucker Spawn Prince Nymph Black Stonefly Caddis Egg sucking leech Articulated flies Marabou Spey  Nymph patterns (size #6-14)     Streamer patterns (size #1/0-10)     Techniques     Traditional indicator techniques 90 degree rigs Tight-line nymphing Swinging flies .

Lake Ontario Tributary Access & Locations .

larger eggs work well •Steelhead runs are best in spring .Oak Orchard Creek •Creek runs NE from Albion NY to the lake •Most notable for brown trout (sight casting for 10-20lb fish) •Heavy salmon runs.

Salmon River .

Salmon River Salmon River (click for maps) .

Steelheading gear .

Rods & Reels •Rods • • Erie Tribs • 6 & 7-weight rods Ontario Tribs • 7 & 8-weight rods •Reels • Line holding device • Sturdy drag • Sealed drag (winter) •Lines • Long belly lines for mending • Cold water specific lines • Sinking lines/sink tips for spey/switch .

Clothing •Waders • Breathable fabric • Room for insulation • Amenities •Boots • Studded (ALWAYS!) • Non-felt to avoid snow buildup •Layering • Wicking base layer (Capilene) • Mid-weight mid-layer • Insulating fleece/wool •Outerwear • Waterproof & breathable • Ample storage •Headwear/Gloves •Sunglasses .

com •FishSalmonRiver. river characteristics •USGS gauge information – water flow •Fishing reports & conditions •Weather. & expertise .com •UrbanAngler.com •FishErie.com for gear.com •OakOrchardFlyshop.com & employees •Books/videos •Location & Scouting •The internet is your friend! •Google Earth / Google Maps •Access roads. direction. help.Doing your homework •Talk to anglers who’ve been there •UrbanAngler.com •CattaraugusCreekOutfitters.

FIN .

Credits • Salmon River Maps courtesy of NYS DEC (available on the NYS DEC website) • Angler photos are copyrighted and courtesy of Richard Farino & Raymond Nason all rights reserved • Product imagery courtesy of Simms Fishing Products and Sage Fly Rods • Great Lakes stocking history info taken from: •Flyfishing for Great Lakes Steelhead – Rick Kustich •Steelhead Guide to Fishing Lake Erie Tributaries – John Nagy •Trout (Wildlife Series) – Judith Stolz .

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful