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Ohio's Fall Steelhead Fishing Heats Up

November 16, 2012

SANDUSKY, OH - Stream and pier anglers have an excellent opportunity to catch quality-sized steelhead trout from September through May.

The Division of Wildlife annually stocks five Lake Erie tributary streams with 6-8" yearling Little Manistee River (Michigan) strain of steelhead. These fish migrate out into Lake Erie and spend the summer in the cooler part of the lake before returning to streams during the fall through the spring. Steelhead trout caught by anglers in the streams typically average 25" long and weigh 5-6 pounds. These fish have usually spent 2-3 summers out in the lake (see growth chart below). However, there are a good number of fish that are over 30 inches and weigh more than 10 pounds and have spent up to six summers in the lake.

Ohio's primary steelhead streams are Vermilion, Rocky, Chagrin and Grand rivers and Conneaut Creek. Several other rivers including the Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Huron and Black rivers, and Arcola, Cowles, Wheeler, French, Euclid, Turkey, Beaver and Cold creeks get runs of stray steelhead. While Ohio Division of Wildlife biologists have noted a small amount of natural reproduction, it varies greatly from year-to-year. It is too low and erratic to support the quality fishery that has been developed and that anglers have come to expect. Good quantities of cold, spring water and adequate juvenile trout habitat are also rare in NE Ohio's Lake Erie tributaries. The fantastic fishing has been maintained by annual stocking and by the practice of most anglers to catch and release. See below for methods and links on how to catch 'em.

Article Photos

Steelhead trout caught by anglers in the streams typically average 25' long and weigh 5-6 pounds.

For the near future, the Rocky, Chagrin and Grand rivers are scheduled to receive 90,000 fish. Conneaut Creek is scheduled to receive 75,000 fish from Ohio and 75,000 fish from the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. The Vermilion River is scheduled to receive 55,000 steelhead. Total targeted annual stocking numbers projected from Ohio hatcheries will remain at 400,000 steelhead; there are no current plans to deviate from this target. All steelhead for Ohio's program are raised at the Division of Wildlife's Castalia State Fish Hatchery. Stocking numbers were lower in 2011 due to hatchery contingencies, external production losses, and some disease issues.

During the previous two steelhead seasons (Fall 2008 through Spring 2010), we conducted creel surveys to evaluate our steelhead fisheries and gain knowledge about our fish returns, fishing pressure, and angler demographics and opinions. Results from the creel surveys have been summarized in a final report (PDF) which is available by clicking here.

Thanks go out to the many anglers who participated in our follow-up study of Ohio's steelhead anglers in cooperation with the Ohio State University School of Environment and Natural Resources. We learned a lot of good things about the popularity of the Ohio steelhead program, motivations of our steelheaders, and the avidity of our steelhead anglers.

Fact Box

The daily bag limit of 2 steelhead trout and salmon in the aggregate valid from September 1st through May 15th.

Where to catch steelhead

Vermilion River:

Fish from the Vermilion boat ramp up to Birmingham.

Rocky River:

Fish from the Metroparks marina to the dam above the Cedar Point Rd. pools.

Cuyahoga River:

Fish in Cleveland Harbor and up to the Cuyahoga Valley Nat'l Park.

Chagrin River:

Fish from the soccer fields upstream to North Chagrin Reservation.

Grand River:

Fish from the Fairport breakwall up to Harpersfield Dam.

Arcola Creek:

Fish the river mouth, estuary and creek in the Metropark.

Ashtabula River:

Fish from the river mouth up through Indian Trails Park.

Conneaut Creek:

Fish from the river mouth up to the state line.

Don't forget the daily bag limit of 2 steelhead trout and salmon in the aggregate valid from September 1st through May 15th!

For additional information about Rocky River Metroparks and their weekly fishing report, click here.

There are many public access areas on Ohio streams. If you are on private property, you must have landowner permission. Don't trespass! Private landowners have the right to restrict access on their property. In Ohio, you can gain access to the stream from public access points, but the private land ownership includes their land under the stream. The streams listed above are navigable streams, meaning you can float a boat through them to fish; however, you cannot get out of your boat and stand on private property to fish unless you have the landowner's permission.

Fish Consumption advisories have been issued for certain Lake Erie trout and salmon species and locations in Ohio. Find out more specifics and guidelines from our Lake Erie Fish Consumption Advisory Web Page

Real-time stream flow data is available at the following links for the Grand, Chagrin, Rocky, Vermilion rivers and Conneaut Creek. Want to know how much rain or snow fell in the last 24 hours?

How to catch 'em:

Typical set-ups are long (7-10'), limber, spinning or fly rods with light line (4-8 lb. test). Common lures in the fall, early winter, and again in the spring include small (1/16 to 1/80 oz.) marabou or synthetic hair jigs tipped with maggots rigged with split shot under a light pencil-thin bobber. Spoons (Little Cleo, KO Wobblers) and spinners (Rooster Tails, Vibrax, etc.) are commonly used on piers, beaches and lower stream reaches. Flyfishers (using 6-9 wt. rods and weight-forward lines) prefer larger, weighted fly patterns, such as nymphs and streamers like woolly buggers, princes, egg-sucking leeches, stonefly and shiner patterns and clouser minnows. Egg fly patterns (single or cluster, sucker spawn, etc.) work well as a single fly or in tandem with a nymph or streamer once the fish move upstream. Salmon or trout eggs are fished as either individual eggs or grouped together in mesh "spawn bags" about the size of a dime or nickel. Eggs can be bounced along the bottom with the current or fished at or near the bottom suspended under a bobber. The fish will be oriented to cover or moderate to deep water pools in the fall, and move into cuts or gravel runs as they make their way upstream for spawning. As stream temperatures warm during the spring, expect fish to be more likely to chase flies, lures or bait and to be found in riffles and runs. Then in mid April - mid May, they move back downstream and into Lake Erie for the summer. Click on the following links to learn more about Basic Steelhead Fishing techniques and Advanced Steelhead Fishing techniques.



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