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               Fall 2006 Feature Article

Visit the NEW Walleye Tackle

Scorpion Stinger Spoons

Lake Erie Fishing Maps

The Official
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NEW Walleye Coolie Can/Bottle
Beverage Holders



Discovering “Steelhead Alley”
By Greg Senyo

The world famous” Steelhead Alley” as it is known to the rest of the country is located right here in our backyards in North Eastern Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Lake Erie’s shores are littered with over 300 miles of unobstructed streams.  Ohio and Pennsylvania has some of the most densely stocked Steelhead streams in the world, with over 2 million 6-9 inch smolts implanted in her waters each year.  Erie, the shallowest of our Great Lakes, has a diverse habitat and a multitude of food sources for steelhead trout. Coupled with clearing waters from the invading Zebra Mussels, Steelhead are thriving in the big lake.  These favorable conditions attribute to the success of our fishery. After two years in Lake Erie these fish return to the stream where they were stocked to propagate or spawn.  Unfortunately, our streams are not conductive to natural reproduction so the fish make this spawning run in vain. When they return to the stream the size and strength of this opportunistic feeder is quite impressive. Anglers have taken notice.  The steelhead program has created a world class steelhead fishery and destination on Lake Erie’s tributary streams

As the fall season quickly approaches excitement is in the air.  Dedicated anglers from the tri- state area and beyond begin to frantically tie yarn flies and jigs getting ready for the first runs of the season. They gather their fly rods and noodle rods from their short lived summer resting places. These anglers spend countless hours and dollars on the newest and best fishing equipment available. Lake Erie steelheading has become big business for our region of the state.

Finally the moment of truth comes! It’s finally time to hit the tributaries in search of the greatest fresh water game fish on the planet “Oncorhynchus Mykiss “the steelhead trout! Sound interesting?  Here are some tips and tactics that could help you become a better steelheader…

The most important aspect of a good steelheader is to be mobile. Far too many anglers fish the same spots and sections of stream every trip.  Sure you will catch some fish but you will increase your odds and enjoy the sport even more if you stay on the move. Being mobile also can help to reduce the number of anglers and pressured fish you will encounter though out the day making for a more exciting and rewarding experience.  Please do your homework.  In Pennsylvania and Ohio the landowner owns the streambed.  Permission is required on private lands.  Fortunately, most of these landowners share the sporting heritage and allow fishing on their property.

Having a game plan can save the day! Everyone around here knows how unpredictable our weather conditions are here on Lake Erie.  Knowing where to go when your favorite tributary is blow out by heavy rains is priceless!!! Due to the widely varying stream sizes on “Steelhead Alley” every stream takes a different amount of time to clear after a high water period.  Learn to be a weather watcher.  With many tributaries within a couple hours drive east or west you can fish steelhead everyday of the season if you watch the weather and plan ahead. Take note of the high water run off times on the local tributaries that you frequent.  Try to be there as the stream level falls after a high water period.  As the water level falls prime conditions exist when the stream turns that magic green color that veteran steelheaders so desperately search for.  High water often brings in fresh run fish that are un-pressured and un-educated to the baits and flies that we use.  As the water recedes these fish become vulnerable to anglers.  Arguably this the best time to fish.  Time it right and you may just be rewarded with an exciting day of arm tiring, leaping, drag burning chromers.

Try to plan steelhead trips on the week days to avoid extremely high numbers of anglers and spooked fish. Our favorite times to fish are in the early mornings and late evenings.  Our runs start in October and continue thru May.  Favorite seasonal dates are during the deer hunting seasons or when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns are on television. These circumstances can void a steelhead tributary in a hurry leaving lots of hungry fish all to yourself.

For some anglers locating fish seems to be the biggest obstacle to overcome. Unfortunately we can’t have optimum conditions every day.  Due to the shallow nature of our streams low and clear water is a problem often faced by fall steelheaders.  It is true that this low water makes it possible to see the fish and sight fish for them. This clear water also makes the fish very spooky.  Just because you can see the fish doesn’t mean they will be easy to catch. Small stealth presentations are a must.  The observant angler notes the locations these fish are holding in and stores them away for future reference when better stream conditions exist.  During these low water periods steelhead will rest and congregate below an obstacle or obstruction such as waterfalls, shallow water flats, and dams.  Resting areas include current breaks, wing dams, rocks, and logs. These areas and pools with some depth offer fish security. Fish may also be found holding in water as shallow as 1 or 2 foot deep in the riffles.  They use this broken water surface as cover.  Depth is very important to steelhead but it is relative to the section of stream you are on.

Another common scenario we are faced with is stained water with 5-7 inches of visibility.  Soon this stained water will clear to optimum conditions but you want to fish NOW! This stained water offers security for moving steelhead making their annual spawning run.  Even though there may be lots of fish present this is the most troubling situation most anglers face.  To find running fish first you must find the path of least resistance.  Current seams, breaks and inside edges are key. The deepest part of a given section of stream will be a road way for running fish. Our tributaries are fairly shallow to begin with, so any change in depth will entice steelhead movement greatly. Pay close attention to shallow rapid flats and watch for fish splashing and running though these fast water stream sections, fish can be located at the entrance and exit of these flats in great numbers as they stage to move through the obstacle. There are times when you hit the run just right and fish will swim right by your feet, between your legs, and behind you totally oblivious to your presence.  Almost unbelievable numbers of fish are landed on such days.  Becoming a weather watcher and planning your trips when conditions are right greatly increases your chance of finding steelhead nirvana.

Our steelhead streams are a fly fisherman’s paradise.  These big steelhead require small stealth presentations and the fly rod is the perfect tool.  Fly selections for steelhead fishing should include a variety of nymph, egg and baitfish patterns.  For nymph imitations stone flies are the ticket, we use them in black, blue, gray, and gold all year long. Black and Golden Stoneflies along with rock caddis are the prevalent insect life in our streams.  Many steelhead specific flies have evolved in the Lake Erie region.  Senyo’s wiggle stones, Dons Fools Gold, and Ironhed’s rubber legged stones are favorites of the local guides. Other good nymph patterns include pheasant tails, copper johns, princes, and hares ears. These standard nymph patterns are proven fish catchers year in and year out.  Steelhead also readily feed on the abundant eggs in the stream.  Patterns for egg flies would include Sucker spawn, Glo-Bugs, Crystal Meth, Blood Dots, and Skein flies.  No steelheaders fly box would be complete without an Emerald Shiner fly pattern.  This baitfish is highly sought after by the steelhead while in the lake. Shiners are like steelhead candy.!  Good choices would be appropriately colored Zonkers, Clouser minnows, and the almighty woolly bugger.

We have also found that by incorporating some sort of movement in our flies they become much more irresistible to the fish.  Adding soft hackles, marabou and other high motion materials imparts life into the fly and is one option. We also have had great success with the articulated two piece fly designs such as the Senyo’s wiggle stone.  These articulated designs closely mimic the swimming motion of a nymph in the stream and are deadly on steelhead.

For the spin fisherman bait selection for steelhead would include live shiners, Single eggs, power bait, maggots, meal worms, crawlers, and egg sacs in pink, chartreuse, and orange.  Many spin fishermen simply run flies below their float. The most important rule of steelheading is “remember the dead drift. It doesn’t matter what type of rod you choose. You must present your offering in a natural manner on a drag free dead drift to catch fish.  In a steelheads world things flow directly down current.  Objects that move sideways in the current are unnatural and avoided.  A drag free drift can be achieved by using high stick nymphing and right angle float techniques.  These techniques are explained in great detail in John Nagy’s Steelhead Guide Book a recommended read for anyone fishing Lake Erie Tributaries.

We have guided a lot of anglers and viewed many more streamside. Many anglers have the steelhead game down to a science, but fail to land this powerful fish due to a few simple mistakes that can easily be corrected. Once a fish is hooked get it on the reel as fast as possible, and let it blow off energy in the first run.  A quality Disc drag reel is a must to wear steelhead down in an acceptable time limit.  Keep constant steady pressure – no slack line... Make sure your hand is off the reel handle and let the fish run. Be ready to chase fish running down stream, this is because once the fish turns back up stream you are pulling the hook out of the fishes mouth  instead of into the corner of its mouth. Try to stay parallel to the fish at all times, and don’t be afraid to use your rod by putting it side to side to turn the fishes head to your favor. A straight up and down rod puts very little pressure on the fish because it doesn’t use very much of the rods energy, by turning the rod left to right side you maximize the amount of rod pressure used against the fish.  By moving your rod side to side you turn the fishes head sideways in the current.  This takes away his aerodynamic advantage and shortens the fight dramatically.  Shorter fights equal a better chance of a successful catch and release.

Many anglers today prefer to catch and release, and that is great!! Here are some tips to help ensure that your released steelhead survives for someone else to enjoy. Use a catch and release net (rubber Coated) or a cotton net. Avoid Nylon nets it removes the fishes protective slime coating causing infections. Keep the fish in the net in the water at all times!!! I see to many anglers hold fish over dry land only to see it be dropped six times during a photo, you might as well put it on a stringer it going to die. Get your camera and remove the hook with hemostats before the fish is removed from the net.  Stay in the stream, kneeling down low toward the water during the photo. If the fish does get away from you it just swims away.  Steelhead  are very slippery!  Carry a cotton or catch and release glove and use this glove to firmly grip the fish at the wrist in front of the tail, this will give you control and enable you to hold the steelhead without injuring it. Keep all fingers and hands away from gills!!! Once again many anglers do this with little disregard for the fish. Never hoist a steelhead by the gill plate.  Its neck isn’t strong enough to support its weight.  Even if the fish does not bleed from the gills,  fish handled in this manner have a poor chance of survival.   If you are keeping your catch this is fine, just don’t release it to die because of lack of education or ignorance.

We wish everyone a great 2006 steelhead season, below is a list of local bait shops. Also listed are several on line steelhead informational websites/ forums and fly suppliers.  Please support our local businesses.  They keep us informed and have professional and friendly staffs willing to help anyone who wants to catch steelhead on Lake Erie Tributaries.

Steelhead web sites:

Streamside fishing guides:

Don Mathews  330-565-5457
Greg Senyo  419-466-9382
Jeff Novak  330-898-7518
Jason Gregory  814-836-7000

Local bait shops: Pennsylvania

Elk Creek Sports 814-774-8755
Folleys End 814-474-5730
BAC   814-474-3992
Poor Richards West 814-474-5623  East 814 725-8483

Local Bait Shops: Ohio

Grand River Tackle 440-352-7222
Books and Hooks 330-545-1906
TMF Orvis Ravenna 330-296-2614
Erie shore Chagrin 440-942-3470
Pine Lake 440-543-1331

Greg Senyo

Jag fly Company custom steelhead flies
Dfishinfool’s guide service
Contributer to Lake Erie Walleye Online Magazine at