Ohio’s Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing

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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.

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.

During the past 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.

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.

Where to catch ’em: February 21, 2011 Main rivers are very high and muddy and are near flood stage. Small tribs will be fishable first. Warm water discharges are providing some minimal open water. Trout eggs, minnows and egg pattern flies have produced fish when open areas were found.

Vermilion River: Fish from Birmingham to the lake.
Rocky River: Fish from Cedar Point Pools to the lake.
Cuyahoga River:

Fish from the Peninsula park access to the lake.

Chagrin River: Fish from Chagrin River Reservation park access to the lake.
Grand River:

Fish from Harpersfield Dam to the lake.

Arcola Creek:

Fish from the estuary to the lake and on the beach.

Ashtabula River: Fish from Indian Trails Park to the Walnut Beach breakwall.
Conneaut Creek: Fish from the PA line to the lake.

(Click on a location name above to open a map window)

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.

Lady with steelheadFish 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? Click this: Intellicast Web Site for the region.

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 follwing links to learn more about
Basic Steelhead Fishing techniques and Advanced Steelhead Fishing techniques.

Recent Stocking Numbers:

105,770 105,763 90,467
91,915 75,005 75,001
106,164 105,058 105,001
105,755 90,090 90,293
55,743 83,192 72,684

Steelhead Growth Chart (below)

Years in Lake

Average Length

Average Weight (Pounds)