ERIE (AP) – Steelhead fishing around the tributaries of Lake Erie can be incredible. The key is knowing what works and doesn’t for these unique fish in Pennsylvania.
The anticipation of hooking into a large 25-inch trout makes Erie an annual destination for many anglers across the commonwealth.
When the fish were young, they were stocked in the shallow creeks and then they swam into Lake Erie. Now they are following that mental imprint and scent of the stream to return to home during the spawning time of the year.
Kirk Rudzinski, owner East End Angler sport shop, Josh Feltenberger, FishUSA pro shop manager, and Dan Seaman, owner of Elk Creek Sports Store, recently shared their advice on how to fish during different water conditions and times of year.
Low and clear: Clear water can be difficult fishing as the fish notice people walking around the waterways. “Their eyesight is incredible,” Rudzinski said. He added that steelhead can sense when people are walking along the creek.
Feltenberger said fishermen in low, clear water need to be stealthy by using longer fishing poles and not using bobbers.
Kirk Rudzinski, owner East End Angler, shows some of the woolly bugger and mop flies that catch steelhead.
He suggests using small minnows and flies such as woolly buggers in natural colors. He said white, olive, black, brown and tan are good choices this time of year.
Rising water: Rudzinski suggests night crawlers or red worms in these conditions. He said the San Juan worm that looks like a small red worm with a hook in the middle works well, and some fly patterns that have been effective are nymphs and woolly buggers.
Kirk Rudzinski, owner East End Angler, said anglers can find success using San Juan worms and nymphs for steelhead.
Both men said, for live bait, emerald shiner minnows are a good choice. Steelhead that have been living in 70 feet of water or more are used to seeing emerald shiners and will take them on their way to the shallow creek waters. Feltenberger said to keep in mind steelhead can smell and will be attracted to the minnows. Rudzinski advises anglers to hook the bait fish through the top lip to allow the minnow to still be able to swim.
High water: Rudzinski said when the creeks are high, it’s difficult to fish. “Our creek bottoms are shale and become violent.” He said heavy rains will make the streams cloudy, dirty and turbulent – like water coming out of a pipe.
He said during high water you don’t want to wade as you can’t see where you are stepping in the murky, fast moving water. During high water you should fish near the edges in little eddies of slow moving water.
Lake Erie: Fish often stage at the mouths of the Lake Erie tributaries waiting to swim up stream. Rudzinski said some of the popular lures to use are spoons like Kastmaster, Cleo, Pheobe and KO Wobbler. Preferred color choices are blue and chrome, and green and chrome that emulate the shiners swimming in the region.
Size spoon sizes range from 1/12 of an ounce up to 1/2 ounce. He said the deeper the water, the larger the spoon. “If you choose the 1/2 ounce, you will be donating it to the creek pretty quick,” he said about trying a larger, heavier spoon in shallow water. “If I’m casting into a creek, I’m down to the 1/12 ounce,” he said.
Feltenberger offers some similar options. For fish that are staging in front of the creeks, anglers are using Rooster Tail spinners, spoons and small crank baits where the fish are still holding in the lake.
Single salmon eggs: Feltenberger said to use a small size 16 to 20 hook with a single egg. Rudzinski feels single egg patterns will work all year in a variety of colors such as pink, white, orange, yellow and green.
Rudzinski said egg sacks are effective, too.
Waxworms, grubs and maggots: Live bait can be fished at varying depths with the use of a bobber in slow moving waters. Rudzinski said for the purist, “it’s a strike indicator,” he said about bobbers. When fishing rapids, you don’t use a bobber, just a couple split shots to hold your line down.
Seaman, who has owned his sports store for 43 years, said the early season baits are spoons and spinners and also crank-bait because fish will chase them in warmer waters. Also popular are PowerBait dough bait, minnows and maggots, tipping jigs.
Artificial flies: Both Rudzinski and Feltenberger said artificial flies, streamers and nymphs work well. Rudzinski mentioned several colorful names of flies that are available including Scrambled eggs, which are a fluffy egg shape in different colors, Crystal Meth, which is a sparkling fly with strings trimmed around it, and sucker spawn, which has loops in it.
Noodle rods: With water being clear, it’s helpful to use as thin a line as possible. To make that happen, there are noodle rods that are much longer than typical spinning rods. The long, 9- to-12-foot noodle rods absorb some of the fight that is normally only placed on the fishing line.