2020-2021 Steelhead Run

Summer fishing is not for me. I try to keep focused and endure the bugs and speed boat wakes, but I am only holding on until fall and the return of steelhead to Great Lake tributaries. Once you get proficient at catching 6-9# steelhead most other fish are merely a poor excuse for “angling”.


Yes, perch are great to eat and the “troll and drag to the boat” walleye catching helps fill the freezer for the winter, but if you are honest, the true rush of excitement comes from big trout!

As I check the stocking numbers and get prepared to create a fall-run estimate, I can’t help but think about the lost spring fishing of 2020 caused by COVID-19 and how that will influence future steelhead fishing.

Usually steelhead waters receive heavy spring fishing pressure. Many holdover fish from last fall, mature spring run steelhead along with spring run jacks/skippers are harvested. Got to love that term, harvested – it makes it sound like we are picking apples or threshing wheat.

Anyway, I think this fall we will enjoy better fall fishing because of the limited spring “harvest”.

Another thought. Smolts stocked in the spring of 2020 did not endure the catch and release shock delivered by the throngs of spring steelhead anglers. Those anglers were at home locked-down and protected from the latest lie delivered to us from the control masters who seek your obedience.

Hopefully many of those smolts then dodged the ducks, walleye and bass to find refuge in deep-lake waters to grow heavy and return in the years to come.

Next fall will soon be here.  Based on the best knowledge available to us, this is what to expect.

The 2020 steelhead run will begin in September and continue through May of 2021. It consists of adult steelhead from the 2018 smolt stocking [biologists agree that an optimistic 5% smolt survival rate is a reasonable #], plus “jacks/skippers” from 2019 smolt class and a few 2nd run “super steel” survivors from 2017 stocking year. 

What follows is a list of Lake Erie tributaries and the number of steelhead smolts stocked in 2018.  If you apply the smolt survival rate of 5%, you can easily estimate the number of mature steelhead that will enter a specific tributary during this season.

Notice the “strain” column.  That tells you the location from which the eggs and milt came to produce that generation of stocked smolts. As you can see, Trout Run is the parent water for most Pennsylvania smolts. I have suggested in the past that most of our Pennsylvania steelhead are “trout-run” dumb! Not sure what that means, but it helps us transition to the following list of figures and columns.

By the way, none of the following information will make you a better steelhead angler. That type of improvement requires years of experience and effort. This information can be used as an excuse for a bad fishing day or to justify how lucky you were to stumble on that enormous pod of fish that most anglers missed!

Good luck next fall.