Lake Erie Steelhead Propagation Program

 

prop·a·ga·tion - /ˌpräpəˈɡāSH(ə)n/

  • 1.the breeding of specimens of a plant or animal by natural processes from the parent stock: "the propagation of Trout Run steelhead from fertiled eggs to trophy trout!"

 

What came first, the fish or the egg? I believe that God's Word states that the fish was created first, but this is not a Bible study. It is a story about Pennsylvania's effort to sustain Lake Erie's world-class steelhead fishery and the organizations and people who work to make that happen.

After the fertilized steelhead eggs "hatch", all trophy steelhead begin life as a tiny alevin that appears to be two fish eyes with a short, wiggling tail, then on to fry, smolt, etc. you get the point.

LifeStagesAnglers appreciate the fact that whether it is natural reproduction, or "put and take" management, Lake Erie fishing success depends on a healthy lake ecosystem plus a major investment of time and money by organizations that rear game fish and stock the lake. 

Three volunteer organizations that are actively involved with the Lake Erie steelhead program are these:

In 1966, 3CU was organized and grew to become the largest Pennsylvania Boat & Fish Commissions cooperative nursery program in the state.  

The S.O.N.S. of Lake Erie Fishing Club (Save Our Native Species), an active organization of over 2000 members, was established in 1981. It is dedicated to the improvement of fishing on Lake Erie and its Pennsylvania tributaries.  

Pennsylvania Steelhead Association was found in 1996 to foster good relationships with stream landowners and maintain a professional relationship with other organizations and agencies.

Add to that list, the state agencies Pennsylvania Boat and Fish Commission, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Protection, and a few federal agencies and you get a powerful coalition.

Each spring, the annual steelhead smolt stocking takes place, but long before the stocking, the process begins with a collection of mature steelhead to provide the eggs and milt to begin the propagation process at the fish hatchery.

  

Now you can meet several individuals to learn more. Bob Zawadzki and Bob Hetz are two of the volunteers that get the job done. Special thanks to Steve Gdanetz also. 

Bob Zawadzki (Son's) and Bob Hetz (3-C-U) are two individuals who have a volunteer resume that would make any club member proud.  They have seen it all, done it all and worked for years with many other dedicated volunteers who have done likewise.

When I first met Bob Z and Bob H, I assumed that their fishing preferences were similar to most other steelhead volunteers. Wrong.  Bob Z is focused on Walleye. He catches perch with ease, loves to listen to polkas, likes duck hunting, and he does not fish for steelhead and never fishes the tributaries.  As for Bob H, he continues to rear and stocked thousands of steelhead each year.  His business card reads, 'The Trout and Tree Man'.  He is a passionate 3-C-U volunteer and well-known nursery operator.  One thing he is not is an angler.  He gave it up years ago.

If you want a better understanding of the history of the organizations that support Lake Erie's steelhead fishery program and learn about the structure of the fish propagation system then please take the time to view the interview video shot at the SON's Chestnut Street Bay Front Hatchery in downtown Erie and the Mission Fish Raceway near Fairview.

Right now, the current steelhead class reared from eggs that were stripped last fall and fertilized are growing nicely in holding areas throughout Erie County and stocked smolts from this spring are swimming in Lake Erie.

At the risk of preaching to the choir, I encourage every angler who has the means to do so to contribute your time, talent, or cash to those organizations that work for your fishing future. 

As you read this, steelhead cruise the waters of Lake Erie growing longer and heavier each day as they prepare to run the fall gauntlet of anglers that will be waiting on the piers and in the tributaries.