Looking for good information about the fall steelhead run?
The best source for data are reports published by the Lake Erie Coldwater Task Group. Fisheries experts from NY, MI, PA, OH and Ontario compile a series of data sets and tables from which you can create estimates of what to expect when the fall run begins.
Lately, anecdotal evidence has led many anglers to believe we have experienced a decrease in steelhead catch-rates when compared to previous good years. They have good reasons to sense a troubling pattern.
For instance, on page 37 of the most recent, LECTG report, the following statement about stocking numbers for 2020 foretells a future run when less Lake Erie steelhead will be available. . . “Steelhead stocking decreased 40% in New York, decreased 8% in Ohio, decreased 2% in Pennsylvania and was unchanged in Michigan”. The decreased stocking numbers outlined in this report will populate the 2022 run.
Given the “put n’ take” nature of the Lake Erie steelhead program, fewer smolts stocked means future fall runs will have less returning steelhead.
As far as the 2021 run this fall goes, the report referenced above provides data to form an understanding of what to expect.
To begin with, we can get a peek at the potential fall run for 2021 if you review the number of steelhead caught on the lake by open-water anglers fishing for other species like walleye. The chart shows a substantial increase in 2020 catch rates when compared to the previous year 2019. If that pattern repeated this summer, it is a good sign for this fall.
Numbers don’t lie. The run that will begin this fall is determined by the number of smolts stocked in 2019. Those one-year old smolts spend 1 ½ years in Lake Erie and begin returning in the fall of 2021 as mature steelhead.
Here are the stocking numbers published in the report:
The questions you need answered is how many of the 2019 smolts survived “stocking trauma,” thrived in Lake Erie and are returning to your favorite tributary this fall?
First the bad news, 95% did not make it! That is no surprise to the biologists who manage the Lake Erie steelhead program. The main reason why is predation. Big fish eat little fish, some birds are fish eating machines, and spring anglers accidentally kill some of the stock before they make it to the lake.
The 5% that do survive and return from Lake Erie are fun to catch so here are the numbers for how many steelhead are headed to your favorite spot.
Steelhead catching goes on all summer long as walleye anglers hit a few by accident. As the steelhead begin to stage closer to the tributaries, some boat anglers will troll and target early season steelhead too.
Shore angling for pre-run steelhead begins in mid-September for anglers fishing the piers and lake shore with spoons. Night or low-light fishing times are best, but the action is spotty and seldom worth making a special trip.
October, November and early-December are when most angler travel to Lake Erie for steelhead. Water temperature, stream flow rates, air temperatures, and weather conditions are the variables that make or break a trip. During those months when condition permit, you have the best chance for success.
Modern technology is making steelhead trip planning easier. You can watch webcams to see what is happing before you go. You can check flow gauges to get water level and temperature. Weather apps provide more information than the local TV station meteorologist. Finally, the ever present cell phone keeps together a network of anglers from which to get “intel”. Use it all to succeed.