2 anglers, 2 days, 20 steelhead
No angler with winter steelhead fishing experience expects catch-rates in January to be similar to what we experienced this past November. If you are lucky enough to be fishing this month, you may agree that statement is true.
We recently fished Elk, Walnut and Conneaut Creeks. Poor stream conditions during our trip made the fishing tough, but we were determined to deal with the low flow and gin-clear water and make the most of our time on the tributaries. The weather was great – forty degrees, cloud cover and some precipitation. Not bad for Erie in January.
Most, but not all, of the steelhead expected to arrive in the fall-run have migrated well upstream in the tributaries. The fish are scattered and angler fishing pressure decreased from the shoulder-to-shoulder days in October thru December to more angler friendly levels now. There is plenty of casting room and a good number of available fish. Don’t expect fresh fish. They are darker in color, their slow bite more delicate and hard to detect and their fight lacks the sudden runs and jumps you experienced in the fall. A few fresh jacks are showing up in the lower sections of the tributaries. You can expect more fresh steelhead to arrive in the tributaries as the water and weather gets more spring-like.
In Walnut Creek and most upstream locations on Elk Creek and Conneaut Creek, you can see the fish and they can see you. We avoided casting to these small pods of fish in shallow water and opted for deeper holes on lower Elk and Conneaut Creeks.
The best fish catching presentation was jigs. We watched several anglers produce double digit catch rates using this method. Our jigging attempt produced far less hookups [two], but we did not get skunked.
No surprise for those who know us, bottom fishing egg sacs works well for us. The method may not be the best way to catch Lake Erie steelhead, but we seldom go fishless. We stayed with egg sacs and changed fishing locations several times. After 9-hours of determined effort over two days, we eventually managed to produce a decent catch of steelhead – 18. That catch number would be a good afternoon in November, but it is a great success in lousy water conditions in mid-January. That is the reality of winter steelhead fishing.
If you are contemplating a winter trip to Erie, possess above average jig fishing skills and you understand the weather and water challenges – round up your jigs, buy some maggots and head to Erie! Just make sure you temper your expectations to match the reality of winter steelhead fishing.
Good luck, be safe, and drop FSA a note to share your fishing story.