Two eyes and a wiggle
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.
This article helps explain the put and take Lake Erie steelhead fishery. Special thanks to Steve Gdanetz, Bob Zawadzki, and Bob Hetzg who are some of the people that get the job done. They provided great information so I ran plenty of video tape and kept edits to a minimum and then I divided the interview sessions into several.
Anglers 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 stocking takes place. After months of rearing, smolts are released into Lake Erie tributaries.
Those smolts are another generation of steelhead taken as eggs from adult fish that started their "lake life" the same way. They were planted into a Lake Erie tributary or Presque Isle bay, matured and thrived in Lake Erie. They returned to the streams or bay first as 2-year old "jacks" and then a year later as mature adults.
If you want a better understanding of 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 videos.
I visited 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. 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.
Both "Bob's" are easy to talk to, and we quickly spent two hours talking. I had hoped to get a short interview with each and ended up with 35 minutes of video. We discussed club history, recent past, accomplishments, and challenges. I posted our conversation at the end of this story.
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.