Navigating Spring Steelhead Fishing in Erie
Every fall, thousands of anglers pack their steelhead fishing gear and head to Erie, Pennsylvania. The annual steelhead spawning runs that fill the tributaries that empty into Lake Erie are prolific. These runs draw anglers from all over the country, casting for a chance at a colossal steelhead. What could be better than that? Spring steelhead fishing opportunities of course!
Streams are crowded and fish are spooky for good reason in the fall. Numerous anglers cast all kinds of steelhead fishing lures from their trusted outdoors shop up and down the tributaries that feed into Lake Erie. Steelhead make their way up these streams in fall to start their annual spawning trip. This is the best time to fish and of course is also when most anglers flock to Erie. However, spring steelhead fishing in Erie offers as good of opportunities to catch fish in this renowned steelhead fishery.
Why Spring Steelhead Fishing is Worth the Trip
The flurry of fishing activity in Erie occurs mostly in the fall and into early winter. Once the big fall spawning runs are winding down, the fishing pressure lets up. Although, steelhead remain in the tributaries well into April and provide a great spring opportunity for anglers.
Spring brings with it warmer water temps and rising water levels. These two factors make March the second best time to fish for steelhead. Higher water levels in the spring provide remaining steelhead a fighting chance to return to Lake Erie. Their mass exodus back to the lake for the summer gives anglers a great ambush opportunity with a variety of steelhead fishing lures. Steelhead fishing in the spring is good from early March until around the opening day of trout season in early April. Once trout season opens, the Erie tributaries become filled with anglers again, as many of these creeks receive trout stocking for opening day.
The Best Place to Fish for Spring Steelhead in Erie
Walnut Creek offers the best steelhead fishing in spring. Walnut Creek is the second largest steelhead tributary and also second in popularity to Elk creek among Lake Erie tributaries.
Steelhead fishing in the spring on Walnut Creek is a great choice for two reasons. First, Walnut Creek is not an approved trout water in Pennsylvania and receives no trout stockings, unlike Elk Creek. This is important because the creek gets less spring pressure from trout anglers fishing opening day and the weeks after. Second, the creek has plenty of access for both anglers willing to wade and those looking to catch a few from the bank. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission maintains the Walnut Creek Access Area at the mouth of Walnut Creek. The access has plenty of parking and facilities. The area can be accessed via State Route 5 off of either Dutch or Manchester roads, east of the town of Fairview.
The first place to start spring steelhead fishing on Walnut Creek is the wall along the marina near the mouth of the creek. A great spot for those fishing from the bank, this deep pool collects steelhead before they spread back out into the lake. For those anglers willing to wade, another good spot is upstream from the mouth in what is called the Manchester Hole. This long, deep pool is only a short distance upstream from the access area just south of the Manchester Road . Here you can cast any number of steelhead fishing rigs and catch numerous spring steelhead.
Essentials for Spring Steelhead Fishing in Erie
How you fish for steelhead in the spring is all about having the right gear. Spring conditions change daily and being able to adapt not only your steelhead fishing tackle but also your other gear is key.
To start, you need some basic steelhead fishing gear.
Chest waders – Insulated, with wading boots that have good traction or spikes to prevent slipping on the shale rocks.
Quality fishing vest – Often you need a large selection of steelhead fishing tackle in the spring so a quality fishing vest is a must to keep everything for a full day on the water.
Cold weather clothing – Even in the spring, temperatures in the morning and evening can be around the freezing mark. Layered, cold weather clothing will allow you to adapt throughout the day.
Polarized sunglasses – When the water is not too high or muddy, steelhead can be spotted and then fished. A steelhead fishing technique that is impossible without polarized sunglasses.
Steelhead can be fished for using fly or spinning gear, however here we will focus on spin fishing.
Choose a medium-heavy, fast action rod that is in the 8- to 9-foot range. A long rod will help you light lures while still providing enough backbone to fight a big steelhead.
For reels, choose one with a smooth drag and capacity to handle at least 200-yards of 6-lb test mono line. A larger steelhead spinning reel will let you fight fish more effectively and result in fewer break-offs.
Steelhead Fishing Techniques for Spring
Successfully fishing Erie tributaries for steelhead is heavily dependent on water conditions. In spring, water conditions vary daily with snowmelt, precipitation and temperature. The best advice for spring steelhead fishing is to think like a trout.
Steelhead are trout and as such, they act similarly. When the water is low and clear, fish will move towards deeper pools like the Manchester Hole mentioned earlier. Fish long riffles when the water becomes discolored and focus on eddies near shore when the water is high and muddy.
The most popular steelhead fishing technique is drift fishing. Cast across and upstream and let your line drift as naturally as possible downstream towards the fish. You want to make sure you keep your lure or bait as close to the bottom as possible. Steelhead rarely swim in the upper two-thirds of the water column so fishing near the surface is pointless.
Steelhead fishing lures like spoons, spinners artificial eggs and worms should all be part of your arsenal in the spring. Fish artificial baits like eggs and soft plastics on a #6 single hook with enough weight, about a foot from the hook, to keep the bait just off the creek bottom. In addition, you can also fish flat water by drifting an artificial worm or live bait on a 1/8-ounce jig head. Finally, when all else fails, try casting and slowly reeling a large trout spinner or spoon. Often times these steelhead fishing lures can trigger a reaction bite when nothing else is working.
If you are itching to hit the water after a long winter, then spring steelhead fishing is for you. The springtime opportunities on the Lake Erie tributaries are second only to the fall steelhead runs. Focus on Walnut Creek and stick to your “trout know-how” to land a few retreating steelhead.