Steelhead fishing in Erie, Pennsylvania

Steelhead Fishing Tips, Tricks, Gear, and Locations in Pennsylvania

Steelhead fishing in Erie, Pennsylvania is a destination for many avid anglers from across the state. With many miles of Lake Erie tributaries to fish it is not uncommon to run into other fisherman chasing the “chrome”—a popular name for the freshly spawning steelhead.

Each year, spring and fall, the steelhead begin their spawning journey. These fish remember the exact tributary that they were stocked in as smolt. They swim to the mouth of the tributary and when the conditions are just right they begin swimming upstream. Most of the fish only travel under the cover of darkness. If a fisherman fished until last light, or a little past, they can often observe fish fighting their way up the current as they continue their journey. 

Steelhead Fishing Gear

When targeting steelhead it is important to have the right gear as these fish are very power and can cover water rather quickly. We will start from the bottom up. It is imperative to have a good set of wading boots and waders. Wading boots with metal studs work well on the shale bottom creeks that make up most of the fishable water.   

Weather can change in a heartbeat with lake effect precipitation as the biggest culprit. A wading stick can come in very handy when crossing swift current or rising water. People often use either a fold-up wading stick or one that they have a tethered to their wading belt. The wading stick then rests in the water but is always attached to the fisherman for easy access. 

Warm clothes are a life saver. Many mornings, especially in late fall and early winter are bitterly cold. The proper cold weather gear will greatly increase the fisherman’s ability to endure the possible cold, wind, rain, snow, ice, etc. Fingerless fleece gloves make tying knots, feeling the fly line or fishing line easier. The finger tips will get cold, especially after handling a fish. Having a set of hand warmers in each pocket will warm them right up. 

A set of polarized glasses can make a huge difference especially when sight fishing. Which most of the time, sight fishing is an effective way to locate a group of fish, hungry fish or both. 

As for the rod and reel, there are a few ways to fish for these steelhead. The good majority of anglers use a fly rod. While a decent amount also use a spinning rod with either egg sacks, spinners or minnows as bait, fly fisherman use beefier rods to effectively fight these large fish. A solid starting point for fly fishing is to use a 10 foot 7 weight rod with a 7/8 reel. Obviously, these specs may vary depending on each angler’s desires.  

Choosing a fly that will trigger a reaction can sometimes be difficult. Egg patterns are a great place to start. Since these fish are spawning there are eggs in the water and a large majority of the fish’s diet are eggs. Sometimes the fish do not like the egg patterns due to being educated by other fisherman. In which case, small nymphs are a great go to. Size 14-16 dark colored nymphs can do the trick.  

Low, clear water can make fishing difficult. The fish become skittish and tough to hook. Using a small size tippet like 5x or 6x can help reduce the likelihood of fish seeing the line. Using lighter tippet also results in having to really play the fish when hooked.  

Strike indicators, like Thingamabobber’s, help lift the anglers fly to the depth of suspended fish. When the water is clear, steelhead may get spooked by the strike indicator. A stimulator patter can be tied on above the lower flies to act as an indicator. This can greatly reduce the risk of spooking a fish. 

Steelhead can be stubborn. Do not get discouraged if the fish does not take the fly right away. It may take quite a while to get a strike. If the fish is not interested, tie on a different pattern and try again. Continue to do so until the fish eats it or spooks.

Locations To Fish Fall Steelhead

There are many great tributaries to fish in Erie. Elk Creek, Crooked Creek, Walnut Creek, 16 and 20 Mile Creek are great streams. Use these tips, get yourself some gear, and get out there and chase some chrome! 

Spring Steelhead Fishing Opportunities on the Lake Erie Tributaries

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.