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Erie steelhead abound as weather cools

Ohio’s annual steelhead run may have started slowly this year, but it has picked up steam over the past two weeks as the weather cools and the rains fall.

Steelhead, which are rainbow trout that migrate from their native streams to spend summers feeding in big water where baitfish are abundant, return to the streams where they were hatched or stocked every year as autumn arrives.

In our Pacific Northwest, steelhead summer in the ocean and run up into the rivers of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California and British Columbia. Famed waters include the Columbia, Snake, Rogue, Kenai and Yukon rivers.

In Ohio, the steelhead return from Lake Erie starting after Labor Day to waters that may not have the name cachet as the Pacific streams, but which are very productive and highly fishing friendly for northeastern Ohioans. Conneaut, Grand, Ashtabula and Rocky may not be the rivers of legend, but they can churn out 10-steelhead days for savvy anglers.

Recent wet weather brought much-needed flow and volume to Ohio’s tributary streams, which in turn triggered the fish that were milling around the beaches and harbors. Steelhead now are well up in the rivers and anglers are working the popular pools and runs with everything from spoons, spinners and plugs to flies, jigs and spawn sacks.

John Breedlove of Girard is a steelhead specialist who has noodled up a variety of techniques to cash in on Ohio’s steelhead fishing. He’s especially adept at working the lower reaches of rivers like the Grand and Conneaut with flashy spoons.

A good day for Breedlove might total upward of 30 steelhead and even a mediocre outing results in 10 bites. He releases all of his fish alive to share with other anglers.

He typically trolls and uses his electronics to key on baitfish. He carefully monitors his speed to match the pace that his extensive experience has proven to be productive.

He also carries an assortment of chrome and gold spoons splashed with colors like chartreuse, orange, hot pink and blue. He starts his day with tried-and-true colors and switches up as conditions dictate.

Anglers who have experienced the power of a wild steelhead on light tackle will not soon forget the sensation. The fish fight furiously and are as acrobatic as anything with fins.

Steelhead fishing will be good throughout November in Ohio as well as in western Pennsylvania’s Elk and Walnut creeks.

Ohio’s steelhead are stocked fish for the most part. Fisheries managers say they see evidence of a bit of natural reproduction, but the vast majority of the fish are the Little Manistee River strain of steelhead obtained from Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The fish have taken well to Ohio’s rivers and the rich waters of Lake Erie.

All of this adds up to a great cold-weather opportunity for local anglers. For the cost of a fishing license and less than a tank of gasoline, we have access to steelhead fishing on par with what others pay far more to enjoy in the Pacific Northwest.

And we can be home in time for the kickoff of our weekend football games.

Jack Wollitz is a writer and angler who looks forward to the cooler weather to fish for steelhead once the bass fishing slows around Youngstown and Warren. He appreciates emails from readers. Send a note to Jack at jackbbaass@gmail.com.

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