Steel Stockings

By Andy Whitcomb

Nov 03, 2014

In general the colder it gets, the grumpier I get. However, there is one bonus of numb fingers: steelhead.

In general the colder it gets, the grumpier I get. However, there is one bonus of numb fingers: steelhead. Beginning around late September, these powerful fish leave Lake Erie and enter tributaries of Ohio, New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania until early spring. Thus, I spend much of that time in neoprene waders.

But Pennsylvania hasn’t always had a steelhead fishery. In fact, steelhead aren’t even native to Lake Erie. According to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission website, 1961 was the first time they were stocked. Beginning with steelhead eggs from several different runs on the West Coast, fisheries biologists were able to expand the steelhead season from September through April. Eggs from the Michigan Steelhead Program were also reared, but now the state has developed its own broodstock.

There are dedicated nursery waters where anglers cannot fish. Because they are “genetically inclined,” adult steelhead enter these tributaries and are netted periodically by fisheries biologists to spawn. Eggs are transported to the Tionesta State Fish Hatchery for incubation, hatching, and health safety tests. Then, tiny steelhead may be transported to Linesville and Fairview State Fish Hatcheries for rearing. In about 18 months, 1,000,000 juvenile steelhead (smolts) will be ready for the annual stocking.

Banks can become crowded, especially on mild fall weekends. Many seasoned anglers look forward to frigid conditions which will keep all of the “fair weather” anglers at home. Even though wickedly cold, there can be some hot fishing action. But patience and persistence is required because steelhead anglers average one fish for every three hours of casting.

Thanks to this fisheries management program, the Erie steelhead fishery is now referred to as “world class,” drawing anglers from long distances, and pumping millions into the regional economy.

Not only with fishing licenses, but with fuel, lures, and my honeybuns.
Andy Whitcomb
Andy Whitcomb
Andy is an outdoor writer ( and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.