2023-2024 Steelhead Run Estimate

Steelhead anglers appreciate knowing the potential size of the fall to spring run.  To that end, it is possible to establish an estimate of the number of returning steelhead in Lake Erie tributaries this fall, winter. and spring.

Fisheries experts from NY, MI, PA, OH and Ontario count the number of steelhead smolts stocked and compile a series of data sets and tables from which you can create estimates of what to expect when the fall run begins. They weigh the number of smolts in a pound and use a formula to convert pounds to smolt numbers stocked. As far as the 2023-2024 run, using the 2021 data reports, we begin to form an understanding of what to expect.

As is often said, the numbers don’t lie. The run that will begin this fall and end next spring is determined by the number of smolts stocked in 2021. Those one-year-old smolts spend 1 ½ years in Lake Erie and begin returning in the fall of 2023 as mature steelhead. You can also add into the next run a small number of steelhead that ran last season, returned to the lake and made a second run. 

The next step is to determine how many of the 2021 smolts survived “stocking trauma,” thrived in Lake Erie and are returning to your favorite tributary this fall.

First the bad news, 95% of the smolts did not make it! That is no surprise to the biologists who manage the Lake Erie steelhead program. The main reason why is predation.  Big fish eat little fish, some birds are fish eating machines, and spring anglers accidentally kill some of the stock before they make it to the lake.

The 5% that do survive and return from Lake Erie are fun to catch so here are the numbers for how many steelhead are headed to your favorite spot. 

2023-24 Steelhead Run Numbers 


Now you have an educated guess for what to expect. Yes, the return on investment is disappointing.

The 2023 steelhead season begins in the summer, as walleye anglers catch a few steelhead while trolling for walleye. 

When the steelhead begin to stage closer to the tributaries in early September, some boat anglers will troll and target early season steelhead.

Shore angling for pre-run steelhead begins in mid-September for anglers fishing the piers and lake shore with spoons.  Night or low-light fishing times are best, but the action is spotty and seldom worth making a special trip.

October, November and early-December are when most anglers travel to Lake Erie to fish for steelhead. Water temperature, stream flow rates, air temperatures, and weather conditions are the variables that make or break a trip. During those months when conditions permit, you have the best chance for success.


Modern technology is making steelhead trip planning easier.  You can watch webcams to see what is happening before you go. You can check flow gauges to get water level and temperature. Weather apps provide more information than the local TV station meteorologist. Finally, the ever present cell phone keeps together a network of anglers from which to get “intel”.  Use it all to succeed.

Most reading this have been there and done that so they are experienced. First-timers a have challenge, but they eventually learn the where, when, and how of steelhead fishing.

More information is available in these posted articles and advice blogs on this Website  Those sources will help you fill in the blanks.

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