Harvest by open lake boat anglers in Lake Erie

The good, the bad & the ugly steelhead season; by what criteria do we evaluate “the run”.

Truth is we only have anecdotal evidence to support our claim. No studies, from what I see, have documented the actual number of steelhead running or angler success except for some random creel surveys.

If you live outside the immediate Lake Erie area and make a single trip to fish for steelhead, a great year happens when you stumble into a pod of secluded, hungry steelhead.  You and your buddy enjoy 2-days of nonstop action. Great season! Same pair of anglers fail to find fish and return home grumbling about the failure of PFBC to stock enough smolts. Both senarios happen on a regular basis.

The steelhead run is actually a series of surges of fish entering the tributaries. We have all experienced a day when everyone is catching fish followed by a slow day that is hard to explain. Favorable weather and water levels in late October thru early December will usually trigger a surge of fish into the streams. How many is anyone’s guess. Where the steelhead are found once they enter a stream is also a guessing game.  Some experienced anglers know where to look!

The only research I found that provides a scientific peek at the number of fish harvested each year is open-water creel surveys of Lake Erie boaters.  The small sample size does little to define the overall catch, but it does offer a multiple year look at steelhead fishing.  You can review the data provided by the Lake Erie Cold Water Task Group March Annual Report released each March.

While steelhead harvest by boat anglers represents only a fraction of the total estimated harvest, it remains the only annual estimate of steelhead harvest tabulated by most Lake Erie agencies. These can provide some measure of the relative abundance of adult steelhead in Lake Erie. The 2019 estimated steelhead harvest from the summer open-water boat angler fishery totaled 4,889 fish across all US agencies, a 30% decrease from 2018 (Table 4.1). The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF) have intermittently conducted open lake boat angler creel surveys, but no data was collected in 2019. Open lake harvest decreased in Ohio (46%) and New York (71%) but increased in Pennsylvania (105%) and Michigan from 2018. This was the first recorded steelhead harvest in Michigan waters in six years. Among the US jurisdictions, about 49% of the reported harvest was in Ohio, 35% in Pennsylvania, 5% in New York waters and 1% in Michigan.


While we may never fully understand our chances for success, you will find most of us standing streamside.  “Hope springs eternal” - Alexander Pope poem An Essay on Man

Generally speaking if you fish Elk Creek from Girard to Lake Erie, you will have a good chance for success if the fish are there. Notice the qualifier statement. You will have plenty of company for sure.

Want peace and quiet? Explore public water where most anglers don’t go. You may even catch a few fish or bump into a pod of steelhead that made it through the angler gauntlet closer to the lake.

Fishing nasty weather can be productive.  Once fish are in the streams, go if you can handle cold, wind, rain, snow, sleet, gloom of night – you get the picture. Most anglers opt to wait for better weather so you may have more elbow room.