Were are the steelhead?

SmoltsBuck, a seasoned steelhead angler with many successful fishing trips, asked where the fish are.  He has noticed that at locations where he did well in the past are now fish-less, especially water south of Route 90.

Most of us can provide an answer to his question that is based on experience and anecdotal evidence. All will agree that things have changed.  I will keep space open at the close of this article where I will add post script information that I receive from anyone who reads this and wants to add 2 cents!

My first thought is this. The PFBC run their steelhead program as a “put n’ take” fishery.  The “put” a.k.a. smolt stocking part of the program has remained constant for the past decade. On the other hand, the “take” a.k.a. fishing pressure and angler skill/efficiency are off the chart. 

Question: By late December, where are the fish? Answer: On most Lake Erie tributaries, all the easy fish are gone! What remains are a few late runners, drop-backs, C&R educated fish, and PFBC stripped/returned steelhead.

If you check the smolt stocking numbers, understand that smolt survival is 5%, and agree more anglers are skilled and ready when the fish “run” upstream, you may not be surprised by dropping catch rates south of Route 90. I am not.

Simply put most steelhead are caught before they reach Route 90. Only high water events that force anglers off the water give running fish a chance to swim south of Route 90.

One final, tough n’ cheek thought.

For many years, PFBC used stripped steelhead eggs from more than one source.  Now Trout Run provides 100% of the eggs and milt used to propagate a future steelhead run.  Are we rearing and stocking the tributaries with genetically inferior steelhead that are too stupid to run upstream? Like their parents, they swim into a stream flow, stop at the first barrier and patiently wait to be harvested. What say you?

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Paul writes . . . Without a doubt, even if stocking numbers are same, returns are down considerably.  Too much Trout Run inbreeding? I'm not sure that total day-in day-out fishing pressure is up very much. Fair weather can be crazy and more (mostly C&R) fishermen may fish through winter weather BUT overall CATCHING has improved for MORE fishermen and for the 10-year old cost of licenses, too many "trophies' are quickly removed. About 5 years ago, I landed the same 9# steelhead 4 times in 3 different holes in 5 trips over 12 days. Will never happen again on Erie tribs.