How to catch Erie steelhead in the Fall

Do you want to know how to catch Erie steelhead in the fall? The you’ve come to the right place. What follows are some basic tips on fishing the Erie tributaries in the fall. After reading this, you will be better prepared to catch some chrome the next time you are in the area.

Most people catch Lake Erie steelhead in the Fall. This is when the fish make their annual spawning runs. They fill up many of the Erie tributary streams and become accessible to anglers on foot. If you are able to get stream side, you have a good chance at catching fish.

The fall steelhead run

Steelhead start to run when the weather cools down and water temperature drops. Any big rain in October or November has the potential to bring a lot of new fish into the streams. Of course most of the Erie tributaries blow out and become virtually unfishable right after a big rain. But then the water starts to drop and the fishing is good.

Anytime you plan on fishing the Erie tributaries, you should keep an eye on the weather. Don’t just look for snow however. You want to watch precipitation and cold fronts. You also want to pay attention to stream flow. You can check weather on any number of websites. But if you want to know stream flow on the Erie tributaries, you want to check the USGS stream gauges. Look at the Elk Creek stream gauge and the Walnut Creek stream gauge. Elk and Walnut are the two big streams in Erie’s “steelhead alley.”

Walnut stream flow november 2018

With these stream gauges, you can see what the water flow is like. You can also see if the water levels are increasing or decreasing. Finally, you can check things like water temperature. It’s all important when you want to plan a trip to Erie.

Ideally, you’re looking for falling water with a bit of clarity. Green water a few days after a nice rain is always a great time to fish. High, rising water is likely to be muddy and difficult to fish. You might be able to pull fish out of any condition, but planning can make everything a lot more enjoyable.

It used to be that you had to make a trip to Erie to see if the fish were in the streams. Or at least you had to call up to a trusted bait shop in the area. Nowadays, you can check many sources online to find out if the fish are running. The truth is, many of the fish are always in the streams by November. Usually they start coming into the streams in October. Early on, the fish pile up near the creek mouths. So people pile up there too. After a few rains, the fish spread out and you have more area to fish.

How to catch steelhead in the fall

Keep in mind that Autumn stretches from September to late-December. So the tactics aren’t going to be exactly the same all the time. In September the weather can be hot and dry. In late December, Erie is usually quite cold and covered with snow.

So again the main thing you want to watch is the water temperature. You can check the stream gauges above for a general idea. But it’s best to carry a stream thermometer like this Umpqua model with you. That way you can just check the water temperature wherever you are.

Pay attention to the water temperature

When the water is above 45 degrees Fahrenheit, the fish are going to be a lot more active. You can expect them to feed more heavily and move across the water to pick up food. So you will probably catch more fish at this time too. That is, if you can get away from the crowds and find some unpressured fish! In warm water, you can do well with egg sacks or large flies like woolly buggers.

steelhead in moving water

When the water temperature drops below 45 degrees, the fish will slow down. They will still be active, but they won’t move around nearly as much. During this time, you need a more precise drift. You want to get the bait right in front of the fish so they don’t have to move around. You usually want to downsize to smaller bait too. Things like micro jigs fished on a motionless “dead drift” will do well.

The same applies for fly fishing. You can use bigger flies and a more active presentation when the water is over 45 degrees. You want to drop down to size 12 and lower in cold water. You might even do best with something like a size 16 Bead Head Psycho Prince.

When the water is cold, the fish hang out in deep water. Most people in the Erie tributaries only fish the holes. But when the water is over 45 degrees, the fish are more active. Steelhead are cold blooded fish, and they are built for running up streams. So don’t forget to fish the moving water and pockets during the fall!

Watch the water clarity

Another important thing to look at is water clarity. The gauges can you help a little in this regard, but nothing works better than your own eyes. When the water is stained, the fish have a harder time seeing you on the stream bank. But they will also have more difficulty seeing your bait.

So when the water is high and colored, use bigger and more obvious baits. That means lures and flies with neon colors and some bulk. When the water drops and becomes clear again, you want to go back to smaller hooks and more natural colors. If you can see your bait in the water, the fish can too. It only makes sense!

Summary of Fall steelhead fishing in Erie

Perhaps you don’t want to watch stream gauges and weather. Maybe you read everything written above and think it is just too much work. You might just want to show up in Erie and do some fishing. That is of course your choice. There are still some basic tips that can help you on the water.

Fish enter the streams when the weather falls and rain increases stream flow. By November, there are always steelhead in the Erie tributaries. High muddy waters are tough to fish. Falling greenish waters after a rain are the best.

steelhead release

In warm water, fish are more active. So you can use a more active approach and fish moving water. In cold water, fish slow down. Focus more on slow water and aim small baits to float right in front of the fish.

When the water is colored or cloudy, use bigger and brighter baits. When the water is low and clear, downsize to smaller hooks and use more natural colors.

Finally, don’t insist on fishing particular stream just because it is your favorite. Don’t be afraid to move around in search of better conditions. Remember that some of the biggest and most popular tributaries “blow out” after heavy rain. They look like chocolate milk and become hard to fish. If you see that at your favorite creek, just move on to another place.

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