I live on the shore of the Great Lakes. I work in sales but my real passion is fishing.
Where to Fish
There are a few major creeks to fish for Pennsylvania steelhead: the west side creeks and the east side creeks.
On the west side, the two most popular streams to fish are Walnut Creek and Elk Creek. Both creeks hold a large number of fish in the fall but are fairly different in fishing experience.
Elk Creek is much larger and tends to spread the fishermen out a bit. The creek can be accessed by taking Elk Creek Road off of Route 5. A few popular spots to fish on Elk creek include the Legion Hole and the Conrail Tubes.
Walnut Creek is much smaller and can concentrate fishermen heavily, causing some pretty crowded holes. A good-sized parking lot can be found off Manchester Road at the Walnut Creek Access Area. The most popular fishing spot near the access is Manchester Hole and the area upstream can have heavy concentrations of fish to the falls.
On the east side the most popular creeks are 16 Mile Creek and 20 Mile Creek. Both creeks are located on private property that limits the access.
Choosing the Right Equipment
You must first choose what kind of fishing you would like to do, spinning or fly. For a spinning rod you have lots of options. Although any length will work, most fishermen use a longer rod of 9 to 11 feet in length. Longer spinning rods are known as noodle rods and many companies have a specific line of rods for steelhead fishing. If you decide to use a fly rod you will want something in a 7 or 8 wt, usually 9 to 11 feet in length. Good, reputable companies for buying rods would include St. Croix, G. Loomis, TFO, Sage and R.L. Winston but you can also make due with something like a Shakespeare or Shimano rod. Picking good equipment is important to your success.
You will want to get a reel that matches the line rating on the rod you have picked. When fishing for steelhead, it is a good idea not to skimp on reel price due to the importance of a smooth drag when you are fishing for a species that is capable of hardware-melting runs up and down stream. Good choices for spinning reels would include Shimano's mid-range models, and the list for fly fishing is quite expansive as well.
Most fishing for Great Lakes steelhead will require a pair of waders. Though some access areas will allow you to fish from shore without, you will do much better and increase your range of fishing locations by investing in some boots. For a beginner, you would do just fine with some rubber hip boots and heavy socks towards the colder end of the season. However, if you wish to get something nicer, waders by both retail companies like Cabela's and Gander Mountain or reputable companies like Simms and L.L.Bean will be good. It should also be noted that neopreme waders offer much better warmth in the colder months of fishing where icey shores is common.
4. Bait or Flies
You will now have to decide how you want to fish. With spinning or fly fishing equipment you can really use either option. I used flies on a spinning rod for nearly a decade before purchasing my first fly rod. Good choices for bait would include live minnows (both fatheads and emerald shiners), egg sacs, single eggs, night crawlers, maggots and even power bait. Flies are the other option for fishing and the list of good patterns is nearly endless. Some favorites include sucker spawn, glo bugs, woolly buggers, various nymphs and streamers. For flies it is good just to cover a wide range of colors in a few different patterns. Colors include pinks, oranges, yellows, and greens for egg patterns and all traditional streamer and minnow imitation pattern colors.
Fly tying materials
For those interested in tying their own flies, common materials for popular egg patterns include glo yarn, angora yarn, mcfly foam, crystal chenilles and other bright synthetics.
Perhaps the easiest way to hook into some steelhead is drifting your presentations with a float. Using floats/bobbers usually 1.5 times the depth of the water you are fishing up from your bait will produce fish. This method works well for both bait and flies. You can fish both slow moving pools and faster water using a float.
The same as float drifting without using a float. Add a little weight 10-16" up your line and cast it a little ways upstream of your position. Now you just let it swing around till it is straight downstream or a little less if you are catching bottom a lot.
Another popular method especially with streamers and jigs is to cast straight out and let your presentation swing across below you. Many aggressive fish will strike the fly or jig while it is swinging across.
When to Fish
Every season anglers from all over the country flock to the northeast to fish for Great Lakes Steelhead. Timing your trip just right can be the difference between fishing and catching though. A great way to know what is happening without actually being at the stream is the USGS stream flow charts. This USGS site will show you, for example, Walnut Creek's current depth and cubic feet of flow. Although everyone has different preferences for conditions, flows between 100-300 cubic feet per second (cfs) that are dropping are some of the best times to fish this particular creek. You can also predict when fish are going to come into the stream by watching for sharp upward spikes in the cubic feet per second.
1st Choice from Lake Erie, Lake Ontario,and the Niagara River on September 26, 2012:
Come see me for Monster SteelHead.
Captain Randy Lingenfelter
Dan Harmon from Boise, Idaho on September 13, 2011:
Although we have steelhead around my area when in season, I've never tried for one - fishermen line the river banks nearly shoulder to shoulder and that's not something I enjoy.
One day perhaps I'll find an out of the way spot no one goes and give it a try. I'd sure like to hook into one of them someday.
naturalsolutions on September 12, 2011:
Great lakes steelheads are really hard to catch. It is one of the most untamed and slippy fish. I admire your tactics and ways in catching it, i'm pretty sure that it is really effective. Thanks for that.