The run is on

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

So it is a month late, and creek flows might be better. If you want to enjoy fall steelhead fishing, though, now is the time to get over there. The steelhead run is on. Wait no longer.

Some rain over the past week and cooler temperatures have brought excellent numbers of steelhead into the creeks. As long as creeks are clear, fishing will be slow at times. Probably the best time to fish is at the crack of dawn.

As of the start of this week, some creeks were still blocked at the mouth. On the east side of Erie, the streams closest to Warren, look first to TwentyMile Creek, SixteenMile Creek and FourMile Creek. Or if you have a New York fishing license, try Canadaway Creek, Chautauqua Creek or Cattaraugus Creek.

On the west side of Erie, steelhead are several miles up Elk Creek, fishing has been good at Walnut Creek Access, and maybe the best fishing has been Crooked Creek. More rain has fallen on the west side, enough to make creeks muddy for a while, but not enough to raise stream levels to any large extent.

The best fishing through this stretch has been while the creeks were muddy.

Most of the time water has been too clear. Casual steelhead anglers like this because they can see so many steelhead. But this is not a good situation for catching steelhead. Steelhead are rainbow trout, and they act like any other rainbow trout. They get wary and skittish soon after they leave a hatchery raceway.

Fish for steelhead you can not see. If you can not see them, likely they can not see you. Steelhead will hide under a log just like stocked stream trout. They hide beneath undercut banks. They will hide where swirling water at the surface obstructs vision from above, often on the downstream end of boulders. Look for deeper troughs where depth obscures bottom.

Top baits this year have been live shiners, salted minnows and nightcrawlers. If you try the latter, use nightcrawler halves with just enough weight to get the bait down to the fish. The idea is to set the hook as soon as a steelhead takes the bait. Waiting makes it too likely for the fish to feel something unnatural and reject the bait.

Tinkering with your terminal rig will sometimes result in a few steelhead when fishing is slow. Add or reduce weight. Add color to bait with yarn or a soft plastic egg. If you use an egg sack, pinch one of the eggs until it bursts to give it more odor.

Drifting bait under a small float can greatly reduce snags and keep the bait right in front of the steelhead. You might want to slide the float up or down the line to get the bait to the fish, so use some sort of float that can be slid on the line or at least is easily adjusted.

Floats should have a light color, from dirty white to light gray so they do not obviously contrast against the sky. Bright red on top of the float where the steelhead can not see it will help you follow the drift and see strikes.

Fishing by the creek mouths should still be productive. However, get away from other beach anglers if possible. Be fishing at morning twilight. Steelhead typically move into creeks, and accumulate near the mouths at night. They will linger near the creek mouth for various amounts of time. If you get to a creek mouth where steelhead are undisturbed, you may see them swimming in the surf and porpoising well within casting distance. This all comes to a halt, though, when the first angler starts wading into the lake. Stay the heck out of the water.

Probably the biggest advantage of trolling over beach casting is that a boat can follow the fish into deeper water. Quite often you can see where the majority of steelhead are by seeing them porpoising, or chasing baitfish at the surface. Unlike beach casting or stream fishing, steelhead in deeper water, usually at least 20 feet, may be active any time through the day.

In addition to casting spoons, spinners and stick baits from the beach, some beach anglers use bait either on bottom of below a float. I find it wise to carry a two jars of Power Bait in different colors. It is usually fished with just a split shot. The bait will float, so you can set it to be a predetermined distance above bottom. Vary this distance until steelhead contact is made.

Cross your fingers, maybe do a little dance for rain. Do not wait, yet if rain is in the forecast, so long as it does not include lightening, try to be on a creek when it is raining.


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