Steelhead Fishing Pennsylvania

Sandusky Fishing Report
Sandusky Fishing Report

Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie Watershed boasts a renowned reputation for its steelhead fishing, with occasional coho salmon runs in the fall. However, the Fish Commission and 3CU have ceased stocking Chinook or King Salmon due to disappointing returns. Additionally, brown trout are stocked in several creeks for regular trout fishing during the season. To fish for steelhead, salmon, or brown trout, anglers need both a valid Pennsylvania fishing license and a trout stamp.

Location and Stream Diversity

All the streams in Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie Watershed are situated in Erie County. They can be categorized into Western streams, situated west of the City of Erie, and Eastern streams, found to the east of the city. Except for Conneaut Creek, all the creeks have shale bottoms, which makes them less conducive to natural trout, steelhead, or game fish reproduction. While there have been reports of steelhead reproduction in some creeks, it remains limited.

Elk, Walnut, and Twenty Mile creeks are the three largest among the region’s waterways. These creeks support vibrant fisheries at their mouths, where anglers can catch various species such as bass, catfish, carp, perch, and other panfish during the summer months.

Stream Etiquette

Respecting stream etiquette is crucial for preserving the sport and maintaining everyone’s enjoyment. Here are some essential guidelines:

Parking and Access

Park in designated areas, avoid blocking roads or driveways and refrain from parking on private property without permission.

Respect Private Property

Recognize that many streams pass through private land. Always seek permission to fish on private property and consider offering a gesture of appreciation to the landowners.

Maintain Quietness

Especially during dawn hours, maintain a quiet demeanor in residential areas near streams.

Stay in Stream Beds

Walk in or along stream beds as much as possible and minimize trespassing on private lawns.

Use Flashlights Cautiously

Point flashlights at the ground to avoid disturbing others and the fish.

Proper Disposal

Avoid littering, and take all your belongings with you. Litter can threaten fishing privileges.

Catch and Release

Release fish you don’t intend to use. Avoid cleaning fish in or near streams, which is both discourteous and prohibited by the Fish Commission.

Steelhead Fishing Pennsylvania | Seasons of Fishing

Fall Fishing

Steelhead begin congregating in Lake Erie off the creek mouths around mid-September, entering the creeks whenever the water flow is sufficient. The quantity of fish in the creeks, particularly in the fall, hinges on regional rainfall. In dry years, fish may only venture a short way up larger creeks or bypass smaller ones entirely. During these times, fishing for steelhead primarily occurs at creek mouths, in the lake near the creek mouths, or in deeper holes in the larger creeks. Warm weather and concentrated fish populations often lead to intense fishing pressure.

Winter Fishing

By November, steelhead usually make their way well up the creeks, unless it has been an exceptionally dry fall. Late November often offers the best fishing opportunities, although this may overlap with antlered deer season in Pennsylvania. Fishing remains viable throughout the winter as long as the creeks remain ice-free. In severe winters, creeks may freeze over in December, only to thaw again in March. Fishing on frozen creeks is hazardous and discouraged, as the thickness of ice over moving water is unpredictable.

Winter steelhead fishing demands hardiness. Cold air and water temperatures necessitate multiple layers of clothing and insulated waders. A pick for clearing ice from rod guides and rubber-bottom boots with cleats are advisable, as felt-bottomed wading boots tend to accumulate snow.

Spring Fishing

Steelhead usually linger in tributaries until April, with some remaining into May. As water temperatures rise, they return to Lake Erie for the summer. March is often considered the “second best” month for steelhead, following November, depending on water flow and fish populations.

The onset of the regular trout season in the first weeks of April draws heavy fishing pressure to the tributaries, increasing competition for prime fishing spots.

Tackle and Gear

Spinning Gear

Line and Hooks

Spinning gear predominates in these tributaries, though fly fishing is gaining popularity. Typically, six-pound line is suitable, but experienced anglers might opt for four or even two-pound line in clear water. The choice of line should be practical, as attempting to land an eight-pound fish on two-pound line in fast water is challenging.

No specific hook type is necessary, but traditional salmon or steelhead hooks with strong, short shanks are commonly used. Hook size depends on stream conditions and bait types, with size 6 typically adequate.


An extra-long light rod designed for four to eight-pound line is the standard choice for spinning. Many anglers prefer a short butt-end to the rod for drift fishing, which aids in keeping more line off the water for a better drift.


The size of the reel is not critical, but it should have sufficient line capacity and a smooth, strong drag system. A 2000 series Shimano front-drag reel is a popular choice for this type of fishing.

Fly Gear

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Line & Leader

Floating line is commonly used for fly fishing in these creeks, as they are typically too shallow for sinking lines. Adequate backing should be employed to handle larger fish.

Leader and tippet sizes vary depending on the flies used. For steelhead, a leader and tippet combination not exceeding the rod’s length is usually sufficient. 3x and 4x tippet sizes are popular.


Fly rods ranging from 5 to 8 weights are typically used. A 7-weight, 9-foot rod is often considered ideal.


Any respectable fly reel should suffice, but one with a smooth disk drag can be advantageous when playing larger fish. A reel accommodating a 6 to 8-weight line is usually suitable.

Lures and Bait

Spinning Gear

Common baits for spin fishing include live or salted minnows, PowerBait or Power Nuggets, egg sacks (salmon or steelhead eggs), skein (salmon or steelhead eggs), nightcrawlers (not commonly used in winter), single salmon eggs (usually found in small jars in oil or loose at bait shops), and grubs (maggots).

Fly Gear

The two most common flies used are the Glo-Bug, which imitates salmon eggs and is tied with Glo-Bug yarn or McFly Foam, and the sucker spawn, which imitates sucker eggs and is tied with angora yarn.

Steelhead Fishing Pennsylvania | Fishing Techniques

Steelhead fishing in these tributaries is heavily influenced by water flow. Here are some essential techniques:

Drift Fishing: The most common method involves casting across and upstream, allowing the line to drift downstream naturally. Steelhead are usually near or on the bottom, so ensure the hook is sufficiently deep.

Weighted Rigs: Spinning rigs without a float include a single hook tied directly to the line with several split shots placed above the hook. Use enough weight to occasionally touch the bottom but avoid constant snagging. Alternatively, using a small float above the hook works well in deeper pools.

Fly Fishing Techniques: Fly fishing typically involves using a weighted fly or split shot to get the fly down. Some fly fishermen use a float or strike indicator. Steelhead can strike lightly, so be alert, and don’t attempt to “muscle in” the fish.

Remember to handle the fish with care, use proper gear, and adhere to the regulations and guidelines for a successful and responsible angling experience in Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie Watershed.