PefleySteelhead.JPG (58771 bytes)

Steelhead Heaven & Hell

  by Dick Swan 2005

SteelheadBox.JPG (5984 bytes)

I was fortunate to have been among 17 outdoor writers invited to a steelhead conclave in Painsville, Ohio, where Jeff Frischkorn, Outdoor Editor for “The News Herald,” was the host along with Kevin Kayle, Manager from the Ohio Wild Life Division of Fisheries.

After Jeff gave us a preview of the two day program, Kevin began his presentation with a slide.. .a “result” slide.. .a slide with 45 fish hanging from a charter captain’s fish rack.. .and this was a half-day charter!

“Well,” you say, “it’s not unusual for Lake Erie captains to bring in gobs of walleye.” Well, maybe you’re right.., except.. .40 of these fish were.. .you guessed it... STEELHEAD!

Yes, that’s an average of 80 steelhead, in-the-box, per day! That’s five fish per person, plus the captain and first mate! Care to guess how many steelhead were lost?

This is not in the west end of Lake Erie... as in Erieau, Ontario.. .this is 18 miles east of Cleveland! And if you drive to the OH-PA border you will find the Conneaut River basin, where more steelhead are also taken in the lake. How did this suddenly happen in Ohio waters?

A few years ago Ohio Fisheries decided their brood strain of “London” fish were not getting it done and asked Michigan for fish. Kevin told us they get 100,000 eggs and 300,000 young fish each year. These go into five rivers and since the Conneaut is jointly owned (OH-PA), each will now contribute 75,000 per year.

During the good ol’ days, when I sold noodle rods and booked clients for river and Lake Michigan trips at the Cleveland show, each night I parked my motor home at the Chagrin River dam. In the mornings, before show-time, I would either fish the river, or drive to the Rocky River, in Cleveland’s metro-park, or Jerry Lee, Livonia Michigan’s veteran captain (“Sea Screw),”fishing out of St. Joe, West Basin of Lake Erie, Ludington) and I would have two young local river guides take us to the Conneaut.

Those good ol’ days have just gotten better for Lake Erie trollers, as PA stocks 1.3 million steelhead, which creates returning adults pushing each other out onto the banks of their six fish-able creeks! Yes sir, captain, Ohio’s portion of Lake Erie is as close to “Steelhead Heaven” as any troller is going to get!

If you choose to follow the biblical earthly direction of heaven and hell, I must reverse this translation into southern Lake Michigan as, “Steelhead Heaven” and northern Lake Michigan, on Michigan’s side of the lake, “Steelhead Hell.”

This wasn’t always true! Back in the good ol’ days (‘80s) all “hell” broke loose in Heaven, at both ends of the lake, where I spent seven summers chartering out of Michigan City and Burns Harbor. This was during those “Skamania Mania” years, when suddenly, the Manistee/Onekama boys got into their offshore steelhead fishery, hooking 30-50 fish each trip.

While at Michigan City, it was an “impossibility” to get on the pier early enough in the mornings to find a spot to cast for Skamania, with both (river and lake) sides of the pier packed to the gills with anglers! And ever since Skamania were introduced into the St. Joe River, another fantastic pier site has been added into the Heavenly waters of southern Lake Michigan.

These were the years when I sat in on the Lake Michigan Task Force meetings...... when I brought this blazing northern Lake Michigan offshore steelhead fishery to the attention of the group. I told them of these numbers and the need for increased steelhead plants, to absorb the creel loss, which could jeopardize the numbers of our river returns. After my presentation of these facts, Asst. Chief, Dave Borgeson, Sr. poo-hooed the catch figures.

After I wrote it up in our MSSFA paper, the Onekama boys blew their top because of their gross misunderstanding where I was coming from. It never had anything to do with the numbers of daily limit catches (I was enjoying the same in Indiana)... it was having Fisheries recognize the volumes of steelhead annually taken; therefore, stock more fish to compensate! After all, isn’t “effort hours” and “creel census” the major factor in Rokoczy’s annual Charter-Sport fishing reports?

Regardless of this and that.. .our northern Lake Michigan steelhead fishery has gone to hell, as others blossom and prosper.. .where in biblical terms, we are fishing steelhead in the “Dead Sea” and why?

Those of you who are veteran MSSFA members will recall my “Science is Killing Us” series of articles, where I ripped Seelbach and Dexter for their phoney Skamania catch reports from our Dead Sea.. .where today we have added 17,000 to 30,000 Skamania, annually, to our Big Manistee River plants, plus those same Indiana/St. Joe Skamania plants... as we continue to fish the Dead Sea!!!!

With all of the plant info already offered, in past MSSFA issues, your humble opinions of our Great Lakes trolling areas, “Steelhead Heaven and Hell,” would be welcome in “Letters to the Editor,” or as articles! “Fire” away!

And while you fire away, please offer your answer to the following:
Let’s assume all cold water fish biologists are schooled on the same subjects, with similar equipment, perform similar experiments, then choose a subject for their doctoral degree. They do this at Ohio State, MSU, UM, Penn State, etc., then are hired by the state of OH, PA, IN, or MI.

During their tenure, in each state, they introduce numbers of salmonid species which produce a fishery worthy of national acclaim, then it withers on the vine.. .while other state bios don’t rest, where they are always seeking the “ultimate” in maximizing their lake’s potential.

Is the difference really because of their college training, or is it an ATTITUDE, EGO thing, which now delivers Ohio trollers a “Steelhead Heaven” and northern Lake Michigan trollers a continuing “Steelhead Hell?”