June 12, 2007

Steelhead Alley

Nearly 40 years ago, Lake Erie was once declared dead by environmentalists and scientists. Only after the Cuyahoga River caught on the fire, the federal government step in get the lake cleaned up. Ever since the Clean Water Act was enacted, Lake Erie has recovered into one the finest fishing destinations in North America. Lake 


One of those destinations is Steelhead Alley. The “Alley” is referred to the southern shore of Lake Erie. It extends from western Cleveland to Buffalo. In recent years, it has received media attention and glowing reports from die-hard steelheaders.

This fishery is unique in the fact that Lake Erie is the most heavily stocked Great Lake in regards to steelhead. Erie’s streams boast more steelhead per mile than any other watershed in the lower 48 states and Alaska included. The reason for the high numbers of fish is the aggressive stocking programs done by the three states. Both Pennsylvania and New York stock a fall run fish and Ohio stocks a spring run.

Streams along steelhead alley can range in size from New York’s mighty Cattaraugus Creek and Ohio’s Grand River to the many small creeks in Pennsylvania. On average most of steelhead alley’s streams are generally small. All of the tributaries run over shale and are usually shallow and slow flowing. Nearly all of the streams have little or no groundwater sources and rely on runoff from rain and snow melt.

The surrounding terrain and access greatly varies along steelhead alley. Some terrain is very remote such as Pennsylvania’s Twenty-Mile Creek. Other streams such as Ohio’s Rocky and Chagrin Rivers both flow through suburban areas of Greater Cleveland. Ohio’s Grand River flows through a mixture of remote gorges, forests and suburban locations.

Steelhead alley is comprised of three states – Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. One state that is very popular is Pennsylvania. The big advantage that Pennsylvania has over both Ohio and New York is the number of fish stocked. Over the past decade, the state has led the way in number of fish stocked. Pennsylvania stocks a fall run strain. Annually, the state stocks nearly over a million smolts and fingerlings. Personally, I think it’s excessive as most of their streams are so small and shallow. When the conditions are right, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. There have been times when I’ve hooked well into 40 to 50 fish. For the angler with little time and looking for a quick fix, Pennsylvania is the place. Due to the high number of fish, there is the high number of anglers. Even during the weekday, the rivers are packed with people and finding solitude is next to impossible. This is the result of most of the streams run through private property and every year more and more land is posted. The end result is more anglers are crammed into the remaining pockets of public waters. Since I hate fishing around people, I haven’t been back to Pennsylvania since 2001 and I don’t plan on going back anytime soon.

The state slogan for Ohio is “the heart of it all” and Ohio is right in the heart of steelhead alley. Most steelheaders will agree that Ohio is considered to be one of the better states to fish. The big advantage that Ohio has over the other states is public access. The majority of stocked streams run through many sections of metro and county parks. The main branch of the Rocky River runs completely through one of Cleveland’s metro park. That gives the angler almost 13 miles of river to fish. The other rivers such as the Grand, Chagrin and Vermilion have sections of county parks within their boundaries. The only stream that is completely private is the Conneaut Creek. Ohio stocks the Little Manistee strain and they run during the spring. Unlike Pennsylvania, most anglers will have to walk and find fish. Yanking out fish after fish out of a small pool is out of the question in Ohio. Most anglers will be lucky to catch to 10 fish in one day. If you’re willing to go the extra mile, you’ll often find yourself fishing in peace and quiet.

As for New York, I haven’t fished any of the streams. This is probably due to the fact that I’m to spoiled living here in Ohio. I have heard glowing reports of the Catt from several friends who have fished it. I keep telling myself that one day I’ll make the trip there.
This unique fishery has received national attention in several fishing magazines and outdoor shows. I’m blessed that I moved to place that has such a wonderful fishery. If you’re planning to make a trip to one of the Great Lakes, give steelhead alley a try and you won’t be disappointed.

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