The state's 2002 fishing prospects guide for Northeast Ohio recently crossed my desk and one item that really popped out at me was the section regarding the Lake Erie steelhead fishery.
The steelhead is a close relative of the rainbow trout, the difference being that steelies migrate from streams and rivers as juveniles to lakes or the open ocean while rainbows spend their entire lives in a stream environment.
The steelhead's migration results in a fish that can be significantly larger than its landlocked relative.
Over the years Ohio has helped to develop this resource by a dedicated Lake Erie stocking program, putting nearly a half-million of the species in the Great Lake each year.
Stocking program: The state first began stocking the fish in 1969 and introduced a new strain of steelhead trout known as the Manistee-strain that originated in Michigan in 1991, going exclusively to this strain in 1995.
In fact, this stocking program has been such a success that even more streams along the north coast of Lake Erie are under consideration for stocking of steelhead.
Fish must be stocked by Ohio, according to information from the state, because the state's Lake Erie tributaries are "too warm and silty, with limited streambed spawning substrate [riffle areas with gravel bottom]."
Because of the popularity of these fish, another problem has cropped up -- fishing access.
"This has become an extremely popular program, with Ohio anglers as well as with out-of-state fishermen," said Vince LaConte, the DOW District 3 fish management supervisor.
"Some of the streams have excellent public access, but others such as Conneaut do not," LaConte said. "We have had some access problems with landowners and it has become a sensitive issue."
How bad it gets: In fact, he said, it was about two years ago that the issue spilled over into violence when a landowner shot an angler over an access dispute.
"It is no different for anglers than for hunters," he stressed. "You have to have written permission."
LaConte said the issue is an important one for the division. "We don't want that access cut off," he said. "A lot of money and time are involved."
He cited the tailwaters of the dam at the Berlin Reservoir as an example. A private landowner has cut off access to that area due to problems with trespassers, vandalism and damage.
According to the 2002 fishing prospects guide, many of the streams that contain steelhead along the Lake Erie shore are connected to private lands to some extent. Landowners with a stream on their property own the streambed as well as the banks.
Permission to fish -- in writing -- is needed on private property, especially when the property is posted. Those who do not secure permission, who ignore a permission denied, who litter, damage or vandalize property may have an affect on more than just themselves.
"It takes only a few careless individuals to close access to some nice, private stream locations to all sportsmen," the DOW said in its guide.
But, once permission is secured, steelhead fishing can rival the best that walleye, smallmouth and other Lake Erie species have to offer.
Common courtesy: Be cognizant of others fishing where you go and don't overcrowd a specific area, and it's always a good idea to make sure another angler doesn't mind your intruding on their fishing experience.
This time of the year, steelhead are upstream, so anglers should zero in on deeper pools with visible current. Most successful anglers will be using live bait fished on the bottom. A little later in the year and the fish will have moved to riffle areas for spawning while a few will still be in those pool areas.
At this point, live bait still is a good idea, but now is also a good time to get out the spawn sacks or salmon eggs.
A good idea before you fish is to stop at a bait shop nearby and check with the shop owner to see what areas are doing the best.
According to the DOW fishing outlook, good to excellent steelhead fishing spots include Arcola Creek and Chagrin River in Lake County, Conneaut and Cowles creeks in Ashtabula County, Grand River in Ashtabula and Lake counties, Euclid Creek and Rocky River in Cuyahoga County and the Vermilion River in Erie and Lorain counties.
LaConte said that catch rates for steelhead from the streams and rivers along Lake Erie rival those of prime steelhead areas in other parts of the country. "Our catch rates are just as good as the top areas," he said.
He added that the limit is five from May 16 to Aug. 31 and two from Sept.1 to May 15 (singly or in combination).
LaConte said there have been cases of anglers who try to cheat by catching more than they are allowed and feigning confusion due to the closeness in looks of some salmon and trout species.
"Ninety-nine percent of time the fish will be steelhead," he said. "Catching a coho or Chinook is rare, but you do see a few of them every year."
UMore information on the local steelhead fishery including species identification, cooking recipes and related topics is available online from the DOW (www.ohiodnr.com/wildlife/fishing/default.htm).