Steelhead Fishing in Pennsylvania
By: David Alan
With the colder nights and that first frost brings forth the beginning of steelhead season in Pennsylvania. For many anglers the arrival of the steelhead in creeks like Walnut, Elk, and 20 Mile brings a sense of excitement that is unmatched by other forms of fishing in the state. Steelhead Salmon are an extremely powerful fish that can make the drag on a reel scream and push your rod to it’s limits.
Now how do you go about fishing for these silver bullets? There are several techniques but the most common forms in Pennsylvania are fly fishing and drift fishing. In this article we’ll go into detail on how to fish for steelhead in the Pennsylvania streams and what streams to fish in Pennsylvania.
First, lets talk about fly fishing and what type of gear you will need to have to tackle these fish. The following is a list of commonly used fly fishing equipment for fishing for steelhead in the PA streams.
Fly Rod = 7 to 8 weight rod from 9 to 10 foot
Fly Reel = Any fly reel with a good drag. Large arbor fly reels are preferred, they pick up the fly line a lot faster and tend to have a better drag system.
Fly Line = 7 to 9 weight forward floating fly line
Leader = Taper leader from 20 to 15 to 10 pound test leader material then connect 8 to 6 pound fluorocarbon as a tippet. If water is clear use 6 then 4 pound fluorocarbon as tippet.
Egg Patterns = Sucker Spawn, Blood Dots, Crystal Meth Flies, Estez Eggs
Sizes – 12, 14, 16 size nymph hooks 2X strong or 8 or 10 live bait (egg hook)
Streamers = Egg Sucking Leech, Wooly Buggers, Crystal Buggers
Sizes – 2, 4, 8, 10 salmon hooks or streamer hooks
Nymphs = Stone Flies, Prince Nymphs, Hairs Ears Nymphs
Sizes – 10, 12, 14 size nymph hooks 2X strong
Fly Fishing Techniques
Dead drifting with an indicator – To dead drift with a indicator simply put on a indicator or small trout bobber about 6 foot up the leader then attach some weight 2 BB sinkers or 1 3/0 sinker about a foot above the fly. You will need to move your indicator up and down your leader to find the depth of the water. To get a true dead drift your indicator should stand straight up and down and not have the appearance of dragging the bottom. (This is easier said then done; there are all types of indicators to help with getting a true dead drift)
Dead Drifting without an indicator – This is my favorite way to fish for steelhead! I use this method on the larger streams of Pennsylvania and New York with great success and you can’t beat the strike you get when a steelhead slams your fly while it is swinging or at the end of the drift. You can use this technique whether you are fishing egg patterns, streamers, or nymphs and is extremely versatile in any type of water depth or current.
First, You need to have a leader and tippet any where from 10 to 15 feet depending on the size of the creek you are fishing. If fishing Elk Creek or Walnut creek in Erie, PA you will want to keep your leader around 10 to 11 feet. Next, depending on the depth of the water you want to put a sinker any where from 3 feet to 6 feet up your line. The sinker should be a single 3/0, 7, or 5 depending on the depth and speed of the water. Finally, you should cast your fly upstream at about 1 to 2 o’clock then mend your line upstream immediately then get your fly rod high in the air then let it drift and then swing through to the end of the drift. Don’t pull the fly out of the water to quickly to cast again let it hang for a few seconds. Some of the most incredible hits are at the end of the drift. If you prefect this technique you will have some of the most fun days you have ever had fishing for steelhead.
Spin Fishing with a Drift Rod
One of the most effective techniques of fishing the tributaries of Lake Erie is fishing with bait and a dead drift rod. I have seen more fish caught on skein, egg sacs, and minnows than any other technique. Fishing with bait you can consistently catch steelhead and 20 plus fish days are not uncommon when the fish are running.
8 ½ to 12 foot spinning rod or 11 to 15 foot Canadian style drift rod. (Canadian style drift rod requires a center pin reel)ReelSpinning – Good spinning reel with a front drag that generally holds 140 yds of 8lb test is standard.Center Pin – Okuma makes a affordable center pin reel that will allow you to get started with this method. Some Center Pin reels will empty your pocket book.Line4 to 8 lb fluorocarbonIndicator / BobberSteelhead style drift bobber (Blackbird and Drennan make excellent floats)
Size 4 Salmon or Steelhead hook will work for most circumstances, or a size 8 octopus style.
Split Shot .You will need a variety of split shot from BB to 5’s depending on depth and current
Egg Sacs, Skein, Single Salmon Eggs, Minnows, Shiners, and Worms
How to Rig
First put your drift bobber on first, generally you float will be anywhere from 4 feet to 7 feet depending on depth from your bait. Next stagger your split shots about 12 inches above your bait to 15 inches above your bait. Space your split shots anywhere from 2 to 2 inches apart. Next, tie on a salmon hook or octopus style hook. If fishing skein or egg sacs, use a size 4 hook to hold the skein on the hook. If you are fishing clear water and using single eggs use a 12 to 14 size hook.
Where to fish
Elk Creek – Is the largest creek of the Erie PA streams, I would have to say that I prefer Elk creek to all the other creeks because of it’s size and the ability to do some hiking to in the woods to find a place to fish. There are many well-known holes on Elk Creek, including the mouth Elk Creek Access Area, the Legion Hole, and the Conrail Tubes on the lower sections of the creek and Foley’s End and Streuchen Flats on the upper end of the creek. At the beginning of the season focus your attention on the lower sections of the creek due to fish not being able to make it to the upper sections. Then in the spring focus on the upper sections where the steelhead will spawn.
Walnut Creek – Is the second largest creek in the Erie PA region most if not all the fishing at Walnut Creek is done at or just above the Walnut Creek Marina. This creek is full of steelhead and fishermen! It is a small stream that runs right beside the parking lot of Walnut Creek Marina and is a great place to take kids and is accessible for all people.
Twenty Mile – Is the largest of the Eastern mile streams to fish Twenty mile you will need to park along route 5 and walk to mouth. Fishing at Twenty Mile can be great when Walnut and Elk creeks are to high and muddy to fish.
Route 5 Streams – There a number of small streams that you can access by using route 5 as your guide these streams include Raccoon, Godfrey, Trout, Cascade, Four Mile, Seven Mile, Twelve Mile, and Sixteen Mile.
In conclusion, steelhead fishing is one of the most exciting fishing opportunities we have in Pennsylvania plus you have the opportunity to catch a fish that often goes over 10 pounds and fights like no other species of fish known to Pennsylvania waters. My only warning to all those thinking of going steelhead fishing is be prepared to catch the bug then spend endless hours thinking, tying flies, preparing bait and for the next chance to land that silver bullet.
Owner of Penns Ads www.pennsads.com/community which is a community guide for all of central Pennsylvania.
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