Trophy Steelhead? Ohio’s The Place

It is America’s least-used and most prolific steelhead trout fishery, with an average of eight pounds per fish, and at least one fish per angler per day.

Good anglers will routinely hook a dozen fish in five or six hours! “Good” is the operative word, as is “hook.” It takes some know-how to hook up with an 8-pound steelhead, and even more to land the bruising thing!

Battling an Ohio steelhead.

With the addition of the Vermilion, Ohio now has five steelhead rivers between Cleveland and the Pennsylvania line, plus a web of small tributaries, which can be gold mines on a given day. There you might sight-fish for a trophy steelhead holding in a foot of water.

The five rivers are the Grand (largest), Chagrin, Rocky, Vermilion, and Conneaut Creek, which originates in Pennsylvania and generally is considered the most scenic and agreeable to classic fly fishing.

Anglers Love Spawn Sacks
There are many flies that will hook steelhead, but spawn sacks are the bait-of-choice. Many anglers make their own, but they’re readily available in local bait shops. It’s a tiny mesh bag with a couple of salmon eggs, plus a foam egg to float the sack just off the bottom. It’s fished on a No. 6 hook, with a second fly, known as sucker spawn (a blob of chartreuse yarn) about 18 inches above the spawn sack. Tack on a split-shot heavy enough to sink the spawn (size depends on water depth and current), and use a strike indicator or tiny bobber.

Novice anglers consistently fail to put enough weight to get the lure on the bottom. The 10 percent or so who catch most of the fish invariably say, “If you’re not hanging up, you’re not down far enough.”

While casting a heavy split-shot may be like shot-putting a truck tire, fly casting skill doesn’t count as much as presentation. Get the fly down, let it drift as long as possible, mending the fly line as it billows downstream.

Fish the “bubble line,” the line where current and eddy meet. That’s prime holding water for steelhead. Local anglers learn also where there are traditional holding pools for trout and that’s a matter of experience — two pools that look pretty much the same will hold vastly different trout populations.

The author with an Ohio steelhead.

Generally avoid pools with a shale bottom. Trout prefer a gravelly bottom. They’re in the stream to spawn and redds (spawning nests) must be built from stream bottom gravel. No gravel, no spawning fish.

Most fishing pressure comes from local or regional anglers who understandably don’t brag much to outsiders about their undiscovered honey holes.

For More Information
For more information about fishing steelhead in Ohio, contact:
Marion Graven (drift boat guide): Tel. 440-779-5270; e-mail; web page: Grand River Tackle 440-352-7222 (home of the pontoon raft guide service). Lake Metroparks 11189 Spear Rd., Concord Township, OH 44077 (Tel. 440-358-7275 or 800-669-9226. Visit for up-to-date information.

How To Get To The Honey Holes
Ohio law is that the landowner owns the stream bottom, but not the water. On some creeks where houses abut the streambank, you’ll quickly be told if you stray onto private property. The answer, clearly, is to fish from a boat. And, right now, there are only two boats on the Grand River — a pontoon type and Marion Graven’s drift boat.

Graven believes in heavy fly rods with 6- or 8-pound tippets (7- to 9-weight, 9- or 10 feet long).

Five Fly Patterns To Try
1. A variation of a woolly bugger — use darker patterns when the water is murky.

2. Egg-sucking leech — despite its nasty name, it is a local favorite. Basically, it’s a black woolly bugger with a bright crimson head.

3. Stonefly — Any of many patterns and colors. Most effective flies, no matter the pattern, are close to No. 8 in size. Some are larger and, in clear water, you can go as small as No. 14.

A handful of steelhead flies.

4. Sucker spawn — the artificial equivalent of the spawn sack. It’s tied with pink or white yarn to represent a cluster of sucker eggs.

5. Lead head streamer — Here you can be creative. The lead head can be a bright orange or pink or white; the streamer body can be anything to represent a minnow or leech.

Four Artificial Lures To Try
1. A small spinnerMepps or a heavy-bodied spinner like the Panther Martin.

2. A small minnow lure — Rapala or Rebel type.

3. A 1/32-ounce jig with a dark body, chartreuse, white or orange head— Trout guides on the White River of Arkansas use a rapid short jigging motion while retrieving and it’s deadly. Should work equally well in Ohio.

4. Finally, the never-fail spawn sack.

For a fine assortment of Fly Fishing gear, click here.

Joel Vance is the author of “Grandma and the Buck Deer” (softcover $15); “Bobs, Brush and Brittanies “(hardcover $25); “Down Home Missouri” (hardcover $25); and “Autumn Shadows” limited edition, signed $45). Available from Cedar Glade Press, Box 1664, Jefferson City MO 65102. Add  $2/book for S/H.

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