Steelhead anglers gathering on Lake Erie tributaries
Written by the Tribune Democrat   
Sunday, 22 October 2006 12:14

Anglers annually flood tributary streams of Lake Erie in pursuit of steelhead trout.The winter run, which traditionally starts in early fall and ends during spring, tends to fill streams with steelhead.  Steelhead are anadromous, which means they instinctively return to their original hatching ground to spawn, which is the reason they fill Lake Erie tributary streams each year.

Bait and tackle shops throughout the area are constantly advising outsiders where to fish, when to go and what to use. It’s believed that some Erie residents don’t take well to tourist anglers, but the shops make a living off them.

A valid Pennsylvania fishing license and a Lake Erie trout stamp (good for Lake Erie tributaries and all other streams in the state) gives any angler the right to fish for steelhead.

“The phone’s constantly ringing,” said Dottie Heuble, co-owner of Poor Richard’s Bait and Tackle Shop, with two locations near the banks of the lake. “The best thing I can tell people to do is to call first to make sure the weather isn’t bad here. A lot of mistakes people make is they get up here and we have had some bad weather and they can’t fish anywhere. Johnstown is a long way to come.

“We have a lot of knowledgeable people here that fish the creeks a lot,” said Heuble whose parents are from Somerset County.

At Poor Richard’s, where Heuble and her husband, Gary, oversee the operations, it’s expected that part of their job is to help anglers who have little knowledge about fishing for steelhead.

Jeff Staaf, a sales associate at the Westside Poor Richard’s, explained what draws anglers to the region.

“People from all over the state come here because of the number of large fish,” Staaf said before pausing to give a stream report to an outsider over the phone.

“The streams are low and clear,” he told the caller. “And people are reporting some success.”

Staaf added that visitors from New Jersey, New York and West Virginia frequent the area to fish for steelhead. Two weeks ago, he said an angler from Oregon came in to Poor Richard’s for advice on where to fish.

“The number of fish that come in to the streams is why they come here,” Staaf said. “The fishing here is one of the best places, as far as the number of fish.”

Vern Kalp, of Mount Pleasant, has been making Erie steelhead trips for 10 years. The retired high school math teacher comes for the big fish.

“I’ll come up and stay for two or three days about ten times a season,” said Kalp, who also fishes wild-trout waters out West. “These are big fish. Out there, you’ll catch the same size fish, but that’s fly fishing. You know, matching the hatch. For a fly fisherman, there’s nothing like it.”

Except for Erie steelhead.

“The draw is the big fish. Here, you’ll catch more big fish than anywhere else,” Kalp said.

In holes where multiple steelhead are holding up, it’s not uncommon to see more than 20 anglers fishing side-by-side. Most will gladly remove their lines from the water when a nearby angler hooks a fish.

“Sometimes that’s what you have to do,” Kalp said of standing elbow-to-elbow in the streams. “That’s steelhead fishing.”
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