Season at peak for Erie anglers steelhead anglers
Written by The Republican & Herald   
Monday, 26 March 2007 05:26

For thousands of Pennsylvania anglers, all this fuss about the early opening of the regular trout season in the Southeast Region, Saturday, March 31, is much ado about nothing.

For years, these dedicated anglers have been flocking throughout the winter and early spring to Erie County for what has been described as Pennsylvania’s premier trout-fishing experience. There, in the tributaries that feed Lake Erie, is one of the finest steelhead tributaries in North America.

From late August through early May, steelhead can be found in these streams. In the fall, they swim from the lake to spawn, remain throughout the winter and return to the lake in the spring.

This fishery has a huge impact on the area’s economy, providing recreational opportunities for thousands of resident and non-resident anglers. While some steelhead will reproduce naturally, what assures these world-class conditions will remain is the work of small, but dedicated, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission crews at the Linesville, Tionesta and Fairview fish culture stations who serve as surrogate parents for these fish.

Adult fish are netted out of Trout Run and Crooked Creek for the Fairview facility, and there their eggs are harvested and fertilized. Numbers of eggs are determined by weight, and approximately 100,000 eggs are transported to Linesville, another 600,000 to Tionesta and 300,000 remain at Fairview.

Eggs are taken seven different times throughout the season, and young fish are reared at three different locations to prevent the chance of an entire class year being lost to disease striking any one location. Handling this operation is a crew of six from Fairview, which is assisted by a crew of four from Tionesta.

Steps taken to insure the health of the brood stock and eggs begin with treating the water with ultraviolet rays and using water that has come through a sand filtration system. When eggs are hatched, the fry are closely monitored for various diseases, their food regulated and their overall health is a constant concern.

Something as minor as a fish scraping itself on the raceway almost certainly insures its death. Other fish in the same area will attack and kill the injured fish, but the few dead fish taken from runways each day are an extremely small percentage when compared to the hundreds of thousands reared.

All fish taken from area streams to be used for brood stock are released again into those same streams to again be available for anglers. These fish are usually released in upstream areas, allowing them to regain strength during downstream return to Lake Erie.

Both the collection of brood fish and taking of eggs are open for public viewing, and while dates vary from year to year, the work is usually completed by the end of January or early February. Exact dates can be obtained by calling the Fairview station.

When fishing these streams during April, it is a treat to see dark swarms of the smelt working their way downstream to the lake. Usually, these smelt are between 6-7 inches in length, so it is important to land and release them quickly to help insure their survival.

In one of the true miracles of nature, most adult steelhead return to the stream in which they were released when they become mature enough to spawn. Fish biologists believe that soil characteristics and composition, plus chemical qualities of the streams, allow the fish find their natal streams.

Steelhead start out their life having to escape into the lake through hordes of mergansers, cormorants, ducks, Northern pike and walleye, all hoping to make them a meal. Then, when they mature, they must make a return trip through armies of fishermen with like intentions.

That so many accomplish these runs is a testimony to their hardiness — and a good reason for anglers to follow the practice of limiting their catch, rather than catching their limit.
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