Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 3)

Okay.  You've got your rod, your reel, your line, (that you chose based on the second part of this series) grabbed up a bunch of flies (which flies exactly?  we'll discuss that in the next installment), and you drove up to Erie.  79 drops you onto route 5 and you decided to go east because...well...you felt like it.  Actually you headed east because you missed the exit to go west and now you're going east and that's that.  It's still nice and early (dawn if you timed it right), and you're cruising up through town looking for the giant sign that says: STEELHEAD PARKING AHEAD.  You drive and drive (and drive) and the next thing you know, you're out of the other side of Erie and cruising out over the countryside wondering where the hell these streams are.  Sure, there was that little wet ditch you drove over in town, and you think there might have been a little stream back by that goofy double traffic light with the roads that came in at odd angles (that'd be 4 mile, by the way), but neither of those were steelhead tribs, right?


Steelhead will "run" on any body of moving water that eventually ends up in the lake (and you can tell them I said that).  Elk, Walnut, all the "Mile Creeks"...if you lived on the lake shore and ran a straight pipe from your bathroom to the lake you would probably be taking a shower one day in October and a steelhead would flop up out of the drain at you.  This means that any stream in Erie county could have steelhead in it.  Really.  It's that simple.

Anyway, back to your trip.

You keep driving and its getting lighter and lighter.   You cross several streams, but there's nowhere to park.  Eventually, you see a bridge and a parking lot full of cars beside it and you say, "Here we go!"

Congratulations, you've arrived at 20 mile creek, the third most popular steelhead stream in PA.  Eagerly, you park, string up your rod, and don your waders.  As you get to the top of the bank you see all the people that came in all the cars.  People everywhere.  Both sides of the stream, about 2 drifts apart from one another, as far downstream as the eye can see...and indeed probably the whole way to the lake.  Your heart sinks a bit, but then a guy just below you calls out, "Woah, fish on!" and you watch in amazement as an angry steelhead does battle, thrashing around violently and zipping completely across the stream in a moment.  You note that the people fishing near him have all reeled in their lines and are watching as he fights.  Suddenly, the line goes slack and the rod goes straight.  Your momentary confusion is cleared as the guy comments needlessly, "Fish off."  And everyone goes back to fishing as if nothing ever happened.  You feel bad for the guy, but when his fish ran up toward the bridge, you noticed that nobody was fishing on the upstream side.  You decide to get out and away from the people down here and make your way upstream, to unoccupied waters...


There's a reason that conditions on 20 mile are crowded from the bridge to the lake.  Had you not been so excited, you might have wondered why nobody was spreading out.  The reason is that immediately above the bridge, the stream is closed to the public.  Owned by a private club whose name I won't mention, that wants to keep you away from their land and can afford the lawyers to make your life miserable.  Perhaps there was a sign, perhaps there wasn't...its irrelevant.  Its private property, and if you didn't have permission to fish there, you're trespassing.

I'd have to say that, to the beginner, this is one of the more perplexing aspects of steelhead fishing in Erie.  There's public property and private property...open and closed water, access issues, time limitations, and special regulations.  Knowing (or not knowing) what all of this means and how it affect you, the fisherman, can mean the difference between a great day of fishing, and legal issues, fines, or worse.

Before we down to brass tacks, I'm going to provide the links to the other parts of this series.  They're not all linked in any sort of a way that they must be read as a complete package, or even in order, but I do think that each part contains valuable information for any beginner.

Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 1)
Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 2)

Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 4)
Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 5)

Public Property

This is land (and the water above it), that is owned by some sort of government entity.  Usually, in the case of the Erie tribs, it's owned either by the state (I'm pretty sure the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania owns the Walnut Creek Marina and the project water), or by some local city or municipality (not sure, but I think Elk Creek Access is owned by Lake City).  While the majority of public property is open to fishermen, it's also important to note that there are certain areas that are public property that are closed to fishermen.  For example, Trout Run is one of the most popular areas for catching steelhead, but when you hear someone talking about fishing at Trout Run, they are, in fact, talking about fishing in the lake, at the mouth of Trout Run, not in the stream itself.  The entire length of Trout Run (and Godfrey Run) is designated as nursery water, where the PA Fish & Boat Commission presumably takes the fish that they strip eggs and milt from to make more fish.  As a nursery water, both of these streams are completely closed to fishing.

Aside from Trout and Godfrey runs, I can't think of any other public property completely closed to fishermen.  At the Walnut Marina, you're not permitted to fish from the west bank, across from the marina, but I think that's because it isn't owned by the state.  (For what it's worth, you don't want to fish the marina anyway.)

For the most part, public property tends to be the area most obviously open to fishing.  This is as close as you'll get to seeing a big "Steelhead Fishing Here" sign.  No really.  Most PFBC (PA Fish and Boat Commission) parking areas really do have a sign identifying them as such, usually with a helpful summary of steelhead fishing regulations below.  As a result of being easy to locate, having ample parking, and usually pretty good fishing, public access points are usually some of the most crowded spots in the county.  You can still catch fish and have a good experience, but just understand that you aren't going to have 20 yards of stream to yourself.

Closed Private Property

In addition to the state-owned nursery waters, the other major category of water that you can't fish is water on private property where the land owner does not permit public access to fishing.  This doesn't mean that there will necessarily be a sign.  There might be signs indicating that water is posted, or even a rope or cable across the stream marking closed access, but the land owner is under no obligation to indicate his property is off limits.  Further, this doesn't mean that if you see someone fishing on land that you too are allowed to fish it.  Perhaps these anglers are personal friends or family of the land owner, or have simply asked their permission to fish there.  Just as any other private property, the owner of the land is allowed to choose who is and is not permitted to be on their land.

Some states have 'wet feet' laws, where the banks of streams and rivers are indeed private property, but the streams and rivers themselves are considered a public resource, and as long as you stay within the stream, you are technically on public property.

This is not the case in Pennsylvania.

In this state, the property owner maintains ownership of their plot of land, regardless of whether there is a stream flowing over that land or not.  This means that any time you are wading on private property, your feet are on someone else's land.

Perhaps you're familiar with the legal battle concerning the Little Juniata, and how that water was opened to public fishing based on historical records designating it as a navigable waterway for commercial traffic.  If you're thinking along those lines for Erie, don't.  None of the tribs in Erie, PA are considered commercially navigable, and as such, none are considered public access.  While you're steelhead fishing, the land owner has absolute and final say over who is and is not permitted to fish on their land.

Private Property Open to Public Fishing

This third category covers the remainder of stream access in Erie.  Many, many land owners allow people to fish on their property, and truly some of the best fishing is to be had in these areas.  The trick in this situation is knowing where you're allowed to fish.  Many land owners who allow fishing will helpfully post signs that say "Fishing Permitted: Walk In Only", which means exactly what it says.  They don't want people driving all across their property, so find a pull-off along the road and make your way to the stream on foot.  It's still your responsibility to know where the public access ends, though.  Still, the absence of any sort of sign could mean that the owner does not object to fishermen, but it could also mean that they don't want anglers on their property and don't feel that they should have to post signs to get people to respect this.  While that may be confusing, they're perfectly within their rights to do this.  After all, how would you like it if people regularly walked all through your yard, and when you objected, their response was, "Well, you never put up a sign to say I couldn't!"

The most important thing to remember about private land that allows public access is that it is open through the generosity of the land owner and that it can be withdrawn at any time for any reason.  While it is important all the time, it is especially important on this type of land that you conduct yourself in a mature manner and that you do not litter or otherwise affect the environment in any way.  In fact, picking up some litter and carrying it out of the stream with you would be a thoughtful gesture.

Sometimes a land owner will restrict access to their land, and in these cases, it's usually because of rude anglers littering, or relieving themselves in view of a home.  If someone else if doing these things, there's little you can do about it, but please be sure you aren't that guy.  Just use common sense and treat all land as if it were your own, and don't do anything that you wouldn't appreciate a stranger doing while visiting your property.

In contrast to the public property, any area you hear of without crowds that holds good fishing, or any 'secret spot' (there are no truly secret spots in Erie), most likely is found on private land that allows public access.  Naturally, the more areas that you know about that allow public access, the more areas are open to you to fish, the more likely you are to find a great spot and catch a lot of fish.  But without prior knowledge or years of experience and exploration in Erie, it's hard to get started.  Luckily, this is one area where the internet can help you.

Erie and its tribs are a patchwork quilt of access restrictions, but a quick search can yield a few likely spots.  Particularly, the PFBC has this page:

Lake Erie Stream Descriptions

Which links to a number of pretty in-depth stream descriptions that will give you a great starting point.

As a disclaimer, though, please note that, as I said, a private land owner may decide to close access to their property at any time, for any reason.  Just because an online stream description says a property is open doesn't always mean that it's so.  While you're up in the area, a good way of thinking is simply being observant.  If a number of cars are pulled off near a bridge over a stream, and you can see a dozen or so anglers drifting the water, chances are very good that you can fish there.  It's also good to continue to be observant while fishing.  If everyone seems to be fishing from one bank, perhaps the other bank is closed to the public.  If conditions are crowded below a bridge, perhaps the owner of the land above the bridge doesn't allow access.  Do not assume that because an area is devoid of other anglers that nobody has ever thought to fish there and that your brilliance has allowed you to identify a new secret spot.  If there is nobody fishing in a particular wide area, it usually means one of two things: either you are not allowed to fish there, or there are no fish there to catch.

So now you know what the fishing is like, what gear you need and (after some additional reading at the provided link) where to go.  All that's left is the miry issue of how to catch them.  That's what we'll deal with in the fourth (and final) installment of this beginners' primer to Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing.



Anonymous said...

This is the third time I've been to your site. Thank you for sharing more details.
My web page :: Melbourne Fishing Charter

Post a Comment

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Top Web Hosting | manhattan lasik | websites for accountants