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Steelhead Alley - part I

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

Fly fishing for steelhead in Ohio

My first Ohio steelhead

With my wife away for a few weeks in March, I had some ‘me’ time coming and asked the manager of my local Orvis shop where I should go for a week of fishing. After pondering the question for a moment, Art Noglak suggested I go to the Cleveland area for steelhead fishing on Lake Erie Tributaries.

Fishing Lake Erie tributaries for steelhead

I have fished for steelhead in British Columbia a few times and it is one of my favorite places for fly fishing. I had never previously fished any of the tributaries of Lake Erie but the prospect intrigued me so, when Art suggested it, I jumped at it. The fact that Cleveland is only a six-hour drive from DC made it an easy decision.

Map of the Rocky River watershed

Art’s suggestion was to target the Rocky River, which runs through the neighborhoods west of Cleveland and was previously recognized by Field and Stream Magazine as one of the “150 Best Places to fish in America”. The Chagrin River (to the east) or Vermilion River (to the west) would represent the backup plan. According to the Ohio DNR, the main branch of the Rocky River is approximately 12 miles long, but I would be fishing a shorter section within the confines of the Rocky River Reservation that is managed by the Cleveland Metroparks.

Fishing the Rocky River Reservation for steelhead

Fishing the Rocky River within the Reservation is the ultimate in urban fly fishing. There are numerous laybys and parking areas along the river a short distance from major metro roadways, including Interstate Routes 480/80 and 90. In fact, some of the prime fishing spots are under bridges that are part of these major roadways. I spent the afternoon of my first day following the Ohio DNR fishing map for Rocky River to get a sense for which spots would offer the best prospects, which in my opinion were the downstream options close to Lake Erie and that of the Mastic Woods layby under the Puritas Road Bridge.

Rocky River beneath the Brookpark Overpass

As I approached the Puritas Road Bridge, there were several anglers occupying that spot, so I resolved to return later and instead started fishing the section between the Brookpark Overpass and I-480. This was a reasonably accessible section of the river, with ample parking on the Valley Parkway and a well-traveled trail under the overpass to the water. There was also a well-worn trail along the water between the two bridges. This section has a series of riffles and pools that looked very fishable, only the fish were not cooperating. After an hour, I moved to the Mastic Woods layby (at the Puritas Road Bridge), which had already been vacated by the previous anglers.

The water flow was about 250 cfs, which was gentle enough to allow me to wade to the middle of the river, just upstream of the bridge. I could see fish tailing in the fast water running along the bridge column and began drifting flies under an indicator along the elongated pylon. Three or four change outs of the fly did not produce any strikes, even though I knew the fly was drifting by fish. It took a yellow streamer without an indicator swung through the thinner water closer to the bank to hook up on my first Ohio steelhead. Unfortunately, my trout net, while largish, was wholly inadequate to hold this fish and I lost it after three attempts to net the fish. Sounds like a story, but I have plenty of serious catches over 25 years to not have to make up ‘fish stories’ any longer.

As I was attempting to net the fish, a serious downpour began that chased me from the river with high expectations for what the next day would hold. As it would turn out, this rain would continue well into the night and an unexpected plan B would have to be put in place for day two.

My Ohio steelhead story continues with part II to be featured shortly.

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