Updated: Jan 3
Fly fishing for steelhead in Ohio
I woke the next morning oblivious to the rain event that had occurred overnight. Joined by my friend Lars, and with high hopes to fish several spots I had identified along the Rocky River, we arrived at the Puritas Bridge spot of the previous afternoon to find the river breaching the banks. What had been a gentle flow of 250 cfs the day before had become a gushing 3,200 cfs and a perfectly blown out river. There would be no fishing on Rocky River today or anytime soon.
A quick call to Erie Outfitters made it clear that we would have to go east of Cleveland to fish tributaries of the Grand River if we were going to rescue this trip. Craig at Erie smartly suggested we visit Harbor Bait and Tackle on the Grand River just north of Painesville for intel on waters that may be fishable. So we drove the 40 miles east to visit with Don Moore, owner of the bait and tackle shop, and he could not have been more helpful. He suggested a few waters, including Big Creek at Helen Hazen Wyman Park and Mill Creek at Hogback Ridge Park, recommended some flies (which we happily purchased) and gave us a map of Metropark fishing locations in the area. He was clear that these waters may still need a few hours to clear out (if not a day), but we set off hopeful, nonetheless.
We spent two hours at the confluence of Big Creek with Kellogg Creek, two tributaries of the Grand River, but the waters were still heavily stained and the fishing quiet. It was a nice spot with easy access to the river from a well-worn trail running along the bank. There was also ample parking and restrooms. An hour after our arrival, all the other anglers had cleared out and we took this as our cue to find a different water to fish.
So we headed another 20 miles east of Harbor Bait and Tackle to Madison to try our luck along the Mill Creek within Hogback Ridge Park. Don had received reports of tons of steelhead running up the Creek the previous day so, as the optimistic anglers we tend to be, we remained hopeful. The park is well signed and parking at the trail head is ample – there are also bathrooms in a small pavilion.
There are two ways to reach Mill Creek from here. There is a fire road to a wooden stair that provides access to the upstream portion of the Creek where it meets Grand River. There are some nice riffles and runs in this portion, but it is also a more adventurous route without a clear trail head. The alternate is to follow the boardwalk past the outhouse to a different set of wooden stairs that provides access to a clear trailhead that leads to the waters just below the falls.
The water was pretty well stained, but you could see steelhead tails finning in riffles and runs as they made their way upstream to spawn. There was also a parade of fish attempting to swim up the waterfall, but not having success in reaching the top because of the strong water flow. It was quite the sight to see the fish stacked up at the base making repeated attempts at pushing their way up the current of the waterfall.
It took a bit of time to figure out which flies would tempt a strike from these fish, but when the puzzle was solved, we were hooking up on a regular basis. For my friend Lars, it was an egg pattern that brought in the first steelhead of the day. This fish took him downstream about 50 yards and halfway through his backing before he was able to put the fish in the net. For me, it took a hot pink egg sucking leech with a plastic pearl head drifted under an indicator to land my first steelhead. I netted three fish in the ten-to-fifteen-pound range, and probably hooked up and lost twice as many because of bad knots.
Thanks to some quick thinking and guidance from Craig at Erie Outfitters and Don Moore at Harbor Bait and Tackle, our steelhead fishing trip to Ohio was salvaged. So it is a good idea to support your local outfitter/fly shop/tackle shop because you never know when they might be crucial to a successful fishing trip.
Note: I am not being compensated for my mention of either Erie Outfitters or Harbor Bait and Tackle, but boy did they save our trip!