As water temperatures cool down on Lake Erie and summer turns to fall, the focus of many anglers switches from the open lake to the tributary steelhead fishery. Lake Erie is stocked with the highest number of steelhead annually (~1.8 million) of all the Great Lakes, producing a world-class tributary fishery that typically boasts some of the highest catch rates in the country.
To assess the quality of the tributary steelhead fishery, DEC conducts an angler survey every 3-4 years to measure angler effort and catch rates on NY’s eight stocked tributaries. The 2021–22 survey began in October and will run through April.
Weather and stream conditions play a huge role in fishing effort and success, and frequent high rain events during October were a double-edged sword. Although it brought in fresh runs of fish, it also kept the streams in less-than-optimal fishing condition. Overall, steelhead angler effort was at a record low this October, with anglers mostly focusing on Eighteen Mile (PDF) and Chautauqua creeks (PDF). Despite reports of very good numbers of steelhead in all the Lake Erie tributaries, October catch rates were also lower than expected. The overall catch rate was 0.23 fish/hr, the lowest measured since the survey began in 2003 (October average = 0.45 fish/hr). While this is a low catch rate for the Lake Erie tributaries, it still ranks quite high nationally. As is typical, fishing quality varies between streams. In October, Buffalo and Cayuga creeks had the highest catch rates at 0.47 and 0.38 fish/hr. Cattaraugus Creek (PDF), NY’s largest and most popular Lake Erie tributary, is particularly susceptible to poor fishing conditions following rain events, and was mostly unfishable during October resulting in a catch rate of only 0.17 fish/hr.