Source: Ohio DNR, EPA Waters, Google Earth
Ohio is relatively new to the steelhead “game”, which PA and NY have played for years, having started its programs in the 1980s. Ohio steelhead are rainbow and brown trout that migrate out of warm streams in the summer (as 2-year olds, for the first time), feed in the cooler waters of Lake Erie for a year or two, and then return from September to May to live and spawn back in the streams. If they survive the winter, they repeat the process, and return again the following year.
The rub is the “2-year old” part. To establish a wild steelhead fishery, the young-of-the-year need to survive the summer in the river where they were spawned. Generally that doesn’t happen. Many streams aren’t conducive to successful spawning in the first place. Then, even if the eggs do hatch, in most summers the water temps get too high, and the fish die from heat stress. As a result, the vast majority of steelhead to be found and caught in Ohio spent their first year of life in a hatchery, and were stocked as 6″ to 8″ yearlings. They are then in a position to migrate as soon as streams temps became too hot. However, in some of the cooler streams, in cooler years, there is some natural reproduction, and the wild trout will join the stockers to migrate to the lake.
Regardless, a typical Ohio steelhead that’s survived 2-3 summers in the lake is 25″ and 5-6 pounds. After six summers they can grow to over 10 pounds. Personally, I do enjoy wild, small-stream fishing, but this sounds like fun, too.
Ohio’s primary, stocked steelhead streams are (from west to east) Vermilion, Rocky, Chagrin and Grand rivers and Conneaut Creek. We’ve shown these watersheds in the image.
However, steelhead don’t seem to have the “unerring” sense of their home waters that Pacific salmon are supposed to possess, so neighboring streams which are not stocked do receive secondary runs of “stray” steelhead, including including the Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Huron and Black rivers, and Arcola, Cowles, Wheeler, French, Euclid, Turkey, Beaver and Cold creeks.
The KMZ used to generate this image is available for free from the download system. There you’ll also find a set of PDF maps prepared by the Chagrin County DNR and Ohio DNR Division of Wildlife that show access points on many of the main streams in some detail.