First and foremost, there is not one single location in Erie or Crawford County that Steelheaders have not walked, skid down, or fished. The fishery is rather young, but the anglers have always been passionate. However, that fact is not justification to publicize and over pressure a specific fishing spot or locale. Since the mid-2010s, Erie has been experiencing massive public angling pressure. This is a very good thing economically and socially, but it is hard on the fishery.
Economically speaking, the influx of Steelheaders is a windfall! Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (P.F.B.C) is a user-funded agency and each license sold funds their ability to manage and enhance our state’s fisheries. Locally, Erie and the immediate area depend on the seasonal increase of Steelhead anglers. The spring smallmouth season and summer walleye fishery are not enough to sustain the bait shops and local businesses that offer fishing goods and places to stay. Steelhead sell licenses which helps further fund our stocked sport fishery.
Socially, fishing in and around Erie is one of the easiest activities to partake in. It is good for the soul to be outside, great for the body to get some exercise, and you just might meet your new best friend out on the water or the nearest access point. There are innumerable social benefits to fishing.
Increased angling pressure in Erie County is challenging on the fishery because it creates leader/indicator shy fish, parking issues, access issues (causes more private postings, having a few men and women fishing your backyard is a lot different than a regular flow of people most of whom you do not know), and loads of litter. Furthermore, if a Steelhead is caught and released multiple times and some of those anglers beached the fish, let it beat itself on the rocks and bank, and then released it, that fish is not likely to endure for its maximum potential lifetime. Conversely, many adventurous East Coast Lake Run Rainbow enthusiasts keep their daily creel limit of Steelhead. Perhaps, you’re about to burn or hotspot an otherwise plentiful run of fish—a few days of harvesting the daily limit and your once plentiful spot is barren. For those that wish to harvest their catches please remember the limit is 3 per day and each must be at least 15 inches in length. Steelhead Alley is rain dependent for flows and therefore pushes of fresh fish. Catch and keep angling is still alive and well and for that reason alone most anglers should be weary of sounding off about a stellar day on a seemingly “unknown” stretch of the creeks.
Fishing pressure leads to finicky fish. The ever-common occurrence of gin clear water in Erie streams (compounded by rather shallow streams altogether) causes finicky and spooky Steelhead. Which then leads to touting light-line Steelheading in order to increase the hook-up ratios. Most of those anglers do not consider they may be fighting the fish to exhaustion and death. The ever present amount of fish with a couple of flies in its fins or face, maybe an entire fly rig, is the result of a break off typically from using too light of tippet. Hooks rust. I have caught Steelhead with infections from hooks rusting in their flesh. Each Steelhead has the potential to make multiple runs up the tributaries, year after year. Steelhead Alley is a put-grow-take fishery, but for larger returns each fall catch and release angling is the future of the Alley.
Great Lakes Steelhead are hardy fish, but between angler pressure, poor fish handling, increased posting of property, seasonal weather changes (global warming), and invasive species the sport fishery is a balancing act. Often, the social media spotburners are influencers and those with a false sense of passion for the fishery. If sharing a spot is sharing one’s passion I am curious if those same people volunteer their time to teach fishing to beginners? Perhaps, they volunteer their time and help stock thousands of Steelhead smolts each spring? Maybe, they donate money to cooperative nurseries that help supplement the state stockings? Assumptions are not helpful, but I am confident many of the individuals I have in mind cannot answer any of the former questions positively. A creek name and an access point to a friend—in person—have a much different ripple effect than a geotag on Instagram; even if an account does not follow you the tags on your post are promoted by the algorithm and impressed upon more viewers than you may realize. You are the content for these engines, and you owe it to the fish you are chasing to share authentically and tastefully. Social media is inauthentic, though a wonderful tool to connect, and is oftentimes used by people such as myself to exploit the good spots and fish those before I leave town. Your honeyhole is no longer yours once you tag it.