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The fishing in western New York State for steelhead coming out of Lake Erie is back on our radar screen this month, thanks to the following first-hand report by Honor Roll Subscriber Elbert Bivins. Unlike the Pacific salmon and brown trout runs out of Lake Ontario, which have gotten a bad rap, some of it much deserved for shoulder-to-shoulder snaggers and “combat fishing,” the Erie steelhead fishing has always been more civilized. Here’s how Bivins describes his experience there:

“This past November, I fished for four days with Vince Tobia of Cattaraugus Creek Outfitters for steelhead in several Lake Erie streams south of Buffalo. I flew into Buffalo and rented a car for the one-hour drive to the lodging. Vince housed our party of four in a cabin within walking distance of one of the streams we fished. Meals were provided and were satisfactory for a steelhead camp.

“The streams were shallow and clear with hard shale and sand bottoms. The fish were visible in many places, lying in slots and gaps in the shale. There were also some deeper runs that we fished blind. The steelhead were numerous and willing to take in spite of the very cold (36- to 38-degree) water temperatures.

“We used mostly egg patterns with indicators, but also swung some wooly buggers with success in the slower, deeper areas. I used my 8-weight. The fish were all six to 10 pounds. I brought 10 to the net the first day, which was about a 50 percent hookup-to-net percentage. The other days produced a few less, but the fish were generally consistent with their takes. In deeper water the fish would slug it out when hooked, but in shallower spots I needed my track shoes.

“The scenery was grand in some streams: deep gorges with icicles dripping and occasionally crashing into the stream. I also discovered what lake effect snow is all about, as we had about a foot of it in many of the fishing spots. It snowed on us most of the time while we were fishing, which only added to the pleasure of the experience for a southern boy like me. Access and wading were generally easy, except that I did learn that snow and felt soles don’t mix well. Next time, I’ll bring studded rubber. We fished both private-access and public-access water. In only one case did the public water have a crowd. To avoid that, we simply relocated.

“The four days were relatively inexpensive. I plan on going again next fall. Vince says the fish are somewhat more aggressive when it is warmer in October, but there seem to be more fish in November and later.”
(Tim Jones Note: I spoke with Tobia in mid-February, and he said there were still fish (steelhead only) in his streams that late in the year. He says the fish start entering the Cattaraugus and other Erie streams in September, with October and November being the prime fall months. According to Tobia, the fishing holds up well into December as long as the stream stays ice-free. Tobia also noted that March through May constitutes a strong “second season” with fresh fish entering the streams and ones that have completed spawning dropping back to the lake. “Both the fresh fish and the ‘drop-back’ fish are hungry then and very aggressive. They put up an excellent fight,” he said. He indicated that his guiding rates for 2009 are $300 1 x 1. That drops to $200 each for 2 x 1 guiding and $166 each for 3 x 1 guiding. That includes eight hours on the water, flies, leaders, tippets, lunch, drinks and tackle if needed. He also offers all-inclusive fishing packages that include lodging. Prices vary.)

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