Chagrin tailwaters and riffles
Article By: Brooke Elizabeth Ryan | April 2016
Drive through Cleveland Ohio anytime in late fall or early spring and you will most definitely come across a fly fisherman or ten parked alongside the road next to a river. In the greater Cleveland area there are many Lake Erie tributaries that house Steelhead Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and complete the west end of Steelhead Alley. One of which, the Chagrin River, is constantly visited with eager fisherman and women chasing the Michigan strain of Manistee River Steelhead. Steelheading is all about when you can get out there and being able to fish the current conditions. Here in Cleveland the weather is never the same and always a challenge, but there is always somewhere to fish.
Conveniently for us, Steelhead are released into these foreign environments annually with no previous knowledge of what naturally inhabits these rivers. With that said, these Steelhead will eat just about anything! Bright chartreuse egg!? Yes! Sparkly pink streamer?! Why not?! Cadmium red and purple Woollybugger! Most definitely.
The very scenic Chagrin River is popular and has many smaller branches that clear out quickly, after the untimely rains, so the Steelhead can most always see the potentially questionable patterns you are fishing. It has been said that the Chagrin River is the only River that Ohio Brook Trout still naturally inhabit and it also boasts small amounts of natural Steelhead Trout reproduction. There are many public access parks situated along the Chagrin River, which starts in Chardon, Ohio and winds south to north before dumping into Lake Erie.
Steelhead Trout are stocked by the Ohio Division of Natural Resources at the mouth of the Chagrin River and begin their spawning migration as the rivers start to unfreeze. With every rain the Steelhead push further up river until they hit Chagrin Falls. Chagrin Falls itself is a quaint little town filled with historic brick buildings, yuppies and of course The Popcorn Shop that dangles precariously off the edge of the Chagrin Falls Waterfalls. These falls are notorious for many reasons; like the numerous times that a specific individual has lit himself on fire and then swan dove off of the top of them. These falls exceed a vertical 10 feet and are impassable by these eager Steelhead. Even so, there are many miles of the Chagrin River to be fished and there are many characters out there trying to do so on any given day. Even with people running around in waders and polarized sunglass, many of the Chagrin River Watershed residents know nothing about the magnificent species that inhabit the waterways in their backyards. To the dismay of many fly fishermen, some of these backyards actually do encompass the Chagrin River, are private and therefore unfishable.
It is true that it takes a special type of person to muster up the motivation to travel around from location to location to assess the water conditions, suite up in all the gear and navigate miles of Chagrin Shale, quicksand and stone runs to chase the infamous Steelhead. The day I landed my first Steelhead was no exception. Spending hours out in a bright Easter sun on a small tributary of the Chagrin, with a throbbing left ear; from an accidental sunburn acquired during a previous fishing excursion on Saint Patrick's Day, I caught two Steelhead. It would be fair to say that those Steelhead and I were both hooked that day.
Fly fishing is a beautifully abstract slippery slope that quickly becomes an obsession. From buying your first pair of waders to tying your first fly, it is all worth it to be able to connect and understand this uniquely intelligent species.
The Steelhead Trout population is a truly fascinating and important part of our planet's ecosystem, especially here in Cleveland, Ohio. These fish have adapted to many different environmental changes, natural and unnatural, contribute a large monetary value to the sport fishing and tourism industry, and have continued to transport needed nutrients back to their origin of creation or release. Their significance is undeniable. Continuing conservation efforts must find solutions to continue to sustain and grow the Steelhead population all over North America. As technology continues to progress, better statistical data can be obtained and better population estimates can be collected. Hatcheries must be held to high standards, aim their research at genetically diversifying this species and practice successful release strategies. There are many factors working against this beautifully spellbinding species of fish. The only way this species will acquire and maintain a sustainable population is through education, continued conservation solutions and responsible fishing practices. Together we can make a difference.
So if you do find yourself in Cleveland and make your way out to our scenic rivers for Steelhead season, remember to bundle up and when you land that 30 inch Steelie, take those gloves off and wet your hands before you take that trophy picture! Just because that fish swims away does not mean it will survive to see another season if you damage its slimy protective coating. We all want that monster to come back next year at least a couple inches bigger so we can catch it again. It's all about catching feelings.