5 Guide Tips For Fly Fishing For Steelhead In Erie PA

The author Graham with a nice Fall Steelhead
The author Graham with a nice Fall Steelhead caught while fly fishing.

Fly fishing for steelhead in Erie PA can be fantastic if you know when and where to go and what to use. These are the methods, tips, flies, and advice from steelhead guides.

Fly fishing for Steelhead in Erie Pennsylvania consists of three fly fishing methods used on about 13 steelhead streams. The season starts in early fall and ends around early May, and it is possible to catch steelhead on the fly anytime in between.

About Fly Fishing Steelhead In Erie PA

Millions of little steelhead like this get stocked in Lake Erie tributaries every year.
Millions of little steelhead like this get stocked into Lake Erie tributaries every year. This creates a great steelhead fishery!

Erie Pennsylvania is only a small part of what the area offers when it comes to steelhead fishing. Erie PA is a small part of Pennsylvania and a smaller part of what is known as Steelhead Alley, which ranges from Western NY area of Lake Erie to the Western tributaries of Ohio and everything in between.

This area gets stocked with over a million steelhead a year, and the Erie PA area has some of the best steelhead rivers for fly fishing.

The reason the rivers are so good is that they are more like trout streams and they are small to mid-sized and fairly shallow which means the steelhead will stack up in the pools, runs, pockets and riffles and are easy to catch on the fly.

3 Fly Fishing Seasons For Erie PA Steelhead

Dalton wondering a local Erie PA steelhead river in the fall.
Image provided by local Erie PA fishing guide Dalton from Goose’s Guide Service.

Steelhead will start entering the rivers in September and will stay in the rivers until about May 1st. There are three seasons for fly fishing for Pennsylvania Steelhead.

Erie PA Fall Steelhead Fishing

Dalton fishing for fall steelhead in a Erie Pa steelhead stream.
Dalton fishing for fall steelhead in a Erie Pa steelhead stream.

When I am fly fishing Erie PA, I split the fall steelhead fishing into three separate times. September and early October are the beginning of the steelhead season and the fishing can be very hit and miss, and a lot of the best fishing occurs in the lower part of the river.

These early fall steelhead are aggressive and strong and will smash a well presented fly whether it be a nymph or streamer.

Mid to late October to late November is prime time. This is when big rains bring in lots of steelhead for some amazing steelhead fishing. These steelhead are abundant, aggressive, and strong and will also smash a well presented fly.

Late fall which I say is December is when steelhead migration slow down and the fish hold in bigger pools. This is when you want to slow your fly presentation and go with smaller flies.

For more tactics, tips, and flies for fishing this time of year, see Fall Fishing For Steelhead and 15 Guide Tips For Fall Steelhead Fishing In PA.

Erie PA Winter Steelhead Fishing

Dalton good with a mid-winter steelhead caught fly fishing in Erie PA.
Local guide Dalton from Goose’s Guide Service with a big mid-winter steelhead caught fishing in Erie PA.

Winter is when most anglers give up fly fishing Erie PA, but winter steelhead fly fishing in Erie PA can be great.

Winter is when you will find solitude and sometimes lots of fish that are holding in the river. This is when you fish slower deeper pools and use small flies. Check out Winter Steelhead Fishing In PA, or Winter Steelhead Fly Fishing.

Erie PA Spring Steelhead Fishing

Fly fishing for steelhead in Erie PA

Spring steelhead fly fishing in Erie PA starts as soon as the river ice starts to break up and the snow starts melting and raising the river water levels.

I also split the spring steelhead fishing into three parts for maximum success. Pre-Spawn steelhead, Spawning Steelhead, and Post-Spawn steelhead.

Understanding these stages of the spring steelhead run will greatly help you catch more steelhead and I discuss this on my page Spring Steelhead Fishing, and also check out PA Spring Steelhead Fishing.

Rivers For Fly Fishing Steelhead In Erie PA

An Angler Steelhead Fishing a PA Rivers

Steelhead can be caught within the town limits on small creeks like Cascade Creek, or traveling 15 to 30 minutes east or west of the city of Erie PA, anglers have about 13 steelhead streams to fly fish on.

Notable streams include Racoon Creek, Upper Conneaut Creek, Crooked Creek, Elk Creek, Walnut Creek, Cascade Creek, Godfrey Run, Twenty Mile Creek, Four Mile Creek, Twelve Mile Creek, Seven Mile Creek, and Sixteen Mile Creek.

These rivers will rise, drop, and clear at different times so while one river might be too high and dirty, another might be perfect. It’s also common to have steelhead enter one river but not another. But, since the rivers are all so close, anglers can try multiple rivers on the same day until they find the fish.

NOTE: Trout Run is a nursery water and fishing in the creek is prohibited. Be sure to check the fishing regulations for the river you want to fish.

For more on these rivers, see our page, Best Steelhead Rivers Of Pennsylvania.

3 Fly Fishing Methods For Erie Steelhead

Fly Fishing Nymphs on a trout river

There are three main ways of fly fishing for steelhead in the Erie PA area, which include Indicator Nymphing, Euro Nymphing, and Streamer fishing.

On some rivers, anglers can also Spey fish, however, smaller rods are recommended for the higher rivers and smaller pools and runs.

Indicator Nymphing For Erie Steelhead

It’s hard to beat Erie steelhead fly fishing with indicators. This is the most common method of fly fishing for PA steelhead simply because it works. The rivers are the perfect size and type for drifting flies below an indicator.

Most anglers fishing this method will use a 9-foot tapered leader with 2 or 3 feet of 3X or 4X tippet and some weights.

I use two flies for most steelhead fishing, but check the most recent PA fishing regulations

Guide Tips For Indicator Nymphing:

Some of the best nymphs are egg patterns, small nymphs, worm patterns, and streamers, or micro streamers. Check out 19 Best Steelhead Flies, and 5 Best Flies For PA Steelhead.

Euro Nymphing For Erie Steelhead

Euro nymphing water for steelhead
This is good Euro nymphing water for steelhead. Fast drop offs, small pockets and pools, shallow water, and clear water are all best fished with the Euro Nymphing method.

Euro nymphing for steelhead is a relatively new method for fly fishing Erie steelhead but believe me when I say it is exceptionally effective and catching on fast.

There is a reason why all the best tournament fly anglers in the world are all masters of Euro Nymphing.

I and other steelhead guides have adapted these competition Euro nymphing methods for great lakes steelhead.

In pocket water, riffles, runs, rapids, and faster moving pools less than 6 feet deep is where this method shines.

With this method, you are not using a floating indicator to suspend your fly or to help you detect a strike. Instead, it is a direct line from fly to the rod tip and the use of a colored piece of line 4 to 7 feet up from the fly is used to detect strikes, control depths, and to control fly speed.

For more information and the best Euro nymphing flies, check out my page Euro Nymphing For Steelhead.

Streamer Fishing For Erie Steelhead

Anglers will use streamers anywhere in the river and fish them like you would fish streamers for trout.

Where streamer fly fishing for Pennsylvania steelhead shines in early in the season or when rivers are low and the steelhead are holding in the lower river, at the mouth, or beach fishing around the mouth of the rivers.

Often, the lower rivers will see steelhead move in early in the mornings and then move out again if the river flows are not high enough. These slower water sections in the lower river are often best fly fished with streamers.

Good streamers for fly fishing Erie Steelhead are Woolly Buggers, white Zonkers, Bunny Leeches, and often most brown trout streamer flies will work.

For more on streamer fishing, check out Streamer Fishing For Steelhead.

Tight Lines,


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  1. Is a 10’6″ cortland mk2 8 wt. a good choice rod for erie steelhead nymphing & streamer fishing ?

    1. Hey Michael,

      That would not be my first choice of rod unless I was fishing the Niagara or a similar-sized river.

      The 10’6 is a great length for nymphing but you may find casting streamers awkward. However, it is doable.

      Also, an 8 weight is overkill on even the largest Erie tribs. Go with the 7-weight rod. Even the 6-weight will likely be fish for most Erie steelhead. but eh 7 should be perfect.

      I discuss steelhead rods at 7 Best Steelhead Fly Rods Recommended By River Guides.

      Hope that helps,