Spring Steelhead Fishing Ohio: Tactics And Method Used By Guides

Spring Steelhead Fishing Ohio
The author’s buddy with a nice steelhead.

Spring steelhead fishing in Ohio starts with warmer weather and snowmelt, which brings many steelhead into local Ohio rivers. Anglers using the right baits, flies, lures, and methods can catch these spring steelhead.

Spring Steelhead Fishing Ohio: 3 Stages Of The Spring Run

Fishing lures for Ohio steelhead is good for spring run steelhead like this.
The Author with a nice Steelhead.

Spring is a perfect time to be out fishing for steelhead in Ohio. The air is warmer, and the steelhead are usually in the river in good numbers.

Spring steelhead are aggressive and will hit a well-presented bait, fly, or lures, but there are three stages of the spring steelhead spawning cycle and knowing what stage the steelhead are in is important if you want to maximize your catch.

Spring presents two major steelhead opportunities – “drop back steelhead,” also known as “Drop Down steelhead,” and “fresh run” steelhead.

Drop-down steelhead refers to steelhead that have already spawned and are recovering and eating as they drop back down to the lake. Drop Back steelhead are usually hungry steelhead, and you will often start to see them in late March!

“Fresh run” are steelhead at the beginning of their migration or within a day or two of their upstream migration. These running steelhead are also aggressive and will feed when they enter the pools to rest. Targeting these fish will obviously translate to plenty of steelhead to go around. 

The 3rd group of steelhead are fish that are on the spawning beds spawning. I believe these steelhead should be left alone for many reasons, including that they rarely eat and are often only caught by snagging them.

When the steelhead are on the spawning beds, they are beat up and tired and do not fight well. Also, there are better opportunities for catching stronger-fighting steelhead at this time.

Spring Steelhead Fishing Ohio

A male steelhead, notice the longer jawline.
A male steelhead, notice the longer jawline.

The spring steelhead usually begin their run in late February and will likely be in some rivers as late as early May. During the first several weeks of the early season, the vast majority of steelhead caught are fish that remained in the river from the previous combined with fresh run streelhead.

Spring steelhead fishing is largely dependent on changing water conditions, and anglers who understand and know how to time the runs are guaranteed a successful steelhead fishing experience.

Spring steelhead runs start with slightly warmer days, which start the snow melting and raise the rivers. Spring rains also raise river levels, and this triggers the runs of steelhead. Guides and anglers know the best time to be on the river is just as it is clearing and is when the steelhead can start seeing your bait.

Until the water warms, the steelhead may not be as aggressive and fight quite as hard as you will find in the fall.

By late March and April, most steelhead will have likely reached their spawning grounds. While on their spawning beds, they rarely eat and fight poorly. You want to avoid targeting this category of steelhead because this could ruin chances at more reproduction.

You want to look out instead for post-spawn steelhead in the Ohio Rivers, as these fish will feed heavily. Post-spawn steelhead, also known as drop-backs, are those that have already spawned and are either recuperating or making their way back to Lake Erie.

They can often be found gorging on steelhead eggs in the pockets and pools directly below the spawning beds, and this is where you should be fishing. 

These drop-back steelhead are hungry and will be more aggressive compared to their early spring counterparts.

Best Methods For Spring Steelhead

There are several effective methods for spring steelhead fishing in Ohio rivers; however, their effectiveness differs. More than just the techniques are the adjustments anglers need to make during different times and conditions of the Ohio rivers.

Float Fishing For Ohio Spring Steelhead

Float fishing is a popular and effective spring steelhead fishing technique that involves suspending or presenting a bait below a float.

As simple as this sounds, it requires some skill a good setup, and the right gear. A poorly done leader setup, wrong hooks, and floats can compromise your chance of landing steelhead.

If you want to learn more about spring steelhead fishing in Ohio with the float fishing method used by some of the most experienced anglers and guides, you can check out my page on Float Fishing for Steelhead.

Fly Fishing For Spring Steelhead

Gareth from Alley Grabs with a nice Grand River steelhead
Gareth from Alley Grabs Guide Service with a nice Grand River steelhead

Fly fishing has been my favorite technique and is used by most river guides in the area.

Gareth from Alley Grabs Guide Service In Ohio and his clients can attest to the effectiveness of both nymphing and Spey fishing for steelhead.

Gareth has some very effective spring flies that he shares with his clients.

Fly fishing is effective on the smaller and shallower Ohio tributaries, except for deeper river sections. I can attest to this because I have caught a lot of steelhead with this method more than the likes of Centerpin or float fishing on these types of rivers.

Different methods to employ when fly fishing for steelhead include Spey fishing, nymphing, or Euro nymphing. I personally prefer nymphing, and I share in detail how to be effective at it on my page Nymphing for Steelhead. I also use different flies under different river conditions, and so should you. 

Some of the best available flies for Ohio Steelhead are the Stonefly Nymph, the yarn egg, the Prince Nymph, the San Juan worm, and the woolly bugger. There are also good spey fishing flies.

I discuss more of my favorite flies on my page on Best Flies For Steelhead. For a more detailed explanation of fly fishing for steelhead in general, you can check out my page, Fly Fishing For Steelhead: Great Lakes Style.

Lure Fishing For Spring Steelhead

Fishing lures for Ohio steelhead when they just enter the river is a very exciting way to catch steelhead like this.
Fishing lures for Ohio steelhead when they just enter the river is a very exciting way to catch steelhead like this.

The spring season is a great time to use lures. Lure fishing is very popular amongst anglers. Lure fishing can be a very effective way to land aggressive steelhead that are willing to chase and hit a moving target.

Some of the best lures I recommend for spring steelhead fishing in Ohio are spoons, spinners, jigs, and crankbaits. I discuss more effective lures and how to fish them on my page, Best Lures for Steelhead.

Depending on the river conditions, you want to experiment with different lure colors, sizes, and methods of presentation.

Best Baits

Spawn sacks are one of the best baits for trout
Spawn sacks are one of the best baits for trout and steelhead, and I usually use small dime-sized sacks in multiple colors.

Bear in mind that different conditions of the steelhead and rivers will require different types of baits. Therefore, you want to try out as many baits as possible to see which works.

Also, the sizes and colors should change depending on the river conditions. Spring is also a time to try some of the less used baits like jigs.

Generally, I recommend egg patterns and beads for most conditions, but there are other baits that you can try out, and I discuss some of them on my page, Best Baits for Steelheads.

Don’t forget to check out the page Steelhead Fishing Ohio: Guide Tips And Advice and fall steelhead fishing in Ohio.

Tight Lines,


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    1. Hi Frank,

      For most avergage sized great lakes rivers I use 8 to 10 pound mono or braid as the mainline and will use a 16 to 24 inch 8 to 10 pound fluorocarbon leader attached with a swivel or a Double Uni knot. My lines will ultimately depend if I’m fishing a river that is 10 to 60 feet wide or river that is 200 feet wide. On larger rivers, I will upsize to 12 or even 14 pound mainline and 10 or 12 pound leader. I discuss my favorite spinners and my spinner fishng methods on my lures page

      Good Luck,