What if You Could Design
the Perfect Steelhead Stream?

by Mike Bleech

construction photos-Mike Bleech, fishing photos-Keith Edwards

Construction photoBob Sever, visiting from Pittsburgh, was so impressed that on the spot he donated $20 to the Pennsylvania Steelhead Association. "You really couldn't fish the creek here," he said. "It was too shallow and wouldn't hold anything." Like most anglers, Sever, who has been coming to the Lake Erie Coast to fish for about 20 years, normally fished Walnut Creek above the Manchester Bridge until the land was posted.

Each year, beginning by early October and continuing through the following April, steelhead migrate into the Lake Erie tributaries where thousands of anglers, many of whom have traveled hundreds of miles, await their arrival. Access to the streams is a problem, though. At Walnut Creek, there had been no good holding water between the boat basin and the upper end of Commission property just below the Manchester Bridge. Steelhead anglers had to crowd into the boat channel, where they were in constant conflict with heavy boat traffic, or they fished above the Manchester Bridge on private property, where there are several excellent holes that hold steelhead.

Unfortunately, the stream is now posted above the Manchester Bridge. Early in 1999, the Commission met with the Pennsylvania Steelhead Association, 3-C-U and other clubs to discuss the issue. Fish & Boat Commissioner Sam Concilla proposed making holes on Commission property to replace the fishing that was lost to the posted area.

"The motivation for the idea was the complaints we were getting from the private landowners that there were too many fishermen on their properties. To avoid further posting of stream access properties, I wanted a way to provide opportunities for the anglers to fish on public land. The greatest strip of public land is Walnut Creek from the Manchester Bridge to the lake," Concilla explained. "It just made sense that we should undertake a stream enhancement project to hold as many fish in that area as we possibly could instead of having fish travel upstream to private land."

But a project of this nature had no precedence. It went far beyond the usual procedures and plans for stream improvement projects in Pennsylvania.

"I pulled it out of the air," Concilla said. "It made sense to make holes."

 Stream photo

 PA map with Erie highlighted

The idea was enthusiastically accepted, and in an amazingly short time, the Commission, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, anglers' clubs and local businesses worked together to complete the project in time for the steelhead run last fall. It was completed mostly during the week of August 30 to September 3.

An application was made for a federal grant to fund the project. When that failed, the Commission found $9,999 for the project, and the partnership came up with $1,500. However, this was still not enough.

"We put the word out for contributors, and the money just poured in," said WCO John Bowser, who worked with Concilla to organize support. To support the project, along with the principal private group sponsor, the Pennsylvania Steelhead Association, 3-C-U, the Elk Valley Sportsmen Club and S.O.N.S. of Lake Erie joined with local businesses including Elk Creek Sports Store, Poor Richard's Bait & Tackle, B.A.C. Bait & Tackle, Lake Shore Service Gulf Station, Teresa's Lakeshore Ice Cream & Deli, Chivers' Construction Company, Industrial Sales and Manufacturing Company, and Erienet.

"I really have to thank the contractor, Dave Chivers, for committing his men and material for what he did," Concilla said.

Fishing Walnut CreekAccording to Concilla, the contractor performed a job that should have cost about four times as much as he was paid.

"We're really excited about all of this," said Karl Weixlmann, president of the Pennsylvania Steelhead Association. "I look at this as a great community effort, everybody pulling together for a common cause."

The Pennsylvania Steelhead Association was formed about four years ago to protect, preserve and enhance the steelhead fishery. It now has more than 100 members, many from the Pittsburgh area. They contributed money and manpower.

The project was designed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Five holes were created by heavy equipment, which chiseled into the shale stream bed. The maximum depth in these holes was about five feet. The entire project area was carefully designed with several boulders placed to create pocket water between the larger holes.

The result was 1,100 feet of virtually perfect steelhead stream, and anglers quickly voiced their approval.

"I've heard nothing but compliments about it," reported Sherry Mishik, secretary at the Commission's Walnut Creek Access office.

Finishing touches such as building trails, seeding for stream bank stabilization, and planting trees for shade will be done by the Pennsylvania Steelhead Association.

Low water during construction benefitted the project.

The Pennsylvania Steelhead Association will assist in seeding the stream bank after construction is completed. This project was possible because of cooperation among the Commission, other government agencies, private groups and local businesses.

Big pools, big catches
Big pools, big catches
 Angler with steelhead
Roy and Diane Java, Aliquippa, PA
    Ken Schroch
Ken Schroch, Pittsburgh, PA
Walter Peak 
Walter Peak, Pittsburgh, PA
    Kathy Day
Kathy Day, Gardners, PA
 Angler netting steelhead
    Al Bargiband
Al Bargiband, Zelienople, PA

PDF file of this article

January/February 2000 Angler & Boater

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