Trout Run is off limits to Lake Erie steelhead anglers year round.
On Monday morning, though, volunteers were allowed to net as many large steelhead as they could from the small nursery water in Erie County.
The event was part of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's collection for its steelhead spawning and stocking program. Several collections are done annually so that the steelhead can be transported to hatcheries where the PFBC oversees the reproduction of the large trout species.
Trout Run is a tributary of Lake Erie in Fairview Township and has been designated as a Nursery Water. The PFBC facility features a steep wall and pool area in the creek where steelhead gather in an attempt to swim upstream to spawn. Because they cannot swim farther upstream due to the wall, the steelhead can easily be collected. (The fish can also leave the collection area and swim back to the lake.)
PFBC Executive Director Tim Schaeffer was among those helping Monday with the steelhead-netting session.
"It's a lot of fun," Schaeffer said. "So we're here at Avonia Beach, here at Trout Run, our nursery water where we collect the steelhead brood that keeps the steelhead fishery here in Erie County going every year. This is our first one of the year. We do a number of collections now through the winter."
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PFBC officials and volunteers used nets to catch the fish, which were then separated into male and female groups and placed into separate compartments in a PFBC water tank truck.
The fish were transported to the nearby Fairview State Fish Hatchery, where they will be used to "start the process of the next generation of fish that the anglers will be pursuing here in Lake Erie," Schaeffer said.
Steelhead fishing is a popular recreation and tourist attraction in Erie County, especially in the fall when thousands of mature trout return from Lake Erie to swim up the tributaries in an effort to spawn.
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"We would not have the steelhead fishery here in Pennsylvania without our hatchery system," Schaeffer said. "We thank folks for their license purchase. Every dollar that we collect we invest back into the fishery resources for the anglers of Pennsylvania."
The Pennsylvania Sea Grant commissioned a study in 2016 about the economic impact from anglers in Lake Erie's Pennsylvania waters. The study found that recreational fishing in the area produced an economic impact of $40 million.
The steelhead fishing is a major part of that industry as anglers drive from throughout Pennsylvania and beyond to fish during the annual steelhead run. The PFBC stocks more than 1 million steelhead smolts into Lake Erie and the tributaries each year.
Volunteers from different parts of the commonwealth participated in Monday's steelhead collection. A group from California University of Pennsylvania was netting fish, along with staff from the offices of U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly and Pennsylvania Rep. Parke Wentling. Also taking part were PFBC commissioners from Adams, Lackawanna, Armstrong and Erie counties, and staff from other parts of the state. Members of the public also participated.
"We have a student from one of our Women's Steelhead Fishing programs we did over the weekend – she came and joined us," Schaeffer said.
Anglers are not permitted to fish in Trout Run because of its Nursery Waters designation, but they line up in the water near the Lake Erie shoreline along Avonia Beach to catch steelhead as they attempt to reach Trout Run.
Erie County bait shop owners have been calling this year's steelhead run one of the best in years. Monday's program is intended to make sure the quality of steelhead fishing continues for years ahead.
Contact Jeff Kirik at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ETNkirik.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: PFBC nets steelhead in Erie County nursery water for use in hatchery