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Anglers trek to Erie for Steelhead fishing

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Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011

Steve Brugger has fished in many places, from Iceland and Argentina to the Bahamas, Chile and many places in the United States.

He'll tell you that Erie's fishing rivals them all.

In most places, anglers would be happy to catch one steelhead a day, he said. In Lake Erie's tributaries, along its shores and in its deeper waters, statistics show that anglers can average almost one per hour.

The people closest to all of that action are often the least aware of it, he said.

"I know of 14 guys from Denmark who are coming to Erie for 10 days this year to fish for steelhead. And that's not that unusual. I've seen people from Denmark before, from other countries, from other states, so you've got people all over the world who know about this," said Brugger, owner of Lake Erie Ultimate Angler and vice president of the Pennsylvania Steelhead Association. "But there are people down the road who have no idea.

"It's kind of wild, isn't it?"

An event being held next month may help to change that.

The Steelhead Association is organizing the first Great Lakes Steelhead Expo in Erie on Nov. 5. It's a day-long festival that will include a fishing contest, seminars, exhibits, vendors and more.

"We always held a banquet in the fall for our members, but we felt this was something that could really take off," said association director Sam Starr. "And it's already catching fire. We've got a lot of big-time players wanting to be a part of it."

It makes sense that Erie should host the event, given that it's the heart of "Steelhead Alley," accounting for 55 percent of all the steelhead stocked in Lake Erie in a year's time, said John Hall of Fairview, another association member.

"The fishing here, you can't experience it anywhere else. This is the place," Hall said.

The catch-and-release steelhead tournament will start the expo and offer overall and hourly prizes. Later, from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Rainbow Gardens Convention Center, the expo itself will feature seminars on how to fish for steelhead with flies, spinning tackle and bait, from boats, jetties and piers, early in the season, on noodle and spey rods and more.

No one is sure how many people the show will draw, but chances are a large percentage of the crowd will hail from the greater Pittsburgh area.

Anglers who fish Lake Erie and its tributary streams must buy a Lake Erie stamp or a combination Lake Erie/trout stamp. According to Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission license reports, Erie County predictably led the state in the sale of both in 2010 -- but Allegheny County ranked second, Westmoreland third and Butler fourth. In fact, seven of the top 10 and 10 of the top 13 counties for sales are in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Brugger said a good crowd, no matter its origin, will, hopefully, begin to give the area's steelhead fishery its due.

"It will be a chance for guys to get together and share stories, tell lies and all of that kind of stuff," he said. "I'm actually shocked no one's done this before."

Additional Information:

Great Lakes Steelhead Expo

The Great Lakes Steelhead Expo will be held from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Nov. 5 at the Rainbow Gardens Convention Center in Erie's Waldameer Park, just south of Presque Isle.

Tickets are $15 per person and include admission, food, drinks and a raffle ticket. They are available at or and at various Erie bait and tackle shops. Anglers can register for the expo's fishing contest at the same sites and locations.

Proceeds will support efforts to stock steelhead and be used to improve fish habitat and angler access.

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