On a sunny day in March, 2012, we were amazed to find five large steelhead trout in our tiny backyard creek. The year before a flood had destroyed a century-old mill dam on the Chagrin River, which had been the primary barrier stopping the migration of steelhead from Lake Erie up the Chagrin River. The fish had somehow found their way into our creek – a tributary to the Chagrin River, but only reachable through a 570-foot underground culvert.
And so The Great Steelhead Rescue began.
The water level in our creek was dropping, so my kids begged me to save the steelhead. We got a net and bucket, and I’d wade in and flush one up into the shallows and Luca pounced with his net.
The steelhead were shockingly big and strong.
We placed the fish in a bucket and carried them to the Chagrin River.
I’d like to be able to say I caught this on a fly rod. Actually our net had broken after the third fish, so I caught this one by hand – perhaps even more unusual than using a fly rod.
After we rescued the five steelhead, I told the kids it must have been unusual flow conditions that allowed them to come up our stream, and that we’d just experienced a wonderful, but rare, gift.
The next week there were 25 – far too many to rescue. The kids of the neighborhood were thrilled by these huge visitors and gathered at the creek everyday after school. They moved the fish into deeper water as the creek dropped and released a few into the culvert. Luca measured as many as he could, and the biggest was 32 inches long.
Eventually most of the steelhead wound up as carcasses, with many dragged 30 feet from the stream, showing that the raccoons and coyotes enjoyed a rare and wonderful gift as well.
But the following summer we founds many juvenile trout in the creek, indicating that at least some had successfully spawned (the juvenile trout on the left is distorted by the rippled water surface).
(Images courtesy of Jeff Oppermann.)
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