Steelheading on Erie’s Fourmile is better now

Erie, Pa. — It’s now legal for steelheaders to access Fourmile Creek in Erie, with completion of an easement agreement between the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission and a local golf club.

Finalization of the $41,000 agreement with Lawrence Park Golf Club also marks completion of a larger project that involved construction of two fish ladders, both on golf course property about 700 feet apart, according to commission biologist Ken Anderson, who helped orchestrate the project.

Installation of the ladders opens up about five miles of steelheading on this small, east-side stream, through a small wooded lot on the golf course and through Napier and Westleyville public parks.

“It used to be you’d see 50 guys crowded on a 500-foot reach of the creek,” Anderson said. “Now anglers can spread out over 6,000 feet. This eliminates the crowding of both anglers and fish.”

The first fishway is an aluminum, Alaska steep-path design, about 30 feet long, that allows fish to get over a golf course dam, which is the first impediment on Fourmile, about 850 feet from the lake.

The second fishway is a natural rock-cut bypass channel with concrete cast-in-entrance, concrete weirs, and pre-cast exit chamber.  It gets steelhead past a waterfall close to 2,000 feet from the lake.

“Fish can get clear up to Route 20,” Anderson said. “They could even get as far as Cooper Road near the Penn State gorge, although that would be a challenge except when flow is unusually high.”

The Fourmile project, conceived in 2007, involved numerous partners, including Pennsylvania Sea Grant. Although the fish ladders were completed last November, it took until just this past summer to execute an easement agreement with the golf course, Anderson said.

The 200 feet of property immediately off the lake is owned by General Electric and home to a private fishing club.

The golf club owns the stretch from that point to Route 5, but it is off-limits to fishing to minimize hassles to all parties, including golfers, Anderson said.

“Both fishways are on the course and you can’t fish between them because we don’t want the fish to be disturbed. We also don’t people to be hit with golf balls.”

Cables mark the no-fishing zone. Anglers are allowed upstream of the cables to Route 5. A combined 3,000 feet goes through Napier Township Park and Westleyville Borough Park, where folks will find good steelheading, Anderson pointed out.

“Napier goes to Main Street and there are several quality fishing holes in that reach that take just average flow,” he said. “Westleyville has twice as much stream reach as Napier, and there’s good fishing there to Route 20, also with average flow.

“Last November, when we opened the gate on the second ladder, we had 200 fish in a big pool that moved through over three days,” Anderson added. “The vast majority stretched out to Route 20 and people angled for them all winter. New fish came in April.

“In the Main Street pool, there were 400 fish to pass.”

Like other east side tributaries, Fourmile tends to go up and down after rainfall a lot faster but tends to clears more quickly, too, Anderson noted.

“Fish get spooked, and that can make angling a challenge.”

Although the ladders and easement were designed to create an alternative to crowded Erie streams, there’s a limit to the amount of pressure Fourmile can take, observed Jeff Staaf, of Poor Richard’s Bait and Tackle.

“Because it’s so small, most guys don’t go there,” he said. “A lot of fishermen like to fish bigger water.”

Still, it’s a good thing, overall, he said. “And I’ve heard that fish are making it up past Route 20. One guy I know above 38th Street says he’s catching fish way up there.”

The commission and the Westleyville Conservation Club stock Fourmile above Route 20, both with steelhead and brown trout. “This is the third year for the browns, but we may see some, although it’s more likely they’ll make their first runs next year,” Anderson said.

He indicated that efforts to expand public access on Fourmile also may be in the works. “There may be future opportunities for more easements,” he said.

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