The War on Steelhead & Salmon Snagging

Yesterday, during a break from fishing Elk Creek near Erie, PA, our guides took my buddy Mark and I on a little tour of the area and we ended up at the mouth of Walnut Creek. As we marveled at the amount of anglers surrounding each little pool, a conservation officer pulled into the parking lot and one of our guides flagged him down. He wanted to report a guy he and other locals suspected of snagging steelhead. He had even written down the man's plate number. It was then that the officer (below) reached into his truck's cup holder and pulled out a handful of homemade snags hooks. "I've collected these just in the last few days," he told us. "I'll have a lot more by the end of the weekend."

Just the possession of a snag hook on a PA steelhead river carries a nice fine. Get caught in the act and you're in serious trouble. The officer said that in two days the week prior (week days, mind you) he had issued 12 tickets. What I can't seem to figure out is how desperate someone must be to risk the penalties of snagging. Maybe there really are that many people starving so badly they can't afford a case of Ramen Noodles, but if you can afford treble hooks and lead to make snags, you can afford a Big Mac, and you won't risk getting fined.

From Upstate New York to Ohio, almost every angler you meet has a story about snaggers. But I get the sense that lawful salmon fishermen and steelheaders in the region don't just gripe about it--they get on the phone and at least voice a complaint with the authorities if they suspect an angler of snagging, be it with a snag hook or fishing five heavy split-shots on a fly line in a riffle, where all you need is one tiny split. Unfortunately it's a problem I don't ever think will go away, but it's nice to know the bad guys have more to fear than just bumping into a conservation officer.