It was that time of year between deer season and Christmas. I’ve been sitting home bored. The following Friday, Christmas, till the New Year the weather was suppose to get nasty and temperatures in the teens. I decided to take one more day trip to the Erie tribs. to fish for steelhead before the worst weather hit.
Wednesday morning I was standing in cold tributary water on Elk creek. The temperature outside was in the upper 30’s to low 40’s when I arrived. They were calling for high winds but where I was fishing the cliff across the water and the bend in the creek flow upstream prevented the strongest of winds from sweeping across the section of water me and another fisherman were fishing. The wind gusts, from around the corner, howled in the distance like a lone coyote in a steep hollow a mile away. By the time the aftermath arrived it felt like a dry cold breeze across my face. Nothing too strong to rattle the tree branches above or hamper my roll casts but enough to dry out and stiffen my exposed cheeks. My face began to feel like a cold cardboard box left out on the front porch dusted in snow. The water was a limestone milky color. Just like the color of a pothole filled with water, in a limestone road, after a truck tire rolls through it. The creek was flowing favorably and deep enough, along with the color, to hide any steelhead hugging the bottom of the deeper pools. This was all because of the snow run off from the past few days. It was perfect conditions, in water clarity, as far a I was concerned.
Fishing this area a couple of weeks before I knew there would be fish in this stretch of water even though they weren’t visible. It’s funny how other fishermen would pass by and comment how they haven’t seen any fish and asked if we seen any and if we caught any. After awhile I just told them the steelhead were well camouflaged this morning. The fishermen would disappear around the corner upstream and usually within an hour or so return and continue to walk behind me and downstream gazing into the water looking for fish as if a gold miner wasn’t going to pan for gold unless he saw a glimmer of a dusting. Eventually the fisherman just up creek from me, and having caught no fish, took to walking upstream also. This left me alone and I had the whole section of water to myself for some time.
It wasn’t long before the coldness of the water began to make my feet feel frozen and numb. No matter what kind of socks I wear there is no way to keep the cold from taking its toll. The good thing, since no one was fishing around me, I had room to wade around to keep my feet moving to keep a warmer blood circulation to them. Other than that I was dressed for the conditions and didn’t really feel the coldness outside.
Practically at the end of one drift my indicator dipped beneath the water surface and I quickly, with a jerking hook set, yanked the rod upstream. The fly line tightened and the rod bowed towards the hooked fish. My first steelhead was on. She shook the line like Santa swaying the reins trying get back to the North Pole before daylight. Then she dashed upstream in a flurry with a wake following her. We had quite a bit a go around but I managed to get her to cooperate and got her to the bank.
Well, I was going to light up my first cigar but when I looked at my watch it was only a quarter to nine. I figured I’d wait at least till 10 to light up.
In the next few hours I tried to tempt a few other unseen fish to take any of my different offerings. I hooked up two more times. One I was sure a foul hook. The other was a nice colorful male. He rose to the surface, after the hook up, and shook his head violently. He sped upstream just below the surface in front of a fisherman up creek from me. From there he turned and torpedoes past me and that’s when the hook came out and the rod straightened. The indicator, line and both sucker spawn flew up out of the water and twisted around a branch above me too far up to reach. When I looked up at the branches I saw other fish ornaments hanging from the limbs also. They were all shapes and sizes as well as different colors. I said to the guy upstream that it looked like a fair hook and he agreed.
After retying on new leader and tippet I knotted on a couple more sucker spawns and continued to fish deep. When the other fisherman left I walked up creek and knotted on a streamer. I fished streamers to where I hooked up to the other fish earlier without a take. By then the sun started to rise above the cliff and through the trees across creek. The water appeared to clear up a bit. Since I hadn’t had a take for some time I decided to drop a sucker spawn on 4lb P-Line off a sparkle spawn that I had knotted to 6lb Fluorocarbon.
Standing in one spot I tried to cover as much water as possible casting towards the far bank to just short in the deeper water before me. I would cast up creek, making big mends at times, so my indicator would drift downstream with my fly line trailing. On one occasion the indicator dipped and I let it stay under just a tad longer than usual because I knew there was a snag beneath in the area the indicator dipped. The indicator didn’t continue to drift down creek so I gave an upward tug on the rod but not strong enough that I thought would cause the 4lb tippet to break off. The line tightened and I could feel the rod bow down in the midsection almost forcing my wrists to unlock when the line took off upstream. I raised the rod a little higher to cut down on the resistance of the fly line through the water. As he passed me he rose just below the surface and I saw his long body. From there he dropped a little deeper and was headed to a rocky ledge visible upstream, from where I stood, below the surface. I tried to turn him with the rod facing somewhat down creek. I knew I couldn’t put too much pressure thinking he took the sucker spawn on the 4 lb Fluorocarbon. He turned down creek and stopped in front of me shaking his head and somersaulting like an old synchronized swimmer that may have participated in the Olympic games in his younger days. He wasn’t quick in doing his somersaulting as I watched him but was trying his best to get himself free of the line. His dull pink lateral line stretched from his tail to his brighter pink gill plate. His long body wasn’t as bright as the male steelhead I lost earlier but was more of a dingy color that I figured been in the creek for sometime. Either way it looked to be one of the lengthiest steelhead I had ever caught. Thinking he took the sucker spawn on the 4lb tippet I took my time and let him tire himself out before trying to coax him in too quickly. There was no one around within vision so I was on my own trying to land him without anyone to net him for me.
As we battled I would tighten the drag at times and loosen at times depending on his forceful runs. Most of the time I had the rod butt in my gut with my two hands gripping the cork and just letting him swim fighting the tightened drag and arcing rod resistance. When he came to the surface, at times, he still had enough energy to give a few jolting head shakes before dropping below and swimming. There were times I thought he wasn't going to tire like a Christmas toy with fresh batteries. While we were in the scuffle I waded backward towards the bank. When I would get him near the shallow water I was standing in he would force his way outward and downstream some. I had to keep him from reaching the shallower riffles downstream at all cost. I moved the rod downstream and towards the bank trying not to give him any more line. He splashed water about and got a spurt of energy to swim away from the shallows. I gave him a little line but kept the rod bowed in a good arc. He finally gave in, or I just kept enough pressure on him, that I got him to the bank. He was pretty tuckered out like a tired old beagle after running a rabbit through a grown up thicket.
I didn’t waste any time in taking a quick picture and getting the Sparkle spawn out from his tongue. He had taken the top spawn on the 6lb tippet and not the dropper off the 4lb. I dipped him in shallow water where he would be able to swim out of. Moving him, to push water through his gills, he revived enough and after I felt a good tail swat I let him swim out of my grip. He swam out of the shallow water a bit and rested in water deep enough he was fully submerged below the surface. It was if he couldn’t believe, after all the fighting he had done, that I released him and he wasn’t going to be Christmas dinner.
I let him rest there while I lit up a cigar before wading out towards him. He nonchalantly swam away once I got nearer to him.
I fished about another hour or so after that without a hook up. I wondered up stream and while I was fishing a long time acquaintance, and his son, happen by. We recognized each other right off. After chatting a bit I climbed the bank and headed downstream. When I got to where I hooked up to the steelhead earlier there was a guy and his son fishing the same area. I looked up in the tree branches, where I had lost the sucker spawn earlier, and some of the hanging fishing lures and spawn where sparkling like hanging ornaments on a Christmas tree.
Hey, I had fun and called it a day. By then it was around 2:30. I had a couple hour drive home so I headed to the truck.