I put the cloth wrapped fiberglass rod, I won at the ’One Fly’ back in 2008, in a cardboard tube and laid it with the rest of my gear in the living room. Christmas day I was heading to Erie to catch myself a steelhead on the ’glass’.
I was anxious to fish for steelhead on Christmas, so much, I awoke before the alarm went off at 5:15am. The almost 2 hour drive should put me on the water about 7:30am. Not that there would be many others on the water but I wanted an early start.
As I packed the van the temperature was in my favor. At 20+ degrees , under a dark blackened morning sky, I felt wasn’t going to be much of a problem. The 8wt. Fiberglass rod might take some getting used to though. At 8’ 6” I was anxious to feel how the fiberglass rod performs. The biggest challenge would be the gusting wind. Even in Clarion the wind howled through the big tall pine in the back yard. I wondered what it would be like closer to the lake.
The drive up was uneventful though the wind nudged the mini fishing van now and then. The nearer I got towards Erie there were open places where loose snow blew and gathered on the road. The sky was starless and without a glowing moon my visibility to the conditions was my own headlights shining before me.
In the early morning light I sat in the van parked upon the snow covered berm. It was evident that the sunshine, the day before, brought many fishermen due to the tread tracks and boot prints left in the snow. I sat and listened to the rush of wind across the van body as I sipped down the last French Vanilla cappuccino left in the Styrofoam cup. I watched three crows brave the high winds as they tried their best to relocate themselves from the nicely trimmed rows of grape vines. Their strength seemed to drain quickly fighting against the wind only for them to drop again among the vines only a short distance away.
Upon opening the drivers door a cold rush of wind met me with harsh reality. I heard the wind moan through the grape vines then tried to push me, with its force, as if I stood in its way. The gusts of wind hollered through the field lined tree branches as I watched the dried leaves, which escaped the snow fall, race across the snowy open field. I opened the back hatch and took out the gear I needed in preparation for fishing. Opening the sliding side door, on the leeward side, I began putting my gear together and dressing in my 3mm boot-foot hip waders. I took the 8wt. ’glass’ rod out of the tube and cloth cover and pieced the two sections together. I attached a SA reel to the down locking aluminum seat and felt the weight of the rod as I gripped the clean smooth cork handle. After threading the 8wt. level line through the 4 small rod eyes I checked the tapered leader for any marring or wind knots. The whole time I was gearing up the wind would find a way of reaching around the van and play games with the fly line as I attached a fast-snap to the end of the tippet. I kept a positive attitude and was hoping the wind would not be as fierce down by the creek. After putting on my Orvis sling pack I locked the doors and was ready for a day of fishing with my unfamiliar weapon of choice.
Crossing the field I dipped and walked down the wide trail between the field’s ridge and the cliff that dropped off to the creek on my right. The wind wasn’t as forceful along the snow covered trail but I was soon to find out it would continue to torment me now and then along the creek. At the creek I found that the usual peaceful sound of clear running water was dampened by the howling tree top wind.
Slowly crossing the creek, I watched my steps and glanced around at my surrounding. Ice lined most of the banks so I was careful when I stepped out of the water. Anyone that wears felt soles knows that felt and ice doesn’t work well together. Walking downstream I searched for dark forms in the clear water that might look out of place. I found a couple of steelhead hugging the far bank under ice shelves clung to downed logs and branches. I found out quickly that roll casting, with the limp tipped ‘glass’ rod, wasn’t going to be easy to drop a fly accurately. I found a little more wrist was needed to get the fly out there with a more forceful loop; even so the wind played havoc on the whole casting routine constantly.
An hour or so passed as I worked my way downstream casting to lone steelhead within the cold waters. I cracked ice forms on my side of the bank to uncover hidden steelhead or a place to sturdy my feet to cast out into the open water. Stomping on the ice snapped long cracks towards the furthest point where the edge of ice met with open water. I would push the large ice slabs with my boots into the slow current and watch as they slowly floated to the end of a tail out. From there the slabs would crash into exposed rocks in the shallower water. Pieces would break off and erratically flow beyond, splitting more in the uneven rock forming riffles. This all caused a commotion and in turn the fish below swam hurriedly for a safer location. I stood motionless waiting for all the ice slabs to clear the surface and for the steelhead to settle again beneath the water.
I was sure I was the first one out this morn and thus have a better chance of hooking up to the morning steelhead. I tried sucker spawn with and without an indicator, different colors of buggers and triple threats along with nymphs. Nothing wanted anything I had to offer.
I wanted to smile just to be out along the scenic creek. Long pointed icicles hung like stalactites from sides of the snowy cliffs or overhanging branches. The clear flow of water, though not the best for fishing steelhead, gave a clean unpolluted presence. Some deer tracks along with squirrel tracks in the snow gave a feel as if I was ’back in.’ With constant gusts of winds that ruled my surroundings, made casting, tying and fishing difficult and kept an unsatisfied feeling about the present condition, so a smile to myself, wasn’t available.
After a few hours a sprinkling of rain drops started to fall. I worked my way back upstream to break for lunch around noon. Skip was supposed to meet me at the van but because of the present condition I wouldn’t blame him for not showing. Heck, if I lived up here and could fish whenever I wanted to, I would of stayed home today and waited for tomorrow.
On the way up I cast to fish I tried to hook up to earlier but still didn’t seem to encourage any strikes. I finally came to a section that some steelheads were out from under an ice shelf that clung to the opposite bank. Dark males were grouped ‘right in’ the main stream of a channeled flow below some tip exposed rocks. The water deepened behind this and gradually widened into a fairly deep short pool before flowing into a wider shallow section of the creek. I’m not sure what it is but sometimes my fishing brain comes up with ideas for just the right fly and formula for a certain situation. Something dawned on me that a brown bugger, just tumbling slowly along the bottom, might look like a night crawler and an easy meal, besides it would be something different I haven’t tried. With confidence I tried to roll cast the bugger upstream into the wind with the limp tipped ’glass’ rod. The bugger didn’t land as far as I had planned and fell on my side of the ’quick water’. I looked behind me and over handed my next cast into the wind and the bugger fell just beyond the channel seam and behind the male group of steelhead. I kept the rod out and followed the bugger in time, with the same rod tip motion, as it tumbled below as if nymph fishing. The rod tip moved beyond the ’stuck’ bugger. I know I smiled just before I raised the rod up to set the hook. The scared fish swam towards the back of the far side eddy. As the rod flexed into the mid section I realized that I had no fear of my leader breaking. The flex of the ’glass’ rod followed every movement of the fat steelie. I kept my palm on the reel as the fish slowly fought along the far deep section of the pool. As she was giving up, under the rod pressure and coming nearer to me, she looked as if she had a belly full of eggs just waiting to burst any second. I drew her near and reached down to retrieve her. My first hooked and landed steelhead with my 8’6” fiberglass rod was now achieved, even under adverse conditions. It felt great.
.After releasing the fat hen I was to try for one of the males in the quick channeled water at the beginning of the pool. I tied on a black woolly bugger and stepped into the water upstream from the pod. I dropped the gold bead bugger into the flow and slowly let line out. The quick current swept the bugger against my side of the bank and away from the fish. I took a few more steps near midstream and extended the rod out so the bugger kept in the middle of the channel. The cold wind was reddening my wet hands but I was at least going to try for one of the males before lunch. I worked the bugger in front of the pod of fish and occasionally let it fall back and bring it forward again. I felt the rod tip flex downward and I yanked back for a good hook set. I saw a smaller steelhead lunge forward than turn and dropped deep with my fly line following. The instant commotion caused the other fish in the pod to scatter like someone dropped a stink bomb. My exposed line quickly jolted in a direction I knew the hooked fish wasn’t moving towards and suddenly the rod straightened. I could only imagine that another fish, upon scattering about, caught his fin on the leader and with that yanked the hook out of the caught fish’s mouth. The line than slingshot up and out of the water and created a tangle of line, leader, hook, fly and lead weight. With cold hands and for the last half hour feeling the cold bleed through my under garments I was ready for lunch.
The 8 and ½ footer fit perfectly in the mini van without breaking it down. After a quick sandwich and pop, I cut off the tippet and untangled the mess in the warmness of the van. I knotted on a piece of 5x mirage in hopes that maybe the fluorocarbon will be less noticeable by the selective steelhead.
After lunch, from the warm van, I stepped back outside into the chilled wind. It felt colder than the morning and it started to sprinkle with bigger drops than before and I could have sworn there were wet snow flakes in the mix. I put on my WWII olive army trench coat over my winter coat and headed back down to the creek.
I wasn’t sure as how bad the weather was going to get so I wasn’t going to venture as far as I did in the morning. I walked right to where I caught the female earlier and was going to try for one of the big males I seen in the pool.
The males were grouped under the channel of fast water again. They were grouped pretty close to each other so I couldn’t tell one from another. I snapped on an egg sucking leech and danced it in front of them. My instincts told me something grabbed the leach from under so I lifted the rod and “fish on!” I quickly waded to the bank as I palmed the spinning reel as the fish took to the far back tail out. I fixed myself midway along the pool to fight the fish. The long male swam and pulled with winter movement, not like the fresh chromers in the fall. He turned and swam just out from the ice cover of the far bank. I was waiting for him to retreat under the ice cover but he continued towards the front of the pool. I reeled in some line, pulling from behind him to possibly turn him. He head twitched, forced himself into the quick channel water and my tippet broke. Looking at the tippet I figured the line broke off at where I squeezed a split shot on behind the lead-strip weight. I took a moment to snip off the 5x and knot on a piece of 6lb fluorocarbon tippet to the existing leader. After a ½ hour or so of no more bites I waded downstream to where I knew another pod of steelhead lay.
I stood studying the creek lay out and decided the egg sucking leach would be a good choice for the time being.
The wind was still blowing strong along the creek and now with the slight rain my exposed hands were already feeling the biting effect. I was down to roll casting with one hand while the other was in my coat pocket fumbling with a hand warmer pack. My Gortex Jones cap was keeping my head warm but I knew soon the wetness would eventually saturate through. My thick beard kept face warm enough and the trench coat, now blocking the wind, kept me fairly warm under my winter coat. My 3mm boot foot hip waders kept my bottom half tolerable.
“Just one more good fighting fish on this here fiberglass rod” I thought as I continued to fish in the slow moving pool.
I believe it was from somewhere within the gray blue dusky sky, through the noise of the howling earthly wind and rain that a Christmas Spirit heard my thoughts just then! Maybe it was the first use of the fiberglass rod that the Spirit granted me, at least, with a hook up. After that it was for me to meet the challenge and see if I was able to succeed in my quest of landing a steelhead.
On a cold, wind blowing, rainy drift the dry fly line end sunk fast, and then with that the rest of the line, shot across and upstream. Instinctively my hands lifted the rod feeling and then seeing the elongated steelhead take my line upstream. He was to take out his aggression with his bully strength within the cold water. He turned and then raced towards me as I quickly reeled in line, I than seen his motive. The deep pool water dropped off sharply in front of me which made me unable to break off the ice shelf that now extended in front of me, as I stood on the bank. The fish wasn’t dumb and I felt had a plan to outwit me. Towards me he dove deep below the ice shelf. I gave him line as I reached out the rod as far as possible as to not let the leader scrape the sharp icy edge. With him staying deep caused my full leader below the surface and I was quick enough, with my reactions, that now only the fly line scraped across the ice shelf edge. I kept feeding line as he continued upstream now, for I knew fighting him against the ice would be disastrous. When he slowed I had enough line out to loop line beyond the ice edge and quickly lifted the rod and excess line. With pressure again, being applied, he took off upstream a little further and towards the middle of the creek. I walked up the bank, where I was able to break the ice off earlier, trying to keep mine and his distance away from the still intact ice shelf from where I once stood. The fiberglass rod now flexed near the butt as I slowed the spinning reel with my palm. The big fish was tiring in the frigid water and now turned to swim with the current midstream. I reeled line in hastily but was waiting any moment for him to make his next move. Somewhere across and downstream he turned towards the far bank with force, the rod flexed quick enough that I was able to release the reel handle and again palm the reel. Observing his direction I saw the slab of ice across the creek from me. The ice shelf extended at least 6 feet out from the bank in a crescent moon shape. The water looked deep enough for the steel to escape under. As the fish darted beneath the ice I quickly dropped my rod to waist level, horizontal with the water and upstream as my leader came within inches of scraping against the icy edge. The big fish held under the ice as I watched the rod tip flex to and fro with each movement of the wavering fish. We were each catching our breath, him the energy he exerted and I the excitement.
“This was no dumb fish” I thought again. “I wonder if he thought the same of me” I chuckled at the thinking.
I finally forced him out from beneath the ice. He swam towards me, midstream, than turned towards the tail out. Once reaching the shallow ankle deep water he wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue the fight along the pebbled bottom. I reeled in line, with the tip flexed, as I slowly walked down the bank. He had enough and I gingerly reeled him in not knowing if he was playing possum or not. At the bank I held the rod high and grabbed for the neck of his tail. He thwarted away but the second grab, as i knelt down with my mesh hand-net, I felt the thick muscles in the neck before his tail fin.
That was it. The steel on the 'glass' I was hoping for.
.Hcsteel showed up, from downstream, with his bright red centerpin reel and his rod disassembled. We walked out, through the water, snow and up the lane into the windy field. Parting ways I took off my waders and headed to my sister’s house on the east side of Erie. After a short visit and delicious ham sandwich I headed towards I79 and then south towards my daughters house, north of Mercer.
Just past the McKean exit I slid open the cigar case and selected a Montecristo Half Corona for the shorter smoke to my destination. (yeah, rippinlip came through again!) The finely wrapped and tightly packed smoke burned evenly around the fore barrel as I drew in the smooth flavor.
Ironically my scanning radio stopped on a station playing an old Skynyrd tune. I stopped the scanning and sang the rest of the song word for word to the very end;
I ain’t got me no body
I don’t carry me no load
And that’s the truth!!!
Happy New Year…… ~doubletaper