Wednesday, December 30, 2009

'Glass' of Christmas Cheer

‘Glass’ of Christmas Cheer

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.

HC steel 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
……………Mr. Breeze.
And that’s the truth!!!
Happy New Year…… ~doubletaper

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Steelhead Thursday 12/17/09

Steelhead Thursday

I turn the knob on the gas stove and the flame rises under the teapot. I lay three strips of bacon in the small warming frying pan and set out an egg and two slices of bread. While those are heating up I walk down into the basement and take the clothes out of the dryer and remove the polypropylene and duo-fold underclothes hanging above the small wall heater and place them in the bushel. Upstairs again, I sit on the couch and start the cold weather routine of dressing warm for winter time steelhead fishing. The smell of bacon, from the small kitchen, filling the air, reminds me of the times I’ve hunted out of ‘Little Pine Top’ with a fellow worker named Bill. I recall the early mornings where the aroma of frying bacon fat mixed in with the smell of hardwood burning in the pot belly stove. It was like i was performing the same routine of getting dressed for a day of hunting, then eat a hearty breakfast before venturing out into the cold snowy woods.
 The tea pot whistles and I flip the bacon over and pour a cup of hot tea. I pack a lunch and place it in a cooler with a few beers, being it’s fishing with a fly rod and not hunting with a rifle. I wrap the bacon in a paper towel and drop a cracked egg in the bacon grease; it sizzles and bubbles as I turn the heat down. No time for a sunny-side up burnt edged egg, so I flip the pancake egg over to harden the yoke for the inside of a sandwich. After putting the bread in the toaster I add a spoon of sugar to the tea to take away the bitterness and warm my insides with a delicate sip.
 I walk outside with gear to load the van as the cold dark morning chills the underclothes I’m wearing instantly and I can feel the below 20* temperature on my hatless scalp. I start the engine to warm it up, brush the snow off the windshield and return to the house in a hurry. “Going steelhead fishing in the freezing weather?” I ask myself “Gotta be nuts!”
 Back inside I butter the toast and lay the fried egg on the bottom slice, above this a slice of Swiss cheese and than the bacon and the other slice of toast. While eating I go over in my mind to make sure I have everything in the van. Satisfied I put on a fleece pullover and grabbing the hot tea out the door I go.

I tip my hat, as I pass the shop I work at, in thanking my boss for giving me the day off to go steelhead fishing up in Erie. Just passed that I turn right on rte. 66n towards Marienville and I start to reflect back again of how many times my grandpa or sons and I drove this road during the first day of buck season. Heading towards Ludlow or off of Watson Farm Road and parking near the Iron City Camp’ or just hunting right off rte. 66 north of the Tennessee Gas Company. The memories of the hunts and the many deer that once roamed the woods of the Allegheny National Forest. I pass the neon Kahles Kitchens sign and it reads 17 degrees. Brrrrrr!
 Following rte 36 West into Tionesta I slow down to 25mph. Driving through the small old town I pass German Hill Road where grandpa and I spent many a hunting season in a close friend’s camp up past the Village of Star. As I pass the Forest County Sports Center Orvis Shop on main street I recollect how the Saturday before the first day of deer season we would jump into Mario’s station wagon and visit the store. Orange hat and Woolrich coat wearing hunters would be scattered throughout the store, checking things out, buying last minute gear or getting their rifles bore sighted. That was back when Tom owned the store. He was a tall solid man that just by looking at him told you he wouldn’t steer you wrong with any question you ask of him.
Yes, those were the good old days hunting out of ‘Beavers Lodge’ on German Hill. Mario built the place himself with help from a few other men. Being that my grandfather practically raised him we were always welcomed. I laugh to myself as I remember Mario gave me the nickname ‘International Harvester’. Since I was 16 we always hunted doe out of the camp and every other year I would join the fellows to hunt buck also. By Tuesday, of the first week, when we were ready to break camp there was always at least one deer hanging from the lodge pole, and sure enough one was mine. Mario always said that “the Game Commission wanted the deer harvested, Jerry was the one who’d harvest one for them!”
 As I continue on I follow rte. 89 out of Titusville. The snow becomes more visible upon the ground under the opening of the lighted gray sky and the more north I drive the roads are a little more snowy. I am supposed to meet the other guys around 8-8:30am but I might be a little late due to conditions.

I finally pull onto the side of the road of the meeting place and there’s already 4 vehicles parked along the road. Jeff gets out of the unfamiliar truck I park behind and then I remember he told me his brother, Kevin, was driving. I get out and we greet each other in cold 'breath showing' words. We comment it should be a good day if we can keep the elements from hampering our fishing abilities. Within 5 minutes another pickup pulls in beyond Kevin’s truck. A tall bearded man gets out and puts on a Yukon Alaska style fur hat. “It’s Bingsbaits” I tell Jeff and Kevin. “I told him we were coming up and where to meet us.”
 In the cold frigid air we gear up and i grease my rod eyes and line with chapstick to help keep the water off.  Bingsbaits and I are the first ready to hit the stream so we tell Jeff and his brother we’ll meet them on the creek as us two head down the path to the tumbling flowing water.
 The water looks to be flowing with good color. To me this means the water is just dark enough to hide our presence from the fish yet the dark hues of fish may be visible through the slightly tinted water. The water is also at a good height so the shallower sections should be passable without too much problem and the deeper sections should hold pods of steelhead.

‘Why is it that during the cold months the water always looks as if it’s harder then during the warmer months of the year? It’s the same water but being its cold it just looks more intimidating!’ The thought comes to mind.

 Bings and I start our wading and fishing downstream. I point out certain sections that I caught or seen steelhead a couple of weeks ago. This section is new to him so I want to give him some quick locations to start out at. He’s a well seasoned trout fisherman so I needn’t explain how to read the water; he most likely fished just as long as I have since we’re both around the same age. We see and cast to a few along the way and then we finally split up and travel along the stream at our own pace.
 I get into a pod of steelhead, in a tail out, below a fast current drop. There is a good group nearer my side of midstream with a few holding in the shale break under the faster current. I tie on a triple threat and roll cast it into the fast current and it sweeps sharply to the back of the pool without too much depth. I switch to a white sucker spawn and routinely cast, watching the depth of the bright spawn, and add weight to get it down within the fish’s view. Once I achieve that I attach an indicator and drift it just above the bottom. I have no takers but the fish don’t seem to be spooked. I take off the indicator and tie on a triple threat in hopes that maybe one would want a minnow imitation. Drifting the cone-head streamer, just up from the bottom, I notice a steelie follow the pattern to the end of the pool but wouldn’t take. I add yet another split shot to my lead matchstick strip and mend upstream when the fly hit the water. The fly slowly sinks with the current. I hold back on the rod and watch as a fish follows the low moving streamer. When it gets near the pod of fish I let it ‘hang’ there and proceed to jerk my fly rod tip slowly up and down stream giving the streamer a little more motion like a minnow in the current. On one movement, with the rod tip upstream, the fly line tightened and I quickly set the hook with a sharper jerk. The steelhead is mine!!! He darts upstream in front of me and then pulls away towards the far bank. The narrow section I’m fishing doesn’t give the fish a whole lot of room to fight. The front of the pool is semi-blocked with fast running water and partially submerged rocks. The rear of the pool widens some in a slower flowing current and then opens up wider into shallow riffles. I stand my ground, with the rod high, letting the steelhead run his course around the pool area. Snap, the line breaks as I coax him in with a little too much pressure. 1 off, grrr.
 Retying another triple threat on, I proceeded to fish in the same manner letting the streamer drift within and in front of the pod. With a few more drifts I have 2 more hook-ups. I’m able to bring both steelheads in. Neither one is in the 20” range but the catch is still in good fun.
 I happen to look downstream and Bings fly rod is bent as I holler down to him. He’s concentrating on his fight in the bigger pool area where he stands. I watch as the rod flexes downstream and suddenly straightens. He glances down into the water first and then shoots a glance over my way. I yell “what happened” in a comical tone. He shrugs his shoulders with his hands out and with a smile and I return the gesture.
 Soon we are both fishing the big pool that Jeff and his brother were stationed at. Jeff was hooking into fish now and then with his assortment of nymphs and showing Kevin the ‘technique!” Bings and I fish the pool a bit and then I go downstream a short piece while Bings disappears upstream again.
 At some point, as time passed by, Jeff was sitting along the bank letting Kevin drift the pool. Kevin broke off on a foul hook-up and he and Jeff were rerigging. I step into Kevin’s stand, with permission of course, and drift the triple threat through to the seeable steelhead strewn out along the wide pool.
 I figure maybe they are tired of seeing #16 nymphs and want something meatier. Well I am right! The second drift through my line stops and the line quickly surges away from me. I jerk the rod tip high and let line run through the guides. “Fish on” I call out. The big silver splashes its way up creek a piece before going deep and shooting across stream. I keep the rod high and palm the reel for the right amount of pressure. Turning downstream, the fish’s mouth surfaces again trying to shake loose. I keep’r tight and reel in some as the fish draws nearer. A few more bursts and I feel I have the upper hand. I ask Jeff if he would net the big silver for me but he exclaims the net is frozen. He wades out into the shallow water as I back up onto shore. The rod is flexing into the middle and my knots hold true. Jeff lifts the fish onto the wet stones. The big silver shows the brilliant chrome of what steelhead fishermen talk about. The wide girth and full belly shows good health to the creek run steel. A quick picture and I let the brute swim out of my wet hands into the bitter cold water. That’s the one I’ll remember most!!
 We fish until around 2:00 and then head to the vehicles for lunch. Meeting up with Bings we tell him our plans and he joins us.

We all had caught fish in the brisk morning and after lunch we would again partake in some more steel searching.
 After a filling lunch of sandwiches, Italian olives, pepperoni’s and a beer we are good to go for another round. After Bings and I search for the butt section of my fly rod, that I lost a couple of weeks before, we continued with our fishing.
 Bings heads up creek as I again wade downstream. With the water clearer than the morn I search the water more carefully for the gray pods of fish that should be more visible. Slowly fishing my way downstream I cast to shoreline logs and under any ice formations along the frozen banks. I have a few lookers but maybe after seeing my silhouette, above the water, decide not to have a taste.
 I come to a deep pool that I drifted a few flies in the morn without success. There looks to be a noticeable darkness along the lighter bed of the stream. The first slow, low drift through, of the triple threat, I catch a steelhead off guard of my presence. He whoops and raises cane with the surprise of my pointed hook. Half surfacing, across stream, he just about barrel rolls and gets my line caught up behind his right pectoral fin. I thought at first I may have foul hooked him but as we tussle the line comes loose of the fin and again I am fighting from the mouth portion of the steelie. It doesn’t take long in the cold water and all the quick energy the fish exerts to bring him to shore.
 After a half hour and two more landed I select a depth ray stonefly. With an indicator I drift the stonefly deep into the center of the pool area. The second time through I get a good looking drift and let the indicator drift further downstream to my left. A slight bump of the dipping indicator and I lift the rod to set the hook. The indicator sinks and the line pulls away towards the far bank. I give a tug to my right to make sure the hook is set good and that’s when all hell turns loose. The steelie turns downstream into the end of the tail out and slashes around. Not being successful to unhook the stonefly he swims right down into the shallow wide open waters. Water splashes behind the fish with each whip of its tail fin. I follow him through the riffling cold water as he circles behind an uprising rock now and then. When I catch up with him, and give him more of a tug, he again continues with a hopeful escape. The water becomes shallower and wider the more downstream we tussle. The deeper part of the creek is nearer my side and he takes to it. He exerts a lot of steam and is now in a foot deep section of water for me to congratulate him on his thrilling effort trying to escape me. A quick picture and he swims downstream to an uprooted log jam.
 The later the evening the colder the air gets. Water starts to freeze more frequently on the fly line, lead strip and tapered leader. Trying to tie on a new fly from the wet fly patch is the process of breaking off the ice in the eye and warming the fibers up before tying. The fly line gets to feel like casting a steel cable with the weight of the iced line. My hands become colder with more exposure and I take turns putting one hand in my coat pocket rotating the ’hot hand’ warmer against my skin. The fishing ends with me meeting up with Jeff for a few more casts to some visible fish before we head back up to the vehicles. Up at the vehicles we notice Bings truck is gone as well as few of the others. We change out of our wet, ice bearing waders and boots. We bid our farewells and I am back on the road again.

On rte. 89 south I reach into the pocket behind the passenger seat and feel for the cigar pack. Pulling out a wrapped Garcia `y Vega Baron, I unwrap it and put the stogie between my lips. A good smoke always relaxes me for the ride home………

  my chromer

  the closest i'll get to ice fishing

bings with his biggun

brothers having fun



me in action

Steelhead, 'Tis the Season

`Tis the Season

I chapstick the fly line and rod eyes
to keep them from freezen
December morn, snow about
`tis the season
Icicles hang from low limb branches
at 25 degrees and
there's steelhead about
`tis the season
Bitter cold water, bitter cold feet
starts me sneeze’n
Knots difficult with fingers numb
`tis the season
The rising sun brings little warmth
but makes the scenery more appease’n
Slowly drifing patterned nymphs
`tis the season
A subtle take, rod shaft bends
reel screams, cork i'm squeezen
Fighting steel in winter's wonderland
`tis the season
The cold forgotten with the hook up
The fight rewarding and please’n
The big steel comes to earth
`tis the reason


 Big male steelhead

caught on a depth ray stonefly

                                                      Jeff's steelhead on the wintery day

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fishing With Ol` Saint Nick

Fishing With Ol’ Saint Nick

I was left to fend for myself on Christmas weekend 2006. My grown up kids, ranging from 22-29 were either out of state or eating with their in-laws. My better half went down to Virginia to spend 5 days with her dad and siblings. It had rained most of the week and I wasn’t sure about steelhead fishing up in Erie so my weekend looked grim. Saturday evening I checked the internet for the weather conditions and it looked like Sunday wouldn’t be too bad and if there’s no rain, Monday should be better. So I packed my van and hoped for the best. Sunday after mass I called my sister, who lives in Erie, and she said it was only drizzling and the high for the day was to be about 40 degrees. I packed some lunchmeat and food in the cooler, packed some warm clothes and headed north. I got to where I would be fishing about 11:00am on Elk Creek, off of the McKean Exit. There was only one car parked nearby.

The water was a murky green and flowing semi-fast. Fish held up close to the banks in slower water or out in pools at midstream in the deeper parts. It took a while to figure out the right color and pattern but once I figured it out my reel began to zip out line more often. With polarized shades on I was able to see the gray shadows of the elongated steelhead in the deeper pools. By the end of the day I had hooked onto at least a dozen or so steelhead and landing most of them. I hadn’t seen another fisherman the whole evening. I kept three for my friend Rusty who wanted 5 for smoking. The two biggest hooked jaw males were about 26" to 28". They hit on golden nugget and white sucker spawn. The females I caught were on plain salmon eggs and a white latex caddis. Because it was the day before Christmas I couldn’t find a single restaurant open that evening and had to settle for the Burger King drive-through. I slept in my conversion van at the rest area off of I79 hoping to get an early start at fishing Christmas morning.

When morning came I ate a left over sticky bun from Sunday and a cup of hot tea from the vending machine inside the rest area. I got to the parking spot by 7:30am with not a car in sight. It looked like I had the stream to myself. Not hurried I took my time assembling my 8wt. 2 piece 9’ fly rod. The air was bitter cold but the anticipation of having the whole stream to myself kept the cold from discouraging my thoughts about fishing. The water had cleared up a lot so I was able to see the fish much better but they would be much spookier because of the clearer water. I fished my way down stream as I did the day before and casted to newly found steelhead. I caught two small steelies right off the bat with a latex caddis and single salmon egg. I seen a few mates together and left them alone. I hooked into at least a half dozen more and by 1:00pm I headed to the van for lunch carrying two more fat steelies of 26" and 27". What a Christmas day of fly-fishing for steelhead, but that wasn’t the clincher.

I was going to leave but decided there wouldn’t be much to do at home. Even though it was still cold out, I figured on fishing a couple more hours just to kill time. I went back down the hill to the creek but this time I headed upstream to where some faster water ran against a steep bank. Through the dirt path, in the woods, near the bank of the stream, and up around a bend, I came to find a man in a camouflage coat hunkered down. Two nice steelhead lie on the bank behind him as he was cutting skein with a pair of scissors. I didn’t want to spook him by shuffling down the hill behind him so I said hello before proceeding. He still seamed surprised when he first stood up and looked in my direction. "Hello" he answered back, "didn’t know anyone else was fishing today."
That’s when it dawned on me who he might be. His brownish wool tousle cap was pulled down upon his ears. His thin wired rim glasses set just below the bridge of his nose as reading glasses do. It was his full grayish white beard that gave him away. Neatly trimmed and puffy, his beard flowed from ear to ear below his rosy cheeks. His white mustache bowed down around his thin lips and came in contact with his beard, around the edges of his mouth, which covered his chin. Looking at his stout figure in that camo-coat gave me no other belief than to know this was Ol’ Saint Nick in disguise.
He didn’t mind me working the water upstream from him and there we talked and fished for about an hour. I told him that I thought he was Santa Clause when he first turned and looked at me. He just replied to that with a ho-ho-ho and we both laughed. I caught a couple small steelhead and then went around him and started fishing my way downstream and around the bend.
I wasn’t gone for more than a half-hour before heading back upstream to see how "Santa" was doing. About 30 yards through the woods I saw "Santa" walking away with 2 steelhead hanging below his waste. I continued to fish for about another half-hour without a bite.

I sat on a flat rock that was stacked up along the stony shore. Upstream I watched as the cold water gushed over the cluster of rocks and opened up to the wider part of the stream. From there it ran swiftly along the far icicle lined bank though closer to me the water eddied around a deep pool. I watched as the water flowed down stream and riffled down around a bend, along a fallen log and disappeared around the corner. The sound of moving water was the only thing that kept the surroundings from complete silence. I sat there a moment longer just to enjoy this scenic and peaceful stream before heading out. A light, but cold brisk, breeze feathered down through the trees to where I sat. The smell of fresh pine filled the air around me. Somewhere in the distance I swear I heard sleigh-bells!!!


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Prospecting for Steel

Prospecting for Steel
Oct. 11, 2009
There was a woozy feeling in my noggin when the alarm went off in the wagon. It took a moment or two or three to figure out why I set the clock so early anyhow? I then recalled I was to meet Flyfishingdave and bugdrifter for some prospecting for steel in the middle part of Elk Creek around 6:30am. The alcohol consumption the night before was still having that woozy effect in my head. I’m sure the tequila was the culprit and not the wine or beers I drank. I broke camp just about daybreak and got the wagon moving. After stopping at the nearest town merchant for a cup of joe, I headed in the direction of our meeting place. The hot dark roasted coffee was a wake up call compared to the tea I’m used to drinking in the morning.
There were a few other wagons on the stable grounds when I rolled in. Anxious 09’rs were gearing up to search the crick for steel also. I got out of the wagon and proceeded to putting my prospecting gear on and assembling my tools. I put a chaw in my mouth and headed through the brush. Down at the crick I saw Flyfishingdave and bugdrifter right off. They had already staked claim in the first deep large pool. They evidently woke up before the cock crowed to lay first claims. When I was close enough they said they had already picked up a few and lost some. I joined in to help them uncover some more steel.
Ffdave would produce a chunk of steel now and then with his tandem set up while bugdrifter seemed to be pulling on fools’ gold below the surface. He would continue to pan the very bottom of the crick and continued to hook up with rocks and snags more than with steel. He rerigged often enough that he was getting short on some of his supplies. I searched along with them and finally hooked up with my first drift with an orange thorax hares ear nymph. It didn’t take me very long to lose both the steel and the nymph to bad knots. We continued our search in the area showing a few chrome for our efforts. Around 10:00, I’d say, dream catcher and Tex Cobb showed up, dream catcher was carrying a mug of coffee along with his gear.
Eventually ffdave moved up crick with bugdrifter soon to follow. I kept claim to the large pool with DC and Tex Cobb joining in to help pick up some steel. After a bit I was rerigging on an old log when DC found a whopper. With the fly rod bent the steel showed him the way around the pool. DC hung on and circled the large pool at least once trying to muster up the big brute. After a while DC figured it might have been foul hooked and tried forcing it in which only broke him off. Don’t really know if the steel was foul hooked or not but it sure was comical watching the big steel towing DC around the pool area the whole time.

I headed up crick and spotted ffdave and bugdrifter staking claim to a long run of faster moving water. I watched as ffdave hooked onto fresh steel. Keeping his rod high and line out of the current as much as possible, he fought the steel as well as any seasoned prospector would. He got the steel to shore and the morning sun glistened off the wetness of its chrome steel side. The bluish hues along its back proved its freshness as well as the clean silver sides. He held it firmly before releasing it on its own free will. Just then bugdrifter hooked into and brought a nice one to shore. Olive buggers seem to be the attractor in the faster run of water. Downstream from ffdave I drifted an olive bugger through and hooked up also. We found that drifting the buggers in that long stretch of water produced more steel than in the slow long pool area.
Pretty soon DC and Tex Cobb moseyed on up and started panning the waters below me. A few minutes later Jokerball101 and rookie showed up to try their luck also. After about an hour loopy came walking down from upcrik and he and bugdrifter started to jabber jaw. Loopy casted into the long run and just as quick pulled out a chunk of steel. We hung around a little longer but our bellies were rumbling for food. About 12:30 ffdave, bugdrifter and I headed back to their camp for some grub.

After a bowl or two of ffdave’s chili to warm us up we headed back out to Elk for some more steel searching. Bugdrifter and I decided to do some exploring up crick to unknown territory to us. We left ffdave in the lot as we packed up our gear and headed up crick. We passed a crowd of tin pans and even kept hiking passed some water that looked like it might hold steel. We were in search for a mother load, should there be one, and continued our venture up stream.
Bugdrifter found some shining steel in a partial deep tail out of a long narrow stretch of rumbling water. I don’t know if it was my trout finding instincts or streamside awareness but the area looked good where I was to begin my search. In the narrow stretch of water there were a few down logs along the far bank along with some shore line brush. I tied on an olive bugger and drifted it up against the downed logs and through the faster water. I noticed something following it when it got to my side of the stream and out of the fast run. I stood motionless until it gave up and returned into the faster water. On my knees I roll casted the bugger again and kept as much line out of the water as possible. From under the white capped water I felt a good strike and connected with a good chunk of steel. Forcing him out of the fast current was a good challenge and after the squabble of who’s who, I landed it successfully. With another search I missed a tug. I called down to bugdrifter and motioned to him that I came across a fertile claim that needed explored further. I was still in the mood for more exploring and left the claim when bugdrifter moved in.
Continuing up crik I came across an old tin pan and his two boys. His boys were having some success producing steel in a deep pool as he sat on a log observing. I worked the bank on my side of the crik but didn’t come up with any chrome. When they left with their successful catch I walked above the falls and was proceeding to cross the crik when out of nowhere an old geezer came out through the brush and jumped claim. ‘No matter’, I got to the far bank and continued my search upstream.
Moving slowly, on the bank, I kept my eyes searching the calmer, opaque waters for a glimmer of steel. I found a dark gray mass strung out about 30 feet off shore in a good seam. From upstream I worked a bugger within the area without success. I tried a few other imitations but failed to lift any steel.
’Maybe a little sparkle’ I thought.
With a bead-head yellow meth I roll casted out to mid-stream and mended upstream which put the meth in the current seam before the gray mass. I held back the line for a nice slow presentation. The meth disappeared into the gray mass and my fly line tip sank instantly with conviction. With a healthy lift I felt the resistance or a heavy steel nugget. The gray mass dispersed with the implosion within. Chrome glistened beneath the water from the penetrating setting sun rays. The rod bent instantly in an arc into the top quarter. The steel shot to my side of the bank in the confusion and I got a better glance of the big find. A quick turn, with lightning speed, the silver nugget headed for open water. The rod flexed into the mid section of the 9 ½ footer as I let line slip through my fingers with slight tension. The slack line went through the guides quickly and I was soon palming the spinning fly reel with the escaping nugget already ¾ down and across the stream. It was if the steel stopped momentarily just before I watched it eject itself out of the shimmering water. Light glistened off its wet chrome sides as droplets of water sprayed outward of the air born steel. Reentering the water it got its bearings and shot upstream. I quickly brought in loose line through the eyes to catch up with the quick moving steel heading my way. Directly in front of me the water rose like a geyser as the steel showed its ascending power. I tightened up my grip on the cork as he fell back into the water expecting the next burst of energy. The steel bolted upstream as the line ripped thru my curled fore finger up against the rod shaft. The steel was exerting high energy as I kept the fight to his side. On his next bolt I let him fight the rod and the reel drag. He finally turned and suddenly came towards me in a heap. I backed up nearer the bank to give him more room to continue his quarrel. We argued with pulls and tugs until I finally slid him into the shallower water, my rod bending possibly beyond its limits. I reached down and detached the hook from its inside lip skin. Before I was able to grab him, with a tail slap he propelled himself back into the open water.
As sun dipped further behind the tree tops I caught a couple more smaller nuggets when I noticed steel starting to move upstream. In distorted oblong figures I watched as they slowly stopped now and then to rest. A long dark steel caught my eyes ¾ the way ‘cross stream. I flung the yellow bead-head meth upstream calculating about 8 feet of leader. I mended a good arc of line upstream to put the meth within sight. I assumed the meth was directly across from me when I seen the big steel starting to move upstream again with the others. My drifting line stopped and the tip started to move upstream. With my left hand I quickly took in slack before raising my rod higher and setting the hook with a back whip of the rod. I seen the tail end of the steel dart upstream like a spooked fish, with my line following. With line slipping through my fingers in a smooth motion I tightened up the line momentarily and quickly pulled back to let the steel know I was tracking him. The rod force was unexpected and stunned him from moving upstream in his casual manner. I could picture him as stubborn as a mule trying to be guided in a direction he didn’t want to go. He was in no mood to cooperate as his head and thick shoulders surfaced with awkward, uncontrollable, rowdy pulls and jerks. He was like an agitated bucking bull. I kept fine tension as he fought more in his own made turbulent water.
‘I wasn’t letting this big one get way!’
He turned downstream and I lifted the rod to take up line tension. He turned again into view then lay suspended into the current straight out from me. After winding in some slack I tightened up the drag a little tighter. I pulled back on the 7wt. with just enough force to not let the leader break. The steel stayed put in the current. Here I was again with big steel that wouldn’t budge. There I was looking like I was hooked onto a log jam. I was sure, with the side pressure, I had to be doing something to tire him out in the current. Slowly the steel made his way towards me as I slowly wound in line. Near the shore he turned and forced his way back downstream. We played the old tug of war with me finally winning out getting him close to shore. He wasn’t going to give up just yet and forced his way back out a bit. I had enough of the warfare and decided to force the issue. We had a good long battle and if I lose him so be it. I backed up onto dry land as the rod flexed more near the butt section. The line was as tight as a bow string. I was gaining ground until the steel felt the pebbles beneath its belly. As if giving me a last wave with his tail he flung water trying to build up energy. I felt the rod flex even further waiting any moment for something to break. My bare hands gripping the cork handle tightly as I could feel my forearm muscles tighten beneath my skin. I refused to let my arms drop in submission with the steels last jolt. The big fish was slowly backing up towards me trying desperately not to turn its body. Then it turned downcrik and with one more burst of energy and headshake he broke free. My line flung back as the big male swam back into the flowing water. Later with one more landed I decided to head down crik to see how bugdrifter was lucking out.
Wading down stream, around a bend, I came to find bugdrifter with a bent fly rod and a weary face. He said he had been fighting the big steel for at least 10 minutes in the same narrow channel I had left him in. I grabbed the net and waded in behind the steel. I could see the brown bugger hooked into the corner of its lips. Twice bugdrifter tried to ease him back into the net but twice the big steel jolted forward. After the third attempt the steel gained enough line to get him into the faster current and the leader snapped. Somehow the line got caught up in the reel and failed to release upon the escaping steel. Bugdrifter said he had stayed put the whole time and found quite a few steel in the claim.

With the fading light upon us we trekked back to the fast run we had met with ffdave before noon. Bugdrifter drifted a bugger through the middle of the crik as I followed from upstream. I just got done tying on a gray bodied, blue marabou tailed bugger when a steel splashed up against the far bank. Bugdrifter as well as I seen the steel as it fell back into the water. My second cast fell upstream against the shale cliff. I watched the line swing into the steels vicinity and when it stopped I yanked back and set the hook. The steel came shooting out of the water like a fired cannon ball. Silver shined from its sides as it splashed down. Within seconds it came shooting out of the water again and again splashed like a cannon ball into the water. The action so fast I hadn’t time to think about how to react to such actions. My line was slack as the steel again shot up from beneath for the third showing. I found my line never did tighten up again after the first initial find. “Oh well, quick release” I said to bugdrifter as he watched on. Drifting buggers as we waded downstream steel surfaced against the far bank. In a mid back-casting position I laughed, so bugdrifter could hear me, and directed my cast towards the splash. Another hook up and the steel surfaced rising out of the water. After a short fight I almost got him to the bank before he set himself free.

With that we hustled to the stables before it got to dark. Ffdave had pulled his truck to my wagon as I was changing into riding wear. We talked about prospecting in ’Fisherman’s Paradise’ and the Little J some time next spring. They were spending another night at camp and were prospecting again Monday ’till noon before heading back south east towards their home. I had about 1 ½ hour drive home, so I bid them fare well and got the wagon rolling again.
Rolling east on I90 I reached in the cooler and pulled out a half eaten sandwich from the day before. After a good swig of ‘juice’ to wash it down my belly had quit it’s aching. At the 79 cross roads I headed south. I lifted the small wooden cigar box and laid it on my lap. I slid the top wooden panel open and pulled out the last imported cigar. I unwrapped the cigar and smelled the fresh natural tobacco leaf. The ring band read ’PUNCH Gran Puro Rancho’. I nipped off the end and stuck the big cigar between my lips and gripped it between my teeth. I struck a matchstick and lit the long cigar. Thinking about the past weekend at the ‘one fly’ and prospecting with a few friends made it enjoyable.

I was only a few miles from home when the cigar burnt down to its last draw.

That was a great 1 ¼ hour ceegar. I’ll have to put in an order for one of those long lasting ceegars next time I see rippinlips………