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!!!