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………
bings with his biggun
brothers having fun
me in action