5 O’clock High
We met up Saturday morn and headed north to do some steelhead fishing. The snow melt was mostly gone and the rain ceased earlier in the week. We got some inside info on where to start fishing and a couple of patterns that the fish have been taking. I’ve fished in March before and usually the fish are sluggish. Most have been in the freezing water for awhile with some on redds. There won’t be as many steelies as there were in the fall and winter months though we heard some were making a spring run.
We parked along Elk creek and geared up. I was surprised there weren’t as many fishermen in the location we decided to fish, being the weather for the day was supposed to be sunny, later on, and warm up. I knew the breeze off the lake would blow upstream and dressing warm was still a good idea,
The morning was slow going. The water was pretty tinted and the fish weren’t visible at all. We tried all the different sucker spawn colors and nymphs. I saw less than 5 steelhead caught throughout the morning and none being very big. I never got a bump and Jim said the same. Just before breaking for lunch Kevin hooked into one and landed him. This put him on the board with one catch.
After lunch we met up with Hans and Rookie. They live up in Erie and know the streams well. They took us to a stretch on middle Elk. The water was clearer and some fish were visible but none cooperated with our fly selections. Of course Hans did pick up one, but heck, he lives up there, we expected that!
Around 4:30 I hopped in the truck with Hans and Rookie and he drove us to a section they had fished earlier in the morn. Kevin and Jim were to meet us there in a bit. Jim was determined to catch a steelhead in the previous spot and was slower getting to the vehicles than the rest of us.
By 5:00, Hans, Rookie and I were walking upstream away from the crowd of fishing drifters. We finally came upon some visible dark shadows in a deep pool and shades of gray atop the shallower slate bottom. Rookie started drifting something on her noodle rod as I stood back adding tippet to my short tapered leader. Hans watched on as Rookie fished. I tied on a piece of 5X fluorocarbon and picked out a Depth Ray Stonefly and knotted this to the tippet. Being able to practically see the bottom I figured out the depth and took off the indicator I was fishing with earlier and stuffed it in my pocket. From the bank I casted out and mended line upstream from the dark shadowed steelhead in the deeper section beneath the current flow. On that very first drift through, my fly line tip sank and I lifted the rod and set the hook hard on the unsuspected steelie. My forearm muscles tightened and my hands, on the cork handle, gripped tighter as the rod flexed downward and pulled with the silver steel. The reel spun and clicked like a baseball card against spokes on the banana seat stingray bike I rode when I was younger. Line zipped through the rod eyes and I palmed the reel to slow the fish down. My body came alive with excitement, again, after the long lay-off of fighting these steelhead since last December. With the palming pressure the steelhead surfaced, splashing and throwing itself back into the shallower water. I thought I was doing well but the fish surfaced again, shook, turned and the hook and line fell to the water surface.
“Quick release” I said to the two watching.
I really wanted to land the fish but feeling the first fight of the day was rewarding enough and became just a taste and sample of things to come.
Kevin and Jim showed up and Hans took them upstream in search of another pod of steel. Rookie and I worked the pool and I connected with another. It darted upstream with my fly line in tow. Again I felt my muscles come to attention with the sudden jerks and pulls of the fighting steelhead. We battled a bit and I got the fish turned around and coming downstream. It surfaced and with a deep surge my 5x tippet snapped under the pressure.
“It’s a shame loosing that fish after that fight” Rookie commented
I looked at my lame leader and noticed that the tippet must have broken where I had the lead weight strip twisted on. I backed up from the creek and took out my 6lb Gamma spool of flouro. After tying on a section I twisted a lead strip on the tapered leader instead of my 6X tippet. I decided on sucker spawn on a #14 curved hook and knotted this on to my tippet. Rookie ventured upstream to catch up with the others so I had the area of steelhead to myself.
I got myself positioned straight across from the deep holding steel and overhand casted upstream dropping the sucker spawn upstream enough not to disturb the water in the deeper pool. As the spawn drifted into the front of the pool I lifted my rod to take up some slack. My fly line started to drift upstream and I quickly set the hook. I watched the long big hen propel itself upstream with my fly line in tow. My forearm muscles tightened again and the reel screamed that familiar “fish on” sound. I let the fish take line upstream with the reel drag and rod flex applying most of the pressure. She stayed below the surface and with a head shake twisted her body towards mid-stream. I kept the rod high and reeled in line on my mid-arbor waiting any moment for her to try to out fox me with a quick surge. When she was mid-stream across from me she turned into the current wanting to rest, even with the rod flexed the side pressure didn’t seam to affect her ability to hold fast in the current. I took in more line and clicked the drag one notch tighter. Pulling back on the flexed rod must have caused enough pressure that the steelhead couldn’t resist to take action unless she was giving in so early in the fight. No chance, she spun downstream and again my reel peeled off line through the eyes. I palmed the reel and visually watched the long hen skirt the top of the shallower slate bottom, Steelhead moved aside as she fought through them. I walked downstream with her, keeping side pressure as much as possible. She then turned looking upstream as the pressure of the rod tip faced her front-side. I backed up on shore as the rod flexed to the middle and with my palm on the reel, the line tightened, pulling on the fishes hooked mouth. The pressure was too much and she unwillingly turned toward me. Reeling in line I lifted the rod occasionally keeping an uncertainty amount of pressure on the subdued fished. I stepped into the water and positioned her between me and the shoreline. Laying the fish on the bank I got a quick picture, unattached the sucker spawn from its bottom jaw and released her back into the even flow of water.
I walked back up the shore to the area of waiting steelhead. Dropping my sucker spawn mid-stream and up from the steelhead upon the shallow slate bottom, I watched as the spawn drifted into the gray mass. I watched a steelhead drift back from the gathered few and then noticed my fly line tip jerk slightly. I tried to set the hook as the fish took off away from me but I was too late. I should have been watching my line and not the gray pod of fish being that I couldn‘t see my fly!!
I drifted the sucker spawn through the deep pool a few times without success. I moved up the bank, from the deep pool, and my next attempt I let the sucker spawn drift into the pool with me being upstream. I kept an eye on the dry fly line tip as it approached the middle of the pool. The tip began to slow and sink. I pulled back on the rod and you would have thought I set off a submerged depth charge. A head of a fish came out of the pool thrashing and whipping its head trying to throw my good hook set. I quickly pulled loose line in, with my left hand, until I felt the tightness of the line. The fish continued its thrashing as if I hit a nerve. He submerged and took line towards mid-stream. My rod flexed quickly and bowed towards the bull running steelhead as I kept a tight grip, trying to achieve the right pressure on the spinning fly reel to not put undue pressure to snap the line. The big girthed male, head surfaced again, mid-stream, and began another head thrashing tantrum. “THIS FISH wanted no part of coming to shore. With an uneasy twitching of the rod tip, the steelhead settled in about 2 feet of water possibly contemplating his next move. He was big and I knew I didn’t want to let him rest too long but I couldn’t budge him and all I could do was to keep him under good pressure. I knew the longer he was in the water, thrashing, the better of the chance the hook would create a bigger hole in his lip and possibly slip out. “I wanted him landed as much as he didn’t want to be beached!”
With the rod bowed and the fish suspended in the current I moved the rod tip left to right trying to get him to exert more energy. The steelhead had enough of my shenanigans and decided to try his luck once more. He turned towards me and dropped into the deep pool in which this whole ordeal started. I had the rod up as high as I could to keep the line taught when he motored towards the shallower slate bottom mid-stream. He used the swifter current to his advantage as he kept his body sideways across the current with his head facing the far bank. I kept the pressure on but couldn’t upright or turn the fish. I had to let the reel turn beneath my palm, giving him line, as he was being pushed by the current. I walked the line downstream keeping an eye on the possum playing steelhead. “Been there, done that” I thought to myself.
I was ready when he righted himself up and tried to outsmart me by suddenly taking off away from me. I had already loosened up the drag some and was depending on my experience of controlling the drag pressure with my left palm. With the rod butt in my gut I was able to steady the rod with one hand. Across stream he tried his head thrashing but the rod pressure, towards me, was more than what he could stand. I felt every ounce of his weight as I cautiously reeled him towards me, through the water, across the current. I started to have the successful feeling that one gets when he’s overconfident about landing a fish but I kept my composure on the task at hand.
Nearer he got to shore the better I felt. The closer he got to shore the more he seemed unwilling of submission. I started to close in when he turned his big wide body and propelled himself away with his big tail fin. The rod began to bow beyond what I thought was safe so I let line out and the rod flexed to a safer arc. The steelhead thwarted a few more times without releasing himself and I was hoping he finally came to the realization that he wasn’t going to get away until I decided!!
Nearer to the shore again I laid the rod down on the stones and quickly lifted and laid him beside the rod. A quick picture was enough to prove my accomplishment without roping and showing him off. The sucker spawn had already unhooked itself somehow. I felt eyes upon me and glanced up to see Rookie watching my ordeal. I really wanted to get a hero shot with me and the fish but I didn’t want to leave the fish out of the water any longer. I lifted the fish and brought him back to the water. Laying him beneath the water surface he sucked in water and practically leaped out of my hands to freedom. Ya!!
I felt like a first time gambler with a bunch of free tokens on the hottest slot machine in the casino.
Another ½ hour or so I hooked up a few more times only losing one. Jim and Kevin showed up and stated that they had a few hook-ups upstream. They started to head downstream and soon I seen Jim with a bent rod. I don’t think he ever landed the fish but he looked to be having fun trying.
Without any more hook ups for awhile I started to journey downstream to catch up with the rest of the group. The evening sky was upon us and darkness wasn’t too far behind.
At the vehicles we took our fishing gear off and got comfortable for the drive home. We bid Rookie and Hans good-bye and thanked him for the ‘guiding’ and the helpfulness in putting us on fish.
When I exited the ramp, heading south on I79, I had Jim reach into the glove compartment and pull out the cigar box. I took out a stout Romeo Y Julieta Cedro Deluxe #2 and unwrapped the brown paper over wrap. The light brown tobacco looked refreshing for the ride home. I thanked Rippinlip for the cigar, this time in person!!