Bad Karma? Huh?
Jan 1 2012
As Jim and I were putting our rod and reels together he told me it was bad Karma fishing with a new reel on a new rod together for the first time. Something about “I should fish the new reel with my regular rod before using it on my new fly rod.” I’m not one to believe in Karma or luck so I didn’t pay much attention to this Karma nonsense. I continued to assemble my new back up rod, a White River 7wt Classic. To this I attached my brand new Allen Alpha II 7/8 large arbor reel that I already spun on a new DT7f fly line, with 100 yards of 30lb backing and new 4X tapered leader. In the windy conditions we put on an extra layer of clothes and headed down the lane in search of steelhead. It started to spit rain before we got to the creek but we proceeded on for a New Year day steelhead outing!!
The creek was little on the high side and the water was stained in a gray milky tint. Knowing where the steelhead usually hang out was to our advantage as we knew there was little chance to see the steelhead through the stained water any deeper than a foot or so. We entered the rolling wavy water with good intentions and were hoping the rain wouldn’t develop into an all out down pour at any time. We were aware that the windy conditions would be with us all day but we were determined to catch some steel and would have to deal with it!
So, there I stood in shin deep water in the middle of the creek pulling new yellow fly line out of my new reel. I felt like a kid trying out his new toy for the first time. The Karma thing was stored away in the back of my mind without consideration. I had caught a glimpse of two steelhead, before they noticed me, lying in the shallows near two feet deep. They were on my side of the faster wavy current holding tight to the bottom. They were so close together it was hard to tell how big they were as they appeared as almost one off color gray mass. Within three casts I got my streamer arcing and swinging near the two. Reaching the rod out horizontal, in front of me, I let the streamer settle in their vicinity down below. I was ‘swimming’ it forward and backward in the current with even pulls and releases with my pinched line hand on the fly line. I watched as one of the grayish fish moved away from the other a foot or so to its left, which was my right. I seen its tail sway and started to slowly return to its lie as my fly line followed. I gripped the cork handle tightly and with a forceful yank, the rod tip arced as I set the hook. The steelhead came to life like an active underwater volcano in the foot or so of water. The other steelhead quickly disappeared into the deeper run as my hooked steelhead fought with heavy jolts and thrusts. She turned downstream and started to pick up speed. I put the rod butt into my belly and gripped the rod handle with two hands. I’m not sure if it was the reel drag tension or the stiff arced rod force but the steelhead didn’t go too far before starting another eruption beneath. Silver flashed from below the water surface with hard twists and turns as I tried to keep her head up not wanting to get my line entangled with her fins. She than turned and headed towards the fast deeper run so I lifted the rod upstream, pulling in line, and than angled the rod downstream again keeping side pressure on her. She struggled briefly and started to grudgingly swim towards me. I backed up keeping pressure until I had her completely in shallower water midstream. The rod arced with the weight of the steel as I reached down to grab her with my net mitt.
It was the first steelhead on the first day of the year using my fly rod combo for the first time. A lot of firsts I thought as I grinned at my catch!
The next hour or so was slow. The sun would appear occasionally and made the small raindrops shimmer as they fell. The wind never stopped blowing, the water never stopped flowing and we never stopped fishing! Jim stayed ahead of me most of the time as we waded down creek. We both drifted nymphs and streamers along the way. Jim hooked up a couple of times but never got one to hand. I couldn’t get a hit for sometime, even the few more steelhead I came across in the shallows, until we were well down stream.
I stood in knee deep water and took out my 2nd Bahia #2 torpedo shaped stogie. I bit the end off and stuck it between my teeth. Cupping my hands around the Zippo lighter, shielding it from the wind and drizzle, I lit the end of the barrel. Smoke rose up and a glow of red embers developed. The earthy tasting cigar gave a wake up call to my dry mouth. I was relaxing in the quietness of the steelhead waters. This is something that rarely happens on an Erie steelhead creek!
The roll cast loop opened, straightened and dropped my streamer upstream from two noticeable light colored rocks in a deep section of the creek. I mended upstream in order to let my streamer sink deep before dead drifting it through the area. As it drifted through I thought maybe I had a quick bump but maybe it was my line dragging across the rocks. My next drift through I held the rod tip higher and this time my fly line arced upstream just briefly enough until I lifted up for the hook set. The spunky steelhead tensioned the line instantly, sub-surfaced, showing his colors, and darted towards the tail out. I let tensioned line slip through my finger and than let the reel drag slow him down. I backed up from beneath the tree branches above me so I had more room to maneuver. The tension was too much for him and he struggled towards midstream below me. I let him tire out some before I decided to force the issue of this smaller steelhead. He gave his all splashing near top side the closer I got him to me.
The next hook up came just out from an uprooted branchy tree. She gave me a good tussle forcing me to follow her downstream as she got herself in the faster current flow. I kept my distance and let her fight the long leader and line as she battled to get herself free. I was able to get around her, towards shore, before I felt her giving in under the pressure. 3 hook ups and three landed!! “So much for bad Karma” I thought, “It is still me at the helm!”
Jim was further downstream by now but I stuck around to see if I could raise another from the deep pocket. Back out, midstream, I relit the cigar. The rain finally eased up and the sun was beaming down brightening my surrounding and penetrating the top surface of water making it more visible beneath.
My roll cast fell upstream near a fallen log and I mended line so it would drift deep beneath the uproot. I know it was a dangerous attempt not knowing if tangling roots lay beneath. As I watched the fly line arc, the end dipped quickly beneath the water surface. I yanked upward, hitting the rod tip on a skinny branch above me, but the hook point was true and I felt the heavy load on the other end. At first it felt like a saw log as my fly line started to pull downstream beyond the faster current between the fish and I. I pulled back a little harder and the rod flexed deeper and the fish started to rise. Just below the surface he must have figured out that the imitation bait fish, he mistook for real, was attached to a greater force! He surfaced long enough that I seen his dark ruby lateral line and his long length. I hollered in delight to let Jim know I had a good fish on.
I let the fish spin line off the reel as he took off downstream. He circled right below me and I backed up a few steps to prevent him from coming straight towards me if he decided to. It was in an instant he took off back towards the root beneath the faster current. I tried to lift the rod and turn him but he was too strong and I also felt that darn branch bumping up against the rod tip. I had no choice but to keep the rod at a lower angle which caused my line to be beneath the faster current between the fish and I. He decided to force himself down beyond the root and that’s when I noticed a branch angled downward, into the water, nearer the far bank. When he reached the shallows, of the far bank, he turned downstream and than headed back towards me. Sure enough my fly line was still running towards the far bank with the fish pulling in the opposite directions. He had my line around the angled down branch. I couldn’t let line out fast enough or get my line out from beneath it as I struggled moving the rod tip in all directions. That big fish surfaced, and as if giving me the bird, swatted his tail at me and than plunged deep and broke off. Grrrr!!
I tied on another streamer and hooked up a couple more times before I could no longer get a fish to grab my imitation. Last I remembered Jim was headed back upstream and from where I stood he was nowhere in sight. I moseyed upstream after him drifting the streamer in likely areas. The water had cleared up some by now and when a steelhead moved beneath it was more evident to pick out the dark moving object. I tried different nymph combinations and stripping streamers but no steelhead wanted my offering. When I caught up with Jim we decided to head for the van for something to eat. Just for the heck of it I decided to walk up creek just a bit and see if we can hook into one more in this well fished area. As I was walking up the shallows I noticed a long lengthy gray figure holding in the shallows out from me. I pointed to the fish to Jim and just than she rose as if taking something off the surface. Her stout lengthy body reflected her silvery side as she twisted in the surface current before settling back down. I was sure she didn’t see me, and having a streamer on the end of my line, I decided to try for her.
Jim stood watching as I role cast the streamer out into the water and let it swing and drift towards the fish. The first drift was short but on my second attempt it was close enough I figure that if she was hungry she should have taken it. I let it drift by but she didn’t follow. On my third attempt I dangled it in front of her and let it drift back to her in the current. It was a certain movement she made, an undeniable twitch in my line that told me she grabbed it. I yanked upward at an angle and it felt like a good hook set. We watched as her mouth raised upward and her big body twisted, throwing water about, as she struggled in the shallow depth. She started to swim out into the deeper section with more brute strength than speed. We had a good battle going on as I stood my ground trying to keep her in the slower moving water. I told Jim to get over there and try to get her on shore the closer I got her nearer me. We got the steelhead between him and I and I tried to keep her steady as Jim reached down to grab her. She twisted away and swam between his legs towards the middle of the creek. He lifted his leg quick enough I was able to keep the line from tangling. Well I found this maneuver made her pretty angry and she started to fight with more animosity . I couldn’t hold her close any longer and when she reached the quick wavy current it carried her down stream with heavy force. This was a fight I was hoping for to get a good workout of rod and reel. The Alpha II reel purred as line shot out of the spinning spool and through the guides. The fish tumbled through the wavy current and settled some in the deeper pool. I walked down the shoreline only keeping enough tension on her the keep slack out of the line. I had Jim unclip my glove net and told him to try grabbing the big steel if I get her near shore again. He waded down the shoreline until I gave him the word to move in. I had her in the shallow water with her back above the surface when Jim circled around to make an attempt at the fish. I felt every muscle in my forearm tighten as I tried to keep her at bay while Jim figured out the best way to grab her. He reached down and water splashed outward like a grenade went off spreading shrapnel everywhere. Next thing I know Jim half stood, I felt the line snap and watched the fish skitter downstream across the pebbles and shallow water. She than disappeared right before our eyes.
I always figured that if I kept steelhead or was so concerned with landing more I would buy a big net. Instead I catch and release almost all my fish unless someone I know wants a few or I’m so inclined to mount one. Whether I would have mounted that silver or not I’m still not sure but I wasn’t upset we lost her, it happens. The coolest thing was that I fooled her, hooked her cleanly and we battled in plain sight of each other until she gained and earned her freedom!
We got back to the van about 3:30pm. It was still raining in spurts and we found the wind had picked up considerably from this morning. We broke our fly rods down and called it a day. We ate our lunch in the van, talking and relaxing. The chilled Labatt Red Lager went down easy but the best way to end the day was yet to come.
I pulled the last cigar from my three finger cigar pouch. The Don Tomas dark Maduro cigar looked intriguing. The dark outer wrap showed distinct signs of the tobacco leaf veins. I nipped off the end with my cutter and whiffed the dry aroma of the cigar. After lighting it I took a good draw and held the smoke within my mouth just long enough to get a good bite from the flavor before releasing it. The rich robust flavor, though stronger than any natural leaf, was smooth and tasteful. It was an extra fine smoke for the drive home.