It was the typical December weather for steelhead fishing in Erie. After the 2 hour drive, to keep warm as long as possible, I dressed into my heavy clothes and waders inside my van. I even attached and strung up my 9’ fly rod and reel before braving the cold. I opened the side doors and was met with a breath of fresh, crisp, cold air. A layer of snow covers the ground. I stepped out and immediately felt the December chill swipe across my outer wear. I put on my heavy coat and slung the sling pack over my shoulder. I put on my Marmot Yukon Hat and dropped the ear flaps. The wind blew across the field as if old man winter had a grudge on us who attempted to fish on this wintry day. His gusts howled through the bare branched tree tops louder than Santa’s HO-HO-HO’s.I fitted my wool fingered mittens on my hands, grabbed my fly rod, tilted my head against the wind and headed to the trail. I was excited as a kid though, there wasn’t a car in sight and I figured I had the creek to myself. It was already about 1:30pm but I should have enough time to enjoy the rest of the day.
Crusted snow crackled under my spiked wading boots as I walked down the hill along the trail. The snow covered forest gave no hint of human inhabitants except for the snow covered picnic table that stood aside the hill. It was if it was placed there for Santa to take a break from his long journey around the world, this coming Christmas, away from the bitter wind. Where his reindeer can forage for acorns and sip water from the cold running creek. It wasn’t long before I heard the sound of tumbling moving water through the bare forest.
The water ran with a tint of green, just enough to maybe see a holding silhouette of a darker steelhead or two. Last time I fished here the water was quite low and the steelhead were huddled in pods in deeper pools. With the more abundance of water they should be strung out along runs and even up against ledges in shallower areas. As I crossed the current, heading downstream, I came across fresh boot tracks. Around the first bend I met my first two fisher people. A woman was casting a fly rod while her mate stood watching with a net on the ready. We exchanged greetings and they had said she had caught one upstream a while ago. I let them be and continued on searching for my first steelhead.
I came to a fast wavy run where a couple of steel were visible but the current was too strong to get a good drift. I came upon a long stretch so I decided to cast a streamer across and let it drift with the current under an indicator. There are times, for steelhead in particular, I find a streamer indicator set up works better than not. I can adjust the depth of my weighted streamer more easily in the slower currents.
The indicator dropped suddenly with a pull away towards the opposite bank. A quick lift and I had my fist fish on. It was an erratic energetic jack on the end of the line. It took a while to tire, even in the colder water, but the fight was one that got me ready for bigger steel to come.
When I got to the stretch of water I wanted to be, there wasn’t anyone around. Looking through my polarized glasses I could see a couple dark pods of two or three fish and a few strung out along the run. Except for the one jack, I had caught earlier; I hadn’t a hit for the past half hour. I was hoping these fish would cooperate.
With a long cast outward my indicator landed and I made a quick mend upstream. The indicator caught the current seam and gently flowed with it. When the indicator dipped downward I gave a quick heavy heave of the rod tip, which arced under pressure. The hooked fish rose an instant and I seen its silvery side before it turned deep. I gave it line and it wasn’t long before she rose again and started to head slashing, water splashing fight trying to loosen the hook. I kept the rod up keeping the line out of the water as she splashed about. Her wide girth forced waves of water about as she fought along the surface. Tired of this she took to a forceful swim with less slashing or head shakes. I kept a good hold on the cork grip with the butt into my stomach holding on with both hands and letting the drag play its part. I forgot all about the blowing December chilled air. I forgot about my red cold hands or cold feet. I was having fun.
I backed up onto the bank as I drew her closer. I knew once she got to the shallower water she’d take at least one last outward surge and I was prepared. She turned away with force and I palmed the spool to let only enough line out to not overpower the rod or 4X tippet. She turned back towards me and I got her to the bank.
It took a little time but I hooked one momentarily and had another come off at my boots which was ok because I didn’t have to get my hands wet. I would take turns casting with one hand while the other I would keep in my pocket caressing the hot pad I kept inside. I worked the seam pretty good before going down creek a bit further. It didn’t take long before I returned and started changing patterns despite the coldness on my fingers when tying another on. Soon I would get another good hook set and another battle ensued. Another came to hand with a much meaner look.
The wind died down some as the evening approached. After changing out of my fishing clothes I took a swig of soda to quench my thirst. It was near 5:30 pm by now and my stomach was over being starved to death and just accepted the fact that my brain was in charge of when we could eat.