Friday, January 11, 2013

Breaking Steel

Breaking Steel

 Snow covers the landscape on this wintry morn. I lip balm the fly line and guides for the early freeze though the weatherman promises high 30’s for noon time. It is a bit enjoyable hearing birds chirping this morn instead of just the wind howling in the dead of winter. I start down the path and hardened snow footprints cover the trail to the creek from days before. I stop momentarily to look over the ledge and the steel are lazily holding in the current, just as I left them the night before. I continue down the trail and cross the rocky shallow water to the far snow covered bank. I cautiously make my way upstream as my cleated wading boots keep me from sliding on the shale and stony creek bottom. On the other side of the deadfall I lay my sling pack on the bank. From the bugger barn fly box I take out a selection of Triple Threats and hook them onto my wool fly patch. I select a scantly tied Ghost Pattern and knot this to a lengthy piece of 5x fluorocarbon. After attaching an indicator 15” to 18” above the streamer I look around and enjoy the scenery before my first cast.
Snow covers the outcropping of unsteady looking, sized rocks in the shallow water. On thick limbs, overhanging the water, hang round balls of ice the size of jaw-breakers.
  Across creek shale covers the far cliff that rises from the water like an uneven canyon wall. Icicles extend down from shale ledges like crystal stalactites, glistening from the early rising sun. Water waves in the main seam of the current and riffles outward upon the slower water. Now and than a bird chirps and even a crow caws out from time to time. I wear polarized shades not as much to see the oblong shapes of steel before me, I know they are there, but more for protection to keep the sharp piercing cold wind from tearing up my eyes. I put down the ear flaps of my Yukon Hat and the furry rabbit fur hides my ears from the cold breeze.

Casting out, my indicator drops onto the current and the Triple Threat arcs over it and falls into the water more gently. A slight mend puts my fly line almost cross current from the two and all three flow together with the current. A faster current, nearer to me, pushes the fly line down creek a little faster and the indicator and streamer follows behind. I work the Ghost Pattern down and across and adjust the drop length occasionally seeing some steel aren’t lying on the bottom. Without a strike I change to a thin pink streaked color and work it like the Ghost Pattern.
  On my second cast the indicator stops as my fly line continues on in a bigger curve. I lift gently but the indicator doesn’t move towards me, so I yank and set the hook. This is when the surface water erupts like an underwater geyser of escaping pressure. The morning silence is broken when a silver head breaks the surface and the water churns like a blender full of ice and Pina Colada mix on high speed. I tighten my grip on the bent fly rod and hold on as if holding the reins of a bucking bronco. The steel shakes its head and twists like trying to throw a rider off its back. After it bucks some more it takes off up creek. I can feel its head tugging at the rod pressure as it swims. I move the rod with the direction of the fish as I stand in the shin deep water. As the rod flexes deeper I let tensioned line slip through my cold fingers and it slowly peels off the spool. My right wrist tightens trying to keep the rod tip up, under the pressure, to keep as much line off the water as possible. She turns with a swoop towards the far bank and then heads down creek. I let more line out before reaching down and turning the drag knob a little tighter. She holds down creek facing into the current and gives a few sharp jerks. With both hands I move the rod down creek at an angle and pull towards my side of the bank. She follows grudgingly and I reel in some line. Now with her below I arc the rod upstream and she gives a few head shakes before hesitantly following the pressure. Tightening the drag a bit more I let her battle beneath as her energy becomes exhausted enough to get her nearer to me. As she comes closer I back up to the stony bank. Pulling her to the bank is like pulling on a wet sunken tarp cover. Her sides gleam of chrome as I reach down to unhook her. In a fit of rage she swings around after I unhook her and gets herself upright in the shallow water. I watch as she escapes out into the deep.

  I work the Triple Threat a few more times and change to another color with no results. I decide to take off the indicator and knot on a meaty black/gold Triple. The second cast upstream, after a mend, I watch the fly line as it flows with the current. It stops and pulls away as I lift the rod above my head sharply. This time the steel doesn’t break the surface but battles just below. Water churns on the surface though into a furious boil. I try pulling the fish towards me but the rod just flexes deeper into the middle from the weight of the fish. With the rod upward I let the steel buck and kick in fury and frustration, feeling every pull and jerk within the cork grip of the 7 weight. He shoots up creek into the faster current and holds tight. Now within sight I swing the rod up creek and give a tug towards the bank. I watch as the dark steelhead turns in my direction and heads down creek before me. I keep the rod upstream at an angle and line peels off the spool. Below the surface I see oblong shapes scatter about as my bronco continues down and away. Now in a foot or so of water he heads towards my side of the bank. I reel in line quickly before he gets under an overhanging tree just down from my side of the creek. It is deeper under the tree and with the overhanging limbs I have to practically angle the rod horizontal with the water to keep from getting the rod tip caught in the branches. As he tussles some more I have time to turn the drag a little tighter. With one hand on the spool, and the other on cork, I tug up creek and he shoots out and away, taking line, and than cuts across from me into the deeper water midstream. It seems like a half hour has passed but it always seems that way with good fighting steel. He again takes off upstream but I can feel his momentum slowing and his energy thrusts aren’t as aggressive as they were earlier in the battle. I move to the bank and keep a good amount of pressure from the side as he tries to swims further up into the current. His stamina is weakening and he turns and swims towards me. With the rod up I reel in line quickly trying to keep my wrist stiff. Out in front of me he gives a few angry gestures but I coax him onto the bank safely. The Triple Threat is inside his mouth but I get him to open wide and unhook the sharp pointed hook without much trouble. I let him revive fully before releasing him. My hands are red cold now so I take time to dry them on my fleece pull-over and put my hands in my coat pockets and warm them against the hot pads I have within.
After my hands warm I’m anxious for a rewarding smoke. I take out a Miraflor New Blend Habana, clip off a bit of the cap and light the end of the barrel. Under the sunshine I enjoy the fresh smooth smoke.
 The Triple threat is in shambles so I nip it off and tie on another a little sparser than the first. In the next half hour I catch two more before deciding on trying a different color.

Nearing noon it gets to be a slow time so I don’t expect much. I stand casting out enjoying my stogie and the peace and quietness of my surroundings. Every once in a while a colder breeze will blow upstream and nip at my skin a little sharper. The warm sun rays melt the moisture between the shale and soften the dirt against the side of the cliff. Clumps of dirt and shale fall into the water with big gulping splashes now and than.
I’m beginning to wander if I should move down creek but decide to stay put. I have plenty of fish in front of me but they don’t seem to be too hungry. I recall someone saying ’goldfish’ are good bait. Though they are not allowed to be used for bait here in Pennsylvania a gold imitation might be something the fish haven’t seen and cause curiosity. After knotting on a gold/orange Triple Threat I begin to tease the ’herd’. One takes it and after the hook set, puts up a good head slashing, bronco bucking ride. I get her tame enough and bring her to shore for a good face and streamer picture!
 Sure enough within two more casts I hook into another. This one is a young buck with lots of spunk. He clears water twice before I bring him to hand.

  Around 2:30pm I notice the fish are getting restless and are actively moving around. I notice a few fish move upstream from the shallows below. I put a little more movement on the Triple Threat, by twitching the rod tip, and am rewarded with a couple more hook ups.

 As the sun starts to descend beyond the tree line the air becomes colder. I pull up my fleece collar and zippen up my heavy coat. I cup my hands and light up my last stogie, a Bahia short Churchill, my favorite everyday inexpensive stogie.

  I decide to attach the indicator again and knot on an ‘Olive Back’ Triple Threat a foot and a half or so below. I move up creek, cast out and across, and let the ’Olive Back’ skirt the bottom. The indicator twitches momentarily so I pull up on the rod quickly and all hell breaks loose. The steelhead shoots up creek like a scared mustang, pauses with a few headshakes as If trying to loosen a bridle, and than continues on with power. The line peels off the spool as I palm the rim. I think maybe it’s a foul hooked fish but as it rises to the surface I see the line pulling from its mouth and the shiny chrome side tells me this is a fresher fish than the others. She darts down in front of me than torpedoes down creek in a direct straight course. I keep leverage on the rod with the butt in my stomach with my right hand holding the upper most part of the cork handle. My left fingers hold the tension until I feel too much strain and I have to let more line slip through them and in turn line peels off the spinning spool. The long length of fly line stretches out into the shallower water which lets me know the whereabouts of the chromer. She starts to swim towards my side of the creek and I quickly reel in some line. She holds up beneath the tree branches, as the other did, which gives me time to adjust the drag a bit firmer. With a tug of the rod tip section she reacts with a couple of side swiping tail slashes and heads out towards the middle and than pushes upstream again. Again line peels off the spool until she slows from the upper rod and drag pressure. The long length of yellow line, extending from my rod tip, looks like a thin clothes line that has fallen into the water beyond. I wade up creek and get her coming closer. She gives me a couple of last ’I’m not giving up yet’ escape attempts but soon succumbs to my persistence in getting her tamed and to the bank. The Triple Threat is hooked into her jaw so I nip the tippet and get the hook out as quick as possible.
I catch a couple of more before complete darkness and make my last cast as my stogie burns out. Gathering up my sling pack I wade down creek into the shallow water and cross to the snowy bank. The moon glow gives off enough light to get me back to the van safely without having to use my flashlight.

While the van warms I change into street clothes and decide to head south and spend Christmas at home. South of Union City, a few miles out of Spartanburg, I turn on the inside dome light and take out the Kentucky Gentleman cigar the mailman had handed me Sunday. After unwrapping it I open the glass tube and pull out a small clump of dried tobacco from the tube end. I tip the tube and out comes the Churchill length, bourbon cask aged cigar. A quick whiff of the outer wrap is light and not overpowering as I would of expect. I nip off the slightest bit of the cap and after the sulfur burns off the wooden match I light the foot. The first few draws don’t have much flavor but the draw is clean and smooth enough to keep it lit for the long drive home. Maybe if I had a chance to let it mature some in a humidor for a week or so it could have moistened the inner tobacco some for a fuller flavor.

 All in all it’s been a good 2 and half days of steelhead fishing. I have no complaints breaking steel into tame Salmonoids.





  1. That's one hell of a day...some really nice fish there!

  2. beautiful writing,love to be with him,have fished Montana,S.Dakota and Colorado,love the U.S.have many friends there .James,N.Ireland

  3. thanks, was a good time out. had the section to myself which is rare now-a-days. hope to make it back up soon. anytime you guys are up to it let me know, would be happy to share a drift and a good ceegar!!