Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tuesday's Gone

Tuesday’s gone...
              But not Forgotten

 After handing a Cazadores Churchill to Bings, I stuffed my own shirt pocket with a Sinclair Vintage for the morning. I also grabbed a Habana Cazadores, Carolina Reserve and a Gurkha Beauty for later on. It was about 8:00am, breezy, overcast and a chilly 42 degrees. We dressed warm, with rain gear, and headed down the trail for some Tuesday steelhead fishing.

  The water was cloudy with only dark shades of boulders being noticed beneath. The flow of water was as good to almost perfect which should have the steelhead spread out along its path. The first big hole produced nothing but I was able to see a couple of oblong shapes moving around beneath. We continued down creek and crossed through the shallows to the far bank. Slowly we fished the seams in the shallower water within the rumbling current.
As the sky lightened I was able to distinguish the dark outline of holding fish from the dark sides of boulders and rocks in the shallow current. When I did spot a steelhead there was usually one or two not far off. They were holding tight, almost motionless beneath the oncoming current. Bings and I picked away at them and eventually one would be hooked and the fun of fighting a steelhead in the current began. Keeping the rod upward was a must for keeping tippet and leader from dragging against any sharp rock edge. Though the water we were fishing in was only a couple feet deep at best the fish had the advantage with its strength and ability to force the issue at any time. We each lost a couple and missed quick hook sets but landed some dandies before moving on down creek.

 The deeper pools were still stained or shaded enough from the rising sun to not be able to see the bottom. I got a glimpse of a few moving oblong shapes in a semi-deep run with good flow. I drifted a black Woolly Bugger I had on without a strike. Not wanting to change flies I mentioned to Bings about the fish and left him to see if he could catch them while I moved on down creek into the faster water. It wasn’t long before Bings hooked up and landed a nice steelhead. Just before I turned a bend, in the creek, I looked up and Bings was still fishing the tail-out. I figured, with the day brightening up, he must have seen more steelhead in the section and decided to stick around.

Around the bend 2 guys, with conventional rods and bait, were fishing in a choppy flow that rippled into a wavy current near the far side cliff. This widened to a deeper stretch with good flow for a nice drift. At the tail end another fellow, with a fly rod, was fishing the tail out. He was concentrating as if he was able to see the fish in the shallower water. I started just below the conventional rod guys and slowly worked my way down towards the tail-out with streamers, sucker spawn and nymphs. I saw the fly guy at the tail-out hook up with a steelhead that took him into the rocky shallow waters below where he lost it. He fished the tail-out for another 20 minutes or so before giving up and continuing on down creek. From up creek I drifted my offering towards the tail-out keeping my distance.

 My first hook up came on a sucker spawn drifting under an indicator. The indicator dipped instantly and I yanked upward for the hook set. With good forceful headshakes the steelhead came to the surface the than shot towards the far bank. Fish figures, from under a tree, scattered everywhere as their shallow wake was evident. My fish turned down stream but nearer the shallower water it cut across towards me with lightening speed. I’m sure it was that sudden surge towards me that left too much slack in the line. Once I got line in it was too late, the steelhead shook the hook, and swam free.
I worked the section from the middle of the run to the tail-out for the rest of the day. The guys fishing bait were having a good old time hooking up often. I, on the other hand, only hooked up occasionally.
 It seemed I needed the right pattern and color at the right location with a good drift. Steelhead always confuses me with their selective habits. Trout I can figure out most of the time by examining what’s flying around or crawling about. What I find under streamside rocks or what time of year it is. Steelhead fishing, at least as I can tell, has neither rhyme nor reason. What works one day may not work the next. I found what color works in the morning has a good chance of working in the evening on the same stream but it may take some time to find that magic combination of color and pattern.

I looped a cast a good distance that landed the streamer into the far side of the wavy current. With a quick mend the indicator moved toward me, settled and started to drift with the flow. 3 oblong fish shaped objects were moving upstream, from the shallow tail-out, through the flat water into the wavy current. My indicator dipped with a pull up creek. I yanked back the rod and I knew one of them oblong shaped fish were on the end of my line. I tightened my fingers around the cork grip as the fish continued up stream. When the line tensioned tighter, that bowed the rod into the middle, the steelhead stopped and started to jolt and tug the line that rattled the 7 weight rod tip like a tall palm tree amidst a hurricane. He tugged relentlessly trying to free himself from the hook. It seemed like minutes before he torpedoed down creek towards the shallow riffles. Afraid I would lose him, if he got into the rocky shallows, I palmed the spool, slowing it down, until I applied enough pressure to stop it. The rod tip bowed like a tree snare waiting to be sprung. Within seconds the steelhead made a wild dash up creek. As it passed me I watched as its oblong body shot through the water like a torpedo on target.
“Coming up” I said loud enough for the guy to my left to hear me, as the fish took line, so he knew the new course the fish had taken.
  He brought in his pencil bobber quickly and stood and watched us battle it out. The fish rose to the surface with a splash, spun facing downstream and proceeded hastily leaving a swirl behind. As the melee started to slow I could feel my forearm muscles and the tightness in my fingers upon the cork grip.
  In the shallow tail out the steelhead decided to swim towards the far bank at the same time I started to wade down creek away from the brush behind me. Wrestling with the steelhead I was able to gain more control and got him to hesitantly swim towards me. With aggressive rod movement I kept him moving towards me every time he veered off course. I brought him to the streamside shallows where I was able to get ahold of him. He was a nice heavy steelhead with good girth.

After that I caught a couple more steelhead but none as aggressive like the one pictured.

 As evening approached I made my last cast into the tail-out and decided to call it quits. I headed up creek with the other fellows towards the place I entered in the early morning. I never came across Bings and when I got to my van his truck was gone.

 It was still bright enough to see under the cloudy evening sky.

 In the confines of my van I changed into street clothed as the Dodge 318 engine warmed up. Exiting off of  interstate 90 I took route 89 south. Somewhere in the darkness I reached into my traveling humidor and selected an Oliva ’O’ to enjoy on the drive home. The cigar was smooth and superb that burned evenly to a long white ash.

Another good day of steelhead fishing worth reminicing about!





Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Fine Steelhead Specimen

A Fine Steelhead Specimen

  What started out as a 40 some degree morning became a near 60 degree afternoon. The autumn is surely here as the landscape is dressed in fall colors. The sun had been shining throughout and now is gently starting to set. The water has been clear and low with the steelhead quite spooky throughout the day and not very aggressively hungry. There had been many fishermen up and down the creek enjoying the beautiful day but the catching hasn’t been the greatest for anyone that I had talked with.

 “Just one more before I go” I thought, as I light a light up a VS Robusto Primaros and start to make the long walk up creek to where I entered this morning.

For the clear water conditions I thought I did fairly well so far. I went through every color of bugger and triple threat during the day. When I finally knotted on a ‘Blood Line’ Triple is what the steelhead seamed to be more interested in. I figured I had fairly hooked up at least 8 times though I only landed 2. The biggest being a solid girth steelhead that took the ‘Blood Line’ on a dead drift. It took me down creek with good force and a good warfare fight. Another fisherman gave me a hand netting the steel for me. I let him have the gold spoon spinner that was already attached to the side of its mouth. Evidently the heavy fish had been hooked before and broke off.
The two guys had been fishing bait while I was fishing up creek from them most of the day. They were hooking up now and then over a pod of steelhead in a slow current pool but it wasn’t easy pickings.

 As I walk upstream, upon the leafy sand and stony bank, I keep myself well distant from the narrow sections of flow. The fishing traffic earlier was heavy but now, being around 4:40; most fishermen have left for the day. I figure I might be able to find a few steelhead in the shallow riffles that may be calmed down enough to take a Woolly Bugger. I keep my vision up stream in hopes of seeing one before it spots me.

A steelhead sits in a small wavy pool looking into a good stream of water that has narrowed towards him between a couple of big rocks. The water he sits in is only about a foot and a half deep and his dark body sticks out like a sore thumb under the bright sun. I’m a bit back behind his right side out of his vision. I false cast line, with plenty of room behind me, and then drop the bugger up creek to his left. The surface current is quicker than I anticipated and the bugger begins to skim the surface water towards him. To my surprise he rises and tries to grab the bugger as it drifts the surface. I am so flabbergasted I’m way late on a hook set and the steelhead drops below without my bugger. I cast a few more times in his vicinity but he doesn’t budge. I do figure he still is hungry and plan to let him rest and try again shortly.

Three steelhead appear to be playing, chasing one another, in the shallower tail out that feeds the rocky riffles. I keep my distance and move ahead of them for a better angle. They avoid my bugger no matter how I swim it or drift it towards them. I head up creek a ways but find no steelhead in the deeper run. I walk back, this time forward of the fish I missed earlier in the riffles, and hope to get a deeper drift to him.

  The bugger plops in the tail out and I guide it into the riffles towards the fish. The glare, off the surface, is too bright and distorts my vision of the bugger so I keep my eyes on the fish and fly line. I have a good idea the distance between my fly line and bugger and let a little more slack out and lower the rod tip. The steelhead swims to its right quickly, as if searching, and starts to slowly return. Without any indication that the fish has my bugger, I sharply pull the rod to my left and see the steel's head nudge to its right with the rod pull. I immediately raise the rod and pull fly line down the rod guides to keep the line taunt. The steelhead swats its tail and pulls away for an escape. As I feel the rod flex towards him he gains enough momentum to propel himself up out of the foot or so of water aiming down stream. A couple of feet down from him is a flat rock that protrudes above the surface at an angle. The fish lands flat on the flat rock like a fish being tossed on a plate at the dinner table. It flips its tail, fins and curves its body frantically till it succeeds to flop itself off the rock and back into the riffles. It takes line and swims behind the exposed rock. I see a glimmer of my leader, reflecting light, swipe across the exposed rock, so I lift the rod from any other danger as the fish begins to swim downstream with the current flow.
  In deeper water it rises with headshakes while I keep tension on him and let him tire out. After these antics I force him to my side of the bank and move closer to the water as I wind line in. Near my boots it attempts to make one last escape with quick jolts, I feel the rod relax in my hands and watch the steelhead swim away with my bugger. I discover abrasion on the remaining tippet where the line broke.

  Not quitting just yet I nip off the rest of the 5x fluorocarbon and knot a fresh piece on as well as a fresh Woolly Bugger. The sun is setting a little lower and is now casting shadows upon parts of the water.

 I come across a dark color steelhead within the shadows of the tree line. He’s out from an overhang and smack dab in the middle of a good flow of current. I keep my distance and move quite a ways upstream from him but still within my vision. I roll cast my bugger out into the flow and watch how the current moves and drifts the bugger. Another cast and drift I watch my bugger pass by the steelheads right and maybe out of his vision. I add a little weight, to get it down a little deeper, and I take in some line and cast again.

  I let the bugger get to the end of the drift, straightening out my line, and cautiously let it drift back towards the steelhead. After a couple of nudges forward, to give the marabou tail a little more action, I let the bugger drift back and see the steelhead swim forward. Wham, I pull up and rearward on the rod and feel the aggressive fish on the other end. I move away from the water as the rod flexes and the spool spins letting out tensioned line. The fish is fooled and doesn’t like it a bit. He turns down creek and this time I keep the rod tip high to avoid any unseen sharp objects. It pauses briefly for some erratic body jolts than proceeds up creek and away looking for a safe place to get away. I keep a good angle in the rod as it applies pressure from the side of the swimming fish. I bring in some line as the fish swims to a deeper section just out from a tree that angle upward towards the sky. I keep good tension on the rod and have the line pinched between my finger and cork grip waiting for his next move. He gives the line a tug or two as if seeing if I’m still paying attention. Heck, I tug back and move the rod down creek trying to force him to follow. He wildly appears out of the deeper water and skirts the surface through the shallow riffles. I begin to feel him weaken and start to wind in line when possible or let him fight the tightened drag when need be. Stepping into the shallows I guide him between me and the bank. I reach for him and notice his pretty pink belly and beautiful color. "Such a fine looking fish" I say to myself.

I notice that he took my bugger into his mouth so I carefully do a little outpatient surgery to remove the bugger without harming the beautiful specimen.

 I’m well satisfied, hook the bugger to my hook keeper and enjoy the autumn scenery as I make my way through the forest towards the van.

  A fine Brickhouse Torpedo graces my lips as I take the exit south of I90. The natural sweetness of the outer leaf makes for an enjoyable smooth smoke for the way home.


Friday, November 1, 2013

One Fly 2013 Challenge

One Fly 2013 Challenge
We weren’t here for a field trip!
 Every year, for some time, a group of fishermen, and women, have been getting together for a fishing event for steelhead in Erie. It’s a friendly competition that involves two player teams. The object is to see how many points each team can accumulate by catching fish. This year we started at 8:00am and must be back by 2:00pm. The team with the most points wins bragging rights ‘till next year. You must fish on an Erie tributary or the lake shore.
  Points are accumulated whereas you get 1 point for each inch of steelhead caught and 2 points for every inch of brown trout. The real challenge is you are only allowed to use one fly, of your choice, for the entire 6 hours. You can choose any fly but once you knot it on it is the only one you can use to accumulate points. You are not allowed to add leader or tippet. If you lose your fly you are out of the competition unless you can retrieve the fly and add it to the remaining leader/tippet. Any points you accumulate before you lost your fly is counted towards the team score. Another challenge is to decide what fly you are going to use for the days event. This is a challenge since you have to pick your choice of fly before daylight. Before you even have a chance to see the color or conditions of the water.
 This year I partnered up with a bingsbaits. He’s been steelhead fishing, with a fly rod, for some time and has a lot of time and experience on the Erie tributaries.
Bings decided on his own pattern of a Triple Threat Emerald Shiner. I decided on one of my own Triple Threat Patterns. We planned on fishing Elk Creek and what section we would fish as we waited to be released. There were about 15 people that showed this weekend so I figured either 7 or 8 teams. The reigning champs were there, for the past two years, and they were in good spirits and ready for the competition.
We parked at an old bridge, assembled our fly rods, put our gear on and started on our way. There were only a couple of people already fishing the slow pool of deep water below the bridge. The water was cloudy and visibility wasn’t more than a few inches. Our plan was to fish our streamers along the creek as we slowly move down stream hoping to come across a good section and hoping the water will clear up later on. I don’t usually depend on a Triple Threat pattern in cloudy water but it is one of my favorite patterns for steelhead and I was hoping the water would clear up sooner than later. I never fished this upper section before but down creek was one of my favorite sections on Elk Creek. Bings has fished this section a few times and we both felt confident as we fished our way down creek.

  We hadn’t got a strike for some time as we fished in good looking sections we thought would hold steelhead. We couldn’t find any steelhead in the shallower riffles and it didn’t look as though the water was clearing up much at all. The weather was cold with a strong wind constantly blowing. This not only made casting a bit of a problem but also caused many fallen leaves to flow and accumulate upon the surface.
 About an hour passed when Bings hooked the first steelhead, momentarily. He was fishing a tail out with the Triple Threat under an indicator. He called ‘fish on’ and I looked downstream as his fly rod was bent and a tight line extended straight into the water. The fish let loose within seconds and our first points vanished in the cloudy pool. Within the next half hour Bings hooked up three more times in the same tail-out. He had two good fights and had the steelheads on for some time but some how each time the steelheads found there way not to be handled. Though this was all disappointing we didn’t give up hope. In fact this gave me more confidence that my own Triple Threat will work in these cloudy conditions though I hadn’t had a strike yet.
Down creek Bings finally got a hook up and found a way to land the steelhead. It measured 26 ½“. We were on the board with a good score and still quite a few hours left. The creek water finally started to clear up but we still couldn’t see any images of fish.
 As Bings moved down towards the shallower water I moved to where he caught his steelhead. I was using an indicator but just didn’t feel good about the movement or the depth I was fishing even though I moved the indicator up and down my leader. I don’t use an indicator for trout when I fish a streamer but steelhead fishing I’ve seen many people do, so I give it a try. Also I felt, being the water was cloudy and I didn’t know the depth, was a safer bet not to get a bottom snag as without. Still no strikes for some time I took the indicator off and took my chances.
  Casting under a tree I mended a little line upstream and let the slow current carry the streamer down creek. I felt a slight hesitation and picked up the rod not sure if I had a snag or fish. It’s a delicate situation that can either put points on the board or lose your fly and lose the chance to help your partner. I felt a slight pull and watch as a sliver fish rolled down creek just below the surface right in the same area my streamer should be. I never got a good hook set and my first possible points swam away.
  A few casts later, back under the tree, I got a good grab that I was sure a fish. I yanked back with my wrist and felt the fish resistance instantly and quickly we were in a battle. I called out to Bings, “Fish on” as I played the fish with confidence. I had a 4x tapered leader on with 4X Fluorocarbon tippet. By the time Bings got up close I had the steelhead on the bank and he measured it at 21 ½”.
  We fished this section for sometime. I’d walk upstream a bit and fish it down to the tree and Bings would start at the tree and fish it down towards the shallows.
  I was up creek fishing the good wavy current flow that entered into the long stretch when I glanced down creek and seen Bings trying to unstuck his streamer caught on the bottom of the creek bed. He was short tugging on the rod but nothing that looked too strenuous. Suddenly I heard a sharp snap and turned to see Bings reaching for a section of rod and than holding two pieces of his rod in his hands. He had broken his fly rod about a foot up from the cork handle and had lost his fly in the process. He was quite discouraged being that it was a rod he had built some time ago. I told him I had a back up rod in my van that he could use while I continued to fish. He was out of the competition of course but still could fish. This put the pressure on me but I was still confident I could get at least one more steelhead for more points.
  The roll cast put my streamer midstream and I mended up creek in hopes to get my streamer down along the bottom. I knew time was passing by and I had to take my chances with fishing deeper. The fly line started to arc and I wristed the rod up and felt resistance but it didn’t give. I had a snag and it felt pretty solid. I looped fly line beyond the snag and lifted the rod and line upwards in hopes to free it. When that didn’t work I made a decision to do my best to get the streamer free. I walked down stream while letting a good 20 yards of fly line out as I reached a point where I could cross the creek. I carefully walked along the shale extruding from the base of the cliff while winding in the excess fly line. When I got nearer to the stuck streamer it popped up without much pressure. I felt better and fished my way up creek until I could cross back over.
On the other side I again proceeded to fish the same section while waiting for Bings to get back. A sharp tug at the end of the drift and a good yanking hook set began another battle with one more fish. We battled a bit and I managed to get another steelhead to the bank. I looked around and seen a fellow down creek see me land the steelhead. I measured the steel at 23” and lead him back into the cloudy water. Within minutes Bings came around the bend and walked towards me.
“Add 23” to our score” and I added, “Just caught one just before you came around the bend.”
I felt good with three fish to our credit but one more sure would make me feel better about getting in one of the top three places. It was around 11:45 when we decided to head up creek and fish our way towards the van. The water was clearing some but not as fast as we’d liked. At a slow deep pool, around a downed tree, a few fishermen were fishing without any room to butt in. I tried to get a strike at the tail-end, where Bings hooked up, but failed. Up creek a ways was a section that looked promising. It was a straight stretch with a ledge that dropped off about a couple of feet from the far bank. I had talked to another fisherman on the way down and he told me that that section usually held fish. With the water not so cloudy I was hoping to manage another steelhead.
There was the guy, I had talked to earlier, fishing the tail end of the run near a small tree that extended out of the water against the shoreline bank. I moved up creek a ways and worked my Triple down towards him. Bings was slowly fishing his way up creek.
  I gave a gentle sidearm cast that let the Triple fall delicately near the far bank without much of a splash. I mended up creek and watched as my leader and tippet began to drift with my streamer along the barely visible ledge below the water surface. As the line straightened out down creek I felt the grab, yanked the rod rearward and another steelhead was on the other end. The steelhead lunged towards the far side and swam rapidly up creek, stopping once with a few surface head shakes before continuing on. It took line up creek and I palmed the reel to add a little more resistance to where I had the drag set. He stopped his run and struggled a bit beneath. This gave me time to tighten the drag a few clicks tighter before pulling the rod down creek forcing him to follow. He turns and doggedly swam down stream with the slow current trying to keep from my side of the bank. He didn’t travel very far down creek from me when the resistance got too much. He surfaced and splashed around a bit. I looked down creek momentarily and the other fisherman was standing, watching me battle with the steelhead. When I finally got him to the bank safely I breathed a sigh of relief and measured his length. I unhooked the steelhead and let him swim freely back into the cloudy water.
  By the time I got to the bridge it was nearing 1:15. Bings stood on the bridge looking over. There were about 5 guys fishing the deep water. I gave a few casts out and stripped the streamer in without a strike before calling it quits.
 At the pavilion there were a few teams already back by the time we showed up. A few minutes after that the reigning champs pulled in and started to get there fishing gear off. We sat around BS’n and drinking beer waiting for the other teams. We got caught up in story telling that it wasn’t until 2:30 that we decided to ask for the results. Bings and I pulled off the win with 4 steelhead caught for a total of 94 ½ points as I recall. Second place went to the reigning champs of The Drake and DarDys with 40+ points.

 Sure there weren’t many teams participating this year but with 90+ points I felt we did pretty darn well for the conditions and may have still won with more participants. A win's a win and we won it fair and square, broken rod and all!!


 Bings with a fish on in the morning