Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Diary of a Steelhead Fisherman

Diary of a Steelhead Fisherman
Sight Fishing
 I met Randy at the parking area early morning on Saturday. He’s only been fly fishing for a year and a half, mostly for trout, but I talked him into steelhead fishing. I had an extra 7 weight fly rod and reel so he didn’t have to buy any combo in case he didn’t care for fishing for steelhead. I gave him a box of sucker spawn and such. We got our gear together and headed to the creek. The water was clear but I got a tip that the steelhead were scattered along the creek so we headed down creek to see what we could find.
  Wading through the riffles I came across a few steelhead but they weren’t interested in my streamers. Along a deadfall, parallel to the creek, I caught splashes and swirls along its length. Again they weren’t interested in the streamers so I switched to sucker spawn.
  My cast put the yellow sucker spawn up creek from where they were staging and watched the spawn drift into their sight. I watched as one of the steelhead took notice and swam out the greet it. As soon as he took it I yanked the length of line and my first steelhead was on.
 I was able to catch one more along the deadfall before the others were aware of my presence and shied away from anything else I offered them.

9:32 am
 I heard a splashing and turned to see a nice steelhead upstream from me holding midstream in the shallow riffles. He was right in front of a flat rock, where the oncoming water separated, making a deep enough pool for him to be completely submerged. Weighing my options I circled behind him and took a stand behind his left. I false casted out of his vision and soft casted the beaded sucker spawn up to his right keeping my fly rod tip up. The spawn drifted mid current towards his right side. He swam towards it but appeared to miss the stab for it. I kept my cool, not wanting to jerk for a hook set unless I was sure he had it… the sucker spawn drifted with the current seam and he went back in place.
  After a couple of puffs on my stogie, and after the smoke cleared, I backcasted over my left shoulder and laid another soft cast pretty close to my last. As it drew nearer, in the current seam, I twitched the rod back. This brought the spawn out from the faster riffles and started to drift slowly right towards him. The lazy bum just opened his mouth and sucked it in. I yanked back on the rod and after the initial hook set and head shake he realized he’d been hooked well. You would have thought someone stuck him with a penicillin needle in his ass. He took off up creek through the rocky riffles speeding like a skateboarder avoiding pot holes on Main Street. I just kept the rod high and let him go as line spun off the reel. He dashed and splashed for about 20 yards beating himself up against the exposed rocks. Maybe he came to the conclusion he wasn’t going to find any deeper water upstream and decided to turn back. I carefully waded backwards to the bank turning the large arbor as if I was trying to conduct electricity as the steelhead headed down towards me. He turned aiming for the deadfall across creek but he didn’t have enough energy left to flex the rod more than a ¼ from the tip. It wasn’t long after I had him in my grasp.

Leave Them Alone and …
1:38 pm
 There was about 8 steelhead spread out, in a row, along the bank where a trail led fishermen along the creek. The leafy trail was above the gradual bank that by the time they had been spotted they seen you. By that time they were too late to fool, as what happened me the first time I spotted them.
  By late afternoon now there weren’t many fishermen walking up or down creek around where I was. I hadn’t seen any one pass by me for a good half hour or so. I decided to ‘sneak up on them.’
  Around the bend I could see no one in sight. From the bank, a good distance away, I could see two steelhead upstream from a group of three more huddled together. They were in a soft current flow about a couple of yards from the near bank. Not wanting to cast over them or let the streamer drift passed them I checked out the situation and marked their spot. There was a big boulder along the bank that jutted out a bit just up creek from them. I walked back up the trail, down the bank far enough for them not to see me. The trees shaded the water where they laid so there shouldn’t be any glare from my fluorocarbon tippet.
  I made a cast and dropped a streamer in the clear flat dead water up and out to the right of the huddled fish. The current drifted my fly line and the streamer nicely flowed into the current seam. When I figured it should have been in front of the huddle, I kept the rod extended out and a bit high. This should have kept the streamer free flowing in the current in front of the steelhead. I just stood and waited, moving the rod slightly up and down occasionally, while enjoying my cigar. While standing there I noticed the rod tip starting to flex down creek. I yanked up creek quickly and held on for the ride.
  The steelhead headed down creek into the flat water nearly taking me into the backing. I was ready to follow the fish down creek but he crossed the wide section of creek towards the other side and swam back up towards me. Wasn’t long before he too was in my grasp.
Deadfall Vacated
1:56 pm
 Back up creek I figured, just maybe, the fish along the deadfall might be hungry and unmolested by other fishermen. Along the bank I noticed two oblong shapes about a foot out from the deadfall taking in the outdoors like two hot kids lying on their bellies cooling off in a small spring creek.
  Keeping a good distance from them, upstream, I made a long cast towards the deadfall. The streamer fell just near the deadfall in a seam of current leading to the fish. As the streamer was drawing nearer to them I twitched the rod tip to cause a little more action on the streamer. I watched as a steelhead glided over and I felt the grab. A yank down creek towards my side of the bank put another steelhead on the line. The fight and battle for dominance concluded as I the winner!
4:44 pm
Nymph Offering
 It was early evening. The sun was just behind the tall trees on the far bank casting a shadow to mid stream. Most of the fishermen had left the area with a few still fishing the deeper water down creek from the bridge. I happen to spot a pod of steelhead holding in a semi-deep pool in the tail out. After a few streamer imitations and sucker spawn I decided to knot on an olive bead head Hares Ear.
  One of my casts drifted the nymph in front of the pod than slowly dropped to the creek bed on the flat bottom. I slowly brought in line making the nymph looking like it was crawling along the bottom towards me. I watched as two steelhead came swimming by and than turned up creek towards the nymph. One of the steelhead opened its mouth as if it was eating. I tried to strip set a hook set but the fish kept coming towards me as if he was chewing on the nymph. I finally stripped in some slack and yanked the rod up over my head taking up any other slack. I felt the line tighten and “FISH ON!”. After a good run and battle a nice steelhead came to hand.

 I actually caught one more on the nymph but he got free somehow before I called it quits.
  Tomorrow was another day of fishing. I went back to the van, changed out of my fishing clothes and went for dinner.
Sunday 10/26/14
 Getting to the creek I found it a milky stain as if someone dumped a tri-axle load of limestone in the creek upstream. No one I talked to had any idea why but the water was such as that. Luckily I fished here the day before and knew where the deeper pockets were where the steelhead were holding. The other fishermen? Well not so good for them. I walked behind fishermen strung out along the creek and started fishing along the deadfall. The only thing was to just wait until the water cleared.

Knowing where they hide
8:48 am
  By 8:30 am the water was clearing enough I was able to see the dark outline of a steelhead hugging the deadfall. I knotted on the brightest yellow sparkle sucker spawn I had and went for it.
  I got a couple of casts almost bumping the deadfall logs upstream from the fish but once they hit a current, caused by a short branch, it brought the sucker spawn further from the fish than what I liked. I calculated my line out and dropped the sucker spawn just inside the current and let a lot of slack line out to let the spawn drop deep before flowing down creek to fast. I watched the sucker spawn but it ended up higher in the water column as I liked. With a little more weight on my tippet, closer to the spawn, I made another cast in the same manner. This time the spawn kept lower. I noticed after the second drift through the steelhead moved away from the deadfall and settled in the pool down from the swifter current. I had him where I wanted. My next cast didn’t need to be in the swifter current so I dropped it just shy of the swifter current and let it drift towards the exposed fish. He swam out further and my sucker spawn disappeared. I yanked the long length of line and felt the line tighten and the rod flexed towards the fish. He turned with the hook set and darted down creek under the overhanging tree pulling and tugging on the line. I swung the rod down creek and towards my side of the bank. He hesitated with a swift tugging pull and than darted out towards midstream. I had to keep the rod low from getting caught up in the branches. He splashed about with head shakes and splashed his way out from the tree in open shallower water. I backed up towards the bank with the rod up. We battled a bit for control and I finally got him coming my way.

  There were a lot more fishermen walking down creek searching for fish to catch. After awhile I traveled down creek doing the same. Without a strike to any fish I traveled up creek again heading for the bridge.
In the Riffles
4:44 pm
  In a riffle I spotted two steelhead trying to keep themselves in the head of a swift run. Along the bank I moved horizontal from the fish and proceeded to trying to get one to take my yellow sucker spawn. On one drift the spawn drifted right in front of their noses. The fly line started to arc down creek without the leader following. I pulled up the rod, up stream, and the line stopped as if stuck on something on the creek bed. Another yank and the line tightened with a splashing steelhead headshaking my line. He swam up creek through the shallow water battled the tight line as he pulled tension line from the reel. I let him tire himself out as he tugged and pulled on the rod but I wasn’t letting him get any headway. He turned downstream and I took in line. He arced down below closer towards me and soon I had him splashing about right in front of me. A fine looking steelhead added to my catch.
Helping a Brother Out
 Down creek from the bridge a group of five fishermen were still fishing in the deep pool. They were sitting on the bank with their rods in a crook of a stick as if they were carp fishing. I circled upstream from them and began casting my streamer in the deeper pool. I could see many oblong fish shaped figures holding or swimming in the deeper water. On a strip in a got a good grab and a fair hook set. Getting the steelhead to the bank I offered the gents the fish. They accepted it with a smile and a thank you.

After they left I fished for another ½ hour before calling it quits.

On the interstate I lit up a VS 55 Corojo Perfecto. The medium blend was a fine smoke to finish off the weekend of steelhead fishing.









  1. Man , those are some great looking fish. The Great lakes tributaries are just an incredible fishery , I'm putting a trip up North to chase steelhead and browns on my bucket list for next year!!

    1. early season the steelhead are more frisky and great fighters especially if you get into a fresh run of fish. keep an eye on our weather. the creeks get real low when there isn't any rain in the forecast. if you decide to come up let me know. i get 10 days vacation and would be glad to put you on some fish. i got many friends up in erie who can give me tips on where the majority of fish are.

    2. I surely appreciate the offer and don't be surprised if I take you up on it. It's been on a long list of things I've wanted to do for a long time and I'm thinking next fall might be the year.
      Thanks again for the gracious offer....Jeff

    3. no problem, just let me know. i can set you up in a hotel or there are two nice campgrounds along the creeks.

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