Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Glassy Monday

A Glassy Monday

 I usually only take my fiberglass fly rod steelhead fishing in the cold winter days when the steelhead are more lethargic and not as aggressive. The reasons are that it takes longer to tire the fresh fish out with ‘glass’ and because of the crowds. The reason that glass rods take longer to tire a fish is because there isn’t the backbone in them as a graphite rod.

 Donny knocked at the side door of the van before 6:00am. I opened my eyes, in darkness, and knowing it was him opened the door. He stood there with a tall mug of hot tea and peanut butter toast. We agreed on waking at 6:00am but he woke me up early and wanted to get an early start. I think he was in his hospitality mode and knew I’d be ready in no time without complaints.

 We took his truck and he dropped me off at the side of the road so I could claim our spot before daylight. With my fishing rod in hand and led by my flashlight I followed the path to the water. I found there was already a guy in the spot shin deep in the 46 degrees water temperature. Under the flashlight glow I put together my 2 piece Wonderod, strung it up and attached a sucker spawn.
 I decided to fish fiberglass because I figured there wouldn’t be the crowds as over the weekend. It’s also much more challenging and fun than graphite and not as risky as bamboo.
 Where Donny parked, up creek, was about a fifteen minute walk. While waiting for him I stood my ground waiting for daylight. It was a bit chilly. In the darkness wet wading boots were heard sloshing through the shallow water on one side of the tunnel. A few fishermen crossed behind me heading upstream as a few more stopped and stood along the wall inside the tunnel.
 When it was light enough to see my indicator I drifted the sucker spawn. When it was light enough to see my fly line I took the indicator off. When Donny showed he said there were plenty of fishermen already along the creek. We fished for about an hour or so. There had to be fish in the deeper holes and in the tunnel but no one could get a strike. Looking up creek men were moving on so we decided to move also.

 One of my casts put my streamer against the butt of a log that lay just out from the bank, lengthwise with the water flow. The current looked as if it pushed my streamer underneath the log. It was a risky move but turned out for the best. I saw the belly of the fly line tighten. I knew there was a chance it was a snag but I pulled in line and reared back on the glass rod to set the hook. The fish stormed out from beneath the log, went three feet out from the log and flipped three feet in the air. Its silver sides shined like fresh buffed chrome. I seen it wasn’t very big but it was a fresh steelhead and was going to be frisky. It had lots of room to play and took advantage of it like a kid let loose in a playground after being cooped up all winter. I held on like trying to control a kite in a wind storm. At times it shot up out of the water like being sprung from a trampoline. I took my time and finally got it to hand. 

 Up creek further I set up upstream from Donny. The section of water was wide and I wanted to cover it pretty thoroughly. I fished the water in front of me like I was searching for trout. I was knee deep so my first cast was about midway between me and the far bank. I let the streamer drift with the current. My next cast was about 2/3rds across stream and a bit up creek. I gave a slight mend, to get the streamer to drop deeper, and followed the fly line drift with my rod tip. My next cast was a couple of yards from the far bank. The water looked a little discolored as if it was just a bit deeper. After the streamer fell across creek I gave it a good mend and let it swing. I don’t think it swung more than a couple of feet when the line pulled quickly. I reared back on the fiberglass rod. The line straightened out in front of me as the ‘glass’ bent into the middle instantly with the straining force of the hooked steelhead rushing up creek. With the force and arcing of the rod I knew this was a good fish. Line peeled off the spool and after he got so far I palmed the spool for more tension. After a few more yards he slowed enough I was able to tighten the drag for more tension. He turned, and keeping his distance, headed back down creek. He surfaced twice with wrenching head shakes before he stopped down creek for a short breather. I tightened the drag a little more as the ‘glass’ rod arced into half of the lower section. I could feel the weightiness in my wrists trying to keep the rod vertical to the water as the steelhead, with the current flow, pulled on the line. After a few wild head shakes he sprinted midstream and started more of a hand to hand combat. He tested my stamina and agility, to keep the rod bent and tensioned, with his quick darts and pausing thwarts. As he got nearer to the bank he splashed in the shallow water trying to escape but I turned him back towards me with each attempt. 

 After fishing our way up creek we came to the end of the line. (The shortest way back to the truck.) It was about 1:00 and most of the fishermen had left with only a few were about the stream. Donny was on the ledge of the RR tunnel helping an older gent out by the time I got up towards him. The sun was bright and with warmth. Just out from the shadow from the RR tunnel I saw 2 oblong shapes near the far bank. I have fished this area before and knew this was a good staging spot for the steelhead and figured there should be more. While down creek fishing I knew no one had been fishing this spot for sometime. I also figured the steelhead shouldn’t be too skittish as long as I don’t cast on top of their heads. The current was moving just slowly enough that I didn’t need to add weight to my streamer. With enough room behind me for a back cast I laid out a smooth straight line about 3 feet up from the fish. The streamer fell with little splash. I quickly glanced at the oblong shapes and they didn’t appear to spook. 
 I watched the long length of line as it slowly flowed with the current. The tip of the fly line just dipped slightly, as if a steelhead sucked it in from its stationary position. I just knew it was a take. I ripped back the rod and line and watched the water churn in an instant. The fish raced up creek, turned near the surface, and dropped beneath again. I held on while slowly backing up towards the bank as line peeled off the spool. It surfaced again, half out of the water throwing its head back and forth trying to lose the hook. I could feel the ’glass’ rod vibrate with the thwarting action of the steelhead. Water splashed about with its twisting body and, without freeing itself, dove beneath again. After that encounter I knew I had a good deep hook set. With no one around I had plenty of room to tire him out without horsing the issue.

  After the release I lit up a Connecticut Yankee Churchill letting the water settle from the commotion. I began to fish the same pattern casting out near the far bank and letting it drift. I noticed the fish I had seen earlier were gone but I had a feeling that a few might still be around.
 I made a long cast against the far wall and mended the fly line up creek. The belly of the fly line drifted downstream and I watched it intensely. Though I knew the tail out was shallower I let the streamer drift down anyhow in the shin deep water. Just before I took line in I felt a subtle bump but I figured I hit bottom but….
 My very next drift through, with the same amount of line out, I let the streamer again drift into the shin deep water. Before the streamer drifted down too far I twitched the rod tip to give the streamer more action and to make sure it wasn’t going to hit bottom. Seeing the fly line slack and then tighten instantly my instincts took over and I yanked back on the rod. The line rose from the water in a tight straight line and the head of the steelhead emerged with head tugging force. The Wonderod arced in that familiar deep bend of a heavy fish. The once calm water was now an eruption of waves spiraling out of control. He too came to hand after a good battle.

Just after that I missed one up creek on the swing. The slack in the line stopped briefly but I must have had too much line out to get a tight penetration also the grab was up stream. The next time he swiped at it I was ready for him. With a quick pull of the fly line and a full length pull of the rod I got the deep penetration I needed. This one was more active with quick sprints, thwarts and head shakes. She took a little longer to calm down and once I got her near enough I could tell why. She looked fresher with silvery sides and not much color, besides chrome!

After a slow morning I had just caught three steelhead within a half hour. Before Donny and I called it quits I had hooked up a couple more times and missed 1 in the same area. One of the ones I caught was on a nymph.

 We went back to Donny’s house and I put my gear in my van. After the good-byes there was still plenty of daylight before heading back home. I decided to fish upper Elk near the interstate.

 Driving down the road the parking area was full of vehicles but I found one spot large enough to back my van in. I took my steamers, and a few other things, out of my sling pack and put them in my coat pocket.
 Down below the bridge there was a crowd of fisher people fishing in the big deep hole. Without much current they looked more like they were carp, catfish or sucker fishing with bait than steelhead fishing. The water was much shallower up here but had a good flow and a few deep pockets in the shallows. I slowly casted out and fished the shallows and pocket water on my way down creek. I met up with two other fishermen. In conversation they said there weren’t hardly any fish down creek. I lit a cigar as I looked down creek as the fishermen walked upstream. I picked spots and casted to them getting the streamer down practically bumping the bottom.
 In a riffling narrow run I cast up creek and held the rod horizontal with the water. Letting the streamer drop deep I veered it to a dark looking ledge of slate that ran along the narrow stretch. The line stopped and I yanked upward. I wasn’t sure if it was a bottom snag or not but when it tugged back I knew it wasn’t a snag. The steelhead went rushing down creek with the current into the wider part of the creek. We fought to and fro for a time before I was able to get him in the calmer water and up on the bank.

 After that I fished down creek a piece without another take. I took my time walking up creek trying to spot steelhead. Shadows were cast upon the water by the setting sun so it was hard to spot any. Back at the bridge I fished a short bit, avoiding those that were left, before calling it quits.
 At the van I changed clothes and headed to the interstate. The Wonderod did real well on the fresh steelhead and it sure was enjoyable playing the steelhead with it!


Donny is a guide for Lake Erie  steelhead and charters for walleye and perch. You can check his sight out here.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Steelhead on Elk With Friends

Steelhead on Elk With Friends

  During the Project Healing Water Steelhead Slam, that I was a volunteer on Saturday, I hardly fished at all as I guided Veterans to fish. I did get out the last hour of daylight. A friend put me on fish and I did catch a couple before nightfall.
 Sunday was a whole ‘nother ballgame. I had all day before heading home and got to fish with a couple of friends I had never steelhead fished with before. Both of these guys have fished steelhead a lot longer than I have and know the creeks well. MJ lives in the area so tagging along with him later on in the morning was good knowledge of the area. Both used spinning/noodle rods using bait and hardware as I used my 7 weight fly rod and mostly streamers
 Jerry and I were on the creek as daylight broke. I was drifting and working a Triple Threat streamer along a narrow run while Jerry was using skein or egg patterns just down creek from me. I scored first with a nice male that tested my knots, tippet and reel drag. In the narrow channel he tugged, head shook, sprinted and played himself out trying to get free. It was like trying to control a wild dog on a short leash in a narrow hallway. It wasn’t long after I let this one go Jerry scored with a nice size male also, on an egg pattern.

 About 10:00 Jerry said he was going to head out soon. By chance MJ showed up. MJ and I had talked about steelhead fishing together for some time just never been able to meet up. Since Jerry was leaving this seemed to be a golden opportunity and I accepted his invitation to join him.
 He was wearing a backpack that looked like a hikers daypack filled with enough gear for the day. He told me he was headed down stream in hopes of finding some steelhead that weren’t being harassed by other fishermen.
 The water was clear so seeing the steelhead wasn’t going to be a problem. As we walked down stream we met up with plenty of other fishermen. I seemed around every bend there were groups of fishermen and women crowded around the bigger holes where steelhead were staging. Along the straight sections there weren’t any steelhead we could see so we continued to walk. Again bend after bend more fishermen appeared. I was beginning to think that I should had brought a day pack myself because it looked as though we were going to be pretty far down creek before we found any steelhead to fish too and it was going to be a long walk back.
 We finally got to a shallow water fall that I noticed steelhead were gathered near the far bank. MJ was trying to conjure up a steelhead in a deep pool up creek but when he looked down my way I motioned for him to come down. He had a newly built custom noodle rod he wanted to put a bend in it so he was pretty anxious to get one hooked up. He stood above the steelhead and cast down creek as I was making long casts across creek. I hooked up first with a frisky steelhead that took me for a good ride in the open water. We battled it out and it seemed I was never going to tire this guy out. Eventually I got him to the bank.

 It wasn’t long after that MJ got a hold of one and I got to watch him bring the steelhead to the bank on his custom rod.

 Here’s a few more catches that stick in my mind.
 My cast was across creek beyond the oblong figures of fish that held this side of a slate ledge. The slow current on that side of the creek was actually flowing in the opposite direction of the main body of water. Even the fish were facing downstream below a shallow ledge that ran the width of the creek to a few yards downstream near the far bank. There was no way to properly mend the length of fly line consistently for a long drag free drift with the cross currents and back flow.
 The mid section of my fly line slowly drifted downstream as my streamer moved up towards the creek ledge in a little faster current flow. Watching the fly line I seen how the line arced enough to know the steamer was now drifting down creek slowly. The line suddenly pulled towards the opposite bank and I set the hook. By the tugs, force and jarring I felt upon the rod and within my grip I knew I had a weighty steelhead on before I even seen him. Mid creek he cane up to the surface. He thrashed his head back and forth like a pit bull trying to shake the stuffing out of a toy animal. He dove beneath and took off down creek as a wake followed. We battled it out and in time I slowly began to gain more control and got him closer. He made one last attempt to escape once he felt the stony creek bottom on his belly. I let some line pull out of the tightened drag. Arcing the rod down creek he came around towards the bank shallows again. I arced the rod towards land and soon I had him where I could get a hold of him.

 There had been a guy fishing just down creek from us for some time. There was splashing occasionally from fish chasing each other I suspect so I knew he was fishing to these steelhead. I wasn’t sure how deep the water was but I didn’t think it was too deep being I was able to see waves on the surface now and than for no other apparent reason. The fellow fishing that area went to the bank and eventually went back into the wooded area, behind him, to do some business. I turned and faced down creek and started to make very long casts towards the active fish locations.
 I shot the double taper line down and somewhat outward towards mid stream. The current was slow so I didn’t let the streamer swing too much without stripping it in enough to keep it from hitting the bottom. Once the streamer got about the end of the swing I slowly started to drift it back towards me with slow strips. The current was so slow that in between my strips the length of line, between me and the streamer, would droop before my next strip towards me. I was watching for my streamer as two steelhead casually swam up creek within my vision. I noticed one with his mouth open and something white was very evident in the side of its mouth. I quickly stripped in as much line as I could with one long stretching pull with my left hand and brought the rod up with force with my right. I seen the head of the steelhead jerk upward and felt the hook setting resistance. “Fish On!”
 I laughed as I tried to explain to MJ how I hooked this steelhead. He gave me a good fighting battle before I was able to get him to the bank. The opposite side of his jaw, from where I hooked him, appeared damaged by maybe a lure. It didn’t look as though he was able to close his mouth. Either way he must have been hungry because he took my offering while swimming up creek.

  I was bringing my line in for a roll cast when I saw a steelhead following my streamer as it came towards me. I was near the bank on a slab of slate rock with plenty of water in front of me before the slab suddenly dropped off into deeper water. I was surprised by the chase and was already in the motion of roll casting the streamer. I quickly dropped the rod horizontal and pulled the streamer over the shallower water above the slate like a fleeing minnow. The steelhead got to the edge of the slate rock and stopped. It turned up creek and held still as if waiting for the next minnow to come near. He was a bit up creek from me a little over a 9’ rod length away. I tried to be inconspicuous as I took line in till only a foot or so of the fly line exited the tip top. I looped the streamer out and as soon as it started to sink the steelhead swam and tried to suck it in but missed and the streamer grazed the side of its gill. I kept moving the streamer in the water extending my arm to keep it in the deeper section beyond the ledge. The steelhead grabbed it twice before I was able to heave back and get the hook to find his jaw. Again I laughed out loud and told MJ how I achieved in getting this steelhead to bite. This steelhead wasn’t too anxious to come in. I had to keep an eye on his location, as I got him nearer, so my leader wouldn’t scrape against the slate ledge. I did get to bring this one in safely. 

  MJ had caught a couple more before he said he had to leave. This left me alone. The guy down creek was still fishing. I moved into MJ’s spot for a bit and fished for about another hour before heading back up creek.
 As I fished my way up creek the sun threw shadows down across the creek from the trees and hillside. There were very few other fishermen about by this time. I fished areas I remembered people were fishing as we walked down creek earlier. Though I couldn’t see the steelhead I knew they were in the pools and spent a little extra time there. Most of the pools the fish were still skittish but I did manage a few on my way back to the van.

 I got to my van about 4:30. I was hungry and pretty well tuckered out. I took my time changing clothes and putting my rod and gear away. I took a long swig of a bottle of water and put it up front. In the drivers seat I ate the last remains from a blueberry muffin I had for breakfast and swallowed the last sip that was left in my coffee mug. I slid a bag of peanuts next to the captain’s chair and backed up in the parking area. I shifted into drive and pulled out onto the roadway eating peanuts and drinking water.
 Somewhere along I79 I rinsed my mouth out and took out a Brick House Churchill. I wet the outer tobacco savoring the fresh outer leaf. I nipped off a small portion of the cap and made sure I would have a good draw before lighting it up.
 Bob Seger sung ‘Turn the Page’ as I headed on down the highway towards home. As the ash grew longer the evening grew darker. It was a rewarding weekend!




Thursday, November 12, 2015

Steelhead Slam 2015

 Steelhead Slam 2015

 This past Saturday I attended the Steelhead Slam in Erie Pa. I was a volunteer that guided Veterans for steelhead fishing through Project Healing Waters. There were 30 veterans and around 30 some volunteers who guided the Vets or helped out during the event.
 The water was low and clear so catching wasn’t at its best. There weren’t many steelhead near the event locations so some of the volunteers drove some of the Vets to more productive waters on the creek. The get together was held along Elk Creek at a pavilion free of charge by the private owner. The event was catered for free by a local caterer. There were plenty of prizes and gifts for the Veterans donated by local businesses and groups. It was a wonderful time and get together.
 This was the second time this year I had the opportunity to help out. I also had guided Veterans trout fishing and steelhead fishing during other events in the past couple of years.
 Here are a few pictures I was able to obtain during the event.

All Veterans got a gift bag filled with goodies.
A Vet helping his son catch his first steelhead

These following photo's were taken and donated to this sight by Zach Wilczynski