Thursday, November 17, 2016

Are You Experienced?

Are You Experienced?

 The place was packed but they weren’t having any of it. It was as if I was an outsider at a local tavern and no one was paying attention to me. I tried almost everything I had to try to get some attention but hadn’t succeeded. Even the two out-or-towners, across from me, weren’t having any luck. I thought “maybe show them something different” or “maybe if I tease them enough I might get one to show me some gratitude.”  There had to be at least one steelhead in the bunch that would except my offering.

 I broke camp early Monday morning at first light. Packing everything in the PT Cruiser was time consuming but everything was put back in place for the drive home. So far my 4 day adventure steelhead fishing had gone well. I caught a few steelhead Friday and Saturday I joined in the Project Healing Waters Slam going on in the campground and along the Lake Erie Tributaries. I successfully got my veteran hooked up with some of his first steelhead. Sunday was a good day on the tributaries also. I figured on fishing this morning before heading home and packing up seemed to be a good idea before heading out. I knew I would get out on the stream a little later than I wanted to but I hoped there weren’t too many other anglers out being it was a Monday. Before leaving I dressed warm and put on my waders and wading boots to save time.
 I parked the loaded PT in the lot next to the creek. There were quite a few vehicles but not as many as the day before. I assembled my 9’ 7 weight fly rod and after fishing my line through the rod guides I was ready. I took a few cigars and a bottle of water for the day and headed up the road to where I wanted to enter the creek.
 Walking down creek there were anglers in the most likely holes as I expected. I was hoping to get in the same area I fished the day before but wasn’t sure till I turned the bend and took a glance downstream. Two gentlemen were along the bank trying there luck but there was no one on the opposite bank. The sun was already bright but there was still darkness half across the big pool of water and along the cliff side of the creek. Maybe other anglers hadn’t noticed the many fish in the pool and strung out in the tail end but I knew they were there yesterday and hoped they didn’t move upstream during the full moon lit night.
 I crossed the creek, upstream from the two fellows, and took my stand as I did the day before. It wasn’t long before we all carried on good friendly conversations between the three of us. One of the gentlemen was drifting nymphs and egg patterns while the other had a spinning rod and was drifting live and dead minnows in the pool.
 I rigged up a tandem sucker spawn combination and attempted to entice a strike of the many steelhead in the pool and tail out. I spent the first hour or so drifting tandem combinations of sucker spawn and nymph’s to no avail. The other two guys weren’t having any strikes either. I don’t give up too easily and always figured that there got to be one that can be fooled but so far the local steelhead appeared to be leery and too smart for us. It was time to show them something different.
 I knotted on a Woolly Bugger and decided to try to coax one of the steelhead with it. Using buggers or streamers in a pod of fish usually results in foul hookups which wasn’t what I wanted at all. I learned if I strip the buggers in slowly I’ll have less a chance to snag a fish. It is a delicate process and line control is a must. Knowing when a fish strikes the offering or just bumped along its side or fins is somewhat of a concern when and when not to set the hook. I found, through experience, a slow retrieve and the feel of the fly line tells me when I have a fair strike. It doesn’t always work when fish are moving around but it works better than making long fast straight strips causing deep hook sets and snagged fish.

 I casted out towards the other fellows and let the bugger swing down creek mid stream. With, slow inching strips, I brought the bugger towards me keeping a feel for a take and keeping my eyes in the water to see if any were following. Nearer to me I noticed a steelhead following it but turned off within my sight. This gave me a little more confidence and anticipation that just maybe?
 After a few more casts I watched the steelhead again take notice. On one such occasion, while the fish was following, I let the bugger drop but before hitting the creek bottom I raised the bugger back up. The marabou tail waggled and the steelhead swiped at it like it would at a wounded bait fish. I instantly yanked the rod up and the line tightened. I seen its head shake two or three times before it took off towards deeper water.
 “Fish on” I called out so the two gentlemen knew there was a wild one coming towards them. The battle was on! The steelhead ran wild in the pool of water like a nervous mother looking for a lost child in a large group of strangers. The steelhead surfaced a couple times and sent waves throughout the pool. I had a chance to tighten the drag and after doing so I began walking down creek trying to get the steelhead to follow. This way it would give the other guys a chance to continue fishing and would be easier to tame the fish in the shallow water. The fatty fish battled well but I kept control and got it safely to the bank.

 That broke the ice and gave me much needed confidence that these motionless steelhead were willing to strike if I had the right offering, movement of the bugger and making it too tempting for them to pass up. I caught one more unwise steelhead that put up a good forceful fight, before the fish decided enough was enough and aware the bugger was dangerous. I tried a couple of other color buggers but that didn’t work either. It was time to try something different again.
 I stepped back and gathered my thoughts. I lit a Brick House Fuma and looked around as the morning brightened. The suns rays were filtering through the bank-side trees , down creek,  and putting a sparkling glow where they reached the water. Smoke, from my fuma, rose from the foot and gently swirled in the air like the roof top chimney smoke in a winter calm.
 For the past few days I noticed quite a few steelhead were already paired up in the shallows. A friend, this weekend, felt some of the hens he had caught were spawned out by their soft bellies. If my experience tells me anything an egg sucking leech wouldn’t be a bad idea. Usually I don’t fish these till later on in the season but a fleeing egg sucking leech might fool a couple more fish.
  I looked through my bugger box and found a used, but still in good condition, egg sucking leech with an orange egg behind the eye of the hook. I knotted this on and gave it a try. Knowing I should strip the leech in longer strokes towards me, to act like it was fleeing a robbery, I moved down creek just a bit and worked the shallower back end of the tail out. It was on my first cast, with long strips towards me, that the line straightened and I set the hook. The steelhead shot up threw the surface and twisted its body in mid air trying to throw the hook. It plunged back into the water and without hesitation made haste up creek towards the deeper pool. The leader cut through the swirling water surface behind the fast fleeing fish. I held onto the cork grip and locked my wrists as the spool spit out line the further the fish darted. The fish continued through the pool further with lightening speed. The other guys evidently heard the surface commotion and had already taken their lines out of the water. At the head of the pool the steelhead whirled around, tugged at the line a couple of times, before heading back my way. I reeled in line into the mid arbor and kept the butt section upward as the mid section and tip section bowed towards the oncoming steel. I walked down creek into the shallows and the fish didn’t appear to want to do battle near me. It kept swimming in the shallowest water and I was afraid it was going to enter the faster current downstream. I brought the rod to my right and towards the bank to put side pressure on the fish. He appeared hesitant but turned back up creek. In front of me I struggled with the fish to get it along the stony shoreline and than up on the leafy bank.

  I unhooked the leech from the side of the mouth and he darted off back to join his friends.
 It wasn’t but a few casts later another steelhead took the leech in a sweeping take like a young kid swooping up a fresh baked cookie before mom turned her head as he headed out the screen door. I was in mid-sentence, telling the others what I was using, when the fish surprised me by the take. My cigar almost fell out from between my lips but luckily I bit down quick enough from letting that happen. Another lively steelhead reached the leaves safely. 

  After that there was a lull in the action and I figured I’d try a Triple Threat streamer. I knotted on one of my Ghost Patterns and let it swing towards the tail end into the shallows. I stripped it with long easy pulls, when a fish swept it up. Another battle and I had another steelhead. 

  For the rest of the afternoon I switched my offerings when the bite died down. The Woolly Bugger took most of the steelhead but all in all it was a challenge to get the fish to strike.

 Back at the car I changed clothes and I thought a reward for the successful weekend was well deserved. I took out a Fuente Double Chateau I had saved for such the occasion.

  The broad leaf wrapper was tasty and at full draw the flavor was smooth and very enjoyable!


A few more steelhead from Monday

 …And a few from Friday

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Steels of Autumn

The Steels of Autumn

  It was a chilly morn, in the upper 30’s, when I rose from my sleeping bag inside my tent. As I started heating water over the Colman stove, I dressed warmly for the day of steelhead fishing adventure. Being it was Sunday, I knew the Lake Erie Tributaries would be crowded with fishermen but I felt confident that I didn’t need to get out before daylight to find active fish. Many times early birds walk by fish as they trudge through the darkness hurrying to their spots that usually hold fish.
 The parking lot was almost filled to capacity when I entered but found an open space to park my PT Cruiser. I had already had my waders and boots on so all I had to do it put on my fishing jacket, sling pack and assemble the 9’ 7weight fly rod for a quick departure. With enough cigars and a bottle of water, I figured would hold me over till this evening.
 As I walked down stream the sun was slowly rising and the dimness of the morning started to brighten. Bare tree limbs were mixed in with the trees that had not yet let go of the autumn colored leaves. The water flowed clear enough that darkened steelhead were not hard to spot in the slower pools yet the lighter colored ones were a bit more hidden against the slate and stony bottom. The cool breeze was a sure wake-me-up for any tired souls that didn’t get a good night sleep. The ground was colored with fallen foliage and at times a bunch of leaves would flow down stream causing havoc for those fishing. Water dropped and splashed against the cliffs on steeper sides of the stream creating a pleasant sound and atmosphere to the whole experience.
 Sure enough there were anglers of all kinds crowding the deeper pools and some fishermen were spread out along the riffles hoping to score those steelhead holding in the shallower waters. I found a few fish, which others passed by, in a shallow run but couldn’t get any of them to strike my streamer. Down creek there were more anglers so I decided to turn back and a little apprehensive about not finding a pod of unmolested steelhead to fish over. On the side of the creek, less traveled, I came across some steelhead near my side of a long deep pool. Two fishermen were fishing from the opposite bank drifting their offering in the current that flowed to almost a standstill down stream. I took a stand and joined in from the opposite bank staying clear of their casts. As the morning brightened I saw many more steelhead holding in the open water. In conversation, with the two fishermen, they said they had each caught a couple of steelhead as well as accidentally snagging a couple at first light. I knotted on tandem sucker spawn and proceeded to catch my own.
 It is a very delicate and chancy way of fishing through a pod of big steelhead not wanting to snag one by accident. Slow drifts and easy pick ups of the line for the next roll cast has to be clean and easy not to snag one. Anything to quick could get the hook caught in a fin and the battle is frustrating trying to get the fish to the bank as well as possibly losing your offerings.
 After about an hour of drifting sucker spawn and nymphs I decided to go with what I like best and fish Woolly Buggers and streamers. This is also dangerous within a pod of fish not to snag one. With short tugging strips, as if jigging, is a safer way to keep from half hazardly foul hooking a fish.
 I casted out towards the other fellows and let the streamer slowly swing toward the middle of the stream. Short strips caused a little more action of my streamer. The line straightened and I yanked back the rod tip. The line tightened and the steelhead pulled away as the rod flexed towards the caught steelhead. I called out, loud enough for the others to hear, ‘fish on’ and they both took in their lines quickly not to get caught up with my tight line.
 The fish darted about in the pool of water and it was easy to see it was a fair hook up by the way the steelhead shook its head with forcing tugs. I keep a lighter drag while fishing but as the steelhead tires I tighten the drag when the fish gives me time. I walked down the bank trying to get the fish to follow so the other fishermen can again fish the pool while I fight the fish downstream. It’s not easy getting the big steelhead to follow though. In the shallower water I was able to get him near the bank and finally get him to shore safely. 10:30 I had my first steelhead of the day caught on one of my olive Woolly Buggers. 

  That’s the way it went through out the day. Most of the steelhead I caught was on streamers though I did resort to sucker spawn and nymphs on occasion. There were some snagged fish that went along with the fair catches but that happens. The other two guys connected now and than but it wasn’t one after another as far as what we would have liked.

 Other fishermen passed by in both directions as we fished the pool. Every once in awhile one angler would stop and fish the tail end to no avail and move on.
 In the afternoon it warmed up enough to make it a bit more comfortable. I’d take out a stogie now and then and enjoyed the smoke as I continued trying to score. I found that the fish at the tail end were less cautious. Though they were in shallower water I kept myself far enough ahead of them not to be spooked by my presence.
 My cast was towards the far bank and I let the Woolly Bugger swing to the steelhead mid creek. I wasn’t able to see them but I knew they were they there. A couple of twitches, of the rod tip, livened the bugger and again I would strip in with short quick tugs of the line. My line swept away and straightened. I set the hook hard and again the rod flexed with a hooked fish. I tightened my grip on the cork and played the aggressive fish as it fought recklessly in the water. Every time it leaped into the air I was hopeful that it didn’t throw the hook.
With skill I learned, from many fights with these brutes, I safely got them to the bank.

  Around 3:00 I was ready to move upstream as the steelhead weren’t cooperating as before. Up creek I saw swirls of fish playing near the far bank of a deeper pool. There was a couple of angler’s fish up a bit casting to other fish in front of them. To get to the fish it would take a long cast because a roll cast wasn't going to get to the fish for me. There were trees and an uproot behind me so I had to be careful of my back cast. I learned, some time ago, to perform a long cast without back casting behind me. One thing to remember is where you point the rod tip, at the end of your forward cast, the fly line and leader will follow. It’s not the most accurate way to get your offering to a specific point but it’s the only way to get it in the general area.
 I let out line as I performed my false cast left to right above the flow of the water. With a short swing of the rod tip above me, I swept the rod tip forward and dropped the tip of the rod and pointed it towards my target. The fly line arced in the air and shot forward in a loop. The tapered leader followed and the bugger flew through the air on target towards the swirling fish. Just shy of a clump of leaves, held there by a cluster of exposed branches, the bugger plopped in the water. This was all in a back eddy where the fish were mostly faced in the opposite direction of the main flow of water. I knew I had to strip in a little quicker to keep from getting hung up on the bottom so I couldn’t let the heavy weighted bugger dead drift in a swing like I usually do before stripping towards me. The arc of the line stopped flowing down creek and I suddenly stripped in line, to take up the slack, while lifting the rod for the hook set. The line took off up stream and I called out to let the guy upstream know I had a fish on. The fish leaped out of the water with the fly line still cutting through the surface. It splashed, upon reentering the water and continued up creek for a short jaunt. Suddenly it turned towards us and swam quickly towards me. I backed up some while cranking the mid-arbor reel as fast as I could but not fast enough to keep the line tight. Even the guy up creek questioned me if the steelhead got off? Still taking in line I saw the big steelhead pass before me heading downstream still shaking his head. I knew I had a good hook set and the fish was still hooked. I assured the guy that the fish was still on and when the line tightened again I’m sure assured him I was right.
 Down creek he fussed and forced himself back across creek into the shallower water. This guy wasn’t going to give up easily but he was in control so all I had to hope for was that the hook wasn’t going to let loose. He surfaced again upstream with a second or two of splashing before going deep mid stream. I could feel my forearms tightened straining to keep the rod upright as it bowed in the middle of the shaft. Down creek it gave a thrusting head jerk that sent waves upon the surface. Once again it headed up creek and I had let line out of the reel palming the spool adding pressure when needed. He turned down creek once more but with less aggressiveness and I knew it was time for me to take more control. With added pressure I forced him to fight in front of me not giving him too much line to head in either direction. Backing up, while reeling in, I got him close to the bank. From there I swung around him, with the rod well bent, and pushed him on to the bank.

 I found the bugger hook was embedded just inside of his mouth so it was pretty evident this is why I was able to fight the strong fish without him throwing the hook. With a quick twist and pull the hook came undone and the fish swam away without any harm.
 This is the fight I always dream of each day I go steelhead fishing. A good long forceful battle that I win out and land such a fish. I caught another steelhead, much smaller, before heading up creek to my exit point as the sun lowered behind the tees.
 In the shade of the cliff and trees there was no way to see the fish that were once spotted during bright daylight. The swirls in the shallow tail out were a sure sign fish were moving around. With a cliff of rock and slate behind me I followed the flow of the stream with my false casts and shot the line out towards the far bank. I let the bugger dead drift with the flow till the line straightened mid creek down stream. With a couple of twitches a fish pulled away with the line to follow. I yanked the hook set and I was again fighting yet another unsuspecting steelhead. She didn’t put up a battle like the one previous mentioned but she put up a head tugging, surface splashing forceful fight no less.

This was the last fish of the day. I headed up the rocky bank towards the road and walked along the roadway to the car. It turned out to be another good day with enough steel to keep me entertained. At the car I changed clothes and my next stop was for wings and ribs combo with a couple of cold drafts at the Avonia Tavern.


Project Healing Waters 2016 Lake Erie Tributaries, PA.

 I had the opportunity and privileged to be a part of Project Healing Waters again this year to guide a Veteran for his first steelhead experience. This event happens every year and put together by Skip Hughes, Pennsylvania Regional Coordinator, and his staff.  In all there were around 30 Vets who participated from New York, Pennsylvania and even as far south as West Virginia on the Lake Erie tributaries. With enough volunteers to guide and help out these war veterans, it turned out to be a joyous time for them. Many thanks to Jim at Foley's End Campground, in Girard , PA., for letting us hold this event on his grounds. 

 We had stream access to ourselves thanks to the land owners of private waters. Many gifts and prizes were donated by a lot of interested businesses as well as gifts donated by special individuals. The whole event was catered with BBQ chicken, ribs and all the fixings.

    Lazar engraved to a lucky Marine

 I had the pleasure of guiding for a Vet, Dave, from West Virginia. Having never fished for steelhead it was a great experience to put him on fish. It took a little while for him to land his first one but he accomplished his dream. Here are a few of the Photo's of Dave and his experience.

 Pictures are worth a thousand words so no story needs to be told otherwise. Emotions and joy are seen in the following pictures of the other vets and guides who participated in the event.

 Thanks to all veterans for fighting for our country and to make the U.S. of A. the greatest country on earth.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Fresh Steel

 Fresh Steel

We watched in awe as the steelhead went air-born for the third time trying to shake the hook. Its chrome sides reflected the available light from the early rising sun. I was relieved when the fish dropped below the surface that the line tightened again and the struggle continued between me and the fresh steelhead.

  Early in the season the steelhead are wild with energy and antics when they enter the Lake Erie tributaries for their seasonal run. You never know how long you’ll be fighting one till it gets close enough to net or land. On the other hand there’s a better chance of it becoming unhooked in the meantime. 6lb test doesn’t always hold up with their mighty force and the abrasive rocks and slate shelves aren’t kind to nylon leader or tippets. Fluorocarbon is a lot more abrasive resistance but even so doesn’t always prevail with the radical fresh steelhead. On Monday morning Donny and I fished the lower section of Walnut Creek. I found that the 6lb tippet wasn’t a good choice.
 The morning was cold with an occasional shower. We secured our spot, among the other early bird fishermen, in the dim of a flashlight. Anticipation mounted waiting for enough light to see where I would be casting or to see indicators of the other fishermen. Donny selected the lower section of Walnut with good reason. With the recent rains the tributaries where still muddy and stained. Walnut clears a little quicker than the bigger tributaries so we were hoping to have a chance of hooking up to some fresh steelhead even though we’d be competing with a conglomerate of other anglers.
 As the morning lightened I found the flowing water was still well stained. The outlook looked slim but Donny assured me we were in a good spot for any steelhead wanting to head up creek. We were stationed just below a tail out, of the faster current that opened up to a bigger pool of water. There was a crease of slower current in between the slightly quicker flow that would drift my offering slowly for a deep fish to get an eyeball on it easier. With the 9’ fly rod I was able to stretch it over a riffle of water just in front of me and keep a drag free drift of my offering. Until it got light enough for me to knot on a tandem rig of sucker spawn I drifted a streamer in the flow. With others attempting to attract a bite, cross creek, there wasn’t much room for my streamer to sweep down creek very far for fear of tangling with others. I drifted the streamers under an indicator to let others know where my line was.
 It was slow going in the first half hour of daylight. Donny foul hooked a couple steelhead, unintentionally in the mud stained water, but it boosted my confidence that the steelhead were there. I knotted on a tandem rig of sucker spawn and continued to try to find a hungry steelhead. It wasn’t long I had my first hook up. The steelhead tugged and head shook the line like a mutt trying to tear apart a rawhide bone. I gripped the full well cork handle tightly trying to keep the rod high as the struggle continued. The line finally snapped after a quick turn and tug of the fish and my first hook up was lost. I lost one more before I decided to knot on a section of 8lb fluorocarbon to the 4x tapered leader.

 My cast was up creek a bit and by the time the sucker spawn drifted in front of me I was pretty sure it was near bottom. The indicator dipped below the surface and with a healthy yank, the line tightened and ’fish on.’ She scrambled beneath, with head shakes, before taking off with speed down creek. A quick leap into the air caught everyone’s attention and the nearer fishermen took in their lines and watched the performance. The fresh steelhead shook, tugged and darted every which way but loose. I held my position maneuvering the rod with its antics. Finally it tired and I landed it along shore down creek.  

As morning went on hook ups were spotty but enough to keep me and the other fishermen entertained. Donny and I either had the best drifts or just the right combination of offerings that we were the main spotlight for some time. Some fish got loose as soon as the line tightened while others got away with a hard battle. Every once in a while Donny and I got quite a few landed after a good fight. 

 Being that we were doing well with the hook ups people started to draw nearer to fish closer to us. Their casts, of their indicators, were right in front of us and drifting down creek in front of them. They followed in order though as if synchronized nymph fishing. There were very few line snags among us and everyone was pretty considerate considering the many of us that were fishing the area.

 Occasionally a fresh steelhead would capture everyone’s attention with the steels acrobatic skills. There were times the fish would dart right at me and I would hurriedly have to back up, reeling in as quickly as possible, trying to keep the line taut. Than all of a sudden the fish would about face and sprint towards the middle of the creek in haste. The reel would rotate rapidly with the drag giving way to the pressure. Even though fish got loose it’s the fight that I always look forward to. Than again landing a fresh steelhead is always a rewarding accomplishment.

Towards noon I found pink sucker spawn with my own gold nugget sucker spawn dropper was the most successful offering for me. The water was clearing a bit and I think the fish had better clarity below. With the crowd of people to come, when the rain quit and the clouds brightened, there wasn’t a chance I was moving.

 It was another good drift as I anticipated another strike. The indicator pulled swiftly away and I pulled back on the rod and set the hook. The steelhead took off across creek and I called out fish on as the rod bowed towards its direction of escape attempt. The wake of the fish let the guys on the other side of the creek know that the fish was coming towards them and they brought in lines with some stepping back out of its path. It turned downstream and towards mid creek when it exploded out from the surface water. Its chrome side glittered in wetness as water sprayed about before it returned to the water. I was able to see it took my top pink offering while it was air born. Back beneath it took a round about way as if parading itself in front of all the ankle deep fishermen. It streamlined up through the fast current in front of Donny where there it paused. I reeled in the slack line, caused by the burst of up creek speed, and than put rod pressure trying to force the steelhead towards shore. It was a moment or so when it gave in and turned towards me and swam down creek. I kept good leverage on the rod and swung the fish between me and the bank where I was able to land and control it. 

 It was if I never wanted the fun to end. There were times as if the fish were on the move and quite a few people would hook up within a few minutes. Other times there were long pauses between hook ups. That’s when I was relaxed and enjoyed my cigar more than the drift.

 I had reservations for a tent sight at a camp ground and wanted to get things set up for the rest of the week. The hook ups were getting scarce among us and I decided it was time to head out. Donny headed up creek for more action as I waded down creek and across the riffles towards the road. Looking back a couple of fishermen immediately took our spots.
 It was about 3:00 when I got to my PT Cruiser and headed south.

 After checking in the campground I found my site and proceeded to empty the stuffed PT Cruiser of camping gear. I pitched the tent on the fall foliage leaves, aired up the air mattress and threw my sleeping bags and blankets inside. After organizing the rest of my camping equipment I lit some coals, in the fire ring, and proceeded to cook dinner. Once the coals got completely hot I laid out the marinated venison butterfly steaks on the grate and let it cook over the open coals.

 Dinner was relaxing with another cold beer, venison and a side of buttered peas.

 The peace and quietness, of my site, was well satisfying away from the other campers. I finished the evening off with a Torano Noventa 90 torpedo before calling it a day and snuggling in for the chilly night.