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.


1 comment:

  1. That's a heck of a day! I enjoyed an evening meal at the tavern myself while up there...good stuff!