Early Christmas Steelhead
The fly rod arced like a candy cane as I got the steelhead nearing me. Then all of a sudden she turned and dashed away like a deer on the run. My wrists were locked and I had a death grip on the cork handle like the grip one would have on the cross bar of a roller coaster car ready to descend down the fist steep hill and into the first banked turn…
I usually go up to Erie on Christmas for some steelhead fishing. It’s usually void of crowds and being I’m alone on Christmas it passes the time. Since I’ve been unemployed for the past month and haven’t got out to fish I needed to and decided to take my Christmas steelhead fishing a couple days early.
I parked along the side of the road behind the only other truck there. It was already 39 degrees at 7:30am when I arrived. The weatherman projected in the 50’s later in the day but I still dressed as if it was going to be a foggy cold winters day. I assembled the 7 weight 9 footer and threaded the fly line and leader through the guides. I attached a Triple Threat to the 6 lb fluorocarbon tippet and attached the hook to the hook keeper. I made sure I had plenty cigars for the days journey and slung the sling pack of fly gear over my shoulder. It was going to be a long walk through the woods just to get to the creek but I was wide awake and excited to go fishing.
Snow crunched and small sticks kringled under my wading boots as I traveled down the path. A fox squirrel hurriedly climbed down a tree, along the ridge, and scurried away upon my approach. I continued on down the snowy trail following a posse of old boot tracks that had melted some and bulged at the outer imprint. There was a slight breeze that whisked through the trees now and then which caused weakened limbs to creak and groan under the circumstances. The closer I got to the unseen creek the greater the sounds of the rolling water over rocks became and the more excited I was getting.
I got to the bank and looked up and down the creek. There were shelves of surface ice that hugged bank side objects and laid upon dead pools of water. Within the water small chunks of ice clung to surface protruding boulders and on the shallow stones along the banks. The water was pretty much crystal clear and any oblong fishy looking object beneath would be quite noticeable even in the riffling ankle to knee deep wavy water. I crossed the creek carefully and my cleated boot soles kept me steady upon the stony creek bed. It wasn’t long before my feet up to my knees began to feel the coldness of the water. I slowly, where I could, waded down the bank side peering into the water looking for those oblong fish shapes. It took some time and a long walk before I came across a couple of steelhead, as if cooling off, looking upstream in the middle of a run. Upon seeing me they darted under an ice shelf that was frozen to a downed tree branch and the cliff side shale. I tried to coax them out by showing them an assortment of streamers and sucker spawn to no avail. I waded down creek a bit and crossed over to the far bank. In conscious effort I began to break the ice along the edge and up to the tree branches as far as I could reach in hopes of diminishing the steelheads hide out. After that I recrossed the creek and saw the two steelhead in the middle of the creek facing into the current. I was behind them now and they didn’t appear to be spooked or at least I was hoping not. I made a few casts, with the Triple Threart, into the current way ahead of them and swam it back towards me. On one of the casts one of the steelhead evidently liked what was coming towards him and took the minnow imitation. Upon the hook set I immediately pulled the rod towards the bank putting pressure on the fish so it wouldn’t turn towards and under the tree branch. It instantly turned down stream and passed me by rapidly heading down creek with the current. I lifted the rod high keeping tension on the steelhead. Down creek he gave a couple of head shakes as I seen him clearly from my position. He turned towards the cliff side with force and for some unknown reason he freed himself of the hook as the line went limp. Oh well! The other steelhead disappeared and I figured it took shelter under the ice that clung to the branches.
I turned downstream and continued my journey, peering into the water, slowly and cautiously where I was able. In the flat steady water I couldn’t see any steelhead for some time. Pretty far down creek I was slowly moving along the stony bank when all of a sudden I saw a dark shadow, within the water, disperse like a group of friends all of a sudden disperse the area from an unknown, silent but deadly fart. I backed up and stood still watching to see if they would return. Sure enough they came back. Apparently the chunk of ice that flowed over them caused them scare as I noticed this on occasion. I began to show them sparkling sucker spawn in different colors like displaying fashion jewelry while trying to get any young women in the group to pick one out for Christmas. To no avail, but still present, I backed up and walked up the bank a bit but within casting distance. I knotted on a Triple Threat and swung the streamer in front of them trying to coax one to take the attracting offering. Swimming the Triple in front of them it was too much of a temptation for one to bear and one moved forward from the group. She took it with a subtle but noticeable grab and I set the hook hard with confidence. The rod arced towards the fish, with a tight line, and momentarily we were as if waiting to take a still picture, before the steelhead knew it was hooked. It took off down into the middle of the stream of water and at the same time the other fish took off as if there was an explosion of some kind beneath them. My steelhead took to the far side and skirted the cliff edge before turning upstream and trying to hold steady in the current. I moved the rod towards the bank putting on some side pressure and she decided to battle it out in the deeper water with tugs and quick moving maneuvers like a downhill slalom skier. The hook up held tight and the pressure of the rod flex and reel drag finally tired the fish out and I got her close to the bank to land her.
Well, after that first landed steelhead it was time for a light up. I took an Undercrown Maduro from my coat pocket and unwrapped the cellophane wrapper. I took a good whiff of the outer wrapper and the dark tobacco had a nice mild/bold air to it. A bit smokey on the light up but the draw was smooth and tasteful. I had been so concerned with looking for steelhead that I didn’t take the time to really look around and enjoy my surroundings. As I puffed on the stogie I relaxed some and did just that.
By now the sun was casting it’s rays over the cliff on the far side of the creek. Dark shadows covered half the water surface before me and sparkled the wavy current like tiny lights blinking on a Christmas tree. Clusters of snow and icicles hung from the cliff shale like frozen fallen streams of water from the last thaw. Scraggly bare branches reached out over the edge as hazards to any high faulty casts. The sky was bright and a shade of cool blue with long streaks of clouds reminding me of the white cotton looking fabric attached to the bottom of Santa’s jacket and cuffs. A hawk screeched just above the tree tops maybe looking for a partridge in a bare tree. Smoke rose from my cigar and encircled my head like a wreath. I could feel the warmth from the sun now on my body as I stood on the bank but I also felt the chill, as if cold blood ran up through my veins and bones from my ice cold feet.
I peered into the water and the steelhead were no longer visible. I didn’t think they would go too far and thought maybe they had moved upstream in the faster current. I slowly walked up the stony bank and discovered the dark gray mass beneath the faster wavy current. Getting the streamers down in front of them, and keeping it there, was going to take a few extra split shots. I moved upstream and swung the Triple Threat in front of them. It took time to get enough weight on the leader to get the right depth in front of the steelhead. The problem was no fish were interested. I switched tactics and started to drift sucker spawn. This appeared to enrage them and they swam away in all directions like the aftermath of a brawl when the authorities show up. It was now going to appear we were going to play hide and seek. I took a few extra puffs on the stogie and counted to 10 before my search.
I slowly waded down creek, upon the stony bank, trying to discover where the steelhead disappeared to. As I went I casted out and let the streamers swing along the rock ledges underneath the water surface. After getting so far down creek, where the waterway widened and the shallower water began, I headed back up creek. The steelhead still hadn’t returned and I couldn’t find them anywhere. I walked upstream further to where I was able to cross the stream. There was a shallow ledge that water, on the far side of the deeper water break of water I had been fishing in. I slowly waded across the creek until I was just ahead of the small waterfalls. Looking downstream a steelhead spooked and darted off. I stood motionless and focused my vision where the shadow on the cliff met with the sun rays. There were steelhead just along the edge of the shadow as I was able to see their tails gently swaying behind. The water couldn’t have been more than calf deep but they were holding in a tight line within the juncture of the clear and shadowed waters.
I already had a Triple Threat on the end of the tippet. I took off a couple of split shots because of the shallower water I would be dealing with. An easy cast into the shadow near the cliff, I let the bait fish imitation swing into the seam. A couple of twitches to liven up my offering and I saw the line twitch and felt a hard tug. I reared the rod handle back, the rod arced good, the fish jerked the line, turned and the skirmish was on.
She bolted downstream with the current. I had the drag set a little on the lighter side so the spool spun wildly spitting line out towards the fleeing fish. I palmed the spool to put a little more drag on the line trying to slow the fish down. She turned eventually down creek and held up, with tugs, in the deeper bright water. The water was much calmer towards the cliff and it looked as if I could wade the water below the cliff without much problem. I was able to tighten the spool drag and then I carefully waded to my right towards the cliff bottom ledge. The steelhead was busy trying to figure out just how to undo himself struggling with head shakes and other antics fish just do. I continued down along the bank, holding the cork grip tight and rod high, feeling my way along the submerged ledges. The steelhead hadn’t moved much out of the position it was holding in so I slowly continued wading down along the ledge towards shallower water. Whether the steelhead finally saw me or decided she had rested long enough but she all of a sudden bolted upstream through the deeper water run. The rod arced in her direction and she finally gave in to the pressure and more calmly swam down creek. I reeled in some line and had her coming towards me. The fly rod arced like a candy cane as I got the steelhead nearing me. All of a sudden she turned and dashed away, dashed away, like a deer on the run. My wrists were locked and I had a death grip on the cork handle like the grip one would have on the cross bar of a roller coaster car ready to descend down the fist steep hill and around the first banked turn. She didn’t get too far before the pressure was too much and started to flop around in the water in front of me. I had enough room to swing the rod closer to the angling cliff side and reached down and tailed her with my glove net.
What a battle and nice looking steelhead.
I caught one more steelhead when I was back on the stony bank with another Triple Threat. The sun now was in full view and casting glare upon the crystal clear water. I spent a little more time fishing the area, without catching, before heading back upstream.
During the long walk up the creek I still looked for fish but none were visible. When I got to the downed tree, where I broke ice off earlier, I didn’t see any steelhead present. I offered a few of my streamers and sucker spawn in the deep water but it became useless. It got to be as boring as trying to find that one burnt out Christmas light that was making the whole set not to light up. I gave up after a few minutes or so and continued upstream.
Following the long path, through the woods up towards the truck, I came across some huge deer prints. They were so big I thought maybe some reindeer may have been in the area. I took my time as I went along and felt the strain I had put on my aging body. Walking up hill the rest of the way wasn’t any relief. I wasn’t complaining to myself as I knew this was going to come with age. My love of fishing still gets me excited and my body still can endure the physical aspects of each encounter. I’m love’n it and can’t wait to enjoy my next outing when such occasion arises.
Back at the truck I changed into more comfortable attire as the heater warmed the inside. I so much wanted a beer but I had over an hour and a half drive home. Getting up at 5:30 am, this morning, I wasn’t sure how the beer was going to effect me in the long run. Instead of taking the interstate I took a much unhurried way home. It was a bit longer in time but I relaxed with a dark Odyssey Maduro between my teeth and lips.