Monday, March 25, 2019

White Death

   I stood in shin deep water. My legs were uncomfortably cold up to my knees as if I just stepped out of a pool of ice. I had my fleece pull-over zipped up over my neck to fight of the brisk breeze. I had been fishing for hours under the hazy sky and chilly morning. The afternoon never appeared to warm up any. The sun hardly gave any warmth when it did shine upon me and those who took advantage of the good water conditions and near 50 degree estimated weather report by the local news team.
I stood just out from the upstream point of a small grassy and stone covered island. Behind me the shallow water flowed harmlessly against the bank and under small overhanging branches. In front and down from me is a good narrow run with enough depth that a trout or two could be holding waiting for some kind of food to drift by. The water conditions are a bit clear but not clear enough to see trout laying on the creek bed. With the rippling surface current the trout might not be able to distinguish me upstream from them.

 My go to streamer, when I’m wading down a creek searching for trout, is an olive Woolly Bugger. I can cover a lot more territory at a quicker pace than a nymph fishermen. Also, many times I’ll pick up a trout or two in shallow pocket waters that a nymph fishermen would be hard to nymph without constant snags. During the spring months I find that some kind of white streamer, most of the time, attracts trout more than my olive ones. I remover the Olive bugger and attach the White Death Zonker to the Fas-Snap and add weight to the leader to get the streamer down in the water column.
I discovered the White Death Zonker in a steelhead article. It’s a simple pattern with a rabbit Zonker strip. The rear of the strip is knotted down with orange thread at the bend leaving a tail of the rabbit strip. The rest of the rabbit is laid over a body of Mylar tubing and tied down under a black thread head. You can weight the hook shank with lead wire before installing the Mylar tubing over the shank. Dead drifting, under a sucker spawn or egg pattern, is suppose to imitate a helpless bait fish drifting with the undercurrent. Though I can’t admit I ever caught a steelhead with one I was hopeful a trout might be curious enough to grab it.

 I cast towards the far side into the calm shallows and let the Zonker swing beneath the rippling surface. After the swing I begin to slowly strip the Zonker towards me with stop and go motion beneath the faster wavy current directly down from me. Somewhere beneath I feel a bump through the line. This raised my suspicion that there might be a trout lurking beneath though it could have been my streamer bumping a rock or such.
  My next cast was the same as before with the same amount of line out. This time after the swing I brought the rod towards the island and slowly stripped the Zonker in the seam between the island and the faster wavy current. The line tightened and the 4 weight fast action rod arced to the butt section. I held the cork grip tight and though I felt the force of the take may have been enough to set the hook I gave a slight jolt back on the line to be sure. The trout scooted to the far bank and I had to let tension line slip between my pinched fingers not wanting to put too much stress on the 4x tippet. He tugged and swam about in the oncoming current as I kept the rod horizontal to the surface water and letting him use up energy. I pulled the rod up creek, after a bit, and he followed reluctantly with halfheartedly pulls and head shakes. Once upstream from me I had my net ready and backed him into it. He semi-folded in the net and angrily flipped and flopped inside, well, like a fish out of water. I followed the tippet with my fingers and found the White Death hooked into its lower jaw. With a quick down and upward twist the hook popped out. He darted off through the opening when I dipped the net in the water. 

  I checked the White Death Zonker for any damage or distortions. All looked fine and the thread wraps held up nicely.
  I took line out of the reel and started casting in the same manner as before. With each cast I let a little more line out to swing and drift down creek further. I was bringing the Zonker back towards me through the middle of the channel. The undercurrent and waves weren’t as forceful as near the island. I felt a sharp straight tug and my reaction was quick and instinctively. I pulled back on the fly line and rod and again the rod arced to the butt section. I knew I had another large trout on the other end. This one was more frisky and more energetic. He pulled, darted and changed directions more erratically. When it tried to surface I brought the rod towards the water not wanting him to surface into the forceful oncoming current. I had the rod in a big arc pointing towards him and slowly reeled in line when he gave me the opportunity. With the butt section in my gut and the way the 4 weight was arcing, if anyone was watching might have thought I had a whale at the other end. What made it look so extreme was that I was fighting the large fish in a fast undercurrent. I finally got the fish upstream and pulled my net out from behind me. He shot across the creek upstream a little more and I left go of the net, that was hooked to my belt, and quickly took hold of the line that was peeling off the reel. With a bit more tension on the line he turned and came towards me as I lifted the rod. With one finger gingerly pinching the fly line I started to reel in line till the fish settled down a bit that I was able to pick up the net without fear of another escape attempt. I scooped up the large rainbow and felt pretty good netting this frisky trout through the strong current and into the net safely.

 After getting the hook unstuck from his upper jaw I released him unharmed.
  Well that definitely deserved another cigar. I reached into my inside vest pocket and took out a maduro fuma churchill and lit it up.
  I fished the channel a bit longer but didn’t get any other strikes so I continued on down creek. I hooked up and missed a couple more trout on a small stonefly nymph and olive hares ear in a deeper stretch with a few other fishermen nymph fishing from the opposite bank. After a couple of the guys left one last fisherman and I talked as we both stuck around trying catch more trout. It was getting late in the day by now and I was getting a bit hungry. Besides that I was feeling a bit more colder throughout my body and decided to call it a day.
Back at the truck I packed up. I ate a granola bar and rinsed my mouth out before lighting up an Alec Bradley Prensado for the ride home.


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Three B's on Glass

Three B’s on Glass

  The temperature read 50 degrees when I pulled along the creek. It was a bit chillier when I stepped outside than what it looked like through the truck window. The shade of the trees and the colder breeze let me know there was still a bit of winter in the air. As I put together the 7’ two piece Wonderod I listened to the riffling of water in the distant creek. I also glanced and heard the lifeless leaves skitter and rustle across the ground with the gusts of wind and sounding like the crinkling of closing a brown bag lunch. I attached the old Classic Martin reel to the rear locking reel seat of the rod and threaded the mustard color Cortland Sylk line through the small eyes on the blank. Having fished this small creek before streamers have been the most effective. With the shallow areas, stony bottom and conflicting current there is less chance of snags with a streamer. Besides that, brook trout love a moving object and a streamer is a lot more active in the water than a drifting nymph. I knot on a fast-snap so I can change streamers quickly and to this I clip on a white Woolly Bugger.
 At the waters edge I observe the creek. The water flows with a greenish gray tint in deeper section not more than about 6” below the surface. The sun and clouds play tricks upon the water surface. The water surface turns from a sparkling reflection from the sun rays, as diamond facets under light, to a shaded semi-opaque dull color when the clouds move beneath the sun. I look up towards the sky and tall branched tree limbs stretch uneasy as if inked upon an artists canvas of a precarious sky. 
  I look back into the riffling water and even through my polarized shades I can’t distinguish any holding fish from the creek bed in the shallows.
 I step easy like into the water not wanting to stir up a cloud of silt to be washed down stream with the undercurrent. With effort I try to cast the heavy streamer with the wimpy Fiberglass rod. The line makes an awkward loop, best as I can describe it, and the bugger plops into the water like an acorn. It takes me a few more casts to get used to the slow action of the flexible ‘glass’ rod but I get a much better feel and start placing the weighted bugger about where I want it to fall. I slowly wade down creek making long cast when possible. I keep the rod tip and exposed line in vision at all times watching for any sudden twitch of either.
The rod tip arcs slightly and, with my fingers pinched on the fly line, I forcefully wrist back the rod to set the hook. The fiberglass rod arcs towards the midsection and than eases up and flexes erratically with the playful brookie. I keep a firm grip on the cork while the brook trout scurries about and than bring it to the net.
After catching another in the same manner it’s time to award myself with a cigar.
 The dark brown wrapper of the Maduro fuma looks bold. With a break in the wind I light the stogie and after a few puffs a glow forms at the foot. The aroma fills the air around me as the smoke dissipates in thin air.
  I continue to cautiously wade and fish my way down creek casting Woolly Buggers. I add or remove shot from my leader depending on the water condition. A surge of water flows against down tree trunks half submerged against the steep bank. I cast the bugger into the wavy current and watch as the current guides my offering into the slower water on the opposite side on the log jam. I slowly strip in the bugger without a strike. My next cast puts the bugger back into the wavy current. This time, as the bugger drifts with the current, I mend my fly line onto the wavy current. The bugger drifts towards the slower water but with my fly line in the wavy current, pulls my bugger towards the log jam. I twitch the rod tip as I stretch the short rod out in front of me. The take is a jolting tug and I rear back the rod and set the hook. The ‘glass’ rod arcs into the midsection and the trout tussles with the hook striving to get free. Line slips through my fingers with pressure as I try to slow the aggressiveness of the fish down. It makes a move towards the log jam but I’m already backing up on land putting pressure on the trout to come towards me and out of harms way. I can feel the pressure of my hand on the cork ease up and I start to reel in line as the trout swims towards me. Near the bank it squirms a bit but I’m able to net it safely. I’m kind of surprised it’s a nice looking rainbow.

 Being that the deep water along the log jam looks like it will hold quite a few fish I proceed with the same tactic. After my third drift under the log the line straightening tug catches my attention. This time there was some slack line flowing with the slower current. I quickly pull fly line in with my left hand and pull the rod over my left shoulder to take up all slack and hope for a hook set. The line straightens right up to the rod tip and the rod arcs towards the log jam. The trout tugs and pulls staying well in the deep water. After a couple of tugging head shakes it swims into the slower current. I raise the rod and it does a couple laps without much shenanigans. I net a brown trout. Pretty cool I thought, the three B’s of Pennsylvania trout. Brookies, bows and browns all in one day in the same creek.
 As time goes on I keep moving and casting Woolly Buggers about. I catch a brookie now and then and miss a couple with glancing swipes.

  I come to a deep pool section I have fished many times in the past. It usually holds quite a few fish. Making tricky casts outward between pine bows and letting the weighted bugger drift into the deeper water doesn’t account for any strikes. I try again with different colors and methods but still nothing. I move around the overhanging pine boughs and situate myself facing the deepest part of the pool. I make a couple cast down and away but nothing appears to be hungry, if any, in the tail end. I try my next trick, cast the bugger upstream and seeing if I can get a trout to take the bugger as it flows ahead of me downstream. I sidearm cast the weighted bugger as far as I could up stream and mid stream. The bugger plops in the water and I try to take up the slack as the bugger drops deep and drifts ahead of my rod. I watch the portion of my fly line floating atop the surface. The end of the line sinks just enough and straightens a bit that I either touched bottom or a trout took the bugger drifting with the current. I bet on the latter and pull line and rod down creek. The ‘glass’ rods bows towards the front of the pool as a trout dart against the current with line in tow. He battles in the large deep pool of water but there’s no escape and no hazards for his benefit. As long as I keep good tension on the barbless hook I'm sure to bring him in.
 I cover the pool pretty thoroughly adding weight. I leave a little more slack in the line at times to get the bugger down deeper. I also get some good casts under the heavy tree trunk, against the far side, that extends over the creek in which I’m standing under. I catch a handful of trout. One trout I watch swipe at my white Woolly Bugger, like a kitten swiping its paw at a teasing feather, near the bank just down creek from me. I miss him twice before I’m able to set the hook at the right second the trout mouthed my offering.

  My mind is made up that I had enough fun for the day and it’s time to call it quits. I take the time to light up another stogie for the walk back through the forest towards my truck.

  At my truck I listen to the creek murmur in the background as I put my gear away. The sun is in full view now and brightens up the surroundings. A few leaves skitter across the ground with the gentle breeze as smoke gently swirls and vanishes in mid air.


Sunday, March 3, 2019

In Like a Lion

In Like a Lion
March 1st & March 2nd

  It was 28 degrees when I left home at 8:45 Friday morning. It was still 28 degrees when I parked along Elk Creek at around 10:00 am. I had already greased up the rod guides, line and leader with lip balm before I left home. All I had to do was put on my gear, grab some smokes and my coat and be off. Joe said he’d meet me around 11 so that would give me time to explore and maybe see some steelhead holdings.

  Stepping out of the warm truck I met outdoor winter reality. Though there wasn’t any breeze to speak of, the cold definitely didn’t have me too thrilled to be out.

 People have asked me whether I ice fish. I simply tell them no, that it’s too cold for me to ice fish. I just couldn’t picture myself sitting in an ice shanty only as big as a two seater outhouse huddled over a hole drilled through the ice. I do picture a few of my friends ice fishing in their propane heated ice shanty’s though. A bottle of bourbon chilling on a small snow mound and smoking a fat stogie biding their time. That sounds good if I’m looking for solitude in cramped quarters out in the wilderness but I’m not sure I can sit in one place hour after hour drinking bourbon and still be able to find myself towards land afterwards. In the meantime I’m not sure breaking ice to find steelhead in the open freezing weather is much of a better way to practice fishing during the winter.

 Snow covered the forest floor like fallen leaves after a late Autumn day wind storm. Ice shelves jutted out from the bank sides not telling the depth beneath. The faster, choppy current flowed between the ice shelves and between narrow channels. As the temperature rose to just above freezing, when the sun came out, chunks of ice and slush flowed with the current making getting your offering down and indicator floating somewhat difficult. 
 I followed the stream glancing out into the open water looking for any sign of fish. The first area I figured was a good holding place but I couldn’t see any movement below the water flow or above the creek floor. That’s not saying there weren’t any fish below but I was hoping to see some before fishing for possibilities. I continued downstream walking the waters edge, wading through the shallows and crossing on snow covered ice shelves into the more forested area. The big deep pool was nearly covered with ice near shore and I wasn’t about to take my chance walking over it to where I could see through flowing water. I was the first tracks down this far so I figured I would have time to search the stream for steelhead pretty good before anyone happens along.

  Down creek I caught sight of a couple of tails extending beyond an ice shelf on the far side of the creek. There was a good flow of current entering the area from a shallow riffle upstream. It channeled the water between the banks making for a deep pocket of water. I couldn’t see any fish out into the open water but I at least know there were a couple under the ice shelf. I laid my sling pack on the snowy pebbles and took off my gloves. I already had a tandem rig of sucker spawn knotted on to my leader. I pulled a length of line out and casted into the riffling water notating in my mind how the current is going to take my indicator. I got a few good casts into the slower water that swirled just ahead of the far ice shelf. While high sticking the rod the indicator slowly made its way towards the ice shelf. I took in a bit of line as the indicator bumped up against the ice edge. By the way the current flowed I figured my offerings just might be pushed under the ice to where the fish were holding. The indicator went under and I reared back with a side setting yank. The line tightened, the rod bowed and a steelhead darted out from under the shelf like a kid unexpectedly coming out of hiding and sprinting for the home base to be free of being caught in an outdoor hide and seek game. I held the rod up as the length of rod arced towards the fighting fish. When the steelhead went back under the shelf I had to angle the rod practically horizontal with the surface water to keep from the leader scraping against the ice edge. As I was fighting the fish a couple more steelhead swam out from under the ice shelf getting clear of all the commotion. I had a tight grip on the cork handle and all thoughts of the cold weather never came to mind. The stronger current in front of me would be tough getting the steelhead to shore so I coaxed the fish downstream as I walked the shore line. It wasn’t long before I landed my first March steelhead and it was a doozy.

  Using the same technique I hooked into another fish from under the shelf. It took off up creek through the faster current. Line peeled off the reel as I palmed the spool to slow it down. It tugged and jolted still trying to escape up creek until the hook let loose and came flying backward. My guess, the way the fish took off and acted, it might have been a foul hook anyway.

  I took a look at the hooks and none were bent and the sucker spawn wasn’t tore up. I looked up creek and still didn’t notice anyone around. Looking over to the far bank I figured why not? I crossed the creek through the shallow riffles upstream and walked the stony bank back to the ice shelf. Slowly and carefully I broke up the ice shelf exposing most of the water beneath. The ice sections slowly floated into the swifter current and bobbled and spun their way down creek. I saw a couple steelhead swim from beneath into the faster run. Some of the ice shelf was too thick that I couldn’t break up and didn’t want to take a chance of walking too far out on it. I returned to the side of the creek I came from and proceeded to try for another.

  It took some time and a different offering to get another strike. I had knotted on a Woolly Bugger and was drifting it near the ice shelf I wasn’t able to break off. I let it dangle beneath a few seconds at the end of the drift. It was if a hungry fish swam out from underneath the ice and swiped at the bugger. The line pulled downstream and, holding the line in one hand, I jerked the rod upstream for the hook set. This steelhead was a frisky one like a freshman college student heading his way to his first college dorm room party. It was like no stopping it where it was headed. The steelhead had enough energy, this late in the season, to give me a brief skyward acrobatic air show. It splashed down and immediately continued its underwater antics. I walked down the shoreline again coaxing him towards me and landed a nice looking chromer.

 Well, that deserved a reward and I lit up a Maduro Fuma.

 I looked up creek and I saw Joe checking out the big pool of water I had looked over earlier. He took his time coming down towards me. We talked a bit and I told him about the fish I had caught and I still believe there are a few more beneath the ice. While he rigged up I decided to cross the creek again and fish from the other side. In the meantime, as the sun shined down upon us, rocks and pebbles gradually started to slide down the dirt cliff, gathering up more stone and small rocks, and fall upon the far side in which I was headed. Some of the rocks took to bouncing and rolling far enough to reach and plop into the water. I knew I had to be careful but I figured I might be far enough from the cliff not to have rocks bounce off my head. It would definitely be considered a hard hat area.

  I was getting good drifts along the ice ledge but couldn’t get another strike. While Joe was fishing I decided to explore a little more. I followed the creek downstream but didn’t see anything to my liking. I went back upstream to the big pool area and decided to try and break up some of the ice as the day was warming up some.

  Cautiously I took my time of breaking up sections of ice. Now and again I saw fish scatter about. I saw a couple of nice size brown trout also in the mix. As some of the bigger slabs slowly drifted towards the faster current some of the steelhead swam and kept beneath the slabs as if they didn’t want to see the sunlight. I watched as the sections of ice slabs slowly floated and made there way downstream like puzzle pieces sliding off a tilted table top back into the box.

  Drifting sucker spawn, it wasn’t long before I hooked into another steelhead. It had a bigger area to give me a battle and I let him tire himself out before I got him landed.

 I lost another before Joe finally made his way up. He went to the head of the pool and was fishing a bugger in the oncoming current. I happen to look his way and his fly rod was bent good, arced and wobbling like he had a good fish. He called down that he had a nice brown trout. I grabbed the net and went up to where he was. He got the brown close enough I was able to net him. The brown sported a nice hooked jaw and beautiful side markings.

 Later on I went back downstream. I have to admit I hooked into and lost two big males before Joe walked down and told me he was taking off. I wasn’t far behind him when it started to get colder. The eyes of my rod started to freeze up and the freezing water was finally bothersome on my feet that I had to start moving. Up creek I just had to try for another steelhead in a run I’ve caught fish earlier in the season. I surprisingly hooked into a steelhead I fought well. The only thing was I hadn’t broke the shore line ice shelf near me and the fish went beneath and was holding. I waded in to my knees and, with the rod angled out towards mid creek, coaxed him from underneath. I tried to lift him upon the ice shelf but with the pressure on the line and hook, the hook came undone from its mouth and he got away.

I caught another and practically the same circumstance happened. One more and I changed tactics and finally landed my last fish of the day.

 Back at the truck I got out of my waders and put away my gear. I had an hour or so drive to my daughters house and what better way to enjoy the ride than with a A. Fuente Gran Reserva.


Teasing Them with Triple Threats

Saturday March 2nd

  Saturdays weather seemed to be a bit colder and never did warm up much. I returned to the same area as the day before and there already were a few people fishing. I tried my best offering the steelhead all different colors of sucker spawn and streamers but they weren’t being fooled. I didn’t see or hear any of the other fishermen that passed by say they caught anything either. When the three fellows upstream moved I decided to move in and see what I could do.

  The water of the big pool was pretty clear and I could make out a couple of small pods of steelhead in the distance on this side of the wavy current. They were just sitting there in the slower current looking like they were just enjoying the peacefulness. I tried drifting sucker spawn to them but there wasn’t much current flow to get my offering to drift towards them. I guess I could have dropped my cast on top of their heads but I’m sure that wasn’t going to produce anything but spook angry fish. I came up with anther solution.

  I knotted on a Triple Threat streamer with a couple split shots up the leader to help get the streamer on their level. My idea was to over throw my cast into the faster moving current and let the Triple Threat swing and drift near the pod of fish. After three casts my line finally quit drifting and started to straighten. I quickly yanked back for the hook set and a wild and frisky steelhead put on a battle that made the slow water erupt in commotion. I held the rod up high and watched as the steelhead made its run around. Floating ice bumped up against the leader as the fish raced upstream. After a couple of initial runs I put a little more resistance on the fish and brought it to the bank. 

 I missed one more on my Ghost Pattern and after not getting any more strikes changed colors. After the same teasing I got another to hit a black and gray Triple Threat. It too gave me a run for my time spent and I enjoyed every second of the tugging and forcefulness of the fighter.

 I lit up a stogie and continued on teasing the steelhead.

 When they quit hitting I changed tactics. This time I knotted on a Golden Triple. The first three casts I quickly stripped it in when it got near the pod like a fleeing minnow. I just figured being as lethargic as they were they weren’t going to put up much effort to chase down a fleeing minnow. My last cast I let the Triple Threat drift right into the pod as well as I could tell. I twitched the streamer for just a little more action and a steelhead grabbed the streamer with just enough force I seen the line twitch. I yanked back and had another on the end of the line. The steelhead battled hard and even came to the surface a couple of times trying to shake the hook loose. I held the rod grip as tight as I could within my cold hands and clinched my teeth on the stogie. I got it near the shallow water a couple of times but she pulled away with a little more force and quickness that I really didn’t expect. I finally got it close enough to bank it and kind of chuckled when I seen the golden streamer partially hanging out of the steelheads jaw.

 Well, it wasn’t much after that that the guides started to freeze up. I decided to head upstream and fish the last hole before heading cross creek to the truck.

  There were three gents fishing the deeper run that had good flow. I thought I seen one of the guys hook into a fish but lost it before I got close to them. When I got to the hole I fished the riffling fast current while the others fished the tail out. No one was catching anything and eventually two of the guys left. The other guy and I continued to fish the hole but weren’t getting anything to bite. The lines were freezing up and it felt like casting a semi-stiff rope. The iced line would hit the surface like a branch falling into the water. With the ice on the end of the tip top made the rod feel heavy. It wasn’t long before both of us gave up and I called it a day.

At the truck I leisurely changed clothes while sipping on an appropriate ice beer. And what a way to end a two day steelhead trip but to enjoy a fat barber pole Cohiba stogie for the long drive home.