Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Early Christmas Steelhead

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.


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Walk Softly and Carry a 300

Walk Softly and Carry a 300
Nov. 30th, 2019

 Jeff dropped off at the gas line where he had seen doe the day before while hunting turkey. I continued a bit further and then turned right heading up the hill. Walking on the crisp morning leaves was as noisy as walking on corn flakes 3 fold. I swear the forest animals could hear me a ½ mile away in the darkness. I continued on until I found the orange ribbon marker around a tree trunk. From there I took a compass reading and followed the direction I had hoped to bring me to the spot I wanted to stand that I checked out the day before. Even if I didn’t find the couple of trees I’ve hunted this area before so I knew I’d be in the vicinity.

  I supposed I was on the second bench from the top when I decided to find a place to make a stand for the morning. It was getting light enough that I was able to see clearings in the forest so I found a tree, scraped the fallen leaves from the base, and made my stand. This is when I realized I had lost my belt hanging bottle holder. I still had another bottle in my fanny pack but I was sure going to miss the holder.

  The woods was deathly quiet with no wind to speak of. There was just enough light to make out tree formations and unknown objects. It reminded me of a Thursday evening just before Stations of the Cross. There would be enough moonlight filtering through the stained glass windows into the dark empty church that the pews and statues were obstacles to avoid walking into though no defined features were visible. The only thing missing was the scent of the burning waxed candles.

  The sun was to come up on the backside of the mountain. When it did get light enough to see any distance, the already chill in the morning air got colder. After searching my surroundings I took off my orange parka and brown button down and put on a sweat shirt. I buttoned up the brown shirt over top and wrapped the scarf around my neck and zippered up my parka. I felt as snug as a bug in the upright position.

  Until ten o’clock I hadn’t seen or heard anything near by to get me too excited. I saw one hunter moving up the mountain side and heard some rustling in the distance but nothing I could get an eyeball on. I had heard a couple of shots that seamed to come from Jeff’s direction that I was thinking maybe Jeff got a buck.

  A little after 10 I felt as if the deer weren’t going to find me so I’ll have to search for them, crunchy, noisy forest floor or not. I made a semi-circle on the hillside and then dropped down to the gas line to see if Jeff got a buck. He said it wasn’t him who shot and the only deer he had seen was a few that were sneaking through some brush quite a distance away. He couldn’t get any good looks at them. I told him I was going to retrace my steps in the morning and see if I could locate my water bottle. From there I was going to probably still hunt the hillside and maybe end up down to the road near the bridge at the end of the fire trail that ran across the top of the mountain.

  I hadn’t found my water bottle by the time I got to where I was standing in the morning. From there I climbed to the next bench, still hunting, moving as softly as possible. I’d stop for 10 to 15 minute intervals to search in front of me before moving on. The dried leaves that covered the forest floor were still crunchy and the hidden sticks beneath sounded like a half empty plastic water bottle crinkling and snapping when you grip it in your hands. I kept my ears tuned to any changes in the natural quietness of the forest and my eyes open for any sudden movement.

  While still hunting across the mountain side I caught glimpses of a couple of gray squirrels and a deer running too far off to get a good view of. I watched chipmunks appear and disappear under the leaves and fallen timber about. Pine squirrels were most abundant as they scurried up and down trees, along pine boughs and tree branches giving some lively activity to the calm day around me.

  It took some time but I finally came to the fire trail a bench down from the top. It was a bit quieter on the fire trail being it was well used and softer underfoot. I still took my time a few feet at a time, stopping and peering into the forest as my ears stayed tuned to the noises around me. There was a bit of a breeze now and again that fluttered and rustled the tan colored beech leaves that still clung to their young trees.

  For the past three years I had spotted a buck in the vicinity I was now in while turkey and squirrel hunting. I hunted pretty hard in this area last season but never came across him. I wondered whether he would be still around this year but I’ll never know….or would I?

  Looking down the left side of the fire trail was thick with downed trees and brush. A batch of young beech trees, with leaves, were clustered together before opening up further on into open forest of scattered trees and pines. There was only about 50 yards of visibility to my left of flat land before the forest dropped down the mountainside. It was a steep drop and I wanted to avoid that at all costs.

  I slowly made my way a few yards to my right, off the fire trail, and leaned against a half rotten, weathered standing tree trunk. I could see well over 200 yards in spots. If I should get a buck on this side of the mountain would be fine because this side drops down to the road eventually and it’s all down hill.

  There’s always a dull quietness in the woods just after you stop walking and stand still for about 5 minutes or so. It’s as if the wildlife heard you coming and appear to be nonexistent till you pass by or are quiet for a period on time.

  Soon chipmunks started to appear and disappear. Pine squirrels scurried along branches and chirped noisily on occasion. Small Chickadee's soon flew about as if on a scavenger hunt for seeds and edibles among the small bushes, saplings and on the forest floor. As I always said, and most hunters would agree, it’s just not all about the deer!

  While standing there I heard a little commotion on the other side of the fire trail but didn’t get too excited. The forest seemed to come to life with the few small four leggers scurrying about and with the Chickadees and slight breeze rattling the beech leaves it didn’t sound like any deer walking through. I did glance over to the other side now and then just to make sure.

  Woodpeckers started to knock at hollow standing trees in rapid succession like a scared teenager, in a horror flick, slamming the door knocker repeatedly on a vacant house for help. I'm sure the sound carried for miles.

  I suppose it was about 15 minutes or so when I decided to head down the fire trail a little further to where I came across a buck a year ago while hunting turkeys. As quiet as I could I made my way to the fire trail and only took a couple of soft steps down the trail when I heard rustling within the cluster of the leafy beech trees on the far side of the trail. I had a good feeling this wasn’t any anxious squirrel! I raised my 300 Savage on the ready and stood motionless waiting. A deer popped out of the beech trees broadside and began that wary gait. Not quite a run or a walk. Almost like a slow trot knowing something is wrong but not knowing where. It was immediately that I saw his white tines above his head and I brought the rifle up easily against my shoulder. My right eye moved behind the scope and I moved the rifle till the cross hairs were behind the moving bucks shoulder. I whispered “goodbye” under my breath and pulled the trigger. The 300 Savage boomed breaking the tranquil calm forest. The buck flinched in a crouched bent knee position but didn’t fall. He stood momentarily as if he had a sudden stomach ache or sudden abdominal pain. Unconsciously I had already chambered another round in the lever action should I need it as I stood and stared at the buck. I knew I couldn’t of missed being only about 35 yards tops. He turned away from me and walked crippled legged before falling to his belly, head up, motionless. A doe popped out of the beech trees in the same manner and stopped just short of the fallen buck with her ears searching for another sound. The buck was frozen as if in a daze wondering what just happened. Now I made a mistake.

  The hillside was only about 20 yards from where the buck laid on its belly. I took a few steps off the trail into the woods towards him. The doe turned its head and took off over the crest of the hill. I figured the buck was down for good and not going to get up. Wrong! He raised up on all fours and unsteadily headed for the hillside. In no way I wanted him to reach the crest of the hill and drop down the other side. I raised the 300, targeted his left shoulder and again the 300 broke the silence. The buck fell and shimmied its way to the crest only being stopped by a 6” in diameter tree limb that ran parallel with the crest of the hill. I stood motionless not wanting him to get spooked and go any further. He laid with his head half raised for a few seconds and then managed enough energy to kick his rear legs which toppled him over the limb. I could hear the rustling of leaves on the other side as he descended down the slope.

  Quietly but hurriedly I moved to where I last seen the buck but didn’t get close enough to the edge to look down over the hill. I could still hear some rustling in the leaves below. I was hoping he didn’t continue on to the bottom. The slope is quite steep and getting out from the bottom was going to be questionable.

  After hearing a few gasping grunts I quietly moved to the edge and looked down the hill. He had came to rest against 2 tall trees keeping him from rolling down the hill any further. The rustled, upturned blood stained leaves told the story of the path that lead to him. I cautiously made my way down to the buck. I took off my orange parka and put it over the muzzle of the rifle that I then leaned up against a tree. I took off my brown button down and put that in the back pouch of the Parka. My orange HD t-shirt and orange Jones cap would keep me identified as a hunter for all to see. I looked at my watch and it was 2:15.  I unsheathed my knife and the working part of the hunt begins. 

  Field dressing a deer on a slope isn’t an easy or neat task. Not that field dressing a deer is easy to begin with but on a slope it is much more time consuming and awkward.

  They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That might be true but it’s not always going to be the quickest or easiest way. I looked up the slope of about 15 yards or so. I grabbed the buck by the antler with one hand and dug the side of my boots into the slope and tugged upwards on the deer. With all my strength I took another try or two and advanced up the slope. My heart was now racing and my face felt beat red. I looked back and the tail end of the deer was only about 5 feet from the gut pile. This wasn’t going to work going straight up the slope.

  I never considered myself one of the strongest 62 year olds or even in the top 50%. I'm not in the greatest of shape to speak of but I can hold my own when needed. I’m not very much overweight, meaning my belly doesn’t hang over my belt, but trying to tug this deer straight up the slope isn’t something I should attempt to do even if I thought I could.

  Still keeping a good hold on the antlers, for fear it might roll down the slope, I looked for another way of getting the buck to the top. I spotted a downward narrow path that angled its way to the top. I dug my boots in the earth and again started dragging the deer to the crest. Each boot digging foot hold, each knee straightening, leg forcing tug was a chore. Each tensed arm pulling muscling the buck upwards was strenuous and aching. By the time I got the buck over the crest of the slope and on flat ground I was pretty much tuckered out. My heart was pounding through my 3 layers of sweat dampened shirts. My knees were weak and ready to collapse. I put my hands on my knees gasping for breath. I could feel a cool breeze swipe across my sweated forehead. My head was pounding and I ached to relax. Maybe 5 minutes or so I rested before I overcame the strenuous chore.

  I walked back down the hill and removed the liver from the gut pile and placed it in an over-sized zip lock bag. I clipped my fanny pack around my waist, grabbed my rifle and coat and climbed up the slope for the last time. The drag to the fire trail was only about 15 yards or so. Once I made it to the fire trail it was mostly all down hill. It was a long way to the bottom but I had lots of time before dark and being down hill shouldn't be that strenuous. I put the rope around Clyde’s rack, the buck, and I descended down the hill with him in tow.
Once at the bottom it was another 100 yards of mostly flat, muddy, stony, branch ridden old ATV trail that lead to the road. I could have left Clyde along the trail and waited for Jeff to help me along but once I start something I aim to finish the job and I considered it wasn’t finished till I got Clyde to the road.

  It was just about dark when Jeff showed up with the truck. We lifted the buck on the cargo carrier and headed to camp. Jeff hadn’t seen anything to shoot at. 
 I stuck around till Wednesday morning trying to push a buck to Jeff on Monday and Tuesday but it didn’t happen. Wednesday I loaded up my gear and got Clyde in the bed of the truck.It was time to take him home.

  So what if it was 8:00 in the morning. A rewarding cigar was in order for the ride home.