Plan B, Steelhead!
It was a chilly morning when I awoke. My plan was to dust off my trout rods and hit Oil Creek for trout for the day. When I checked the USGS gage height it was rising due to the rain overnight. I switched my thinking to plan B and decided to head to Erie for steelhead.
It was in the upper 30’s when I parked behind the only truck along the roadside. It was suppose to warm up to the upper 40’s later on. I was surprised there weren’t more vehicles due the fact I got a late start. I filled my Eddie Bower jacket with fishing needs and assembled my 7 weight fly rod and reel. I grabbed a bottle of water, a few cigars and headed down to the creek.
As I walked upstream, along the bank, I searched for shadows of steelhead as I went along. The water was stained and moving fast in the narrow sections but the water level was just about perfect in my opinion. I came upon the fellow that owned the truck I parked behind. He said he lost one already. He mentioned he was up here a few days ago and didn’t see many fishermen then either. I crossed the creek a couple of times before I got to where I wanted to fish.
The wavy water was strong as it flowed and emptied into a deeper section. The current flow changed constantly as water rushed and then settled some below. I was able to distinguish some of the under water ledges of slate rock below the surface nearer to me but out further was questionable. I’ve fished this section many times before so I was familiar with the water, but the changing current flow would be puzzling at times.
I started casting a streamer but wasn’t getting any results. I switched to tandem sucker spawn and on one drift missed a hook up after seeing a steelhead roll beneath. I kept at it and finally got my first good hook set early in the competition. It was a wild ride as the fresh steelhead gave me a run for my money. It wasn’t a huge fish but it had a lot of spunk. He shot out of the water a couple of times shaking it’s head trying to release the hook. His chrome sides gleamed like the chrome pipes of my Harley each time he rose. He circled the area in haste like someone searching for a parking space not wanting to be late for the opening ceremonies! I got him clutched in my glove eventually and after a quick pic let him slip out of my hand back into the creek. It’s always a great feeling getting the first fish in early.
My next steelhead was an older male!
Again I was changing colors and drifting two sucker spawns. I wasn’t getting any more hits for a time so I added a little more weight to get my spawn down deeper. Because of the cross currents I wasn’t using an indicator and was holding the rod out trying to keep the fly line from the current in front of me. Now I know why guys use 11 foot rods.
I watched my fly line pull upstream and reared back to set the hook. A heavy load was at the end as the rod bowed deep into the middle section and kept its arc as the fish took off up into the fast current. He turned sharply and headed to the slower current across stream before heading down creek with sharp tugs and pulls. I put the rod butt in my gut holding the rod up with both hands. After it took line downstream and turned I quickly tightened the drag a bit. I palmed the spool also keeping as much tension on him as possible without wanting the hook to come free. I had 8lb fluorocarbon tippet so I wasn’t afraid of the line snapping. During the fight he came to the surface a couple of time slashing and splashing water all over the place. I kept the butt of the rod into my gut as he thrashed and swam around, my rod tip arced and followed his direction. He swam back into the oncoming faster current and held there for a short spell. I looked behind me for my net and it wasn’t too far from me on the bank. I was glad I had it unfolded but now I had to get to it.
During the action I was able to wade backwards to the bank towards my net keeping in the fish in the deeper section but the current was pretty strong and the rod arced pretty deep so I wanted to get him out of the faster current to give me time to get to my net. I had him coming towards me when I reached my net. Into the shallower water, still knee deep, he turned and took off away. I let him have line so I could get a hold of my net. With my long handled net cradled under my armpit I waded back out a bit and played the big guy trying not to give him any more line.
“Now how was I going to get him into the net by myself”?
He was still putting on a pretty good fight using the cross currents to his advantage. I had him near with the rod as high as I could and tried to let him back tail into the net. Maybe his tail brushed against the net because all of a sudden he took off upstream in a hurry like his tail was on fire. I released my finger, holding the fly line against the cork, and let him travel up into the on coming current. There was no way of getting this big guy into shallow water. Holding the net with one hand into the oncoming current wasn’t an easy task all the while using the other hand trying to guide the steelhead in it.
I waded down creek a bit in slower current. I got him across from me and began to reel him in closer with the net cradled under my right arm. Kind of awkward, being I’m right handed, I was playing the fish with my left hand on the rod while my right hand was controlling the net due to the fact I was facing the water flowing from my left to my right. I had just about a couple of inches of fly line, out of the tip top, when I raised the rod tip. He followed the pressure with his tail swaying as if feeling behind him. Once close to the net I dropped the rod some and, before he could feel the net, I swooped him in!! For looking a little beat up from the steelhead run up creek he put up a great fight.
I kept at it, since the bite seemed to be on, not wanting to take the time to grab another cigar. I caught one more frisky chromer before the steelhead bite abruptly stopped.
After that release I took the time for another cigar. I pulled out an Ave Maria Divinia. I knew the mellow full body smoke would last a while and the sun grown Habana wrapper and Nicaragua filler would be tasteful.
It was nearing noon and I thought maybe, with the sun out and dampening the chill of the morning, that more steelhead might get active. Well that didn’t happen. In fact all of a sudden I was catching smolts and a lot of them. They were grabbing the different color sucker spawn like kids eating fruity gumdrops at the movie theater!
Later on I hooked into one steelhead in fast, wavy water upstream in a different section of water but lost him. I talked to a couple of fellows and they said they were catching a lot of smolts also. (I couldn’t imagine how many minnows they fed them?)
By 4:00 I headed to the truck. I changed out of my fishing clothes, grabbed a snack and relaxed in my truck before heading back home. After a refreshing drink I took out a Fuente Double Chateau for the ride home!!