cabin fever steelhead
I always saw the articles about steelheading in the dead of winter and thought it was lunacy but after a weak fall season plagued by drought, I really needed a fix of fly fishing. My cousin's husband emailed me and said he had a hookup in Erie and wanted to know if I wanted to give steelhead on the fly a try. There isn't a chronometer made that could measure the speed at which I hit the reply button. What a great way to beat the cabin fever blues!
Of course my first step was to google the hell out of Erie steelhead fishing and figure out what flies and equipment were being used. I was left more confused that when I started. It seems that there are as many different ways of fishing for steelhead as there are steelhead fishermen. I was able to guess at a passable combination of a 8-9 wt rod, some egg sac patterns, a float and some split shot and I was ready to go.
I crashed at my cousin's home in Pittsburgh on Thursday night and at 4am on Friday morning we piled into the Jeep and headed out onto the frozen highway to Erie. We had a few close calls while driving on the sheet of ice but fortunately DJ is a "Master Driver" and his son Cole was asleep so he never realized the peril he was in.
We arrived at the home of Capt. Johnny Krasa around 6:30am and met up with father and son Al and Zach, both steelhead fanatics and fortunately for us, very knowledgable about chasing these monsters. Off to the bait store to get skein, eggs, minnows and information about the latest hotspots. I was a little taken aback by the bait purchases but I later learned that fly fishing around bait fisherman was the perfect one-two punch. The smell of the bait whipped the steelhead into a frenzy and made the egg sack patterns much more believable.
When we arrived at the parking lot near W...... Creek, I was really beginning to question the logic of this trip. It was dark, snowing, windy and ridiculously cold. I didn't see how we were going to make it more than 15 minutes on the water without freezing to death. Once we got on the stream though the winds were blocked by the high banks and within 15 minutes Capt. Johnny had hooked up and I had broken one off. This steelhead thing might be interesting.
We headed up stream a bit and caught up to Al and Zach who were busy landing fish after fish. It was just amazing to watch them. After a quick lesson from Zach on proper rigging I was into my first fish. About that time the daylight creeped in enough that I was able to slip on my polarized glasses. I was shocked to see monster fish just stacked up at our feet. They hit with just a tap so setting the hook was pretty tough. The local landowner joined us about an hour into the morning and we got to watch a master class in center pin steelhead fishing. Somewhere in the middle of all this, DJ hooked up with a HUGE steelhead. His first one ever and he caught it on a fly rod using a fly he tied. At this point the rest of the trip was just bonus.
We stayed at this hole until the cold had beat us up to the point that we just had to head in and get a bite to eat. As we walked back to the trucks Al offered us a lesson on telling the gender of steelheads by looking at the kype, we laughed pretty hard considering milt was just pouring out of DJ's fish; you didn't need to look a the kype to tell it was a male. After a quick sandwich we stopped at the bait shop and got DJ's fish weighed. DJ's perfect day was shattered as he learned that his fish was 9.5 lbs, half a pound short of a state citation. We all reveled in his disappointment and headed to the next fishing spot, E...... Creek. Once again the wind and cold in the parking lot made it hard to imagine being able to withstand the frigid waters and ice but once we hit the stream we started the fun all over again. This time the fishing was much more difficult and the fish were spread out a bit more. I still managed to lose one and hook one after walking a quarter mile downstream. This is where I got to really see Al's son Zach do his thing. He was hooking up while everyone else was getting skunked. I learned a lot just watching him. Al also had some luck drifting skein and was always quick to hand the spin rod off to Cole to give him a chance to reel in a bruiser.
After a great day of fishing we headed back to Johnny's place, ate pizza and wings, tied some flies and staked out a couch, cot or chair and crashed hard. We woke the next day and headed out to .....mile Creek after a quick stop at the Sheetz (you can't fish without a Sheetz nearby). When we arrived at the hole Johnny and I climbed down the path to scout the spot. The trail was icy and steep but the hole at the bottom was chock full of steelhead so we decided it would be worth the climb. I packed my waders and boots rather than attempt the steep, icy trail in felts. Once down there we rigged up and things started slowly. It seemed that the longer Al was fishing in an area the better the fishing got. It was his egg baits that really got the fish turned on. Here we were in icy water, snow blowing and a cold front coming in and about one hour into the day the fish just turned on. It was great. Very difficult to get a drag free drift with the chunks of ice floating around and we did managed to break a few off but we also landed a bunch.
Once I got the nerve to get on top of the icy dam the fun really started. I was hooking up over and over while Al and Zach were doing the same thing below the dam. After a couple of fish I put Cole in my spot and showed him were the fish were hitting. A minute or two later he was landing his first steelhead on the fly. This was the best part of the trip and produced my favorite fishing photo ever. We fooled around a little more and after I snapped one off at high noon everyone agreed it was time to face the blizzard conditions on the highway and get out of Erie. The drive home was slow but my face hurt the whole way from smiling. I will never look at January the same way again.
Check out DJ's gallery at: http://www.nativebrooktrout.com/gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=273
- Thanks to Capt. John Krasa (814) 746-5809 for his hospitality (I owe you big!) and to Al and Zach for their patient coaching in the ways of the steelhead (Zach, you can fly fish with me anytime!). DJ and Cole, I will see you in the Spring for some flailing with a fly rod.