Erie Steelhead Fishing Journal, Episode 1

A while back I had made up a list of fishing resolutions for 2011. The top item on the list was to make it up to Erie to fish for steelhead trout, so when Jackie and I both had two days off in a row this last week we took a short trip north so I could have a shot at the last of the spring running fish. According to the locals that I met and befriended streamside the large fish had already swam back out into Lake Erie, but I managed to have a good trip and learned quite a bit that I can apply to another trip in the fall. **Warning! I start to ramble!**
We had left later in the morning than I would have liked on Wednesday, but when you consider my idea of “early morning” is 8am, being out the door before 7:30 was a near miracle. After a rather easy 2.5 hour drive we managed to find our destination, Erie Bluffs State Park.
The park is the newest state park in Pennsylvania and has the advantage of being situated at the mouth of Elk Creek. I had researched the trip online and created a short list of streams that would have any likelyhood of fish in them. Thanks to the advances of the Information Age I was able to use Google maps to view satelite images of the area surrounding the streams, looking for points of access along my streams of choice, as well as scoping out possible fish hot spots. It was in this way that I was able to find Erie Bluffs (and it’s ample parking spaces). Fifteen years ago I would have had to spend time in the local library looking through books devoted to the subject, or spend quite a bit of time on the phone with area bait and tackle shops hoping to pry honest information from them about their own fishing grounds. Always a good thing when I can prepare for something without having to deal with other people.
After consulting the internet for weather information for the two days I would be up there, I was delighted to learn that there would be some light rain while I was still in the car, clearing up to a wonderfully overcast day. The second day would be clear, sunny, and warm. Trout fishing wisdom will tell you that the best time to hunt trout is on an overcast day after a few days of light rain, as this will raise the water levels slightly and wash enough bugs into the stream to start the fish feeding. Too heavy of a rain, however, will cause the water to flow too fast and cause the fish to hunker down and wait it out. On a sunny day with clear water, the fish can use their exceptional eyesight to see you coming and will “turn off” from biting. Looking at the immediate forecast I realized that my best chance of catching fish was on the first day, with perhaps a chance at some leftovers on the second day.
There is an old saying stating, in brief, that the best military plans only survive until the first bullet is fired. I thought of this as I was soaked from the cold rain, which was still falling around one in the afternoon. We had arrived around 9 in the morning to find the stream already packed with fishermen and the rain pouring heavily. Speaking of planning, I suppose now that it is possible to ‘over plan,’ as I did not bring any rain gear. As the stream was crowded, this entire scenario resulted in me walking miles upstream looking for a spot as I slowly froze to death from the rain and the 40 degree water temperature. This also resulted in me wearing out my legs – in the future, I should make sure my quads are in shape enough to handle walking against a stream that is trying to wash me back out into Lake Erie. While walking past everyone who has a spot to fish in, I noticed that quite a few had stringers with fish on them. I would not be that lucky. I eventually worked my way back downstream, and waited around until I could weasel my way into a decent spot. At this point I felt more comfortable with the weather (most likely because I was going numb) and started doing what you are supposed to do when fishing for steelhead; you have a very small hook with some salmon eggs on it, with a small weight about a foot up the line, which will hang from a float that is attached another few feet about the weight. For successful steelhead fishing, you should drift this setup downstream past the fish in such a way that they believe it is some loose eggs from spawning fish – a tasty treat.
At about 1:30 in the afternoon I am surprised when the guy standing 7 feet away from me hooks into a monster. I actually have to move out of the way to keep the fish from wrapping the line around my legs. Frustrated, I move ashore and watch him land the fish. Realizing that he is using some other lure, I ask if he minds if I take a picture of his fish. This is a sneaky trick; it lets me get close enough to his fish to see what lure he is using. It’s a Rapala crankbait usually used for bass fishing, with a square red bill and a firetiger colored body. By this point, Jackie realized that I should eat some food and warm up, and forced me to start taking care of myself for the rest of the day.
What this really did was to give me time to re-examine what I thought I knew about steelhead fishing and compile all of the new information I had gathered from actual time on the stream. For one thing, I raided the local Gander Mountain and Walmart for what I thought would be appropriate bass lures, as I had only brought equipment that was “appropriate” for trout fishing. I also decided that I would have to be at the stream as early as I could in order to get a good spot and spend the entire day there.
I was streamside at 6:30 the next morning, and managed to get right into the small hole in the stream where the monster fish had come out of the next morning. For most of the morning, there were only two (and then three) other guys anywhere nearby, and they were the aforementioned friendly locals. I started off drifting some salmon eggs as I had the day before, wondering if my timing would improve the method at all. After a half an hour it occurred to me that this worked no better for me than it had the day before, and I started switching between some of the newly acquired bass lures. As the sun continued to rise, I became frustrated thinking that I was going to go home without touching a single fish. I was going through the pockets of my fishing vest when I found my Chatterbait, which is my go-to bait when I am searching for fish on a bass pond. As I am tying on the lure, I see a fish rise up and take a bug on the surface nearby. I break off a small piece of worm and attach it to the hook to sweeten the deal. On the third cast over where I think the fish is holding, I notice the line hold in a spot for a moment. This is not unusual; there are so many rocks and branches in the stream that the line would continuously get stuck until you lifted it free. After I notice that the forward motion of the lure has stopped, but before the muscles receive the message to move from my brain, I see my line run off at a 90 degree angle from where it has been heading. I set the hook.
Seriously, even I am bored with this now. Applaud yourself if you are still reading. Major plot point time!
*Fish jumped three times, pretty awesome sight. *Took quite some time on 4lb line, ultralight rod & reel. *Only large one for the day. Many more people showed up, scared the fish away. *Later, a run of smolt (youngin’s) went through, and caught a 8″ fish. Tossed back.
*Important thing to remember: Anglers must clean up after selves. Found a dead smolt that had bitten a fly and line that were broken off and stuck to a log. Had spent who knows how long there and died.

Anyway, I have spent almost a month typing this thing up. The only reason I even bothered to finish this is because I plan on using the details of this trip to perhaps write an article about steelhead fishing for the first time. This is at least SOME start.

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