November 8-11, 2009 Outing Report
Erie Steelhead

There were fourteen of us total, and we headed up to Erie in small groups over the weekend, Tim Bowers, Joe Robinson, Ken Bowyer, and I rendezvoused at the diner in Breezewood Sunday morning at 7am. It’s a great place to eat if you’re not concerned about calories, and after a huge breakfast Ken and I needed to pop in a Bill Monroe CD to chase the yawns away going across the Alleghenies.

Crossing the mountains we talked about previous trips and the recent report from Bill Goldner who had been fishing Steelhead Alley the preceding week saying water levels were lower than he had ever seen. The fish were there, but spooky and slow to hit hunkered down in the deeper pools. The forecast had been for Erie to get some rain the Thursday prior, but nothing materialized, and we drove all the way in bright sunshine and Indian summer weather.

Stopping to look at the first upstream pool at the McKean exit off I- 79 Elk Creek we found a few fishermen and saw a couple of fish circling in the slow moving water, which told us there were fish throughout the access points. It was hot and no one was catching anything, one fisherman his rod sticking out the bed was dozing in the cab of his truck, so we piled back in our vehicles and headed for the mouth of 20 mile creek.

Rounding the corner by the upper pull-offs we were a little stunned by the number of cars parked by both access points. We pulled up to a fisherman just walking out who said there were tons of fish down in the creek but they all seemed to have lock jaw. Continuing on to the lower parking lot at the mouth there were fewer cars than I expected for a Sunday afternoon, and some of those people weren’t fishing, just walking around enjoying mild weather. Our spirits were buoyed a little bit from the report of all the fish, but stepping into the creek we were immediately let down. We knew it would be low, but water that should have been close to knee deep barely covered our ankles. We’ve fished this area a few times before and I headed for a deep hole that I knew extended well under a rock ledge that I hoped at the very least held fishable water. Low as it was it still held water about three feet deep with a nice run below it but no visible fish. A dozen or so drifts with an orange egg dressed with pink estaz under that lip and wham! Putting too much pressure on the fish I saw the fly pop out of its mouth just as I was dragging it clear of the ledge. Not a big steelhead, but at least it was steelhead.

First Steelhead from Dennis

A few minutes later I spotted a fish in the riffles below, moved to change my drift, and in a couple of minutes had another hook up on the same fly. Putting more care into playing this one I soon beached a smallish fish of 19-20 inches and about 3 to 4 pounds. Releasing that fish I could now see a half dozen more steelhead moving up in the riffles that had been empty of fish just minutes before. Two more chromers of about the same size as the last were at the top of the riffle, running my fly through them produced an explosion as a much larger fish I didn’t see pounced on it sending a spray of water and smaller steelhead in all directions. I had her in the riffle for a few minutes and could see she was long and heavy before she bolted under that ledge. I’m not sure how far back that ledge goes, but the strike indicator had long since disappeared into it and after several minutes I could feel the current humming through the line that was no longer moving, so knew she had either hung me up on something or the line was tight up against the top of the ledge. Applying different angles of pressure I finally gained some line back and had worked my strike indicator out to where I could see it, a couple of minutes later she was visible at the lip. I was beginning to feel like I was winning the tug of war when my knot just gave way.

Ken had moved up to about 30 yards below me I waved him up pointing to where fish were holding in the riffles. He said Tim and Joe had found several fish circling in a big hole below but they wouldn’t strike. Later Tim said he hooked one only to find out that his hook was fast to a snarl of hook and line already in the fish that pulled free during the fight. In the next hour I missed a couple strikes, had two brief hook-ups, and then they were done. Three hook ups in the first hour and a half with one landed, not too bad.

On the drive back to Erie Ken manned the phone calling the group lining up a place to meet and eat. It was then we found out there was no hot water at the Inn where we were staying, and that they were transferring folks to a hotel next to us. However, by the time we got there the problem was fixed with water heating in the boiler, so we opted to stay put, which now had the group in four different locations in the Erie area complicating the logistics just a little bit more.

In addition to our four, we were met at the at the Smokey Bones restaurant by Steve Fletcher and his friend Frank Bowles, Jay Sheppard and his step son Darrel, Mike Abramowitz, Steve Graves, Cathy Nutter, Carl Smolka, Dick Friis and George Vincent. The restaurant was full and we had to sit at different tables limiting conversation between the groups so we met afterwards to compare notes. Steve Graves had landed one on a soft hackle making his and mine the only two landed that day. We let each other know where we headed Monday morning and stumbled off to bed.

20 Mile Creek Canyon Upstream

20 Mile Creek Canyon Downstream

The next morning it was just cool enough to be comfortable in a light jacket. About half the group, Tim, Cathy, Carl, Ken, Joe and I opted for the canyon section of 20 mile creek. George Dick, Steve F. and Frank the mouth of 16 Mile. Jay and Darrell getting an earlier start got to the lower Elk before dawn, Steve G. and Mike back to the middle Elk. Getting at the upper 20 mile exit at 7:15 we found several other anglers already there, but suited up and walked down anyway. The canyon is quite beautiful and the path down is steep emptying out on a narrow flat just before the creek. The fish were there just as the guy told us, bunched up in pools and runs. Tim and I gave up on the first pool we stopped at began Prospecting for fish walking downstream on a high bank peering into the water. Coming across Carl and Joe below we stopped long enough to snap a couple of pictures of them casting to dark torpedo shapes holding tight in deeper water next to a downed tree. Moving on we came across some guys actually catching fish. A local was hammering them on # 14 black beadhead stonefly nymphs drifted deep through a long slow pool, and later in the day I came across another local who was picking off individual fish with #16 stonefly holding next to or just under the ledges most anglers couldn’t see. Both patterns had some purple flash tied in at the thorax, and neither was using any weight in the slower riffles and just one BB in the faster water set about 10” up from the fly. I watched them both fish for awhile; the common denominator sight fishing to individual fish with tight little casts, no indicator and short drifts.

Darrell's on pink-red crystal meth

Jay's on olive woolly bugger

Late morning down on the Elk, Jay and Darrell scored their first fish of the outing, Jay getting two on a cone-head olive woolly bugger and Darrell one on a pink and red crystal meth. They too got a demonstration on how to catch steelhead, this guy using a Bart’s Minnow, getting six fish in four hours.

Other successful anglers on Monday were George and Carl. George got two at the mouth of 20 mile creek after moving over from 16 mile that afternoon, and Carl got his first ever steelhead on a #14 green steelie rock worm. Seeing Carl later that afternoon and hearing his tale about the great leaps and hard runs told me the fish wasn’t the only one who got hooked. He was already talking about a return trip; addicted from the first hit. Ken had some hook-ups on yellow steelhead hammers and the rest of us had some foul hook-ups but that was about it.

My experience is that around 50% of the fish I hook are actually foul hooked fish. The line or leader touches a fish on the drift, it bolts, and bingo I’m into the tail, dorsal, belly, or fin. I always try to pay attention to others when they are landing fish close to me to see if they are fair or foul hooked, and it looks to me my foul hooking rate is about the average. If they are hooked close to the head it can sometimes be difficult to tell because the angler still has some control over the fish, but hooking one in the dorsal or tail is usually obvious within a few seconds. Most times when a fish is foul hooked they take off like a shot, and will occasionally run clear down into my backing before I can get them stopped. When fair hooked I can usually feel the head shake and maybe dog the bottom before taking off. I was told by my Michigan guide on the Manistee last year that a big fish hooked in the tail can damage or break the rod. The reason I bring this up is I stuck a fish in the dorsal fin Monday and was holding down the drag to break the tippet. The tippet held instead of breaking and the fly ripped loose instead and the split shot and fly snapped back and smacked me in the mouth drawing blood. My immediate reaction was Ouch! Then grabbed my lip to see if the fly had impaled me, it hadn’t, and then thought if I’d been hit in the eye it would have caused some real damage. I always wear glasses because I’m blind as a bat without them, but for those who don’t it’s something to consider. After the bleeding stopped I cast again and snagged the same damn fish! He had less zip this time around so I just beached him.

Hiking back down stream I passed Ken, he started telling me he had just hooked and lost a great fish. He was groping to find the right words to describe the fish, the fight and the leaps, while holding his arms wide waving them up and down to demonstrate how long it was and how high it jumped. He said he would replay fighting that fish in his mind a thousand times; I understand completely.

Carl's 7 lb. 8 oz.

Monday Night at Dinner

Monday night was beer, talk, and steak night at the Outback. It had been a tough day for some of us. Ken and I had been on the stream pounding the water from 7:15 am till 5pm without a fair landed fish, half of the others reporting the same experience.

Tuesday was the breakout day; A lot of the guys reporting a dozen hook-ups or more. Jay and Darrell were up near the CSX tunnel and considering heading home early because of tough conditions when they found some fish in the knee deep water after prospecting upstream. Using small nymphs Jay said within an hour sour grapes had turned to fine wine, with eleven hook-ups landing one. He said two of the fish bolted back downstream making the reel scream into its backing with Jay in hot pursuit trying to gain control. Yeah baby! Steelhead, that’s what we came for!

Back on 20 mile Carl took two more on that black beadhead stonefly nymph. He said he particularly likes the aerial displays. Carl took 5 flies out of one of the fish before releasing it nicknaming it Minnie pearl, Cathy later said she saw a fish swim by that looked like he had ornaments hanging off him.

My luck was changing. I was getting some strikes and earlier in the morning I hooked a huge fish close to the end of the public access on 20 mile creek. Somehow while raising and lowering the rod between magnificent jumps I got the end of the fly line wrapped around the tip of the rod. After the last jump it streaked back up stream and when the line tightened against the rod tip the fly popped out like a loose tooth. It all happened in seconds, and after it was over I remember just standing there thinking Wow!

A little while later I waded around the corner to see Ken releasing his first Steelhead of the trip. He had found some fish hanging out next to a submerged tree with a giant root ball and said it was touch and go but he won. He said a peach blood dot fly seemed to be capturing their attention and was eyeing another prospect fining in the current so I left him to it and went on.

Dennis's 27" Buck

I was out of ideas when I remembered Dick Friis gave me a fly with a blood dot on it. It was actually a fly tied on a large spey hook with soft cream colored material in egg shape about the diameter of a nickel with a big bloody dot. It looked less fly like and more like something that would have accessorized very nicely with a poodle skit and saddle shoes; but I thought what the heck, nothing else was working and tied it on. I found a pool that when the light shifted just right revealed fish near the bottom. On the first couple of drifts the big puffy fly rode too high, but as it absorbed more water and I cast it further upstream the drifts got down closer to the fish. On the take I thought Hallelujah! Finally! We had a big fight, and I thought I lost him Twice to tree roots, but in twenty plus minutes I beached my nicest fish of the trip. A 27 inch Buck with beautiful color.

Wandering around looking for another place to fish, an angler that I had surrendered my pool to earlier in the day waved me over and gave me his spot saying he had to leave. He said there were plenty of fish down there but they wouldn’t even look at his flies. Well… he didn’t have Dick’s magic poodle skirt fly and I did. In the next two hours I fair hooked four fish and foul hooked three, landing two of the fair and one of the foul who was hooked under and near the jaw and had me thinking fair hooked till I slid all 9 pounds of her up on the gravel.

Back on the Elk Dick Friss was tearing them up over at Streuchen Flats. He found a pool of about 50 fish downstream of the parking lot and had 13 hook-ups landing two, one on a #12 black stone fly, and the other on a #14 prince nymph. Mike, up on the Legion pool hooked and landed his first steelhead on a #14 pink egg pattern, and from the looks of the picture there is a very happy man standing behind that moustache. Steve Graves who was fishing with Mike also got another on Tuesday using orange Crystal meth.

Pepper Field with mounds of grape husks

That morning we had parked between a bell pepper field and a vineyard, I remember thinking how exotic. And what I thought were piles of sawdust next to the pepper field turned out to be piles of grape husk discarded by the Welch’s juice cannery to be used for fertilizer. The warm weather had sparked a resurgence of insect activity and opening the door to my truck hundreds of tiny fruit flies stormed in, then getting colder had climbed down into the window wells that night. They were impossible to get out and many made the trip to Maryland and have taken up permanent residence in the truck, at least until cold weather. All the way back they would crawl out of the wells and up the windows, once a fair number had crawled near the top we would roll the windows down a little taking great pleasure when the wind suck them out. It got to be kinda sporting. I hear that was popular pastime for all who parked next to that field.

It always seems like we just get there and its Wednesday already. Planning to only fish till about 11pm because one of us still has to go to work the next day, Ken and I decided to try behind Folly’s based on Tim’s and Joe’s report that they were in there thick enough to walk on. It wasn’t quite daylight when we got there and from the bank I could see four fish swirling in a large shallow pool. One fish kept running the others out except for this big fish at the head of the pool I’m guessing was a hen. I’m not sure if it was spawning behavior, or if she was dropping eggs and the aggressive fish was trying to hog them all. A few minutes of drifting a Black stonefly nymph had him bending my rod. After landing Him I moved downstream and let Ken have a shot. I should have stuck around because Ken hooked up twice landing a 30 inch fish. I had the scale with me so we couldn’t weigh it but from the picture it looks to be 10 lb or better, probably the heaviest fish of the trip.

Dick's 9 lb. 6 oz.

Carl and Cathy had hiked upstream from Folly’s and ended up a mile and a half upstream before finally finding fish. Cathy said she had a hook-up near Folly’s and lost it before going up. Hiking up past Carl she found some fish but in a difficult spot holding in water under some low branches on the far bank. Switching to an egg pattern and taking off her strike indicator she did some accurate casting to keep from getting tangled up in the branches and hooked two landing one, Cathy’s first Steelhead. Dick, back on Streuchen flats, got seven more hook-ups and landed a huge fish of 9 lb 6oz on a #12 black stone fly nymph using 4X tippet, no indicator, no shot.

Ken's 7 lb. 4 oz.

Carl, also using an egg pattern, hooked and landed another, which makes four for the newbie if you’re counting. Finding no fish below Folly’s, Ken and I packed up and went to Rick’s Road access just below I-79. The water was thinner there but Ken finishing strong as usual hooked up and landed another on a black stonefly nymph just before we left. It was a beautifully colored 7lb plus fish that put up a great fight that I captured on video.

Meanwhile, Jay and Darrell miles below us, were concentrating on a narrow run of fast water holding good numbers of fish. Darrell landed two steelies by suspending a white minnow and cone- head woolly bugger in the current. Jay said after that action slowed he suggested they switch to bouncing small nymphs through Darrell’s run which produced several more hook ups and three more landed, he and Jay catching the most of the trip I believe.

Yep, conditions were tough. Low clear water and the weather seemed more like mid- September instead of Mid- November, but we persevered and by the end of the outing had landed a fair amount of Steelhead. The fish seem to be larger these past couple trips, we had several in the 7-8 pound range, at least one 9 pounder, and Ken landed one that might have bumped 10 pounds. I think everyone had some hook-ups and a good time, even through the first two days when it was looking mighty bleak. We have another Steelhead outing planned for spring, this one to the Ontario streams in New York. Your outings committee will keep ya posted.

The following is an 8.5 minute video of this outing.

November 09 Steelhead Outing from Ken Bowyer and Dennis Covert on Vimeo.

Dennis Covert


Tuesday Night at Dinner

Anonymous Fisher

One of Carl's on Elk Creek

Elk Creek upstream from Folly's End

Sunrise downstream of Folly's End

Elk Creek upstream of Rick's Access

Mike Abramowitz

Dick Friis at Streuchen Flats

Dick Friis again at Streuchen Flats

Cathy Nutter at 20 Mile Creek

Dennis at Folly's End

BH Black Stonefly in upper lip

Ken's 30 incher

Dennis caught the smallest rainbow!

Ken snagged the smallest fish!

Ken's first steelhead of the trip

Dennis's 9 pounder

Large Blood Dot Spey Fly Hooked 4 Fish

Jay's on copper john

Jay's on olive woolly bugger

One of Darrell's Tuesday PM

Another of Darrell's Tuesday PM

Darrel landed one after a 26 minute fight

Jay's first steelie Monday

Gelso's frammus egg didn't work well for us

Joe Robinson & Carl Smolka on 20 Mile

Another caught by Dennis

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This document last modified 01/20/18