November Steelhead Outing Report 2010

For the second year in a row the fishing reports coming from of the Erie streams were less than optimal. Last year it was low water levels, this year it was low water levels and fewer fish. Watching the reports in the weeks before the outing there was a brief spike in numbers of fish seen and caught in late October, but those numbers settled back as it got closer to go. Eleven of us, Ken Bowyer, Will Amland, Carl Smolka, Steve Fletcher, Frank Bowles, Dick Friss, George Vincent, Lou Reichel, Jay Sheppard, Darrell McClure and I disregarded the reports and made the trip anyway .

Carl, Will, Lou, Ken and I caravanned up together making a brief stop at the Denny’s in Breezewood. Over breakfast we reviewed our options deciding to hit one of the mile creeks first. Four hours later, we talked to an angler that was hiking out of the upper section of 20 Mile Creek as we were hiking in who echoed the reports of a poor return of fish this year. There had been some rain since the last posted reports and we were hoping a fresh run of fish had come in from the lake as the creeks rose. Asking this guy what he thought might work he suggested dynamite, and then added as he walked by, “Even that won’t produce fish that aren’t there.”

Undaunted we continued on, just because there weren’t fish filling up the pools and runs right then, didn’t mean that there wouldn’t be a fresh run in from the lake an hour later. On the way down into the canyon we all agreed there had to be some fish, and there were, but just a few here and there, with a lot of empty water in between.

It was difficult fishing but we still caught some fish. It started out slow and remained so, with small windows of activity providing enough incentive to keep everybody hiking up and down the creeks. Steelhead fisherman are tenacious in their optimism, always clinging to the hope and possibility that the next pool, the next fly change, and even after hundreds of fruitless casts and creeping doubts a steelhead will suddenly slam their fly and explode out of the water on a rod bending reel screaming run. Addicts.

The Mile Creeks on the east side had gotten significantly more rain the preceding week and really didn’t look all that low, but Elk Creek out on the west side was much lower than usual. Shallow and clear, the fish if you could find one were so spooky they would scoot at the first sight of a drifting fly.

Even so, I think everyone was into fish at some point of the trip even if they didn’t land one. I struck first late Sunday afternoon getting a small Steelhead out of a deep hole on 20 Mile Creek using chartreuse Crystal Meth. The only fair hooked fish that I landed the entire trip.

Monday was a day of strange phenomenon. Jay had three landings, two of them on a buck that was recognizable from a lamprey scar. He snagged and landed this fish twice 150 yards and an hour and a half apart. The other, his only fair hooked fish, he caught on a #16 flashback nymph. That same day Ken, Will, Carl and I were fishing the Conrail tubes on Elk Creek when a large whitetail buck waded out mid stream in bright sunshine and just stood there for several minutes watching everybody fish. Then the black dace minnow that I was using to cruise through a deep hole somehow ended up in the seat of Will’s waders, not a clue as to how it got there. Will wasn’t too deeply concerned, but then the fly wasn’t too deeply imbedded either.

One of Ken's

Lou's First Steelhead

On Tuesday reports started circulating that people were catching fish. Dick, Carl and Will each reported at least one each, Dick’s from the flats on Elk, Carl’s and Will’s from 20 Mile. And special congratulations go out to Lou who finally lost his virginity to a lovely chromer at the mouth of 20 Mile Creek. Lou literally glowed for the rest of the trip. Ken landed two for the day, one at the mouth of 20 Mile on a Red Steelhead Hammer, and the other on Chartreuse Crystal Meth up in the canyon; he lost two others in the stretch just below the pool Darrell, Jay and I were fishing during the magic of 4 pm.

Earlier that morning I began staking out this pool because I knew had fish in it, waiting all morning for the two fellas fishing it to leave. Finally after lunch they pulled out and I slid in. About 3 pm I saw Jay and Darrell ambling downstream looking for fish holding in the nooks and crannies, and waved them over to share it with me. There were several fish loafing along the edges and cruising around a bit, but up to that point the only action I had was a brief but savage attack on an Olive Woolybooger, the fish spitting it back at me on the first leap.

One of Jay's

Darrell's on an Olive Bugger

4 pm has to be the bewitching hour. After almost nothing all day, Darrel suddenly had three hookups in about 20 minutes landing one, all on a bead head olive booger. I had a hook up on a purple booger losing it after putting too much pressure on it trying to horse it in. After a few more minutes I snagged another with a big brown and white cone-head booger that I thought had taken the fly. One of Darrell’s fish made just one leap on the take then dropped back into the pool to play possum. I immediately pulled my leader out of the water to prevent a tangle. Darrell, not reacting just looked at me and asked, “That was you, wasn’t it?” Standing there holding my line I said, “Nope, I think it was you wasn’t it?” Then all three of us just stood there looking at each other for several seconds before Darrell shrugged raising his rod for the next cast and the fish suddenly took off. Everybody busting out laughing; just another tale that ends with the fish getting away.

About this time a young guy, his wife, and their friend came trooping down the bank. The girl had on a long sleeve sweater and Ugg style boots, but the guys were just wearing T shirts, shorts, and tennis shoes, wading wet and not fishing but just trying to spot some fish. The boys took off down the creek leaving the girl up with us because she couldn’t go any further without getting her suede boots wet. The air temperature was cold enough that I had my stocking cap pulled low down over my ears and Jay was just commenting on how cold his hand had gotten from having it in the 40 degree water and asked the girl if they all weren’t freezing. “Nope”, she said, “were from Ottawa and used to cold, this water actually feels kind of warm to us. I would like to be wading with them too but didn’t bring the shoes for it”. Fifteen minutes later the guys showed back up looking wind chapped and a light shade of blue but trying not to act cold. Trooping back out I noticed one had a fish head and crossed rods tattooed on the calf of his leg in skull and cross bones style. The contrast was sharp; we outfitted in the more classic style of waders and vests and them practically naked. I remember wondering what the future cover art of fly fishing catalogues will look like as our generation fades.

Wednesday was a bust. Ken and I went to Folly’s End on Elk Creek and hiked up stream never running out of fishermen and never finding a place that held fish. After a couple of hours we decided maybe it was just time to pack it in. Will and Carl had stopped at the bridge where Will had a hookup that he lost, and then abandoned the pool after a guy came along spooking all of those fish. By 9:30 am we were all back at the truck packing our gear. Reports from Jay, Darrell, George and Dick were similar.

It was still a great trip and I’m glad we went. If the ride up was beautiful the ride back was glorious. Not a cloud in the sky the sun lit up the yellows on high ridges of Allegheny Mountains. Small villages huddled on dark green carpets of valley floors their church steeples rising bright white against the olives, bronzes and golds of deep fall.

We are still planning on doing a spring Steelhead trip to somewhere. Maybe back to Erie in late March if the fish run improves, but at this writing more likely to New York in April.

Dennis Covert


Dennis releases Will!

Anonymous Fisher

Another of Jay's

Middle Section of 20 Mile

Middle Section of 20 Mile

Darrell fighting one

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This document last modified 11/25/10