Home » Clearly Scared: a Lake Erie steelhead halloween on the fly

Clearly Scared: a Lake Erie steelhead halloween on the fly

This past weekend I made my annual Halloween pilgrimage to Erie,  PA in search of shadowy ghosts who rise from the depths of the lake and haunt the waters of the tributaries through the winter. Unlike many of my impromptu trips throughout the year this one was planned and I had company. For the past few months a few of the guys in the Lancaster crew expressed interest in going up together for fall chrome. Miller and I had made the 6 hour trek last fall and Rick and I were up in April for dropbacks and spring run steelhead. At the last minute we also picked up an Erie veteran, Tim, who had not been up for years but knows the Erie game well. We had a great crew of skilled anglers and we would need all of our experience as the creeks were low and clear.

Tim Bennett on the move.
Tim Bennett on the move.

Rick and Tim made it up to Erie by noon on Thursday October 30th. They started at the mouth of Elk and worked up. One of the keys to success in Erie can be to keep moving. There are times (when the fish are on the move) where staying in one spot (like at a strainer or a bottleneck) can be effective but most times you want to stay on the move. Rick and Tim both did very well on Thursday, in fact that would be the best day of the trip as far as fishing counting went. By the end of the day Tim had coined the acronym W.W.R.D. (what would Rick Do?). And indeed this would be an ongoing theme throughout the weekend as Rick was honed into the groove and consistently got on fish.

Rick releasing yet another steelie.
Rick releasing yet another steelie.

Rick is a dedicated nympho…nymphite….nympher? However you say it, Rick likes to nymph and he is good at it…really really good. Much of the water that holds fish in low conditions is best suited for nymphing and using nymphs and eggs seemed to be the most reliable way to hookup throughout the weekend. However, it was not the only way

Rick won the big fish award for the trip. Secret fly through the head of pool. Rick is a nymphing machine!
Rick won the big fish award for the trip. Secret fly through the head of pool. Rick is a nymphing machine!

Miller and I made it up by 5:30pm on Thursday. We stopped to look at upper Elk long enough to realize that fishing was going to be tough without more water in the system. The trips where you learn the most happen when you are observant and open minded. When everything goes right on a trip you are not challenged. When the conditions are tough you have to elevate your game, rise to the occasion as it were. We know that difficulties can push us out of our comfort zone and it is when we are in that place that we learn some of our most important, memorable and valuable lessons.

Capt. Chrome Miller using spring creek tactics to work over steel.
Capt. Chrome Miller using spring creek tactics to work over steel.

Thursday night we had retired to the Avonia tavern where we compared tactics, notes, and brews. My good fishing friend Travis and his crew from Chambersburg met up with us there for some cold-ones and wings and also to “rub-in” the fantastic fishing they had that day. Travis was stripping large articulated streamers and got into some decent fish when everyone else was using tiny nymphs and getting frustrated. We finished out the night with some more trash-talk, laughs and a rough plan for the morning.

Friday morning came early ,5am, and there was no additional water overnight. We hit the stream before sunrise at 6:50am and we were immediately into fish. There were fish everywhere you would expect there to be fish in the morning. It was quarter-water; heads and tails. The majority of the fish were found in the heads or tails of the pools. If you go out early in the morning, proceed with caution around those areas. Look closely from a far and try to stay out of the water and keep your distance. As the day progressed the fish became more aware of our presence and the presence of the other anglers. Lockjaw set in by noon and it was time to re-evaluate our tactics.

stripping streamers for chrome does not always work, but when it does the the take can be electric!
stripping streamers for chrome does not always work, but when it does the the take can be electric!

We headed back to the trucks for some great brats, brews and “peach cobbler”. Patrick Campbell from FOM outfitters came down and we had a good time comparing notes. He was there with his fishing buddy Gregg and each of them had each done very well in the morning fishing buggers in the heads and tails of runs. Both went into the double digits for fish landed. Travis also stopped by reported he was fishing big articulated streamers again like Mike’s Meal Ticket and Kelly Gallop’s “sex dungeon”. As a fun aside: Travis has a variation of the two combined which is appropriately named the “Sex Ticket”. These large articulated patterns were moving fish even in gin clear water. We came to the conclusion that the big articulated patterns were just pissing them off.

Geoff manages to anger yet another fish with the meal-ticket.
Geoff manages to anger yet another fish with the meal-ticket.

We headed back out for the evening and I took my meaty flies with me. I tied on an intruder pattern and started swinging where I could which was few a far between. In one run i was watching as the fly swung through the tail end of the pool from the far side across and I thought to myself “damn that fly really swims!” just as I thought that: BOOM! One very angry steelhead smashed my beautiful intruder and tried to swim away with it. Needless to say I was stoked and while the strike woke me from my post lunch day-dream/coma I was still able to easily land the fish thanks to the inescapable stinger hook on the intruder.

Some fresher fish made their way into the system as the stream came up from the rain the night before.
Some fresher fish made their way into the system as the stream came up from the rain the night before.

I could go on about the trip but I’m sure you get the point. I leave you with my take away: When it is low and clear do your best not to get right on top of fish. Stay out of the creek where possible. Look around and move slowly toward probable lies and holding water. Hit the fishwith several presentations and approaches. Don’t underestimate the anger strike, these fish can be very aggressive and will move on a big streamer if it pisses them off. More to come after this weekend, stay tuned!

We sent good vibes along with this dude who we helped land his first steelhead even though he low-holed us. Note to beginners: 5wt/6wt rods will work...just plan on being there for a while! Good karma folks, pass it around.
We sent good vibes along with this dude who we helped land his first steelhead even though he low-holed us. Note to beginners: 5wt/6wt rods will work…just plan on being there for a while! Good karma folks, pass it around.

 

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