I must admit, I am having trouble focusing as I attempt to type this blog post. If you ask my boss he may say a similar statement as I struggled through the work day today. I returned yesterday from a trip to north western Pennsylvania to fish for Steelhead in the Lake Erie Tributaries. This trip actually started over 2 years ago when myself and a couple of friends attended a seminar given by Greg Senyo at the Reading TCO fly shop. After seeing the presentation we talked on the way home and decided to book a trip. Originally scheduled for November of 2014. If you remember the Great Lakes area was POUNDED with snow last winter. We kept an eye on the weather and the day we were supposed to leave our fishing spot was covered with 7+ feet of snow. A quick call from Patrick Robinson of Steelhead Alley Outfitters and we realized there was no way we could pull this trip off. We tried to reschedule a few times, but schedules just would not allow it. Fast forward to this year. Wanting to stay away from the snow we scheduled earlier in the season. Snow was not the issue this time. Rain, both not enough, then too much were the challenges this go round. In the weeks leading up to the trip the area, like most areas in the east, had received very little rain. The rivers were low and throughout all of the communication with our guide one theme rang true, "we need some rain"! You have all herd the phrase "careful what you wish for" the day we were supposed to leave the Great Lakes area received the remnants of Hurricane Patricia and several inches of water were dumped in a 24 hour period. Now, rain is usually a welcome sight in Steelhead fishing as it usually gives a push of fresh fish into the river system. That much rain that fast can be an issue. I was literally walking out the door when my phone rang and it was Dustin, our guide. "Can we move the trip back a day"? First 7 feet of snow. now a bunch of rain...I was beginning to think the Steelhead Gods are against us! A few quick calls to my buddy "One Boot" Ed and the Hotel, arrangements were changed and we were set to leave a day later and stay a day later.
As mentioned we were fishing with Steelhead Alley Outfitters. If you are looking for a premier outfitter I would highly recommend checking them out. Our guide for the two days was Dustin. A young kid full of piss and vinegar with a drive to catch fish rivaled by nobody I have met in the recent past. Our goal was to catch our fish on the swing during this trip. "Swinging" for Steelhead is a term used to describe a type of fishing where you position yourself above the fish. A cast is made down and across the river, usually with a two handed rod, and you allow the current to sweep or "swing" the fly to the fish. With the water coming down after the heavy rains we decided I would swing and the Ed would Nymph.
We worked the first run for about an hour with no joy. We moved up river into a sweet looking run. Dustin positioned me in the middle and had me to fish down to the bottom. Ed started up a little higher in the same run and started Nymphing his way to the top. about 15 minutes into the second run I saw my first sign of life. A boil in the vicinity on my fly. Did I imagine it? Was it real, or was it wishful thinking? These thoughts were going through my mind when I got my first bonafide Steelhead tug on the next cast. Nothing snaps you back to reality and makes you focus like that jolt of lightning in your rod hand. The very next cast a fish (I have no idea if it was the same one or not) hit the fly at the end of the swing with a violence that can not be described with words. I threw the steel to him and got a solid hook set. One hard run and three aggressive head shakes later the line went limp. I was cussing myself thinking I had broke him off. I soon realized the fly was still there and a quick inspection and I realized what happened... bad ass fish!
As Dustin and I were looking at the straightened hook I looked up and saw my buddy's rod doubled over and he was yelling "fish on! "
With the Skunk out of the boat our confidence continued to grow throughout the first day. By the end of the day we had hooked 12, landed 8 (4 on the swing and 4 on the nymph) with the best fish being 32 inches and estimated over 10 pounds. It was truly a great morning and one neither of us will soon forget!
That night at dinner the discussions centered around the days events. The one thing we were both amazed at were how thick the fish were across the shoulders, and how strong they are. One thing was for sure, it would be hard to sleep that night and we could not wait for tomorrow!
The next morning brought sunny weather and low clear water, not ideal conditions. Dustin was out early that morning scouting water and after a few texts it was decided we would fish the same area we fished the day before. While gearing up at the truck we decided to take one 2 hander and two nymph rods. I was amazed at how much the water had dropped over night. I "swung" through the first run and I did stick one and after 5 on the swing I wanted to get a few on a nymph rig.
Imagine you are nymphing for Trout with an indicator rig. Now imagine the indicator going under and you come tight to the fish, only it is not a 13" wild Brown, it is 26 inches of fired up Steelhead that is as mad as a Bald Faced Hornet! I can say I don't think I would want much more fish on my seven weight NRX, and this is the first time I can remember seeing the backing on this rod.
I finished out the day with the nymph rod as did Ed. We managed 8 more fish on the second day with Ed landing 5 of them. The 2 day totals were 23 hookups, 16 landed, 5 on the swing and 2 fish estimated over 10 pounds by our guide. Here are some of the pics from the second day.
I sent an email to the operations manager for Steelhead Alley Outfitters to thank them for a great experience and to let him know they created a couple of monsters. If you are interested in booking a trip check out the SAO website here. I have been toying with the idea of hosting a trip through Irish Flies to fish Steelhead Alley next fall. If you are interested please feel free to contact me. Till next time...