Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 4)

In this installment of the steelhead fishing primer I'll discuss some of the specifics of how to catch fish.  First we'll look at where to fish (that is, where on the section of stream you're fishing...where to fish in general is covered in part 3) and then move on to presentation methods and the best terminal tackle to use in these presentations.

In case you haven't been reading the updates as they were posted, you can find all previous installments at the following links:

Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 1)
Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 2)
Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 3)

Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 5)

Where to Fish

We've already covered the process of finding a place to fish in part three, but once you get parked, rigged up, and in the water, you're presented with a whole new matter of where to fish, specifically, where within the stream will be the best location to find fish.

Since the steelhead are making their 'run' upstream, in the most literal sense, they can be found anywhere in the stream.  If you have a pool at point A and point B, both holding fish, it only stands to reason that the fish farther upstream had to cross through the "poor holding water" in between the two points to get there.  With this in mind, you can come to one of two conclusions: that the water in between should have fish moving through it (and since all the other fishermen are crowding point A and point B, this is a great place to fish), or that this water in between must not have that many (if any) fish in it, or else they wouldn't have bothered to move up to point B.

Strangely enough, either, both, or neither of these conclusions may be correct.

When steelhead make their run, its generally understood that it isn't one big push from the lake to the upper reaches.  Steelhead will continue to move into the streams from the lake from late August to Thanksgiving, and throughout that time and into the winter, fish already in the stream will continue to migrate in a generally upstream direction, covering a lot of water when conditions allow, and lying low when they don't.  In practice, this run consists of these fish powering upstream through falls, riffles, and rapids, until they get to a deeper, slower section or a pool, where they pause to rest.  While they are in these pools, fish who have nearly regained enough strength to make another push congregate with tired fish just arriving, meaning that the pools of deep, slow water usually have the largest concentrations of fish.  By late October, any given pool can have anywhere from 10 to 100 fish holding in the slow water, catching their breath.  In these situations, there are huge numbers of fish, all in one place, that are easy to spot.  After a moment of thought, the average fisherman usually decides to play the numbers game, and that he has a much better chance of catching one fish out of 100 than one fish out of 2 or 3 in the riffle below the pool.  Unfortunately for the average fisherman, he isn't alone, and he's usually sharing that pool with a minimum of 2-3 other guys and often as many as 8-10.  It's a simple fact of Erie trib fishing that crowds congregate anywhere that large numbers of fish can be easily seen.

The observant fisherman, however, will not that for all those pools holding 30+ fish, and all of those crowds of fishermen hovering over them, there's a disproportionately small portion of those anglers actually seen catching a fish compared to the guys who go off alone and fish an inconspicuous riffle that the others walk past on their way up to that hole up above.  In fact, in terms of catching, as opposed to the amount of fish being cast to, the guys fishing the water that others skip over catch far more than the average guy standing in line beside a pool.

When I'm scouting out new or unfamiliar water for steelhead fishing, I'm looking for three key things: depth, current, and obstacles.  I'm ignoring the pools with stacked fish.  The pools are full of resting fish, and resting fish are not feeding fish.  Any fish caught in a pool is probably biting out of irritation more than any natural reaction to the fly.  So I focus on water just at the heads or tails of pools, where it's fast and flowing.  In terms of depth, I'm looking for water anywhere from 1-3 feet deep.  Much shallower, and the fish will just scoot right by, unable to get comfortable.  Much deeper, and it becomes problematic to get your fly down to the bottom and drift it effectively in the fast current.  Speaking of current, you want it.  Plenty of it, and most of it going in more or less the same direction.  I tend to steer clear of strange back-currents and whirlpools, finding that most of the fish I catch are in more normal flows.  Feel free to try these areas, its just not for me.  Finally, I look for obstacles.  Ideally, you want to find a small section of fast water between pools that has water deep enough for the fish to feel comfortable, in current that's fairly straightforward in terms of getting a drift, with rocks and logs to break up the fast current so that the fish don't feel pressured to keep moving, but rather slow down a bit as they move.

If you can find a spot like this, you'll also find that the fish in this more active water are not nearly as picky as the spooked fish in the pools, and will often take a slightly less than perfect drift.

Presentation Methods

For all of Erie fishing, you really only need to be familiar with 2 methods, the drift and the swing.  Really, these are methods that should be familiar to any fly fisherman, and I'm not going to get into the fundamentals of how to do each here, but rather explain how to use them in the context of Erie steelhead fishing.

For swinging, you'll want to be using a streamer or wet fly.  Anything from about a #16 soft hackle, to a big #2 hairwing will work (also any intruder, tube, etc...from 2-5" long, with maybe a #8 hook).  In the small water of the Pennsylvania Erie tribs don't bother with sinking lines, sink tips, or any other such departures from the norm.  If anything, add some lead 12-24" above your fly on your leader to get the streamer low, or fish it higher in the water column.

Fishing in this way will catch fewer fish because it will only entice the most aggressive, energetic fish in the stream, however, it also tends to mean that the fish you do catch will give you among the most intense fights of any fish in the water.  Swinging streamers also reduces the chances of foul-hooking to nearly zero.

In addition, this method is really simple for the beginner to get the hang of it, but certainly allows for plenty of improvement.  Also, it makes the take exciting and very very obvious, as the fish strikes violently at the fly, hooking itself without any input whatsoever from the angler.  If you've got aggressive fish, this is the way to fish, as you don't have to watch for the very subtle bite as you do while drifting.

Speaking of drifting...

For 90+ percent of Erie steelhead fishermen, the preferred method is the drift.  As I said before, I won't get into the specifics of how to do the drifting, but rather modifications to the technique to tailor the tactic to the Erie steelhead fishery.  For most of the fishing you'll be doing, you will only have a tiny amount of line out.  In fact, for most of the drifting I do, my fly line never touches the water.  You can only really effectively drift about a 20' section of water in front of you, so there's no need to have any kind of advanced nymphing setup, and you will (or most definitely should) have so much lead on your line that the turnover of a leader will be a moot point.

For your setup here, you'll want your fly (or flies...about 3-6" apart...but I don't fish tandem so I can't really dispense advice in that area) drifting along the very bottom of the stream, literally bouncing off the stream bottom.  While some truly fantastically heavy nymph patterns might  be heavy enough to accomplish this alone, for the majority of your fishing, you'll need to add weight to the line.

Weight, Leaders, and Floats

The popular choice here is split shot, but all shot is not created equal.  For Erie, I recommend using three or four (or more) smaller pieces of shot as opposed to one larger piece.  They create less of a disturbance when they hit the water, allow the leader to flex and drift more naturally, and are less likely to get snagged up in rocks and other obstructions.

You definitely want lead shot, too.  The alternatives being tin which is far less dense, meaning you'll need more shot for less weight, and tungsten which is prohibitively expensive, especially in Erie, where you tend to go through terminal tackle pretty quickly.  If you're such a good little environmentalist that you can't bring yourself to use lead shot, Erie fishing probably isn't a natural, pristine enough experience for you anyway.

When you're drifting for steelhead, you must present your fly on the bottom of the stream. I'm talking the bottom 6" of the water column.  If your drift is in the top or middle of the water, you aren't even in the game.

As an added note, while flash on a fly can be a great attracting feature, flash on your shot is anything but.  For steelheading, you'll want dull, drab weight.  If you have some small, dark lead shot that's been sitting in a tackle box for 5 years since you abandoned it for a fly vest, now's the time to get it out.  Tin, in addition to its other shortcomings, is an offender here as well, as it is bright and silvery.  If for whatever reason you must use tin shot, get it early, and let it sit in a cup outside in the elements for a few weeks to dull it.  Better still, hit the shot with a coat of a flat finish spray paint.  Using lead, especially old lead, will solve the problem.

As an alternative, I feel I should mention that I don't use shot, but rather 'matchstick lead'.  As the name suggests, the lead is shaped like a flat compressed-paper match.  To use it, you pull a strip from the book and twist it around your line.  Usually a good, tight twist will be all you need to secure it in place (a quick squeeze form your hemos will fix it if it doesn't want to stay).  Advantages are that the strip is removable and adjustable, and that it doesn't dig into the leader nearly as much as shot.  It's much harder to come by than shot (which can be found anywhere, even wal-mart), but many fly shops will carry it.  I prefer to use "Twist-Ons", which come in the matchbook I described, but I've also used alternatives such as spooled strip lead that, while not quite as convenient, still provided all of the advantages of the matchstick lead and none of the disadvantages of shot, it just wasn't quite as easy to use as the Twist-Ons.

Luckily for you, both methods (drifting and swinging, remember?) are best accomplished with similar leaders. Also luckily for you, the ideal leader is extremely simple: a short, heavy butt section with a slightly finer length of tippet.  No complicated tapers, no step-downs, just heavy leader material tied to your fly line, and 18-30" of tippet tied to the other end.  That's it.

I usually start my day with a fresh 2X or 3X leader (fluoro or mono...your preference), and use it until break offs and fly changes have reduced it to about 5-6 feet in length, and I'm into the thickening part of the taper.  When I get to this point, I tie a perfection loop in the end of the leader, and tighten it properly (moisten the knot, pull it very hard...a 12 pound fish isn't going to baby it, you shouldn't either).  I usually take the added precaution of hitting the knot with a bit of UV Knotsense, but this isn't strictly necessary.  After that, I'll get about two feet of tippet, tie a perfection loop in the end, and loop-to-loop connect it to the end of my leader. This setup will prevent you from slowly consuming your entire leader as you clip it off bit by bit to re-tie tippet.  Since you aren't concerned with a fancy turnover, the somewhat bulky loop-to-loop won't hamper your fishing in the slightest.  In fact, may guys will attach a small swivel to the end of their leader where I put my perfection loop.  This too is a perfectly viable solution.  The only reasons I don't do this are because that would mean I'd also have to carry swivels out on the stream (not a major deal), and that I have a little bit of mistrust when I'm depending on a tiny metal contraption to keep me connected with the fish (major deal).  You might say, "But you trust the hook..."  True, but I never claimed that I always make sense.  Suffice to say that if you like the idea, definitely give it a try.  Hell, I might have just talked myself into giving it a try.

Tippet is one of the few areas I usually get a little spendy.  The mono vs. fluoro debate has been going on for years, so I won't get into that, but what I will say is that for my steelhead fishing I only use Seaguar Grand Max fluorocarbon tippet, in 3X or 4X.  That's it.  Nothing else.  I've had other brands break, wear out quickly, and other undesirable effects, Seaguar has not let me down yet.  Until it does, I'm unlikely to switch.  For trout around home, I like experimenting with different brands (and am currently liking Stroft, Varivas, and Beartooth), but for Erie, I leave the trout tippet at home and bring 2 spools of Seaguar Grand Max.  While it is expensive at $15-16 per spool, for the peace of mind, its worth it, and a spool of each is usually enough to last me the entire season as well as some fishing around home in the spring.  Does that mean you have to buy Seaguar?  Not at all.  In fact, if you can find a cheaper alternative, that's awesome (and I'd appreciate you leaving a comment letting me know what you found!), but for now, for my fishing, I'm going with Seaguar.

Another option that many guys like to use are floats, bobbers, indicators, etc.  Most that use them will say that the indicator helps them "detect the strike" or gives them a "better" drift.  Some might say it "reduces foul-hooking".  While any or all of these reasons might be true, if they are, the indicator is simply a crutch for subpar technique, in my opinion.  If you need help detecting the strike, use an indicator, but really, there's no substitute for being able to detect a strike all on your own.  In high, slow, murky water, a float indicator might get you more fish than you would by not using it, but if you're hitting the fast water, like I suggested, not only will the line not have time to straighten out between fly and indicator, but also, you don't really need it to detect the strike.  If the line stops mid-drift, you either have a fish or a snag, so either way, when the line stops, lift the rod.  As far as a 'better drift' and 'reduced foul-hooking' are concerned, both of these effects result from the switch from a diagonal line drift (like you would have if you were nymph fishing for trout 30-40 feet across the stream), to a more vertical drift (czech nymphing, etc.).  Since this is Erie, you should be within 20 feet of the fish you are casting to, and as such, your drift should already be pretty vertical anyway.

Personally, I almost never use an indicator. They have their time and place, but that time and place, for the most part, isn't found when I'm fishing in Erie.  If you're having trouble detecting a strike in deep pools, try one, but in the faster water, they're fairly unnecessary, in my opinion.  Some people use indicators that don't float, essentially a piece of bright material that they can see underwater, and when it stops or moves against current, they set the hook.  Why not incorporate a hook into that design and essentially fish 2 eggs?

In simplest terms, the more 'junk' you add to your line, the harder it will be to get a flawless drift, so your terminal tackle choices are simply how you choose to balance gear that will help you versus your drift quality. You obviously need a fly.  If you aren't drifting across the bottom, you're not going to catch 95% of the fish, so weight is a necessity.  A float, to me, simply does not offer enough of an advantage to justify its effect on my drift.

Should you decide to use one, there are a dizzying variety of sizes, colors, styles, and attachment methods.  For the few times that I decide to use one, I prefer Thingamabobbers.  They're simple, effective, easy to attach, provide a good compromise of staying where you put them without wrecking your leader, and never wear out.  I got a pair of 3/4" and a 5-pack of 1/2" and I still have all of them, after 2 1/2 years, and they all work just as well as the day I opened the pack.  Of course, I don't use them very often, and in those 2 1/2 years, I've probably spent less than 3% of my time on the water indicator-fishing, but really, their design is simple enough to convince me that they'd get lost from misplacing them sooner than you'd lose one from your line or have one wear out.

For Erie steelhead fishing, stick to the smallest sizes (1/2" and 3/4").  If you get a pack, just choose whatever color you think will best contrast the water in your conditions, if you buy singly, I find I use the orange one most often, but that's just personal preference.  To attach it, just fold your leader into a small loop, push the loop through the hold in the thingamabobber, pass the bobber itself through the loop, and pull it snug.

Well, I had originally intended for this to be the final installment, but there's still fly selection to cover, and I think it deserves its own section, so I'm going to wrap this up.  As always, links to the other sections can be found at the beginning of this article as well as in the following links section, and feel free to leave comments in in the provided comments section.

Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 1)
Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 2)
Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 3)

Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 5)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 3)

Okay.  You've got your rod, your reel, your line, (that you chose based on the second part of this series) grabbed up a bunch of flies (which flies exactly?  we'll discuss that in the next installment), and you drove up to Erie.  79 drops you onto route 5 and you decided to go east felt like it.  Actually you headed east because you missed the exit to go west and now you're going east and that's that.  It's still nice and early (dawn if you timed it right), and you're cruising up through town looking for the giant sign that says: STEELHEAD PARKING AHEAD.  You drive and drive (and drive) and the next thing you know, you're out of the other side of Erie and cruising out over the countryside wondering where the hell these streams are.  Sure, there was that little wet ditch you drove over in town, and you think there might have been a little stream back by that goofy double traffic light with the roads that came in at odd angles (that'd be 4 mile, by the way), but neither of those were steelhead tribs, right?


Steelhead will "run" on any body of moving water that eventually ends up in the lake (and you can tell them I said that).  Elk, Walnut, all the "Mile Creeks"...if you lived on the lake shore and ran a straight pipe from your bathroom to the lake you would probably be taking a shower one day in October and a steelhead would flop up out of the drain at you.  This means that any stream in Erie county could have steelhead in it.  Really.  It's that simple.

Anyway, back to your trip.

You keep driving and its getting lighter and lighter.   You cross several streams, but there's nowhere to park.  Eventually, you see a bridge and a parking lot full of cars beside it and you say, "Here we go!"

Congratulations, you've arrived at 20 mile creek, the third most popular steelhead stream in PA.  Eagerly, you park, string up your rod, and don your waders.  As you get to the top of the bank you see all the people that came in all the cars.  People everywhere.  Both sides of the stream, about 2 drifts apart from one another, as far downstream as the eye can see...and indeed probably the whole way to the lake.  Your heart sinks a bit, but then a guy just below you calls out, "Woah, fish on!" and you watch in amazement as an angry steelhead does battle, thrashing around violently and zipping completely across the stream in a moment.  You note that the people fishing near him have all reeled in their lines and are watching as he fights.  Suddenly, the line goes slack and the rod goes straight.  Your momentary confusion is cleared as the guy comments needlessly, "Fish off."  And everyone goes back to fishing as if nothing ever happened.  You feel bad for the guy, but when his fish ran up toward the bridge, you noticed that nobody was fishing on the upstream side.  You decide to get out and away from the people down here and make your way upstream, to unoccupied waters...


There's a reason that conditions on 20 mile are crowded from the bridge to the lake.  Had you not been so excited, you might have wondered why nobody was spreading out.  The reason is that immediately above the bridge, the stream is closed to the public.  Owned by a private club whose name I won't mention, that wants to keep you away from their land and can afford the lawyers to make your life miserable.  Perhaps there was a sign, perhaps there wasn't...its irrelevant.  Its private property, and if you didn't have permission to fish there, you're trespassing.

I'd have to say that, to the beginner, this is one of the more perplexing aspects of steelhead fishing in Erie.  There's public property and private and closed water, access issues, time limitations, and special regulations.  Knowing (or not knowing) what all of this means and how it affect you, the fisherman, can mean the difference between a great day of fishing, and legal issues, fines, or worse.

Before we down to brass tacks, I'm going to provide the links to the other parts of this series.  They're not all linked in any sort of a way that they must be read as a complete package, or even in order, but I do think that each part contains valuable information for any beginner.

Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 1)
Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 2)

Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 4)
Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 5)

Public Property

This is land (and the water above it), that is owned by some sort of government entity.  Usually, in the case of the Erie tribs, it's owned either by the state (I'm pretty sure the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania owns the Walnut Creek Marina and the project water), or by some local city or municipality (not sure, but I think Elk Creek Access is owned by Lake City).  While the majority of public property is open to fishermen, it's also important to note that there are certain areas that are public property that are closed to fishermen.  For example, Trout Run is one of the most popular areas for catching steelhead, but when you hear someone talking about fishing at Trout Run, they are, in fact, talking about fishing in the lake, at the mouth of Trout Run, not in the stream itself.  The entire length of Trout Run (and Godfrey Run) is designated as nursery water, where the PA Fish & Boat Commission presumably takes the fish that they strip eggs and milt from to make more fish.  As a nursery water, both of these streams are completely closed to fishing.

Aside from Trout and Godfrey runs, I can't think of any other public property completely closed to fishermen.  At the Walnut Marina, you're not permitted to fish from the west bank, across from the marina, but I think that's because it isn't owned by the state.  (For what it's worth, you don't want to fish the marina anyway.)

For the most part, public property tends to be the area most obviously open to fishing.  This is as close as you'll get to seeing a big "Steelhead Fishing Here" sign.  No really.  Most PFBC (PA Fish and Boat Commission) parking areas really do have a sign identifying them as such, usually with a helpful summary of steelhead fishing regulations below.  As a result of being easy to locate, having ample parking, and usually pretty good fishing, public access points are usually some of the most crowded spots in the county.  You can still catch fish and have a good experience, but just understand that you aren't going to have 20 yards of stream to yourself.

Closed Private Property

In addition to the state-owned nursery waters, the other major category of water that you can't fish is water on private property where the land owner does not permit public access to fishing.  This doesn't mean that there will necessarily be a sign.  There might be signs indicating that water is posted, or even a rope or cable across the stream marking closed access, but the land owner is under no obligation to indicate his property is off limits.  Further, this doesn't mean that if you see someone fishing on land that you too are allowed to fish it.  Perhaps these anglers are personal friends or family of the land owner, or have simply asked their permission to fish there.  Just as any other private property, the owner of the land is allowed to choose who is and is not permitted to be on their land.

Some states have 'wet feet' laws, where the banks of streams and rivers are indeed private property, but the streams and rivers themselves are considered a public resource, and as long as you stay within the stream, you are technically on public property.

This is not the case in Pennsylvania.

In this state, the property owner maintains ownership of their plot of land, regardless of whether there is a stream flowing over that land or not.  This means that any time you are wading on private property, your feet are on someone else's land.

Perhaps you're familiar with the legal battle concerning the Little Juniata, and how that water was opened to public fishing based on historical records designating it as a navigable waterway for commercial traffic.  If you're thinking along those lines for Erie, don't.  None of the tribs in Erie, PA are considered commercially navigable, and as such, none are considered public access.  While you're steelhead fishing, the land owner has absolute and final say over who is and is not permitted to fish on their land.

Private Property Open to Public Fishing

This third category covers the remainder of stream access in Erie.  Many, many land owners allow people to fish on their property, and truly some of the best fishing is to be had in these areas.  The trick in this situation is knowing where you're allowed to fish.  Many land owners who allow fishing will helpfully post signs that say "Fishing Permitted: Walk In Only", which means exactly what it says.  They don't want people driving all across their property, so find a pull-off along the road and make your way to the stream on foot.  It's still your responsibility to know where the public access ends, though.  Still, the absence of any sort of sign could mean that the owner does not object to fishermen, but it could also mean that they don't want anglers on their property and don't feel that they should have to post signs to get people to respect this.  While that may be confusing, they're perfectly within their rights to do this.  After all, how would you like it if people regularly walked all through your yard, and when you objected, their response was, "Well, you never put up a sign to say I couldn't!"

The most important thing to remember about private land that allows public access is that it is open through the generosity of the land owner and that it can be withdrawn at any time for any reason.  While it is important all the time, it is especially important on this type of land that you conduct yourself in a mature manner and that you do not litter or otherwise affect the environment in any way.  In fact, picking up some litter and carrying it out of the stream with you would be a thoughtful gesture.

Sometimes a land owner will restrict access to their land, and in these cases, it's usually because of rude anglers littering, or relieving themselves in view of a home.  If someone else if doing these things, there's little you can do about it, but please be sure you aren't that guy.  Just use common sense and treat all land as if it were your own, and don't do anything that you wouldn't appreciate a stranger doing while visiting your property.

In contrast to the public property, any area you hear of without crowds that holds good fishing, or any 'secret spot' (there are no truly secret spots in Erie), most likely is found on private land that allows public access.  Naturally, the more areas that you know about that allow public access, the more areas are open to you to fish, the more likely you are to find a great spot and catch a lot of fish.  But without prior knowledge or years of experience and exploration in Erie, it's hard to get started.  Luckily, this is one area where the internet can help you.

Erie and its tribs are a patchwork quilt of access restrictions, but a quick search can yield a few likely spots.  Particularly, the PFBC has this page:

Lake Erie Stream Descriptions

Which links to a number of pretty in-depth stream descriptions that will give you a great starting point.

As a disclaimer, though, please note that, as I said, a private land owner may decide to close access to their property at any time, for any reason.  Just because an online stream description says a property is open doesn't always mean that it's so.  While you're up in the area, a good way of thinking is simply being observant.  If a number of cars are pulled off near a bridge over a stream, and you can see a dozen or so anglers drifting the water, chances are very good that you can fish there.  It's also good to continue to be observant while fishing.  If everyone seems to be fishing from one bank, perhaps the other bank is closed to the public.  If conditions are crowded below a bridge, perhaps the owner of the land above the bridge doesn't allow access.  Do not assume that because an area is devoid of other anglers that nobody has ever thought to fish there and that your brilliance has allowed you to identify a new secret spot.  If there is nobody fishing in a particular wide area, it usually means one of two things: either you are not allowed to fish there, or there are no fish there to catch.

So now you know what the fishing is like, what gear you need and (after some additional reading at the provided link) where to go.  All that's left is the miry issue of how to catch them.  That's what we'll deal with in the fourth (and final) installment of this beginners' primer to Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 2)

Now that you know you want to go to Erie to do some steelhead fishing, you're wondering where to begin. Hopefully, you've already perused the first part of this beginners' guide. If not, you should definitely check it out. While each of the parts of this guide should be able to stand alone, a beginner will be able to learn something from each of them.

These next two parts of the steelhead primer will focus on the nuts and bolts of the experience: the 'where' and 'with what' of the steelhead fishing. First, the gear, then the locations. For gear, I'll try to help the newbie understand how to choose the proper tools for the task, from the basic most entry-level setup to some of the higher end gear...but stopping well short of the extravagance some guys bring to the tribs (and look thoroughly ridiculous doing so).

For locations, I'm most definitely not going to discuss any secret spots or little-known areas, but rather give you a good base of knowledge upon which to do your own scouting and find your own 'secret spots'. Hopefully I'll be able to help you avoid some of the mistakes I made my first October on the tribs.

After getting into the article, I decided to tackle gear independently of locations, making this a 4 part series. This entry will concentrate on helping you select appropriate gear, and the next installment will help with fishing spots. You can find the other parts of the primer linked below:

Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 1)

Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 3)
Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 4)
Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 5)

Erie Steelhead Fishing Gear: Rods, Reels, and Lines

The most important thing to remember about choosing steelhead gear is that you don't have to spend a ton to get gear that will do everything you ask of it on the tribs. Like I mentioned in Part One, the creeks are small, the fish have nowhere to run, and compared to the steelhead of the Pacific Northwest, these Erie steelhead are fat & lazy. This means you can get budget-priced, entry level gear and catch just as many fish in just as much time as the guy with a $500 rod, $700 reel and $100 line. In all honesty, you can get a completely serviceable setup, out the door, for under $200.

Choosing a Fly Rod

The fly rod will, obviously, be one of the most important parts of your gear. For Erie fishing, your rod choice depends on a few simple factors: where, how will you be fishing, how experienced are you at fighting similarly-sized fish, and whether or not you have any gear already that might be capable of pulling double duty.

If you ask 100 different Erie steelhead anglers "What is the perfect fly rod for steelhead?" you will get a huge variety of answers. If you were to sort those answers, however, I think you'd find that the vast majority of them would recommend a fly rod in a 6, 7, or 8 weight, somewhere in the 9-10 foot length range. In my own very humble, very personal opinion, I prefer a 10 foot, 7 weight rod for Erie steel, though that doesn't mean that a 9' 6wt or a 9'6" 8wt wouldn't be just fine. While the majority of trib anglers will have a 6-8wt, you'll also come across a few trout anglers bringing their 5wts out as well as, I'm sure, a handful of salmon anglers from New York, armed with a 9wt or even the occasional 10wt. Just like with any other target species, there's no one single right or wrong answer, although anything much lighter that a 5wt will leave you seriously underpowered in many situations, and a 10wt is generally considered a little overkill.

One thing to remember as far as rod choice is that the amount of 'backbone' a rod has will translate directly into the speed at which you can bring a fish to hand, as well as the extent to which you can control and direct the fight. While this may not seem like a terribly big deal to some, keep in mind that I mentioned in Part One that while there's no need to fish shoulder-to-shoulder, you're still often fishing near other anglers. If you hook a 13 pound fresh fish with attitude...with your 5wt, and it runs up to where the next guy is standing (not a rare feat), he's got to reel in and wait for you to land your fish. When it's taking you 10 minutes to do so because you're using a light rod that can't steer the fish, he's going to be understandably upset. Thus, it's good to use common sense. If you're the guy with a light rod, try to get yourself even farther away from other anglers when choosing a spot to fish, even if it means passing up on fishing a nice spot at the head of a pool when another guy is fishing the tail. Just try to imagine how you'd like it if someone did the same thing to you.

Ultimately, for many guys, their choice in fly rod will be dictated largely by what's already leaning in the corner. If they use a 9' 6wt for trout, there's no reason to buy a new rod just for steelhead. If you're a bass guy with an 8wt, that'll be just fine. Unfortunately for my fellow wild trout chasers, your 7' 3wt isn't going to cut it and you'll need to start shopping. Within the realm of 6-8wts in the 9-10 foot range, there are a multitude of choices, so ultimately, your end choice will be defined primarily by your budget. If you're planning on spending under $200 dollars on a rod (a good idea), you can safely eliminate quite a few rods from your selection process. Another thing to keep in mind is if you plan on using this new rod for any other fishing, and if so, how will it be used. If you typically chase wild trout, but would like to try your hand in some larger tailwaters, swinging streamers, then a 6wt would be a great choice. If you're a trout angler or a bass spin fisherman who would like to target bucketmouths on the fly next summer, an 8wt might be just the thing. If you already have a 5wt, you may feel that a 6wt wouldn't diversify your rod selection enough and may opt for the all around versatility of a new 7wt.

As far as length, I like a 10 footer to assist in getting a good drift (all important factor in Erie trib fishing). Usually in Erie there's little need to cast at all, and almost never a situation where a cast over 30-40 feet will be desirable. Even with this in mind, there are very few areas where a 10 footer will be 'too much rod', so I opted to get the extra reach. Again, no wrong answer here, just personal preference.

Action-wise, you're looking for moderate to fast action, with a tendency toward moderate. This will be able to best respond to a hooked steelhead's rapid runs and changes of direction, as well as protecting your tippet with plenty of cushion when you get heavy fish in close and the rod is bent nearly into a U-shape. Again, if you already have a crisp, fast 8wt for saltwater, its fine to use that, or even an agonizingly slow fiberglass 6wt that flops around like a noodle. But if you're shopping around for an ideal Erie steelhead rod, I'd look for a moderate-fast action.

As far as specific rods, the bidding starts at around $40 with Shakespeare's vereable Ugly Stik. This graphite/fiberglass composite rod has an undeniable reputation in a spinning rod as a nearly indestructible tank of a rod, and that same reputation carries over into their fly rods. It ain't pretty, it ain't cutting edge, and you won't get any envious glances from across the parking lot as you string it up, but it'll catch steelhead just as good as that other guy's Helios ($795)...better if you can drift and he can't.

Up from there, entry level rods from makers such as Redington (the Crosswater) and St. Croix (Rio Santo) will set you back around $80-100 and are lighter and more responsive than the Ugly Stik, but also tend to be more fragile. They're also somewhat prettier, of course.

The next tier will get you entry-level in the big names or mid-level with the smaller manufacturers. The $100-200 range will see entry level rods from Orvis (Clearwater) and Sage (discontinued Launch, or newer Vantage) as well as lower mid range offerings from St. Croix (Imperial), Redington (Red Fly 2, RS4, Predator), Echo (Ion), and TFO (Signature, Professional). If you're interested in spending upwards of $200, your options widen considerably, but at that point, we're safely out of the realm of entry-level, and almost certainly dealing with rods that are overqualified for duty on the Erie tribs.

Choosing a Fly Reel

This isn't nearly as big of a deal as picking out your rod. If you already have a rod you're using, it's really, really likely that you have a reel to use with it. If you're shopping for a new rod, it's really easy to pick out a serviceable reel: just choose a reel, in your price range, rated for the rod you plan to buy. If you're going with a 6wt, choose a reel recommended for 6wts. Some features you'll want to look for are:

  • Drag: You don't need to be able to stop a freight train, or do battle with tarpon, but you will want to be able to put the brakes on...and eventually steer...any fish you're likely to hook. This means some sort of disc drag. Sure, you can probably get by with an old-fashioned click pawl reel, but if you're getting a new one, they make very reasonably priced reels that feature disc drags. 
  • Exposed Rim: Simply put, this means that the edge of the spool that hold your line is the outermost edge of the assembled reel. Why this is a good thing is that you can control the precise amount of drag on the fish by 'palming the spool', or cupping your hand to the underside of the spinning spool's exposed rim to increase drag. 
  • Metal Construction: Machined preferably. While it's perfectly possible to fish effectively with a graphite reel, there's a reason why all mid-to-high end reels are made of aluminum. Graphite can warp, crack, and wear out. Aluminum can certainly be damaged as well, but it stands up to punishment better than the "plastic reels". Machined aluminum is even more resistant to damage than the less expensive cast aluminum reels, making the dreaded "bent spool" even less likely to end your day of fishing prematurely. 

For ideas as to a quality entry level steelhead fly reel, look to reels from Okuma (SLV), Pflueger (Trion), and Orvis (Battenkill & Mid-Arbor) in sizes matched to your rod. Large- and Mid-Arbor models have certain advantages over standard arbors, but they won't make a huge difference in your steelhead fishing. If you're interested in them, there's plenty of articles explaining their pros and cons, and they might help you, but they're certainly not necessary.

Choosing a Fly Line

If there ever was an aspect of steelhead fishing to cheap out on, this is it. As I said earlier, your longest cast is going to top out at about 30 (maaaaaybe 40) feet. In 90% of your fishing, the most you'll have to do is flip your line about 10-15 feet upstream and drift it down past you, then flip it again. Most of the fish I caught last year were hooked with less than 10 feet of actual fly line out of the end of my rod, and indeed, the majority were caught with only about 2 feet of flyline dangling from the tip top. With small streams and the necessity of a good drift, its fairly useless to target fish 30-40 feet away.

With this in mind, most of your flyline is going to spend most of the time spooled up on your reel. Also, those advanced "steelhead tapers" and "advanced polymer coatings" are intended for western steelhead and distance casting. The only thing you need on the Erie tribs is a line that won't break. Period. Low memory is also a plus, but any flyline that is structurally sound (no frays, cracks, etc), in a vaguely appropriate weight for your rod, will do the job. Keep in mind that you'll have a good bit of weight on your leader for your drifting, so the advanced tapers are mostly useless, especially since you aren't trying to cast 70 feet.

If you're only looking for an Erie steelhead line, go cheap. If you've spent more than $60, you've overspent. Likely, you can find some line, from some website, on clearance for $30 or even less. Snap it up.

Leaders and Tippet

Some guys will extol the virtues of fluoro, others will say the fluoro hype is just that: so much nonsense. All I can say is if you want to try it, try it. If not, plenty of fish are caught each season on mono. Just make sure you're using heavy enough line. Generally 2-3X is considered appropriate, and you can get away with dropping to 4X in low clear conditions, usually, especially if the fish aren't particularly lively (from Thanksgiving on, and most places far upstream). I sometimes use 5X but I fully realize that it's probably not necessary, and I also tend, like the guys with 5wts, to get out and away from other anglers if I'm going to go to that light of tippet. Also keep in mind with 4X and lighter that you have to really be careful not to break them off when you get them in close.

That's about it for the essential gear. We'll discuss flies in a later entry, as well as proper clothing and common sense accessories. Still to come: where to fish, what to wear, and how to catch.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 1)

So you’ve heard a lot of talk about the steelhead fishing in Erie, PA and you’ve deicded that this fall you want to try it. Perhaps you’re a bass fisherman who likes the idea of big, aggressive fish biting all winter. Maybe you’re a trout angler enticed by the thought of an average fish being 6-9 pounds. For whatever reason, you plan to make the drive north this fall to see just what it’s all about.

With this piece (and the two that I plan to follow up with), I hope to give you a much better idea of what to expect for your first trip to Erie. I do want to preface all of this by saying that I’m by no means any sort of steelhead expert, and that if you have any doubts about anything I say that you should definitely do your own homework. My aim with these articles are simply to give prospective Erie anglers a clearer picture of the overall Erie fishing experience, from the surroundings to the tactics, from the fish to the other fishermen. This fall I’ll be entering my third season of Erie steelhead fishing, so, like I said, I’m no kind of a know-it-all guide or a local guru. Rather, like the readers these articles are aimed at, I’m an out-of-towner that only gets the oppotunity to make the journey north a handful of times each season, who likes to make the most of his time in Erie county. Anyone who’s been through their first steelhead season in Pennsylvania won’t learn much from these articles, but the new guy who’s only caught bits and pieces about it, I hope to provide a solid, realistic foundation for you to begin building your own base of knowledge and experience.

Like I said, I’m going to be splitting up this information into three pieces. In this, the first, I’ll attempt to demystify the experience with a down-to-earth, realistic description of what to expect when you get to Erie, as well as the unpleasant facts that the Erie steelhead anglers are forced to face. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from giving it a try, but rather help to avoid that sense of let-down that some people get the first time they pull up to Walnut creek and think “This is it?”. The second piece will cover the facts and myths of the fishing itself, from covering questions like “Isn’t Elk Creek public property?” (It’s not.) to “Is it legal to clean my fish streamside?” (It is...sort of...). I’ll try to cover the questions I had starting out, and, as always, welcome further questions. The third (and final) piece will be for the people that have read the first two, still want to try it, and need a clue as to where to begin. It will be all about the methods and tactics for actually fooling these fish. I won’t go as far as to guarantee you a catch, but I’ll share what I’ve learned over the past two seasons. All of this, just in time to give you the knowledge you need to head up to Erie for your first time and...well...still look very much like a rookie...but at least (hopefully) a rookie with an idea of what’s going on.

As with most types of fishing, there are many, many ways to go about catching these fish. While I’ll try to address as many methods as I can, understand that my primary experience is concerned with using a fly rod to catch fish that have entered the streams. I will have far less to say about using spinning gear, and even less to say about pursuing the steelhead along the lakeshore, before they run up the tribs. Still, if this is what you plan to do, much of the information I will share will still be very applicable.

So, without further ado, let’s talk about the reality of Erie fishing.

Steelhead fishing in Erie is not a wilderness experience.

If you’re looking for a “back to nature” outing, you drove too far. Should have gotten off 79 and headed for the Allegheny National Forest to fish for tiny brookies. No, Erie steelhead fishing is all about the fish. Sure, many of the streams are in picturesque environments, but for every beautiful gorge, there’s a highway passing overhead. For every rock and tree, there’s an equal number of passing cars, concrete blocks, and drainage pipes. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s urban fishing but don’t be under the impression that you’ll be fishing out in the sticks.

Steelhead fishing in Erie is not a solitary experience.

Let’s be realistic here. How did you hear about fishing the Erie tribs? Probably from another fisherman, yes? Where do you think he heard about it? Now look at a map, and see how big Erie county is, how big the streams are, and how many there are. Subtract from that all private streamside property closed to fishing, as well as any part of any trib that is upstream from an obstacle the fish can’t get past (they’re pretty persistent buggers, though), and you’re left with a huge amount of anglers fishing over relatively little water. Add to that the fact that while the steelhead are in the streams from October to March, the best fishing is usually about a 4-6 week period from late-Sept or early-Oct to mid to late November, and you’ve got an idea of what to expect in terms of crowds. That said, don’t be discouraged by the guy that tells you about his trip to Erie grumbling that it’s shoulder-to-shoulder everywhere you go. Chances are he hit one or both of: the Walnut Creek Project, and the Elk Creek Access. Two very good areas to fish, but also the most crowded, popular spots in the county.

You need to understand that with the amount of pressure these streams get, its a rare occasion that you fish for a day in October and don’t see another fisherman all day. In all honesty, you’ll probably spend 90% of your fishing time with at least one or two strangers within view. Its just the nature of the beast. On the other side of the coin, anyone willing to get more than 100 yards from a parking lot will quickly see that every section of water isn’t like Manchester hole. That section is so crowded that anglers must time their casts to avoid creating a tangled mess, and anytime a fish is hooked, you’d better reel in to keep out of the way. If you get away from these popular areas, you’ll find plenty of good fishing, and while others will be around, they’ll be people of a similar mindset, that avoided the hectic atmosphere for a reason. The most important part of dealing with the crowds in Erie is your mindset. Understand that yes, people will be around, and move on.

You will meet all kinds of different fishermen.

Just like any other large group of people, the steelhead fishing crowd is made up of all kinds of people. Also like any other large group, the few bad apples give the rest a bad name. If you fish up there very often, you will almost definitely, at some point, meet someone who is an utter ass. It’s math. Like any other social setting, the way you respond to it will be the deciding factor in the overall encounter.

My approach, with anyone I encounter while fishing (in Erie and elsewhere), is to start off assuming that everyone I meet is a good person. It keeps me from slipping into a defensive mindset of ‘everyone is trying to crowd me out’ or ‘these guys are purposely wrecking my fishing’, and makes me far more inclined to be amiable. If I think someone is purposefully being rude, I will usually try to strike up a conversation with them rather than accuse them (if they’re too far away to make conversation, in Erie, they’re probably not crowding you). I’ve found that many people that I thought were trying to edge in on me simply didn’t know any better and are actually quite nice. Also, the few that really are trying to be rude will usually give up rather than try to be nice and talk. Always remember that at the end of the day, they’re just fish. If someone is really going to be a jerk over a fishing spot, they aren’t worth your time or attention, and you’re better off just to move to another spot. There’s millions of fish stocked every year (no, really), and you don’t need that kind of aggravation to get yours.

In most cases, though, you'll find that the guy that's 'being an ass and crowding you out' is, more often than not, a beginner just like you, who simply had no idea he was getting too close, or, in his excitement, didn't really think about it. This is why in busy areas, a guy off a little ways that catches a fish, often finds himself sharing the hole with 3-4 more people within minutes. Just try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and treat every interaction as an opportunity to make a friend. At the very least, this usually makes the real jerks feel awkward enough to move on.

The streams are small.

These aren't rivers. At all. In fact, I can't think of anywhere I've fished on the tribs where you couldn't throw a stone to the opposite bank. On one hand, this doesn't help the crowding situation at all, as anglers on one bank can easily interfere with guys on the opposite bank. On the other hand, this helps trout anglers familiar with small streams to make the adjustment to trib fishing. Another bonus of this situation is that, realistically, the fish don't have anywhere to go. When you hook them they can run up or downstream, but really, they're confined to a fairly small area.

It also means there's very few places for fish to hide. This has the dual effect of making every fish in the stream accessible to anglers, while also making many of the fish so spooked that they just shut down and don't eat anything. Just because they aren't hiding from you doesn't mean they wouldn't like to if they had a hiding spot.

Conditions are everything.

With such a small amount of water and no hiding places for the fish, stream conditions can mean the difference between a day where even a rank amateur catches several fish, and a day where only the most cagey veteran manages a hookup or two. Ideally, you're looking for water levels that are high, without being blown out: dangerously high, fast, and muddy. Perfect water conditions will be a stream that is deep enough that fish can hold in 2-5 feet of water, with a slight greenish tint that prevents an angler from seeing the bottom in most places. This effect works both ways, meaning the fish can't see the fishermen, and consequently feel more safe & secure, and therefore more likely to take you offering. This doesn't mean that fishing high & muddy or low & clear are useless. In fact, I'd estimate that about 70% of my Erie fishing has been in low, clear conditions, but rather that these conditions make fishing harder and the fish more nervous.

Along with the knowledge of what conditions to look for, you should also keep in mind how quickly conditions change, and that this varies from stream to stream. As a general rule, immediately after a rainfall that has the streams high and muddy, the smallest streams, like Cascade, and most of the east side tribs, will clear within 6-12 hours. The medium sides creeks, like Walnut and 20 mile, will clear in around 24 hours, and Elk, the largest Pennsylvania trib, will take anywhere from 24 hours to 3 days to come back down to a normal clear flow. Your job is to choose which one will be up a little, and colored...but fishable. This may mean spending some time driving from stream to stream, but if you find good conditions, it's well worth it.

Somewhat less important (and far less manageable) is the ambient weather conditions. Ideally, you'll find yourself fishing in cool, cloudy or overcast conditions, possibly with a light drizzle. Realistically, just take whatever you're given. Fishing in a downpour isn't really fun, but you're in Erie, you might as well fish. Obviously you need to get out of the water if there's any sign of lightning.

The fish are easy to catch.

At the end of the day, they're just trout. Nothing especially tough about catching an Erie steelhead as opposed to any other trout anywhere else. They'll take almost any fly, bait, or lure that they can see, that is fished properly. This fact is mostly to help you maintain your confidence and to give you a bit of perspective the next time you stop by a tackle shop and some "old seasoned vet" tells you they're only hitting on size 18 beadhead prince nymphs tied on curved hooks.

While the fish may have certain preferences (depending on those all-important conditions), they're only about as specific as "large dark flies" or "small natural colored flies" or "small flashy eggs". Simply put: the guy who only carries #14 pink glo bugs but knows how to drift them flawlessly will, over time, catch more fish than the guy with a full assortment of eggs and nymphs that can't drift.

This also means that while its perfectly fine to get excited about getting into some fish, it's actually pretty ridiculous to actually brag about your catch. Unless it was a truly large fish (by Erie standards), or something added significantly to the difficulty of that particular fish, in most cases, all it means is that you managed to put a good drift onto a steelhead's nose; everyone that's catching fish on the stream is doing the same thing.

The fish are tough to catch.

Just the same, its entirely possible, even likely, that on your first trip to the tribs, you'll get blanked. Does this mean the fish are smart? That you aren't a good fisherman? That you had the wrong flies? a word...yes.

Scientifically, fish...all fish...are fantastically dumb. They have no problem-solving intelligence, poor memory, and do not improvise. They are, however, remarkably good at knowing when a strange object (that might be food) isn't behaving like all the rest of the bits of stuff floating by. And when something isn't behaving right, they are very good at not eating it. These fish are also very good at not wasting energy. And if a strange object (that might be food) isn't drifting close enough to them to just grab it as it floats by, they are very good at waiting for the next one.

What all this means to you, the fisherman, is that these fish, in small streams with nowhere to hide, are cast to, day after day, week after week. You aren't going to show them much that they haven't seen before, so your best bet is whatever you drift past them, make it a good drift. While a wild trout on a small stream (that only sees a handful of anglers each season) may dart across 2 feet of water to grab a passing nymph, this almost never happens in Erie. Ideally, your drift has no tension in your line, presents the fly without any drag at all, and drifts it right into the fish's nose. Even at that, the fish will often see the fly coming and dodge it at the last moment. Its frustrating, but that's Erie.

The fish are stocked.

It always surprises me how many people think these fish run and spawn, and that the eggs hatch to produce next year's steelhead. For one thing, the fish spend roughly 3-4 years in the lake before making their first run up into the creeks, meaning that every fish in the stream is at least 3 years old. Secondly, the streams in Erie fulfill neither the habitat nor temperature requirements for these fish to successfully spawn on a sustainable scale. While it's nearly impossible to get an accurate number, it's estimated that over 95% of the fish in the Pennsylvania streams are stocked, and of the remaining 5% most of those were stream-bred in some stream in another state and migrated into a PA trib instead of its native stream.

While this fact doesn't affect your fishing in any way, it's something to keep in mind when that moron back at the cleaning station sees the hen you roped, sticks his nose in the air, and comments, "I always put the hens back. They're the future of our fishery."

They are not.

If you want to see the future of the Erie fishery, you need look no farther than the license on your vest, and remember fondly the dollars you spent on it.

Simply put: within the limits of the law, keep as many or as few fish as you want. Its bad form to let a fish go to waste, but if it will get eaten, there's absolutely no harm in keeping a full limit every time you fish the Erie tribs. Bucks, hens, whatever. Seagulls eating the stocked smolts will have a bigger impact on the fishery than you roping a week's limit of hens.

Along similar lines, these are NOT the steelhead of the Pacific Northwest. They don't travel thousands of miles, they aren't a rare catch, and once they get to adult size, they have no natural predators (other than you, my friend). The PNW steelhead have a devoted following and a strong conservation effort backing them up. Hardcore Pacific steelhead fishermen are thrilled to catch a single fish in a week of fishing huge rivers. In comparison, the Erie fishery takes those same fish (genetically at least...for the most part...kind of...), lets them get fat and lazy, then crams them into the equivalent of a bathtub each fall. These are not the elusive catches of the PNW and to be blunt, they don't deserve that degree of hype.

Some hardcore (read: elitist prick) steelhead fishermen will tell you that the only proper way to fish for steelhead is to swing streamers past them. While this is certainly a fun (and farily simple) alternative to a (technique intensive) drift method, it's certainly not the "ethical choice". The guy that tells you that is also likely the one that acts like you stabbed him when you mention using egg flies. He needs to get over it. Eggs are a perfectly rational approach to catching steelhead, and at the end of the day, is no less ethical than any other approach to jabbing a fish's mouth with pointy metal. This is also probably the same guy that will imply that you're some kind of heathen for disturbing actively spawning fish by casting to them.

Get real.

Like I said, these fish are not successfully spawning, so disturbing spawning fish in no way affects the fishery as a whole. Sure, you probably wouldn't appreciate it if someone started bothering you while you were attempting to...uh...spawn. But at the same time, if your partner is going to ditch you for a properly presented Big Mac, they're probably bad news anyway, and really, humanity won't be endangered because you failed to procreate.

Lots of fish are stocked.

Very similar to the previous point comes the fact that the PA Fish & Boat Commission, among others, puts literally millions of fish into the watershed every single year. Try to keep this in mind at key moments that you will encounter on your first trip to Erie:

  • The first time you see Manchester hole, choked with dozens, if not hundreds of fish...and dozens of anglers. 
  • When you go to Trout Run and see fish stacked so thick that their backs are coming out of the water...but you can't fish there. 
  • When you walk upstream and find a pod of fish in a pool you have all to yourself...until 3 other guys wander up to share. 
  • When you get a fish to bite but miss the hookset, and are certain you can get it to bite again. 
  • When you've clearly spooked a fish, but its still within casting distance. 
  • When you've fished the same pod for 20 minutes, with no results. 

If you ever think that you've been in one place too long, move. There will be fish up in the next good spot. I promise.

...and you'll get away from the annoying guy and his elitist friend.

You're in the middle of the pack.

And are likely to remain there.

You're obviously not a steelhead pro or you wouldn't be reading this. But the fact that you are reading this gives you information that too many Erie trib fishermen don't. If you're familiar with your gear before you get to the tribs, you're head and shoulders over many guys. Hell, if you know how to cast a fly rod, that alone probably puts you ahead of a full third of the 'fly anglers' in Erie county at any given time between Labor Day and Easter.

The experience level doesn't stop at the equipment either. If you realize that you're catching the same species of rainbow trout that the rest of the state catches, you know more than some guys. If you can guess which streams will be fishable at a given time after a rainstorm you're WAY ahead of lots of guys.
I'm not going to explain all the reasons you aren't at the top of the pack. You already know those. You're not a steelhead pro and neither am I. There's always a guy out there who can teach you a thing or two about just about anything, so I don't think I'll ever say I'm at the top of the game in any aspect of my life. Really, I'm trying to encourage you to read and study. Learn about the fish, the environment, and how to catch them. Every little bit you learn takes you farther from being a rookie and closer to being a pro.

Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 2)
Lake Erie Steelhead Fishing Primer (Part 3)

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