Elk Creek Steeheading by Nintendo


There are times when the moon and stars align and everything falls into place. The same thing can happen when comes to steelheading - especially when you go to Pennsylvania after high water and the during the week of deer hunting season. It was also my week off of work and earlier in the month I was pumped for some action. But, Mother Nature had a surprise in store for me. It rained Monday morning and I managed to squeeze in a morning of fishing before the Rock blew out. I wasn't going to let this happen and I knew plan B was the only option - heading to Pennsylvania.

The Elk got blown out Monday and I knew it would be fishable by Wednesday. Even though, in the past I have lambasted Pennsylvania for stocking too many steelhead and goofed on the locals for fishing a pod of steelhead in a pool about the size of my bathtub. Since this was my vacation, I was desperate as I was only able to fish early Monday morning.

When I arrived the river was about as perfect as you can get. The other bonus, I was the first vehicle there. During any other time, the cars would be rolling in. It was very cold at first light and I knew the fish would be packed like sardines in the deeper pools and runs. The water was slightly stained and I had two containers of my King salmon eggs raring to go.

It was odd being back in Pennsylvania after a six year hiatus. At first the fishing was slow and I didn't have any takers. The water was deep enough and I was somewhat puzzled. I drifted along the seam and nobody was home. I crossed over and moved towards the tailout. Then it was off to the races as I started to clean house. I noticed most of the anglers were heading upstream. After 20 minutes of no action, I decided to head downstream. As I walked downstream there was a sign posted by a landowner asking anglers to wear blaze orange. I had my lucky Toronto Maple Leafs cap, dark blue hoodie and sage colored waders. I scanned the trees looking for stands and found none. I remember all too well about 7 years ago when I was fishing the same section and 3 deer ran across the creek. Not too far behind was a hunter getting ready to shoot. Luckily at the last minute he spotted me. It freaked me out and I decided to high tail it out of there. Today, that section is posted by no other than the trout nazi himself - Donnie Beaver. It's a shame because there was some nice water.

The fishing today was like a video game set at beginner level. At times, it was one fish after another and I could of made bets on consecutive hook ups and won. It was insane and at one point I couldn't stop laughing. The Elk got a great run as the majority of fish caught were fresh. A friend of mine guiding farther upstream, told me they were hammering them all day long. When the conditions are right on the Elk it's possible to land 40 to 50 fish in one day when using bait such as eggs. The stained conditions and no previous pressure benefited me. All of the fish caught came in pools about 3' to 5' deep with a moderate flow. The fish were holding in the mid to tail sections. Using the pin really helped and it's very rare to drift entire pool on the Elk without somebody pitching a fit and screaming "Pool hog!! Pinners suck!!" As the day went on, the creek started to get clearer. The previous spot I fished in the morning went from stained to green. With my polarized sunglasses, I could see bottom and darker fish were easy to spot. By tomorrow the creek will be running low and clear and the fish will also have started to smarten up.

After I exhausted my spawn sacs, I placed several sucker spawns in the jar to absorb the juice from the eggs. It worked and I started to bang holes on the way back. It turned out to be a great day - I didn't get shot at, I ran into 4 other anglers the entire day and had a boatload of fish for myself. Maybe I won't be too harsh on Pennsylvania anymore.

Am I fishing with a collectible reel?

I recently found out from somebody that I might be fishing with a valuable piece of fishing equipment. My bushing centerpin reel is made by John Milner from Cranbrook, British Columbia. John's reels have a reputation for superior craftsmenship and are highly sought after. I have no idea how old the reel is as there is no serial number. I sent an email to the company to see how old it is and how many were made that year.

I purchase my reel from Ebay about 6 years ago, well before the pinning craze that hit steelhead alley. I got lucky as I got both the reel and a 13'6" Raven float rod for $220.00. At the time, I was bidding with four others. If the auction happened today, the reel alone would gone for much more.

My Milner has a lot of battle scars and logged a ton of miles. So I'm looking at getting another reel and retiring it.

Creek Critters

Earlier in the week we received enough rain to get the rivers high. Some of the eastern rivers started to come down when another dose of rain fell and they went back up. For the upcoming weekend, I wanted to fish east, but with gas at $3.10 per gallon, my options were slim. The Grand was still too high, Conneaut was too far and the Chagrin was questionable. Both the Rocky and Vermilion were low and clear. Also, the Rock would be a zoo this weekend.

Friday evening the Chagrin was coming down to the point that I knew it was fishable and I needed to tie goober sized sacs. I woke early and found the flow gauge was at 650cfs. That meant the river was a little high and dirty. When I arrived the river looked decent, but not great. I knew I was in for a tough day. I plugged away at several pools and worked the tailouts. For my efforts, I caught a couple of hens and that was it. For the entire time out, I didn’t see one person. On the way home it started to rain and through out the evening it rained off and on. I was concerned that the rain could blow the river out. I tied some sacs and if the Chagrin got blown out, I would have to the fish the (gulp) Rocky.

I woke early Sunday morning and checked the flow gauge. The graph showed a slight hiccup and the Chagrin dropped to 550cfs. I geared up and started to walk through the woods. As I walked to the river in the dark, I could hear some rustling. I turned to see what it was and there was beaver feeding on a large tree. He froze when I shone the light on him. I wanted to get a picture but it was too dark. The beaver made a break for the water as I fumbled with the camera. I was surprised how fast he took off.

This section of the river runs through one of the many Cleveland’s Metro parks found in Cuyahoga County. It also runs through one of the wealthiest communities in Ohio. Many people don’t know how much urban wildlife there is. The Chagrin acts as a natural highway and many animals use it to get around. In this park, there are deer, turkey, beaver, coyotes and raccoons. There are also some animals that people hear, but don’t often see. One of them is the Great Horned owl. I was fortunate enough to hear one this morning. It was somewhat eerie hearing that owl call. By now it was first light and I tried to see where the bird was perched. I scanned along the treetops and I finally caught a glimpse of the owl. It was sitting at the top of a large sycamore calling out as I heard another owl in the distance. This is the time of year when horned owls start looking for a mate. I continued walking and startled another beaver feeding along the bank. He bolted for the water in a hurry. What is unusual with these beavers is they don’t construct lodges, instead they live in the river’s banks.

Today, the river was in better condition. I fished the same spots and the results were better. All of the fish caught came from the tail end of pool and along the edges of the main current. It was a mix bag of fresh and older fish. As I was fishing, I noticed a large buck and doe emerge from the woods. As with the owls, deer are mating and this large buck was courting the doe. In this area, deer tend to be more use to people and they stood there watching me. I got the camera and used the zoom to get a shot. During that morning, I saw about 10 deer.
The bite shut off around 11:00A.M and I decided to hit another spot farther downstream. The fishing was slow and I talked to a couple of anglers that caught a couple here and there. I agreed with them the fishing on the Chagrin was average. It was like that last fall as the fish really didn’t come in until spring. I managed to catch a couple more and my back started to ache. It was about 12:30P.M and I decided to head home to watch the Browns and Ravens.

Once again the Browns made the game interesting and I thought they lost the game when Phil Dawson missed the tying field goal to force overtime. The ball clanged off the bar and hit the crossbar, then bounced back onto the field. I was disgusted with the poor effort from the team and changed the channel. During commercial I switched back to CBS and noticed the game was still on. I was puzzled and found out that the officials reversed the call as the ball hit the crossbar extension. By doing that, the ball broke the plane, therefore it was good. The Browns won the toss and marched down field to set up the winning field goal. Dawson’s kick was good and I wished I could see the look on Art Modell’s face. These Browns make the Kardiac Kids look flat line.

I'll be taking Turkey day off for some much needed sleep. Next week, I'll be cashing in my vacation time. That week is also deer hunting season. A lot of guys will be hunting instead of fishing. Memo to self - find orange toque.

I'm Beat

Next year, I’ll be 40 years old, the big 40. This weekend left me sore and tired. Stumbling along the banks, buckling my knees, tripping over downed branches, feeling winded and a sore shoulder from pinning all day. I could be the poster boy for Advil. Time to hire a personal trainer and drop the fatso foods. But then again, I wasn't in great shape in twenties and thirties as I smoked and drank a lot. 

The two excellent days of fishing made all of those aches and pain more tolerable. The Grand is still producing a ton of fish. Some larger fish have moved in as I caught a couple of fat hens that topped 30+ inches. The fish are spread out and I hit them at every spot. The weather this week has been much colder. Didn't get a water temp reading, but after a hour, my feet started to ache from the cold water. Unlike last week, the fish started to retreat into their winter homes. The tail end of pools, flats and eddies were the ticket. I surprised to see other anglers passing up those spots. The fish were gobbling up and asking for seconds when it came to my uncured salmon eggs.

As I’m writing, we’ve had rain falling for several hours. A lot of the other rivers need rain and they could use a good flushing as the leaves are starting to pile up. Time to take a nap……

Pennsylvania Puddle Fishing

Here is another example of why I constantly goof on PA steelheaders. This is a picture of the Walnut Creek aka The Walmart taken this past week. This section of the Nut is called the chutes and it would make a great bobsledding run. As you can see this what PA's streams run like 95% of the time - low, clear and shoulder to shoulder. I fished it once 6 years ago and I vowed never to return.

Grand Days

The fall steelhead run in Northeastern Ohio is official underway. One river that has been on fire is the Grand. During the past week there has been reports of some anglers hitting the motherload of fish.

Now time to vent. This week, I took Thursday off to go to court to fight a bullshit traffic ticket that I got from the North Olmsted police. Speeding is one thing, but to get a rolling stop infraction in my subdivision at 2:30 in the afternoon and there wasn't a car at the intersection??? I pull into the driveway and was ready to get out, only to see this cruiser come roaring up my driveway. The way the cop acted he thought I robbed a bank. I wasn't too happy that the cop raced up my driveway and I gave him an earful. The cop tells me there have been complaints about people not stopping. I called bullshit and starting arguing with him. I made a right turn and I stopped. A complete stop is so subjective and hiding in somebody driveway doesn't give him a full view. I could tell he was going to be a hard ass and wasn't going to give me a break. I figured I'll see how far I can take before he threatens me. We went back and forth and he started to get pissed. His buddy riding shotgun just glared me. Too bad, that's what happens when you dick people over, don't expect them to be pleasant. He issued the ticket and I told him I'll have my day court and get off my property. 

I went to court and told the judge not guilty and my case was set. A month later, I was back in court. I researched the internet and I didn't have good chance of winning because the officer had his buddy riding shotgun. I knew both of them would tell the judge that I didn't stop after all cops tell the truth all the time right? I didn’t want 2 points on my record, since I had to drive as a service tech, so I asked for a deal. I guess the cop must of had short term memory, because he didn't remember me. I thought he would look at me and say "your the guy in the red Jeep that was running your mouth" . He dropped the charge and issued me the ever popular burned out tail light. It was a $30.00 fine and I could live with that. It was a done deal as we didn't even step in the court room. I walked downstairs to settle up and then the shit hit the fan as I was presented with a $146.00 bill. The clerk told me the $116.00 was for court costs. I started bitching that my local income and property taxes paid for the judges, clerks and cops. She on the other hand, heard this a million times and was unmoved. What a fucking racket, you beat the charge but you'll still get it in the ass. I paid it and stormed out of the building. I was still steaming and what a better time then to head for the Grand.

Now for the fishing. Early in the week, a little birdie told me that the Grand had a monster run of fish. Most the other streams were starting to run low and clear. But the Grand was still holding its color. I arrived at the lower section of the river around 10:30A.M and I could see about 10 cars in the lot. As I pulled in, I didn’t see anybody fishing the one section above the bridge. I got dressed and walked down. I was puzzled to see nobody up or down stream, I had no idea where most of the people went. As long as they were far away, the better. The river had a nice flow and color, the visibility was about 2’ and slightly stained. I had a couple containers of King salmon eggs and put them to use. Within a few minutes, I had my first fish. That was a prelude for things to come as I started to hook in fish. I was stunned at the number of takes. I had barely moved 80 yards and I had 8 fish on the beach. The word was that a lot of Pennsylvania steelhead moved up the Grand. They were either fed up of being crammed in tiny pools or the sheer number of anglers scared them back into the lake. What was PA's loss was Ohio's gain and I welcomed the fish into our larger streams. I continued below the bridge and there were 3 guys fishing. I fished below them and I started hooking up. Those uncured eggs were the ticket as the other guys had skein and they were trying in vain to fight off the hordes of creek chubs robbing them blind. When it was all said and done, I had a banner day. Most of the fish were on the average size. I was surprised that the fish hit all afternoon as this spot is right in Painesville and usually gets hammered daily throughout the season. I wondered if the fish made it further upstream as I had plans to assault the upper stretches this weekend.

I woke early Saturday and the blast of cold air hit me as I walked out the door. It had to be below 32F as there was a heavy frost on the grass and the Jeep's windows. I drove off and headed for the mid section of the Grand. When I arrived it was 6:45A.M and it was pitch black. I started the long walk upstream to the mouth of a feeder creek. It was hard to navigate through the grass and sedge as it covered most of the trail. It was eerie as all of the vegetation was covered in frost and the woods were quiet. I finally arrived at the feeder creek and it was twilight. The water was low and I noticed the float was starting to drag. I only had about 2’ of line and I knew the fish wouldn’t be holding in water that shallow. I started to gun and run back downstream. Without sunglasses, I could make out rocks in the water. The water had a tea color and the flow was moderate to slow. The one pool that I do well in the winter was too low and I skipped it. I was able to find some deeper water. It was tough to pin as the flow was really weak, I was able to fish from the bank and I had the first fish of the morning, a jack. I fished for several more minutes and the creek chubs drove me out of there.

It was cold enough for ice to form on the guides as I struggled to get off long drifts. I hit another pool and worked one small hole. It paid off as a large hen crushed a pink sac. But, it was a case of one fish here and there. I knew there had to be one place where the fish were holed up. I finally found the spot around the bend and it’s a section that a lot of anglers walk by. The fly guys don’t fish it because of the trees and newbies can’t read the water here. I started to drift along the inside of the bend and a small hen took it. At first I didn’t set the hook hard as I thought it was creek chub. Then it was off to the races as I started to hook into fish. I managed to beach a couple of fish and lost a couple more. The river here is about 3’ to 4’ deep and is great during the winter months. I continued to walk downstream and I found another of my money pools vacant. This pool was a classic steelhead alley pool. It was about 3” deep and cut along the bank and tailed out to a riffle. I couldn’t see bottom and I knew this spot was packed with fish. I started at the head of the pool and started banging fish. It was about 11:00A.M and I landed my ninth fish of the morning. All of the fish were starting to get dark and I assumed they were from Pennsylvania. I was somewhat surprised to see nobody on the water this morning and I decided to head farther downstream as the fish in that pool shut off. 

I drove to the other side of the river and started the half a mile walk to one of my favorite spots. I finally arrived I was happy to see nobody there. This riffle spilled into a long run that was about 4’ deep. This run can hold a lot of fish when the river is low as there isn’t that much deep water here. It took some time to get the fish biting and then the dinner bell rang and the float started popping. It was a mixed bag of jacks, males and hens that fell for the pink sacs. When I use uncured eggs, I usually tie about 100 sacs, because I’ll go through a lot of them. After 5 drifts, I’ll replace the sac as they become white and lose their scent. I was down to 3 sacs and I had landed 17 fish. I looked at the time it was 3:00P.M, I told myself one more fish and I’ll head home. It had been about 20 minutes since my last fish. I moved farther down as I cleaned out the upper part of the run. My wishes were answered as a small jack leaped from the water. I released the fish and started the walk back. I was beat, my shoulder was tired and my back was aching. I finally made to the lot and called my buddy. He was stuck at home painting and wanted to go out tomorrow. I told him it was another banner day and I’ve never seen so many fish in the Grand. He told me he would fish for a couple of hours early in the morning and head home to paint. I laughed and said “If you were here today, you would of used every excuse in the book to weasel your ass out of painting". I took my time driving back and I when I got home I started the long process of tying another 100 sacs for tomorrow's trip.

Currently, all of the rivers are getting very low and clear. With the exception of the Grand, there are fish, but there are spread out. The colder temperatures don't seem to effect the fish as they are being caught in the faster water. The weather outlook for next week is a blast of cold air with rain or snow in the forecast. We could use another dose of high water to push more fish into the rivers.