5-03-03 - Largest Steelhead TO DATE!
Rivers Fished: Pike River, Root River, Oak Creek,
Lake Michigan (Kenosha Harbor)
Fish Caught: 2, 1 by me
Outing Date: 5-3-03
Air Temp: Warm, 60's and possibly 70's for much of the day?
Water Temp: ?? - haven't replaced the thermometer yet.
Water Level: Pike was low, Root was very high, Oak Creek was pretty
low but not fully back down.
Water Color: Tinged Green, visibility about 1 foot in the Pike and
Oak Creek. Root was super muddy, visibility maybe 6"
Fish Species: Steelhead, Smallmouth, Carp, Suckers, Shad etc...
Pattern Fished: Black
Heron, Grey Heron
Pattern Color: see the respective patterns.
Fishing Quality: Good
What a gorgeous day. Sunny, slight breeze. Not
maybe the best FISHING day, but a great day to be out. I started
right back where I left off...upstream on the Pike. Arrived at 11:15
AM and hiked for an hour...didn't see SQUAT!
That was a total bust, so I went down to A &
13th where I ran into 2 groups of anglers. Between the two groups
they had seen ONE steelhead all morning. I went downstream briefly...basically
long enough to take a photo of the great scenery and double check
their findings. I got outta there at 12:30...no more wasting time
on my beloved Pike if she wasn't going to give it up!
Chromeseeker would be on his way soon...meanwhile
I moved up to the Root! Just after 1:00 PM I got to Quarry Park
and got in! The water was flowing like mad; carp were literally
getting blown downstream over the shelf! So I switched up to a sink
tip line to swing my spey, a Black Heron, size 1/0! This definitely
proved to be the combination...instead of working right in the outflow
I worked the midsection of the pool.
My first hookup came after a while on a large fish
that slowly made it's way through the pool, eventually coming free.
I'm guessing it was one of the several carp I saw surfacing in the
pool; it swam just like carp do when we catch them in the lake.
Only a few swings later, as my fly came into shore, I hooked up
with a small rocket. It jumped twice and came off...didn't get a
really good look at it but my guess is that it was a smallmouth.
It just didn't look like a steelhead.
Later on the creel-survey guy (I think his name
is Andy but honestly I can't remember) came by and chatted...while
I had my head turned talking to him I felt a tug...he saw it...and
proclaimed it a steelhead with that "huge trout tail".
Meanwhile, Bart was on the Pike, even further upstream
than I had gone, and managed to lose one hen. He wasn't very impressed
with the fishing on the Pike either!
Later on, still in the same pool, I had 2 more
hits..and again missed both. One was quick, and one was a lunker
that could've been a Steelhead or Carp...again just lumbering through
the pool and eventually getting off on a turn. The DNR Creel Survey
guy came back again and was saying that all the fish were up at
the dam..not to mention a few northerns that had been blown out.
As "Andy" and I walked out of Quarry
around 3:45, we came up and saw Bart's car. Where was Bart??? I
turned around and there he was, coming out behind us...they had
just arrived. After brief discussion we went to Horlick Dam.
We got to the dam and found several anglers working
the pools and riffles. The majority of angler pressure was directly
underneath the bridge...I worked behind these anglers for a while
and eventually cut around downstream to check out "upper Quarry
Park". A bit of a breeze had picked up making casting a bit
difficult. POP! My EAR! Talk about PAIN! I reached up to touch it,
expecting to find a new piercing...nope. I looked at my hands for
blood...nope. So I kept fishing.
The pain didn't go away and I got a bit light headed
there...so I sloshed upstream and again touched my ear...this time
blood. I thought, "Great, I ruptured my ear drum or something".
I walked over to Bart and had him shout in my ear...I could still
hear...a good sign. Made it up to the car and thankfully learned
that I had just scratched my ear enough to get a bit of blood. So
I went back down...napkin on my ear, and watched Bart fish. Chromeseeker
went and got like 20 suckers and one belly-hooked shad! Even a couple
fairs and pretty close to fairs on those suckers. But still no steelhead!
Suckers can be fun and all, but by 4:30 we had
seen enough, so we discussed our options. Sauk Creek? Sheboygan?
One thing for sure, I wanted to stop at Oak Creek. So we stopped
for some food and made our way over. Upon our arrival at 5:30 we
found a LOT of cars. Most people were holed up at the first pool
just below the dam (as usual). Bart and I walked our way down...leap-frogging
each other until one of us found fish.
As we walked down we passed a guy intently fishing
a tiny hole. I figured he was waiting for any fish on the move...it
was the perfect bottleneck in the river. I was the first to sight
some in the languid pool below, and set upon swinging (now on the
floating line) in the hopes of connecting. Eventually the guy just
upstream from me gave up, and I had the area to myself. A couple
people came by but I wasn't majorly concerned with spooked fish
in the deep pool. By this point I had sighted 3 distinct fish in
the pool. On a particularly bad backcast I treed my Black Heron,
so I switched to a pattern I hadn't fished before, the Grey Heron.
Bart continued downstream...made it all the way
to the beach and called me. I was hoping to hear that he had landed
one...unfortunately what had happened was some bucket guy showed
up and spooked them all...or maybe Bart said "snagged"
them all...cell reception is not that great!
I left the pool and continued downstream, not really
sighting much else. Bart showed up and we arrived back up at the
pool. Bart came back up; again we sighted fishin the pool, so he
worked the head of it for a while with me swinging speys through
the tail. CS got kinda bored I think, and started walking upstream.
Then, just before 7:00 PM, he noticed the flash.
A female was redding in that little pool the guy had been patiently
working. Bart took a closer look and saw at least a couple males
in with her! He set up, but quickly fouled his line. I took turns
swinging the spey from above while he retied. Again, he cast a few
and fouled up on some of the brush on the bank. So again, it was
my turn to swing. When Bart got his line back in order he went upstream
and quietly crossed to work them from the lower gravel bank.
After like the gazillionth drift, he switched to
his patented secret egg pattern and WHOLLOPED a male. Splash-Splash-Splash
like a Chinook makin' its way up 6" of water...this guy had
no place to go! It would be like setting off a bottle rocket in
your closet! I started shooting pictures...wait a second...why were
they all showing up black on the screen?! NOOO!!! I had the lens-cap
on! I ripped it off and went back to shooting...nabbed a few images
towards the end of the fight.
Once Bart landed him we could clearly tell he was
decent sized, probably around 10 lbs. I ran upstream to cross and
shoot the victory picture. As I crossed, Chromeseeker had just unhooked
him when the fish righted himself on the gravel and began thrashing.
You'd be surprised how well a fish can swim when it's OUT OF THE
WATER! Bart lunged after him but missed him..and the big guy effortlessly
slid into the pool.
Unlike my loss last week, Bart took it a bit better,
only uttering MAYBE one profanity. The look on his face says it
all. He was a bit disappointed that I hadn't gotten more pictures..and
we wouldn't know how the ones I got turned out until I got back
home on Sunday. Folks, you're looking at the best one.
After this episode I headed upstream while Bart
opted to try for more from the same pool. As I came upstream Bart's
girlfriend was coming down on the other side...all excited because
there were five fish holding. As I crossed to talk to her, I spooked
ANOTHER out of the riffles!
So we walked upstream, and just as the bend was
leaving my view I noticed Bart coming up the river. I wasn't going
to wait around for him to arrive! Found the first pool, but couldn't
find the fish. Back to blinding swinging the spey. No hits, but
as I was sitting there I saw movement in the next pool up!
I slowly approached to find a few males all PO'd
at each other, chasing each other around the tail of the pool. The
subordinate males were getting pushed back into the riffles. All
the while I was swinging from upstream, but they weren't interested.
Every time one of the "lesser" males slid back into the
tail of the pool the dominant one (who WASN'T the largest, but rather
the most assertive) would turn and give chase.
After wasting 15 minutes on these males who STILL
weren't on the bite, I turned and cast upstream...retrieving as
my fly drifted towards me, keeping just enough tension on the line.
Bart came by and went further upstream to fish with his GF in the
pools above. Just as he was turning the bend, I felt my line stop.
I was hung up. I tugged...rock solid. Tugged again..nothing. I was
definitely on a rock. I gave a couple quick shakes attempting to
free my fly, but this didn't work either. Rather than jump 6 feet
down into the deep pool, spooking the fish and then having to wade
over to free my fly, this called for the strategic snap off. I lowered
my rod to below horizontal, pointing straight at the fly, at which
point I'd normally retrieve the slack, and pull hard until the leader
snaps off. But then I noticed the strangest thing...my slack wasn't
moving downstream, it was traveling UPSTREAM! HOLY SH*T!
I brought my rod back up, setting the hook, and
my drag started wizzing! KABOOM a huge steelhead tried to go into
a low orbit, spinning as it traveled through the air before landing
with a crash. After all of probably 2 or 3 powerful tail strokes
the fish came airborn again...and again crashed back to earth. I
looked up to see Bart just barely visible at the bend of the pool.
With my drag burning (figuratively) I screamed, "BART! I'm
gonna need some help here!". He didn't hear me! The fish made
it to the top of the pool, turned and charged me. Large arbor my
butt...I was reeling like a madman but still couldn't get up all
the slack in the line. The fish sped past me and as the line tension
returned, she went airborn again...still heading downstream. She
got to the end of the pool, turned again, and CHARGED again. This
time, with her coming upstream, I managed to just barely keep tension
on the line. Another eruption of silver flesh and water followed,
and again I screamed for Bart. I had NO CLUE how I was going to
land this big fish from 6 feet above the surface of the water.
She worked her way up against the wall and hunkered
down. I couldn't turn her. Eventually I got her to budge...I was
definitely worried about snapping the line. I worked her away from
the wall and she slowly came back to me...at this point somewhat
exhausted. A couple guys had shown up to witness this battle...as
she went back downstream of me she went somewhat sideways in the
current, using it to pull more line out. I couldn't turn her head!
That's not a good sign, that usually indicates a foul. I turned
to the two guys downstream who were now right above the fish and
asked if they could see where she was hooked. They asked if my fly
was white, which it wasn't. From that info the decided they couldn't
tell if it was fair or foul.
So she continued on her drift, clearly trying to
work her way downstream. I had to go from hand to hand with the
rod as I worked my way around the trees that stood along the wall.
I had no clue how I was going to land this fish! Where could I beach
her? Then she got really smart...and went down the riffles. She
had two choices, to my right was a long shallow stretch followed
by a drop into a deep pool. To my left was a short riffle which
dropped into a deep pool that was covered by a fallen tree..with
lots of branches in the water. She chose the later. I was freakin'
out. I had to land this fish now...if she worked her way into a
thicket she was gone for sure. I looked below me...a 6 foot drop
onto about 3-6" of water over fist size rocks that made up
a riffle. Me in rubber- soled hip boots because I didn't want to
be bothered with all my breathable wader gear. I took the plunge.
Now I could tell you that I slipped on the rocks
(which is a common occurrence on Oak Creek...lots of slime and the
hip boots just don't grip well) but thankfully that didn't happen.
I clambered down the riffle and pulled her out from under the stump,
thankfully not entangled in any underwater obstructions. As I beached
her I figured out what was up..she had wrapped the leader around
her. She was clearly totally exhausted from the fight; didn't complain
when I laid her out next to the rod for several hurried shots. This
fish definitely wasn't pulling the "self-initiated C &
So I pulled out the cell phone and called Chromeseeker...he
put it down saying, "I'll be there in 30 seconds!". He
came running down the side of the river I had been fishing....at
least that's what I recall. I don't know if he made the jump too...but
I suspect he did..or at least crossed just a bit further downstream
and ran back up. We figured out where the last bit of ambient sunlight
was coming from, and he shot a few shots of ME with the fish briefly
raised out of the water, along with several reviving shots. Bart
borrowed my rod as he had left his upstream, and fished the pool
I had been in while I sat and revived this gorgeous 12 lb. hen!
45 minutes later....I'm STILL REVIVING. I can't
FEEL my hands. I'm thinking this fish is going in the smoker. Bart
relieved me of these duties and spent another 15 minutes working
with her, finally getting her let go as safely as we could. He watched
her swim back down to hold in the calm water underneath the log.
Not a bolting takeoff like we'd like, but hopefully she came out
So by late evening we decided to call it a night
on the tribs. We had been talking about fishing Port Washington
Harbor for Coasters, Bart was keen on hitting the Sheboygan if possible
on Sunday morning, but after a lot of debate we opted to fish Kenosha
Harbor and afterwards grab some Pizza and Beer! We got to the harbor
around 9:30, Bart's girlfriend (what a sweetheart) went off to grab
some coffee. By this point it was pretty cold, so the hot caffeine
was a welcome addition. We set up floating both waxworms and spawn,
and Bart tossed a two-toned spoon. Fish were definitely jumping
and surfacing in the harbor...some quite large and some quite small...but
NOTHING ended up on our lines. We called it a night at 10:30 'cause
the kitchen at the Next Door Pub in Lake Geneva closed at 11:00
PM; foresight and a well-placed phone call ensured that we had a
pizza waiting for us!