11-23-04 - Day 1/6 - MP's Fall PA Trip
Waters Fished: Trout Run, Elk Creek
Fish Caught: 11
Outing Date: 11-23-04
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temp: 50's
Water Temp: N/A
Water Level: low
Water Color: clear
Fish Species: Steelhead
Pattern Fished: Glo Bugs
Pattern Color: Orange and Red were top producers
Fishing Quality: good
The trip started off with me leaving the College of Lake County in Grayslake (where I teach) and heading to Bass Pro Shops in Gurnee. A few last minute items were gathered (like egg hooks & clam shot). Now on my way to Chicago!
Randy Cochran had planned to get in on this trip as well; by the time I arrived to his place at 12:30 AM I was officially beat; totally out of it. Randy would be the driver! Sometime around 9:00 AM, now Eastern Time, we had recovered from an unintended detour that Randy had opted to take. We found ourselves somewhere between Cleveland and Erie, both exhausted. A bit of fly tying and caffeine got us to make the final 45 minute drive. We had elected to start our trip as EVERY PA steelhead trip should be kicked off, with a trip to Trout Run.
Randy and I both spent some time casting in the lake, which was also relatively clear and calm. Hookups didn't come easily though; the few successful guys in the lake were right in front of the mouth drifting spawn. Rather that waste our time here all day, we opted to head to Elk Creek - it should be PRIME TIME for fishin'.
Elk was low and clear. We opted for a mid-river location, one I've visited several times before. Unlike all my prior trips, there we found fish even in the first tailout of the first run, right there at the access point. I've NEVER seen fish in this spot before...my gut feeling was that boded well for other spots.
By the time we rounded the first bend, we again started finding fish in spots that normally haven't held fish on my prior trips, regardless of the time of day etc. As the run became a pool, the numbers of fish sharply increased. By the 2nd pool, a pod of 50 or more fish lay before me, holding tight to the far bank's dropoff, but otherwise suspended throughout the water column.
For the next 5 hours, what can I really say other than Randy and I went to town on these fish. We slowly made our way downstream, in fact only making it to the "starting point" of my first time on the stream last year. When you've got OOODLES of fish all to yourself...why move?
We pretty much nailed them with hot orange eggs, shifting to red toward dusk. All of our hits were fairly pronounced, occasionally fish even moved several feet to take our flies. It was by far one of the best steelheading days I've ever had! If you got tired of a run or pool, you just moved down to the next one!
The highlight came for me at dusk. The light was rapidly fading when I tied into my final fish of the day. The water erupted in a spray as the male fish came off a redd (YES, steelhead were already redding) to hammer my fly. As the fish cartwheeled and thrashed in the riffles, it appeared to be a bright red ball of fury. COHO?
I had lost count but thought that this one was roughly the one to put me into double digits! That's right, DOUBLE DIGITS LANDED. When I finally landed this fish I could see that despite the intensity and preponderance of red on it's flanks, it was in fact the REDDEST steelhead I've ever seen. Far beyond a "double striper", this fish had red as the base color for the entire lower flanks. It was simply STUNNING. The thought did cross my mind that this steelie might be the one to have mounted (granted, it wouldn't be a mount, but instead a fine fiberglass replica). After finally getting one good shot I let this guy back into the stream..he bolted away without hesitation.
Randy was having a rough day and was looking for that one last fish (he was only at 2 or 3); all it took was to help him pinpoint the fish holding in the riffles when he too landed just one more fish. By the time the photographs were done, it was well after sunset, in fact we'd pretty much end up hiking upstream in the dark!
Turns out I landed not 10 but 11 steelies for my first afternoon on the water. A couple key observations I want to reiterate:
First, we found several steelhead already digging redds. In other words, the fish were actively preparing to spawn already. So much for the "steelhead spawn in the spring" notion - granted these are Pennsylvania Strain steelhead which are selectively bred to have a LONG running period, with spawning starting as early as November and running through as late as March/April!
Second, the water was cold. I never ended up taking a temperature in part because the fish were around and biting but also just because ICE COLD pretty much sums up the water temps. Due to the cold water, all of the steelhead we caught during this first day (and the next 5) required little if ANY reviving, even after several minutes of play OR a couple minutes of handling. It was truly a pleasure to put a fish in the water and watch it bolt from your hands, half the time spraying you down with ice cold water in the process.
My last observation - PA ROCKS! I can't believe we have 5 more days of this!