12-02-05 - Ditch Witch
Waters Fished: Elk Creek, 12 Mile Creek
Fish Caught: 4 personally
Outing Date: 12-2-05
Weather: Snow, 30 MPH+ Winds from the North, Heavy Clouds
Air Temp: 20's, rising to around 32F
Water Temp: 33F in Elk Creek
Water Level: low
Water Color: Elk -> Green, visibility 1-2'. 12 Mile Crystal Clear
Fish Species: Steelhead
Pattern Fished: Micro Eggs
Pattern Color: Hot Orange and Chartreuse produced all fish.
The trip east from Chicago to Ohio on December 1st was rough to say the least. Snow battered us all evening and night. We arrived, weary, at Tim's house around 1:45 AM on the 2nd. By 5:30 AM, we were back on the road, heading for our final destination in PA. After we crossed the state line, Tim and Brennon headed to Crooked Creek to do some scouting. Jim and Leanne had already left their hotel room and were down on Elk Creek. Randy needed a license, I needed a couple things, so we headed to Folley's End Fly Shop.
We arrived to find Jim and Leanne already well downstream. The Fly Shop was kinda "closed"...someone was out plowing the drive down the hill. Turns out it was Jim - he hadn't been expecting ANY customers on this snowy day! I was kinda grateful to see a plow on the premises...I was worried the Bitchin' Camaro wouldn't make it back up the hill!
I had been worried about Folleys...3 weeks back I placed a reservation which was supposed to be confirmed by them. Never got a call. Emailed and didn't get a response back. So I asked Jim if we could have tomorrow's "Fire and Feast" here at the campground. Turns out it wasn't a problem at all...we'd just have to leave by 10:00 PM. Jim was also very helpful in a variety of ways...pretty much he filled our every need and sent us out the door with a warm welcome and assurances that he'd be plowing the drive so we could get back out. My faith in the local fly shop & campground had been shaken prior to this point...I must say that on this cold, wet, snowy Friday morning I was VERY pleased with the service and attention we were given...it was the kind of warm hospitality I've come to find and appreciate in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania.
We hit it...Elk was pretty clear..just a slight green tinge to the water. Water deeper than a couple feet was still somewhat sightable, but beyond a foot or two, any steelhead would pretty much vanish unless he gave himself away with movement.
Randy and I started heading downstream, hitting the likely hotspots and for the most part coming up short. We came across a couple steelhead holding in the riffles, even though the water temps were 33F! They immediately spooked so we continued to press downstream hitting traditionally good spots.
That's when it happened..when completing the swing at the end of my drift my line got heavy. I used my "backcast" hookset and drove it home...the line throbbed. At the end was the first steelhead of the morning.
Randy was cheering me on when out of nowhere HE
hooked up as a well. A double! Randy's came off pretty quickly,
so I returned my attention to the fish at the end of my line. I
took a while, but eventually I beached it, got the pics, a put it
back in the water. Absolutely NO problems with revival...it shot
out of my hands and immediately fled into deep water.
Randy stayed put while I started working downstream again. Knowing we had seen fish in the fast water above, I didn't bypass it as I normally would (33F isn't typical conditions to find fish in the fast water....they're usually deep or suspended in slow water or soaring on the currents in a tailout).
This move paid off...at the tail of a small depression on the far side of the riffles I sighted a dark form that was too large to be simply a black rock. It moved, confirming that indeed, here was a fish. I paid attention and noticed a second form, much less contrasting, but it too was moving.
A few well placed drifts elicited a solid strike from the dark fish. It shot out of it's resting spot and tried to bolt upstream. Feeling the pressure of my drag, it turned and used the heavy currents against me. I found myself scurrying downstream so I wouldn't have to see my backing! Eventually the fish tired just long enough for me to snap a few pics. It didn't bolt off like my first fish, but it didn't take even a couple seconds to rest once released.
I went back upstream and verified that the other fish was still there. Again, only a couple casts and I hooked up! Hot orange was DEFINITELY the ticket! The fish broke the surface thrashing its head and threw the hook. RATS!
It didn't bolt, instead, once free, it held tight to the bottom in the riffles. Usually, if the fish don't flee, I've found they quickly forget their first encounter with flies. Sure enough, it only took a couple minutes to garner a second strike!
Again, it broke the surface, briefly tailwalked and then settled back into the water like a duck touching down. There wasn't any chance to get time in with the fish upstream...it immediately turned and ran at full speed downstream. Combine the already fast swimming of a steelhead with heavy fast currents and you get the idea...it was like I was hooked to the back end of a dirtbike.
As the fish made progress downstream, I realized things were getting out of control. I increased pressure and managed to turn his head back upstream. This didn't stop his downstream movement though - he still managed to struggle and angle his body to catch as much of the current as possible. So, instead of an insane bolt downstream, he was now drifting backwards, still heading towards a boulder.
Now, I'm on 8lb. P-Line Fluorocarbon for tippet.
When fresh, and being fished in cold water, I've found this stuff
is practically bulletproof. Still, it is only "8lb", so
I can't simply put the real hurt on the fish and DEMAND it to move
by dragging it kicking and screaming to shore...I still have to
actually "PLAY" the fish.
Because of all this the fish is STILL gaining ground on me...I'm having to walk downstream while reeling as he's getting closer and closer to the boulder. I have to increase my vertical angle on him because if he goes over the far side of that boulder and into the plunge pool the line is going to be rubbing that rock the wrong way.
By the time he gets half his body hanging over
the precipice, I decide I can't afford to have him go over that
far side. I reel down on him and pull back. He slides forward a
couple feet but manages to turn his body again and catch the current.
It pulls against my drag (which is being supplemented with palm)
and pushes the fish over the near side of the boulder and into the
Well, it turns out that there really isn't any "pool" behind the "plunge", it's really more of a funnel that gathers up the majority of the river's flow into a roughly 3-4 foot wide chute, sending water downstream with violent force and velocity. I'm not prepared for this. My rod tip dips deeply and then slingshots my weights and leader, minus a fly, into the sky. FISH OFF!
Jim and Leanne show up. So far, skunkorama. Randy has come down. Everyone is "happy" all the same. Randy and Jim set up fishin' the bend..there's a fish or two here (including the one I've just lost AND the one I released down here earlier).
I'm feelin' pretty good AND worn-out, so I kinda hang out and watch. Leanne is itchin' for a fish...well hey, there's one right over there...I'm 90% sure it's the one I let go a little while ago.
Jim takes a step aside and Leanne invites me to
guide her into this fish. NO PROBLEMO. It takes about 10 minutes
before we achieve that magical "perfect drift"....all
the while Leanne isn't convinced it's a fish at all...it's in slow
water so it pretty much doesn't have to move at all to stay put
on the bottom. Well, the perfect drift incites a headturn, followed
by a hookset, followed by more rod throbbing action! It ends up
with Leanne draggin' her close to shore, Jim grabbing the fish by
the tail, a disgorging of a hook, a few fish pictures, and another
successful release. 2 skunks down, 2 to go.
We start working back upstream. While Elk Creek certainly hasn't shown us any disrespect, it hasn't exactly been the most willing partner today! I spend the next moments on our hike out casually fishing likely spots and taking pictures. Randy stirs up a fish or two but eventually we all cave...time to check out some different water.
Jim has been good about salting and plowing, but even so the snow has continued to come down. At first it seems we won't make it - Randy gets out to give the Bitchin' Camaro a helpful nudge. I get forward motion and start moving! There's NO WAY I'm stopping now...you gotta keep going or you're going to get stuck AGAIN! Somehow, I managed to pump the throttle just enough to keep the Camaro in a controlled fishtail as it makes it's way up and out of Folley's End. I think I may have scared a few fellow anglers who were packing up...watching a Camaro SLIDE SIDEWAYS UP A HILL is probably almost as nerve racking as actually being the person who's driving!
Well, I'm still in disbelief at the top of the hill, but it ain't over yet. I pull out onto the road and only stop once I hit a patch of shoulder where I'm pretty confident I can get started up again without another push. Time to wait. A couple minutes pass, Randy hasn't walked up, but then Jim and Leanne pull alongside with Randy in the back...he'll rid with them.
We make our way onto 90, me following Jim. The highway is pretty clear but it's obvious that most of the traffic is using the right lane. We make our way through the Erie exits and the conditions worsen ever so slightly...just a bit more slush on the road east of Erie. We move over into the left lane as a road crew has pulled off on the right shoulder and they're in the process of getting back on the highway. After passing, Jim merges right. I start to do the same.
Now, it all happens rather quickly. My tach shoots up. My rear end fishtails to my left. I compensate and ever so briefly regain control, only to then have my rear end swing out to the right. I try to compensate by I'm not quick enough; before I know it I'm looking straight at traffic in front of me that only an instant before was behind me. CRAP!
Going BACKWARDS on the highway admittedly freaked me out. This is NOT good...I don't regularly drive in reverse at 40 MPH. I slam on the brakes, the ABS kicks in and my spin continues until I'm facing the right way again.
As I come back around the "right direction" I again try to compensate and bring myself back inline but I've drifted a bit towards the center shoulder. My left side tires catch the 6"+ of snow on the left shoulder and it's all over...I'm about to be sucked into the black hole better known as the center median.
My field of vision goes white. No, I'm not dead,
I'm not seeing the proverbial white light, it's just SNOW blasting
up and covering everything. I can feel that I'm still moving and
rotating counter clockwise but can no longer see a thing. Time to
sit back and enjoy the ride - it'll all be over soon. The Bitchin
Camaro comes to rest and the intermittent wipers kick in. Yup. I'm
in the ditch.
Apparently Leanne had been looking back at the time of the spin and is said to have remarked "There Goes Matt"! Jim says he got to see most all of it in the rear view mirrors. Moments after the Camaro had come to rest, my cell phone rings. It's Jim - he asks if I'm OK.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Everything is OK." I think I paused for a moment, then remarked, "That was SO COOL!". Meanwhile my hands are quivering. Not a full on tremble, more like the shakes I got the first time I hooked into a Tarpon (and got schooled).
Despite my suggestion that they just keep going
and go fish, I'll be OK, Jim gets off at the next exit and turns
around...meanwhile I'm on the phone calling Verizon 411. We end
up getting the number for the PA State Police...the best they can
find. I'm connected with a polite lady and fill her in on my situation.
Midway through getting the details, she stops when I tell her what
kind of car I'm in. She literally says, "What the heck are
you doing out there in a Camaro?" as if I'm completely insane.
I inform her that it's my vacation...we're here to fish and well,
I didn't come to sit in the hotel. She chuckles and says they'll
call a wrecker.
Jim pulls up on the west-bound shoulder and calls. I already have a tow on the way, so I end up heading over and hanging out in the Tahoe while waiting for the tow to arrive. Leanne is making lunches for any willing takers...about halfway through making a big fat Roast Beef Sandwich the wrecker arrives.
After 15 minutes or so I return to the Tahoe...this
is going to be a difficult extraction. I am then informed that there's
been a psuedo-vote. Jim is guilty of being the one who originally
dubbed my car "The Bitchin Camaro". The group has voted
to "ditch" that name in favor of a new one. "The
Ditchin' Camaro" and "The Ditch Bitch" were offered
up, but the group consensus was that forevermore my car wil now
be called "Ditch Witch".
I gotta hand it to my fellow Smokin' Tahoes...even after I was out of the Ditch they refused to go on and fish without me. Once the car was out, the SES light was flashing and anytime I went over around 40-50 MPH the steering wheel would start to violently shake. Definitely not driveable in it's current state, they followed me back into Erie in search of a repair shop that could look into these new "issues" with Ditch Witch.
Of course, wouldn't ya know it, the first place I find is a MIDAS shop (you may remember my "issues" with the Midas in Kenosha..). I suck it up and head in...thankfully they don't do this kind of work. PHEW! On the other hand, I'm still looking for a place to drop my car so I can get back to FISHING!
Down the road on Peach Street....within view of
the Midas, we noticed a Good Year shop. I KNOW they do alignments
(the suspected problem) and my father has dealt with them on more
than one occasion in the past. I figure it's worth a shot. Turns
out there was a great pair of guys behind the counter and they could
help me out. I let them know I NEEDED the car back in ANY condition
no later than Saturday as they're closed on Sundays and well, I
needed to be driving back to CHICAGO on Sunday :)
One car lighter, we FINALLY got back on the road
and hightailed it to 12 Mile Creek. Jim pulls right up and we hop
out. Randy walks up to the edge of the creek about the same time
I do and both our jaws drop. Randy states, very vocally, "I'm
happier than a Steve Buschemi in shit", or maybe it was "I'm
happier than Jimmy Houston swimming in beer", or something
like that...frankly neither of us can remember the actual words
that made up Randy's incoherent, babbling like an idiot exclamation
- heck Randy was so excited he can't remember saying ANYTHING AT
ALL! I think Randy's momentarily lapse of consciousness constitutes
a sufficient reaction to walking up to a deserted stream and finding
a pod of a couple hundred steelhead at your feet.
Very familiar with this small stream, Randy hits the pod and I hit the logs! Jim and Leanne had to get geared up again, but in short order they too were on the fish like a Steve Buschemi in...
I'll tell you now, the WIND and SNOW were brutal. There really was no respite, you either got it in the face or it simply ripped through all your clothes and got your bones anyways. Who cares - the EXPERIENCE was exactly what we came to Pennsylvania for in the first place. This is extreme winter steelheading's big payoff!
I can't lay claim to any exceptional battles in the afternoon, just some great steelhead. Randy broke his skunk. I brought in 2 more. We definitely had an ace in the hole for tomorrow's Pet Fly Smackdown!
We packed it up shortly before sunset (4:40 PM). Sometime in the afternoon, my phone had been called twice from an unrecognized number. From what I could make out, it was the Good Year calling. My cell reception was crap, so I got on Leanne's phone and learned that my car was DONE?! AMAZING!
We got back into Erie in the nick of time, picked up a freshly repaired Bitchin Ditch Witch and headed back to our hotel. After showers, we met up with Tim and Brennon for dinner at the Quaker Steak and Lube...apparently definitive PA Wings. Pretty good, but I still think the New Harvest in North East is better.
Meanwhile, Matt and Mitch had driven over 12 hours to get to PA. Mitch was semi-knocked out with something like a stomach virus, so they basically fished a couple hours, hooked 2 each, landed none, went to the hotel and crashed in preparation for tomorrow's main-event - the 2005 Pet Fly Smackdown.