The steelhead run is on
A month later than anticipated, but better late than never. Insufficient rain to allow steelhead into the Lake Erie tributaries had them stacked off the creek mouths until Wednesday, October 23, when finally we had enough rain to open the creeks. The East Side creeks were blown out that day, and West Side creeks nearly so. But by Friday all of the creeks were fish-able, and by the weekend were getting low and clear. Fishing that weekend was not as good as it could have been, but the steelhead was caught in fair numbers.
Friday Herb Wagner and I hit the steelhead creeks. We did not get so much as a bite, nor did we see any of the numerous anglers we watched catch anything. However, a few anglers who had fished since early morning had some steelhead on stringers.
We fished a while at the Legion Hole on Elk Creek, stopped at Walnut Creek, TwelveMile Creek, and Walnut Creek, then fished a while at SixteenMile Creek. Elk Creek had good flow and good color. SixteenMile Creel was clear but had a good flow. We saw a few steelheads in the creeks, but flows were too high to see well underwater.
Wagner commented on the drive to the creeks that one of the more important things steelhead anglers should do is carry a variety of baits. This ought to be chiseled in stone. Whether you use bait or fly fish, cover as many kinds of appropriate bait and fly patterns, as many colors and all reasonable sizes as is practical.
If you fish with bait, carry egg sacks, egg skeins, single eggs, nightcrawlers, grubs, shiners and at least a couple colors of Power Bait. I will guess that shiners are the most effective bait, followed by egg skeins. But not always. Egg color caused by curing the eggs and egg sack color often is very important. For the egg, sack colors carry orange, bright red, peach (light orange), pink, chartreuse and white, at least. Bright red should be your go-to color for muddy water.
These colors are about the same as fly fishers should carry, with the addition of some black nymphs in various sizes. In general, use the loudest colors or black in muddy water, and use larger baits or flies. In clear water try white, pink, chartreuse and peach. Orange might be good anytime.
There will always be exceptions. Several years ago I found a little fly on the stream bank. A tiny, bright red egg, probably cold melt cement, on the hook shank along with some white material. I wish so very much that I had copied this fly before a very nice day on Elk Creek. The water had fair flow, however, it was very clear and steelhead was skittish. Fishing had been dreadfully slow for a few hours, until I tied that little fly, maybe size 16, to the tippet.
The only reason I had not yet tried the small fly was that it was bright red and the water so clear. Forget the rules, steelhead were all over that fly. I caught two nice steelheads about as fast as it can be done with a size 16 fly on a 2 pound-test tippet and missed a few. Then I made a really big mistake. The fly snagged something on the creek bottom. Thinking it was the place that was special, rather than disturbing my fish I broke the tippet. And I did not see another steelhead that day.
Never argue with fish. Give them whatever they want.
Glow Bugs, single egg patterns, Sucker Spawn, nymphs, Wooly Buggers, and streamers are standard steelhead flies. But as every fly fisher knows the list of steelhead flies you think you need gets eternally longer.
If this run is typical, other than starting a month late, we can expect steelhead fishing to improve with each rainfall that colors and increases stream flows. New waves of steelhead move into the creeks every time the creeks rise, and this will continue through winter.
A couple of suggestions.
Waders are for wading across a creek when necessary. Otherwise, stay out of the water. Unnecessary wading will spook steelhead. Years ago some steelhead fishermen would claim that wading into a pool to get the fish stirred up would induce hits. What it actually does is scare the steelhead so they swim all over the pool and quite often while doing this steelhead will get snagged.
Fish for steelhead you can not see. If you see the steelhead, the steelhead probably sees you and this can keep them from hitting.