Winter Paradise

by | Nov 14, 2014 | 0 comments

** This post is from contributing author, Pat Burke. **

At one point in my life I was a steelhead fishing junky. I was obsessed. I made at least one trip a week throughout most of the season. Sometimes two. Since moving to central PA I’ve only made a handful of trips. I’m still a steelheader at heart though. On cold, rainy fall days, I still find my spirits lifting and my excitement building.

Friday I made the 3 hour trek to Erie. My grandfather planned this trip a few months back. We set a date and were going regardless of the conditions. To be honest, I fully expected conditions to be bad. “Low and Clear” is a term heard all to often by a PA steelhead fisherman. The fish can be caught in these conditions but it is tough.

The water had been low for weeks. I noticed the forecast was calling for lots of rain the Wednesday prior to the trip. I crossed my fingers hoping I was going to hit it right. Well Wednesday came and went and no rain. Then the forecast changed and the weather got cold and they called for scattered snow showers. Well scattered snow showers turned into 8 inches of snow Thursday night! Temps hovered in the mid to upper 30s throughout the trip providing just enough snow melt to keep the streams at a nice fishable level.

I departed at 3:00 am Friday with an expected arrival time of 6:30.  I ran into a little snow along the way and it slowed me down a good bit.

When I arrived I was the ONLY car in the parking lot. I have NEVER seen this phenomena in mid November during the peak of the steelhead season.

A buddy of mine gave me some solid intel of where a large amount of fish were located. So that was my destination for the day. My family was due to arrive early afternoon. I knew this section would be too hard for my grandfather so I figured it would be best to hit this section while it was just me.

As light broke I was greeted with some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. Man it felt great to be back up here again.  Before I took my first cast I took a deep breath and soaked it all in. Damn this felt good.

Then I fished. Right from the get go the fish were on. First cast I was into a hot fish. The calm quiet was replaced with chaos. The fish erupted on the surface, jumping over and over again, and tearing off line. It is all about surviving the first couple runs with these fish. You just gotta let them get that crazy shit out of their system. He settled down and I slid him into the net a couple minutes later.

This continued over and over again until the owner across the stream let his dogs out. They barked at me for a while making me feel uncomfortable, so I pushed on further downstream.

Every spot I stopped at yielded numerous fish. It was a good mix of fresh and old fish. The older fish seemed to have a preference for the nymphs and small eggs and the fresh fish wanted buggers.

Today was the complete package. The fishing was great, scenery was fantastic, and I was the only one there.

Overall most of the fish were hidden pretty well and I wasn’t fishing over visible fish. I enjoy this style of fishing better because it is more of a surprise when that indicator dunks hard. That wasn’t always the case though. I found a few spots where there were 20 or so fish stacked up and in plain site. These fish were generally harder to catch and I often moved on rather than pester them.

The fish got bigger as the day went on. Nothing massive. Just good solid mid 20s steelhead.

This was about the point where I stopped taking fish pictures. My DSLR was starting to get ice building up on it from continually getting my hands wet holding fish. There were many more similar sized fish today. Just hard fighting steel! My forearms were starting to cramp up on me and my 5 weight was hating life from being abused 🙂 It was time for a break.

The weather was all over the place throughout the day. At times there were blue skies.

Followed shortly after by blizzard like conditions.

The best part was I was ALONE in Erie county! Well not so fast. I did see my first bald eagle on an Erie trib. I came around the bend and scared him off as he was feasting on a fish. Here was his victim.

Just a few more scenery pics from the morning.

And a few more miscellaneous fish pics…

It was now just after lunch time so I decided to head back up to the car and eat. Afterwards I checked out a few places close to the car that I could possibly take my grandfather to. I found a few more fish, but mostly in low numbers.

I packed things up around 2:30 and went to the hotel to meet my grandfather and uncles. Upon arrival we unloaded our gear and sat in the hotel room. My grandfather’s tradition is for all of us to drink a shot and a beer together as soon as we meet. So that is what we did. Then we cooked out in the parking lot and bull shitted about football and fishing.

This turned out to be a really great night. My grandfather repeatedly told us that there is nothing better than being there with his boys. You could tell he was having a really great time. Maybe too good of a time because he drank too much bourbon and ended up passing out at 6:30. My other uncle also drank too much so he hung out back at the room with my cousin.

My Uncle Craig and I went to a hick bar inside the hotel and caught up. He is the one who taught me to fly fish. He is a very good fisherman even though he doesn’t go out very much anymore. You can’t miss him on the stream though. He often wears a blue jean jacket and neoprene waders! Not this time though. He upgraded his gear a bit and has moved up to rubber chest high waders and a camo jacket. He is living proof that you don’t need good gear to be a good fisherman.

After catching a good buzz, we walked back to the room and decided to fry up some salami on the grill! Very unhealthy but good…

The next morning we woke up and went out to breakfast. Usually I show a lot of urgency going out on the stream in the morning but today it was all about going at my grandfathers pace.  The road we took to the creek has no winter maintenance and it was NASTY going down. We were rewarded with a giant empty parking lot all to ourselves.

Unfortunately there was already someone fishing the hole we had in mind. We fished the lower end but we were short of the prime location. My grandfather lasted a few hours and I was able to get him hooked up into one fish. He lost it after a short battle but I was happy to at least see him get the action. He said he was done and asked me to catch a fish to take a picture with him. The pressure was on! I managed to pull a couple out of hole so we could get the picture.

After that I helped my cousin out a bit and we found a couple fish tucked in a pot hole near the downstream island. He hooked and lost the one and I picked up the other.

We finished up around noon. I’d have liked to stayed longer but I had to head home to prepare for another fishing trip to Connecticut. This trip reminded me how much I love steelhead fishing. This was a special trip for me to get to fish with all my family members again. This was a flash back to the good old days. Now I’m the only one who goes out with any consistency anymore. I’m glad everything worked out and we were all able to do this again.

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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