I remember that day quite well. It was a late October morning. I had an extended weekend Steelhead fishing planned with my cousin and his two friends from Missouri. We were to meet two guides from a local outfitter to take us fishing on a local Lake Erie Tributary. I distinctly remember being late even though I live right in town where we were to meet. Not a good way to start your most memorable moment. Christopher, the head guide, had us rendezvous in a small parking lot at the edge of town. We did a quick introduction since we did the formal stuff online. We quickly geared up, split up into two groups. One going to the public access area, while the other going to the private access point.
This day was a long time coming for me. I’ve always told friends or colleagues that, “I’m a fly fisherman and a Steelhead fisherman.” But realistically I was never good at being either or. Yes, I did go on occasion but I could never say that I was more than a novice fisherman at best. So, it was my cousin Jon who made me, painfully aware, we need to go beyond my small comprehension of steelhead fishing. It was determined we would hire a guide. That may have been the best decision we made.
We drove up Tannery Road and made a sharp right onto a private road. As we progressed down the hillside, the road opened to a valley with open fields leading to the creek. Christopher walked us to the creek and proceeded to have us cast streamers into a slow moving deep pool. Both Jon and I started to cast and strip back the small flies Christopher tied on. After a few minutes, I ended up watching the other fisherman in the pool. One bait fisherman was catching and pulling out Steelhead on the far side of the pool.
“Guy pulls out his limit every day and goes home.” Christopher muttered.
Two guys were also fly fishing the same pool and seemed to have more success than Jon or myself.
“Okay guys, let’s walk up the stream.” Christopher instructed.
We both reeled in our lines and proceeded to walk up stream with him.
Elk Creek is an amazing stream with high wall canyons and picturesque landscape. This stretch is even more memorable since it’s privately accessed; not many can get on this stretch of Elk Creek.
As we walked past a variety of small and large pools with different fast runs and riffles separating each other, Christopher commented with the statement we did not want to hear.
“The fish moved. They were here yesterday.”
But like any good guide, he was ready and had us tactfully sight fish for Steelhead in pocket water. This is where the narrative goes back to what I originally wrote, this is THE precise moment fly fishing became important to me. As we walked the stream, Christopher separated us to fish small individual pools. After a few steps, Christopher stops and pressed his finger on his lips and points. Past the trees, the water rushes into a small pool. As you peer into the pool, you can see the shadow of a large steelhead holding in calmer water just past the plunge portion of the pool. You could just barely make the fish out.
Christopher proceeded to tie on new fly with a small strike indicator.
“Throw this upstream and let it drift thru the pool. Any hesitation, set the hook.” He whispers.
Mind you, I am a novice and maybe, “set the hook” on a trout at least a dozen times. Just twice for Steelhead. This was all still new. I slowly add more fly line and make a quick cast upstream. I fix my gaze at the small cork indicator as it rides the current seam through the head of the pool. First cast…nothing! Reset…load my line and shoot it upstream again. Second cast…nothing!
Load it again and shoot it upstream.
Third cast…indicator stops.
“Set!” Christopher exclaims.
I proceed to lift my rod with a quick and violent lift.
“FISH ON!” I scream.
“Sideways pressure downstream…” Christopher yelled.
If you are not familiar with Steelhead, this is where the amazing portion of the story begins. Imagine a 22-25” 5 lb.+ lake-bred rainbow trout sitting in a small stream 40 yards wide. Monsters in a small stream.
I followed Christopher’s instruction, I applied sideways pressure to make sure the fish did not go under the logs and debris.
ZZZZZZZZZZZUHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH as the reel screams.
One run, then another, and another…
I am now running up and down the stream sweating and trying to manage my heart palpitations.
“Keep the line tight.” Christopher yells
“Bring him closer…”
The fish is now tiring and slows its fight. Christopher, with one quick move, scoops up the big fish. Instantly I fall to my knees, Christopher is running to me with the Steelhead in the net.
“WOOOHOOO!” Jon yells with his arms pumping up and down.
“Yeah!” Christopher screams as he tries to high five me.
I could go into perspective and provide you a comprehensive account of my feelings at this moment, but I am ending with this instead. It’s obvious to me I needed something in my life and I believe fly fishing and specifically Steelhead fishing filled that need.
Thank you, Christopher, and thank you cousin Jon for jump starting something that was buried deep inside me.
Author: Ki Kim