“Ok Beau, just let it drift a few more feet, the fly is going to drift down into that pool and someone down there is going to eat it. Just be patient”.
These words of encouragement came from Steve Vorkapich, a hard core steelhead angler from Ohio who had invited me to fish the Elk Creek with him near Erie, Pennsylvania. The objective was to get me hooked up with my first steelhead, a strong migratory fish that looks a lot like a giant rainbow trout but which migrates out of Lake Erie. I watch my indicator, a small piece of polystyrene foam which floats on the surface of the water as it makes its way down stream. It gets its name because it “indicates” when you should set the hook on the fish. If the indicator stops, or better yet dives below the water’s surface, you set the hook. At least that’s the theory. In practical terms the fish are so fast at spotting a fake fly you often miss the fish altogether because they spit out the fly in a nano-second.
I’d driven for six hours that morning from Virginia, and fishing like we were in cold weather and with rain and snow blowing across the river made for an interesting day to say the least. I was cold, tired and really felt like I wanted a good cup of coffee. Steve was unfazed and seemed content to stand over my shoulder and give me pointers as the wind blew, the snow fell, and the fish seemed uninterested in anything I threw in their direction.
Finally, I spotted what looked like a nice fish, but he seemed to have no interest in my fly at all. I was using a small egg pattern which is quite popular on this creek and in other steelhead waters, still nothing.
“We need to move on up some in the river Beau,” Steve said. “It takes a while to get the hang of this.”
I cast again and again, but got nothing but the occasional hang-up on the bottom.
For the life of me I couldn’t understand why folks would stand out in this miserable cold.
Steve seemed to be completely immune to the cold and continued to watch the river like a hawk. He’s an old hat at steelhead fishing and began his own company called Float Master (www.floatmasterco.net) which makes various indicators. He invented these indicators because he was unimpressed with what was available on the market and noted that other anglers seemed to spend more time getting their indicator in the right place than fishing. Though a steelhead novice, I too had noticed how other indicators moved up and down the line without me wanting it to, thus changing the level where my fly was being fished or coming off the line altogether which is frustrating to say the least.
We moved up the stream as Steve suggested and I cast my fly line in a new run, which I hoped would hold fish. I began thinking about how crazy I was to have driven six long hours to stand in the rain and snow and wishing a Starbucks would magically appear at the next bend in the river. As I was daydreaming about my steamy cup of coffee, my indicator stopped and then took a nose dive. More out of reflex than skill, I set the hook have expecting to have been caught on another log, this time however the indicator headed upstream and my rod began to throb. My reel screamed as the fish took off upstream and line began to play out by the yard. “Don’t look now Beau” Steve said with a grin, “but I think you have on your first steelhead.”
The fish continued to streak upstream and my reel screamed louder and louder. Little by little I began to take in line, and then with a bolt he headed upstream and broke the river’s surface as he rocketed up to the sky trying to throw the hook. I was nearly standing eye level with the fish when he dove back into the water. I eventually gained enough line and brought to hand my first steelhead.
“Congrats Beau on your first steelie,” Steve said shaking my hand. “You did a fine job. Let’s go get a cup of coffee and get out of this cold weather.”
I smiled and said, “You go ahead and get that cup of coffee Steve. I’m staying right where I am.”