November 2008 Outing Report.
Erie Steelhead

First, just let me say that even though I’m the one folks are thanking for putting this outing together, it was very much a collective effort. In truth, Will Amland and Ken Bowyer probably did more work than I did in making it a success. Will made all the hotel arrangements as well as getting us all a great deal on the rooms; Ken put together a Set of Erie tributary maps everyone could download, then additionally posted an article on the PPTU listserve covering flies, tackle, tactics and clothing needs, that contained more useful information than I’ve seen in some articles in expensive fly-fishing magazines.

Another PPTU member and contributor to the effort was Bill Goldner who went up a few days ahead of us to fish with some friends, then volunteering as a “boots in the water reporter” to let us know about the water and weather conditions and what flies were and were not working.

Reports from Bill on Friday and Saturday before leaving Sunday were that water conditions were as low and clear as he had ever seen in the past five years of fishing the Erie area. But, added they were catching fish on pink and red San Juan worms that were out producing the traditional crystal meth and egg patterns. So, to those of us, me included, who spent a lot of time and good money tying meth and eggs and have fly boxes full of’em, they won’t spoil, we can use them next year.

After the group rendezvoused for breakfast at the Denny’s diner in Breezewood, we headed north hoping for rain as we went. The trees were barer this year making the mountainsides drabber than last, only occasionally a hillside brightened with splashes of yellows breaking up the monotony. Roughly forty miles south of Erie it finally started to rain hard enough to turn the wipers on; and while we never experienced any hard rain we were pleased to note the puddles in the driveways and the potholes on our way to the Lower Elk Access. While the rest of us suited up in light rain and 37 degrees, Will Amland and Tim Bowers went on to check out the Conrail pool.

A quarter mile upstream from the parking lot a high bank rises up from the creek and fish were stacked up all along it seeming to congregate thickest under the branches of hemlocks that hung over the creek. Dark shapes over two feet long could be seen moving about in the green water, when an errant cast made it into one of those overhangs that shook the greenery above the surface would erupt with boils and streaking wakes.

The fishing was tough; flies that worked on past trips were drawing no strikes. However, there were those who did find something in their boxes that the fish wanted, and every few minutes news would travel up the line that Nick Weber was hooked up again. Several of us fishing that bank managed to get hooked up at least once that afternoon, but no one landed a fish. A Steelheader needs at least a little success, otherwise it’s coulda, woulda, shoulda thoughts for a long after leaving the water.

The Gang

Almost every night over dinner someone would describe the sudden heart pounding exhilaration of a hook up, immediately followed by mounting anxiety in wondering just how long you were going to stay that way. Some of the guys, obviously still in recovery, would give vivid descriptions of desperate battles lasting several minutes, fish and angler fighting for line, the hook miraculously holding during reel screaming runs and fantastic leaps. Finally, the fish tiring, the prospect of actually landing this thing would become a real possibility. A few more long runs and the fish would be rolling closer to surface and slowly coming to the waiting net, still trying to fight but obviously close to surrender. Then, a foot or two away from the net, or maybe even just inches, the fish would find one last burst of energy in a rod jarring run and victoriously pop free, Steelhead fishing!

The only successful anglers that first afternoon were Steve Graves and Tim Bowers; Steve netted his first steelhead fishing downstream from us, a nice 27 incher, that local boys estimated at 7 pounds. Later, back in the parking lot Steve related the story he’d heard on stream about an angler just the day before accidently stepping on and breaking the rod of another angler who had lain it down while taking a landed fish out of his net. An argument ensued, and the angler whose rod was broken pulled his pistol shooting the one who broke it. Hhmm….

That evening after dinner and back in the room, Tim looked out the window and said “Hey! You gotta come see this”, the rain had transformed into large snowflakes and was already covering the ground.

Monday morning was white, 5 inches of white and still coming. We milled around the lobby eating breakfast before finally taking off around a quarter till 8. Will and Tim took off to check out the mile creeks while we headed back to the Elk. On stream at the lower Elk access a few anglers were already there helping to create a very pretty fishing scene. The hemlock branches were now frocked with snow, the water a darker cast than the day before, and a stiff wind spitting sleet and snow.

Bill Goldner got into a good one, Joe Robinson was briefly hooked up, and I think Nick was into’em again, but after four hours of fishing, nothing to the net, and numb with cold, I said I was heading for the truck and lunch. The rest of the gang trudged up behind us Joe carrying a cat they found in a snow drift half starved and freezing, sacrificing the rest of the afternoon and their own money, he and Carter went on a humanitarian mission, first to a vet and eventually the local animal shelter. Way to go guys!

Elk Creek at Folly's End

Folley’s End was the place. We had decided at the trucks at lunch to regroup there, and it turned out to be the break we needed. There were no fish moving in the riffles, but almost every hole of any size had fish stacked up in small, medium and large herds holding in the current.

I would describe the fish as a little sulky, not moving much, and pretty particular about what they would take. I do recall Steve Graves saying he picked up a couple more on his soft hackle, I got one on a stonefly nymph, Will Amland I think two, fishing a something or other.

Going out that night Will and I flushed a woodcock, something I always take as a good omen, and a quick vote taken by the group at dinner was unanimous we all head back to Follys in the morning.

Dennis 30 in

Trudging through the snow I flushed another woodcock going in, double luck! And I set up over the same pod of fish I was working the evening before. There were slugs of fish in the pools but that didn’t translate into success for me. Will got a couple, and I noticed he likes to net his fish in the more traditional way of staying in place and bring the fish in to him. I on the other hand foul hooked three fish. I’m guessing the fish were so thick in places that the flies, even with no weight, and no stripping would find a dorsal fin or a tail every now and then. It’s hard for me to tell sometimes at the hook-up if I’m foul hooked or fair hooked, I think I could feel the head shake on one of the fish, and I believe he took the dropper then got wrapped up in the lead fly during his initial acrobatics. This was a 30 inch fish of about 7-8 pounds, and by the time I realized he was now foul hooked he didn’t have enough zip left to break the heavy tippet pointing the rod him. I tried to net but he seemed to understand this net business and was having none of it. I followed that fish down river 40-50 yards to get him into some shallower water, chased him around a rock a couple of times, and finally had to get down to his level and trap him in the net, tangling my reel up in the webbing in the process, and then just scooping everything up and carried it to shore hoping Will wasn’t getting it all recorded for posterity. Trying to push a dorsal hooked fish into a net that’s a little small for the deed turns out to be quite a job. I did get a nice picture out of the deal though, the dark colors contrasting nicely against the snow then turned him loose.

Heading back to the truck for lunch we came across Tim in a pool above telling us he landed four using a #14 olive soft hackle before breaking his rod and having to switch to his back-up. He said he was trying to guide a really good fish over the net when the second section just exploded. Tough fish!

Dick Friis was in the next pool and had just released his second fish, and obviously pumped to get another, so leaving him to it we rounded the bend and into the main group. As soon as I saw all those teeth shinning through all those wind burnt faces I knew the fishing had been good. Everybody I passed had a story, and everyone was happy. George Vincent, Joe Robinson, Jack Benoit, Carter Wildermuth, Bruce Eberle, Nick Weber, Steve Graves, and Ken Bowyer who was currently deep into a fish had been fishing in a line on the first tall bank downstream from Follys. I remember telling Will there would definitely be plenty of cold beer and fishing stories around the dinner table that night.

Ken's 27 incher

After cheering on Ken and watching him land a fat 27 incher we headed for the truck for lunch. Lunch is a double edged sword. It revitalizes the fisherman, but all too often the fisherman loses his spot, and that is exactly what happened. Will, Ken, Joe, and I headed back down to the lower pool only to find it completely full except for the very end. Joe and Ken filled that up while Will and I prospected as far down as the no trespass sign hanging on wire across the creek. Not finding any fish, we headed back up, and soon some spots came open at the head of the pool. Getting up there we soon figured out why, there weren’t any fish up there. I stayed anyway hoping the guy below would leave and I would slide in there.

While waiting, a few fish began to move up, and the last three looked big. I had just tied on a fly that Dick Friis had given me, a ruby and chartreuse Estaz egg. They all moved up in some dark water at the head of the pool where I couldn’t see them and was just fishing the water when a big one drifted back down and was lying on the other side of a submerged rock just upstream a little. I could see the back two thirds of the fish but the head was covered by the rock. On the second drift the line stopped and I set the hook. He didn’t panic, jump or run like most of’em, he just shook his head hard a few times and moved back up in that dark water with the other fish. I kept putting pressure on him until he turned and swam past me, I could see his open mouth and he was still trying to expel the fly. Since he never jumped, nobody at the lower end of the pool even knew I had him on; for several minutes he dogged the bottom out in my front before deciding it was time get serious.

Dennis 29 in

There’s never any shortage of advice on stream and there were two guys between me and the other PPTU guys offering theirs. One said “I think you snagged on the bottom”, the other said “naw, you got’im in the tail”. When I said “I saw the fly in his mouth”, he replied, “then raise his head” - then asked, “what size line weight is that rod?” When I said ,“6 weight”, he said “you should be fishing a 7”. I wasn’t unhappy to see them leave. I knew he was fair hooked and just kept putting constant sideways pressure on him making him move. He did jump a little at the end, more of a wallowing really, and made some stubborn runs after seeing Ken with the net taking several more minutes. Finally getting the net under him, Ken brought the net up using the handle and one hand shouting “got’im!” Then, “Son of @ B#*^#*!” As he dropped him back in the water from the weight and scrambled to grab the hoop with both hands saying “he almost got away!” You did a great job ole buddy; I’m remembering that look on your face and laughing right now! Ken said he had looked at his watch just before he realized I was hooked up and was considering leaving. Looking again right after the landing he said I had the fish on for over 30 minutes. Strong fish, a half hour and still hadn’t stopped fighting the rod

We measured and weighed him there 30”, 10lb 9 0z, but Joe said “Nope, you gotta take him in, it’s a citation fish”. So I lugged this thing half a mile back to the truck, I was gonna keep a fish to eat anyway. At BAC it officially measured 29” and weighed 10lbs 13oz. Thanks for the fly Dick!!

As predicted, the fish stories and cold beer did flow that night and looking around the table I think everyone was glad they made the trip.

Dick Friss

The next morning most of us went back to Folly’s to fish the morning before taking off. Walking in we came across Dick just in time to help him net his first fish of the day before heading on down. Three hours later it was time to head out. Several more fish had been brought to the net, I know Steve with that soft hackle got another, and George one too.

The fish seem to be running larger this year. We noticed a lot of 26” and 27” fish being landed and most were fat probably between six-seven lbs. The flies used are too numerous to cover, however, San Juan worms, nymphs, soft hackles, wooly buggers, and steelhead hammers worked throughout.

I’m not positive I have accurate the totals, if not you can correct me; Bill Goldner was there earlier than us and I know he had several landed that included a big fish that was 30” and estimated at 10 to 11lbs. Tim said he got six, I got six, Ken five, Will five, Steve, Dick, and Nick four each, Jack, Bruce, Joe, George & Carter one. More importantly I know all had a great time.

It was a toughie, water conditions were low and clear, and the weather was cold with wind rain, snow and sleet. The fish were sluggish and we didn’t see any moving through riffles. But, if it all went according to a set plan it wouldn’t be any fun.

A short video of the trip by Will Amland is available at PPTU Erie Outing on youtube.

The following is another short video of the trip.

November 2008 Lake Erie Outing from Dennis Covert and Ken Bowyer on Vimeo.

Dennis Covert


Ken and Bill Goldner

Bill's 30 incher

Bill on a San Juan Worm

Dennis and Ken Monday Morning

The "Pig Pen" at the Trout Run Nursery

George Vincent 20 incher on Olive Woolybugger

Ken With a 17 incher

Joe Robinson

Quitting Time Sunday

Dick Friis


Dennis's 29 incher

Jack Benoit

Dennis with 29 incher

Evening Below Folly's

Bruce Eberle

Nick Weber

Steve Graves


Will recording Ken's fight