- Last Updated: 17 September 2018 17 September 2018
November 2014 Erie PA Steelhead Adventure
Taking advantage of retired status, Alan Burrows and Carl Smolka met at and left the Frederick COSTCO lot at 8:00 AM on Friday morning, checked in at the Super 8 and headed to 16 mile creek based upon recon information from Ben Nichols (a renewed PPTU member) and fiance' Cara's trip to a local Erie fly shop. They had driven up the night before. Joe Robinson who, along with Mike Abramowitz got the jump on us with an earlier Friday start provided some additional information that swayed us away from 20 mile creek because of reported but not verified "blown out" conditions.
On 16 mile, Alan and Carl looked briefly at the Creekside Park location, went to the Sewer Plant parking area and hiked downstream below big falls - all of the holes having plenty of fishers. Ironically, the sewer plant would have future impact on our fishing. We then went to the mouth of 16 mile where fish were being caught close to the inlet from the Lake, near the first sandbar, slightly upstream in a pool and in the plunge pool further upstream at the falls. Alan caught two steelhead and Carl had one for the day with a few more hookups.
On Saturday, Alan and Carl, along with Joe, Mike, and Ben, who abandoned his fiance', Cara, to fish with us, returned to 16 mile. Carl stayed near the plunge pool while the others hiked upstream to what evolved into fishing nirvana under the Route 5 bridge. Alan and Ben each had 4 Steelheads and 2 big, healthy browns while Joe had his first ever Steelhead. Carl's fishing license was found floating on the stream and his fishing net on one of the picnic tables, but was he really missing?? No, he lost his net while eating an apple at the table which must have dislodged the license while he caught a steelhead in the falls plunge pool and later lost what he claims to have been the largest steelhead he ever hooked in the 16 mile inlet pool.
On Sunday we were all punished by not going to church and no fish were taken.
On Monday, Alan and Carl skipped breakfast, raced to the Route 5 bridge over 16 mile creek, stumbled to rig up using coal miner's lanterns in the dark and held the pool hostage until Mike and Joe arrived. Al caught a steelhead, Joe caught a steelhead, and Carl had a nice brown that was released by Alan. Joe and Mike hit the road to return home. In a few moments the water under the bridge went from crystal clear to opaque and the bite was off. Alan and Carl left, checked out the fish in Trout Run where few new fish were moving in or out of Lake Erie, and visited a fly shop where we learned the upstream sewer plant on 16 mile regularly does a release to flush their filters - the cause of the rapid water turbidity change. We also met the program lead for the Erie Project Healing Waters program in the shop. Alan and Carl then went to join the rest of the gang on Elk deciding on the Legion Pool area while the rest of the gang was trying a section off Elk Park Road. At the Legion Pool area on Lower Elk, Alan caught a nice steelhead that was released by Carl's prowess at net handling to the amusement of the other PPTU folks who showed up just in time for the show.
Veterans Day Tuesday saw Alan and Carl bolting early on the run from the Super 8 (two days with no bananas) to get to the 16 mile Route 5 bridge before any humans, only to find it well occupied by at least four fishers, one of whom had staked claim to his section of the pool using a folding chair and cooler which he did not occupy most of the time. Alan and Carl both managed hookups but conceded the space to the spin and bait fishers and headed down to the mouth where the rest of the PPTU gang were peeling off their waders and planning for the trip home. There were at least four spin fishers pounding the surf near the 16 mile inlet when we left for home.
Flies that were effective for us included:
Wired Prince, Steelhead hammer, Frenchie, PT nymph, Damsel fly nymph, Green rockworm, Black stonefly nymph, Sucker spawn, and Blue steel.
The ride up is always worth the trip as autumn is my favorite time of year. The rolling hills on both sides of the Appalachians still have some leaf cover and a soft blending of olives & browns that just say late fall to me, the mountain summits fringed with leafless tree tops stood stark against the cloudy sky.
We had a pretty good turnout, 9 in all I believe. Carl Smolka, Alan Burrows, Ben Nichols, Joe Robinson, & Mike Abramowitz all drove up on Friday, Me & Ken Bowyer, Lou Reichel & Bob O'Donnell went up early Saturday morning.
This report is not a complete account of what everyone did because for four days the group was strung out along Steelhead Alley and I didn't fish with everyone; always with Ken, sometimes with Joe, Mike, Lou and Bob, but almost never with Carl and Alan, and I didn't even see Ben. So, they will have to fill in the gaps. I can tell you that Joe landed his first steelhead Saturday morning and was ecstatic when he called us up somewhere around Pittsburg to tell us about it. Congratulations Joe!
We hit 20, mile below the tomato field. Water levels were good and fish in the creek but lots of anglers after them so we had to find a spot to get in. We found a pool with fish and Ken struck first hooking and landing a fish on a black beadhead brassie. A little later I hooked a fish on a brown stone and had him to the net but he escaped at the last minute.
So Ken and I each had fish the first afternoon. But at the moment I just can't remember how Bob & Lou did. They will have to report. Apparently I need to write stuff down.
From the reports at supper Saturday night, Carl had a good day; if I remember correctly he got three steelhead and made some new friends fishing a pool with some spin fishermen. Alan said he and Ben had a banner day, each getting five steelhead and two browns, seven fish apiece, all on 16 mile creek I think.
What we had hoped to do was fish the drop after the rain forecasted Thursday and Friday, then fish it again after the rain forecasted for Sunday eve/Monday morn. We got the roughly half inch rain inland on Thursday that fed the headwaters blowing out Twenty Mile Creek with a nice surge of fish running in from the lake. But we didn't get the rain on Sunday or Monday. Consequently the water level of the creeks dropped to low and clear. A lot of the fish we saw the day before seemed to disappear as the weather turned sunny and warm.
Steelhead in these Mile Creeks will run in the creeks and back out into the lake at will as the water levels fluctuate. Additionally, lots of people were keeping fish. I saw a lot saw of Steelhead on stringers being hauled away Saturday and again on Sunday morning that has to have an impact on the fishing.
Sunday morning several of us went to the mouth of 20 Mile Creek hoping some fish would still be hanging around there. I found a brown trout holding 6 feet below the top of a blown down tree its gold leaves sweeping the water. Not enough room for a cast I just dropped my pearl bead with stone fly dropper next to the tree top and let it drift past the fish. After several drifts the fish turned but didn't take and in the process got the stonefly snagged in his pectoral fin. It was a beautifully colored 23 inch fish and the only brown I've hooked or snagged in Erie. Lou took a picture all the while threatening to expose me as the fish snagging fraud he always suspected me to be but now had the proof I was.
We didn't stay long, no fish and the water seemed to be getting lower so we headed out.
I don't know how many creek miles we walked on Sunday but it had to be somewhere between four and five. And when you're slipping on rocks, climbing muddy banks, up and down in and out of ravines it's a full day. We found a dead deer lying on a creek shelf on upper 20 Mile that looked like it may have fallen off the cliff above that had to be around 50 feet high. Well..., wildlife has their accidents too.
Fishing all day I hooked and lost a small steelhead of about 12-14 inches and landed one that was less than 6 inches, and think I won the small fish award beating out Lou's 7 incher.
Some of the monotony of fishing barren water was broken with the report of Carl's disappearance. Alan found Carl's license floating at waters edge on 16 Mile Creek with no carl to be seen and no answer on his phone. As this news began to circulate among the group from creek to creek we began to form possible or likely hypothesis; Had the bait/spin fishermen tired of lengthily drifts drowned him? We didn't know, nor shall we ever know. He turned up at supper with no real explanation just some mumbling about something we couldn't make out.
Monday we went to Elk and fished some water above the Conrail tubes I had never been on that Ken fished last year. The water levels looked good, but the fish were far and few in between. Hiking downstream looking for fish I drifted my tandem stonefly rig through likely looking and water and was surprised to hook and land a steelie at the tail of a bend, and then even more surprised to hook and land another from the same lie a few casts later. When it comes to steelhead, never say never!
Elk had a few fish, the guys fishing the Conrail tubes below us were getting some on Hare's Ears and a guy fishing a minnow rig in a fast deep run hooked up a couple times that I saw.
A little later the six of us still left in Erie, Joe, Mike and Ben had left for home, joined up at the legion Pool. Ken and I walked down to the creek just in time to see Carl net Alan's fish and do the fastest release I've ever seen. It was a great lesson in how to handle and release a fish without touching it or unduly stressing it.
Tuesday was a just an exercise in futility, we went to the mouth of 16 Mile Creek but without any rain only a couple holes held fish and they were covered up with guys. So after about an hour we called it, pointed the hood of my truck in a southerly direction and headed back to the land of pleasant living.
What worked for me:
I like fishing Crystal meth and other attractor flies when the water is up and fish are on the move, but my experience is that when water levels drop and get clear small nymphs work far far better than attractor flies. Steelhead love stoneflies and all 5 of the fair hook ups I had on this trip were on them. The two flies that worked for me were a #16 brownstone, and a #14 black bead head brownstone fished with no weight or just one small split shot.
Erie Steelheading is a weather game. If you're planning on going up watch the weather. Try to get there the day after, maybe two if it rained buckets. It doesn't take long for the creeks to go back down.