Elk Creek near Erie, Pennsylvania, is a river meant for novice steelhead anglers. Stocked with thousands of steelhead every year, the small stream literally overflows with fish ranging in size from 14 inches to more than 30 inches.
The narrow river flows over shale bedrock for most of it length and holding water for the fish can be easily found. The water clears quickly and the schools of fish can be spotted, easily as well.
On Friday afternoon I had the pleasure of taking a novice to Elk Creek to experience the early season steelhead run. Rebecca had fished for steelhead once before, a spring outing that allowed her the chance to hook and land several fish hanging out in shallow runs while they prepared to spawn.
On Friday, Elk Creek was clearing from a rain that hit late Wednesday and early Thursday. The air temperature was 52 degrees and overcast, but clearing. Since no one works anymore (this is just a slight exageration) the parking lot at Legion Park was full of cars and the river was littered with fishermen. Thankfully, after a short walk downstream, we were able to find a deep run at the end of a large pool that was populated with fish, but not fishermen. Twenty yards downstream the tail spilled into a fast riffle where one angler flailed away without success. A few spin fishermen tried the slow pool. And before we could get started, another fly fisher set up shop across the stream from us and slightly upstream. I tied on a red and yellow sucker spawn with a psycho nymph trailer. A white strike indicator and tiny spit shot were added to the leader and I made a short cast to try begin to show Rebecca the tricks of dead-drift nymphing. On just the second cast the indicator paused, the rod lifted, the hook set and the fish took off. She turned into a brilliantly silver hen about 24 inches long. She put up a hardy fight, before coming to shore.
The hen had taken the nymph and many more would follow her lead this afternoon. Rebecca would learn that landing fresh, fall run steelhead required a delicate touch and a steady hand. She also learned that pinching fly line against the cork handle of the fly rod is a recipe for snapped line. We manage to lose more than our share of steelhead this day, but we also landed several. While Rebecca dead drifted, I tried swinging wet flies and woolly buggers. I was pleased to land my first steelhead on a wet fly, a pheasent tail with an over-sized hackle. The hen crushed the fly, put up a very spirited fight and then came to shore, just like it was supposed to happen. Rebecca wasn't the only novice enjoying the remarkable day on Elk Creek.