The Lake Erie tributary Elk Creek is home to a nearly obscene number of steelhead every fall and winter as thousands of stocked fish return from the lake in a mainly futile attempt to spawn. I always will remember hooking my first Elk Creek steelhead on an icy February morning more than a decade ago. I watched as the steelhead turned and inhaled a pink egg fly. It occurred on my first drift. It was that easy.
Elk has given up many more steelhead since then, but not always that easily. The nice thing about the sheer numbers of fish in Elk Creek is the river provides us with an opportunity to try different techniques without worrying about not catching fish. This past Dec. 26th was just such a day. The fish were plentiful and by late morning my arm was tired from fighting eager, but sluggish steelhead. The flow on Brandy Run was dropping from 12 cfs to 8 cfs. The color was dark green in runs over three feet deep and fish were packed together in tight schools. The bad news in this environment is snagged fish become commonplace. One way to avoid foul hookups is to swing a fly in front of the fish.
After foul hooking a few fish in a row in a very crowded run that looked to hold a few trophy fish, I decided to tie on a clouser minnow onto my shortened leader and try the swing. The lead eyes kept the fly near the bottom and after several uneventful swings, a steelhead crushed the fly and put up a hearty fight before coming to shore. I kept the clouser on for the rest of the day and regularly hooked steelies, including one monster from a deep chute. I watched as he rose from the bottom to take the fly. As soon as he felt the hook, he leaped from the water and raced downstream. The first and only jumper on this cold day (the temperature hit 40 degrees as we were leaving at 3 pm). Yes, the fish were relatively easy, but there's something special about watching a giant fish rise up from the bottom to inhale a fly.
Elk Creek again reminded me that while drifting nymphs and eggs is a lot of fun, nothing beats doing the swing with the steelhead.