Monday, November 1, 2010

Newbie Lessons

On the drive east to explore Chautaqua Creek, Jack (a steelhead rookie) asked a very good question. What are the most common reasons why an angler loses a steelhead? Over the next 48 hours Jack would learn the answers for himself, and a few other lessons too.

Friday night wee declared Saturday to be a learning day and Sunday to be a doing day. And things worked out pretty much that way. Here are five of the lessons that all newbies learn as they explore Steelhead Alley for the first time.

1. Forget the back cast -- there's too many trees back there on the narrow streams that flow into Lake Erie. A simple roll cast or flip cast (with the help of a few split shot) does the trick most of the time.

From Chautaqua Creek 2010
2. Without a good drift there will be no fish. A drag free drift is necessary in most types of fly fishing. But I've found that steelhead are much less forgiving than most trout, particularly the hatchery fish that many new anglers cut their teeth on. Getting a good drift requires the angler to pay close attention and understand what is happening under the water. No daydreaming.

3. Set the hook downstream. The fish are facing upstream. An upstream hook set simply pulls the hook from the fish's mouth.

4. Set the hook even if you think it's the bottom. Steelhead hug the bottom for the most part, and that's where the fly needs to be. That means your flies are going to get caught on the bottom. Any pause in the drift, set the hook. Jack learned that sometimes the bottom moves and puts up a heck of a fight.

5. Don't hold the line or the reel too tight. When steelhead take off nothing can stop them, just let them go. Having a death grip on the cork with the line underneath your fingers will result in a snapped leader, punctuated with a sharp crack that sounds like a gun shot.

From Chautaqua Creek 2010
Learn these lessons and you too can find yourself getting ready to release a mighty steelhead into a Lake Erie tributary.

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