As the cold approaching winter wind rolls off of Lake Erie a mighty fish works its way up stream over marbled shale, rusty axils and contorted railroad pieces mosaicked into the creek bed, through the small town of Fredonia. Hundred of miles from the big city lights and thousands of miles away from the sexy steelhead green of the Sol Duc and other western waters, eastern steelhead make their journey up the Canadaway creek to the redds as the town begins to freeze over for a long winter. Eastern steelhead will never know distance or even how the saltiness of the saltwater turns sweet as they work their way into freshwater, and they sure as hell do not give an angler the fight like their wild, westerner brothers, but they are steelhead nonetheless.
The first day on the water started as layers upon layers of attempts at warmth pressed to our skin by waders and boots, a menagerie of new and used flies, and the fear of there just being absolutely no fish. With deer season opening and a gaggle of guides frustrated at the delay in the steelhead run, we had the creek to ourselves.
We hiked down stream searching for movement, when all of a sudden a shadow that had been holding along a seam in the water darted out of the darkness and downstream turning back upstream once in position. One, we stopped, scanning the water, we held our breaths- two. Another shadow darted up to join the first shadow, but leaving her behind moves beyond the position and upstream to more rippling water. Three, another male joins the female. Four, Five, Six- shadow after shadow and overwhelmed with excitement, we almost forgot to release our fly from the guide and get it in the water. Such large Steelhead in such small, gin-clear water looked like fish in an aquarium; their size and power becoming delicate against the glass.
We presented every fly we had in our boxes and aside from an casual turned head the clearness of the water gave them too much time to judge and turn down what we were offering. Finally, after switching over to a bead, the indicator bounced and the bead disappeared in the mouth of a large male.
Over the course of the week, we worked our way down the same stretch of water, a half mile section that we spent seven hours fishing.
Each night warming up with long bow practice and settling down with the stories from the day on the water.
And each day we danced with another Steelhead.
The final day was preceded by a night of rain moving water back into the creek. That morning from dad's fishing cabin we could see water beginning to fill in beds of gravel slowly trickling to meet the creek again on the other side. The water a milky green would make presentation easier, and fortunately for us, we were able to use the consistency of where the fish held each gin-clear day to our now blind advantage.
The silent torpedoes hidden behind opaque waters as the creek began to roar back to life, and we walked the same stretch now ever so different in shape, flow, and color.
Fishing for winter Steelhead is no easy task. With a bite so gentle and quick, it may be by pure luck that you set the hook on one, and who knows how many you may have missed without ever knowing. We fished hard those days on the Canadaway. Through cold temperatures and missed meals, we kept going. Cast after cast after cast, fishing smarter and more accurately each day we got to know the creek just a little bit better. We were after what ever Steelhead angler is after: that one tug followed by the zing of our line running up stream.