Phil immediately spotted an old-fashioned donut shop as we pulled into the Lake City/ Fairview area of Erie, Pennsylvania–wrap around counter top and the works! “We have to go there,” he exclaimed in pure excitement. Both towns were a bit out-dated, but in the most charming way possible. It wasn’t run down, no, it just looked straight out of the 1950’s. We didn’t spend much time in the city of Erie itself, just passing through to fish the “mile creeks.” We were staying at the Riviera Motel. It wasn’t anything special, also a bit outdated, but it was cheap, cozy, convenient, and surprisingly clean–and that’s all we needed to know. We had the perfect room for our adventure, containing two beds, a mini fridge, a full bathroom, and a nice big round table in the back to set up my mobile fly tying station (which after all, was the most important of all the fishing trip necessities).
Phil was on his way to checking out after the long drive, but I was full speed ahead at the vise, doing my best to fill up the cracks in my fly boxes. I half studied the room in between flies: The carpet was dull and stained around the doorway–I presumed water damage from all the wading boots, perfect. The beds were clean, very clean, and bedbug free–there were very thorough inspections. The curtains in the room were extraordinarily tacky, playing off the ambiance of the outdated bathroom. But most importantly it was clean, cleaner than many of the recently updated, but low price hotel rooms you might encounter. Even though the beds were perfectly clean, I made the move of dozing off in my sleeping bag on top of the sheets, in the spirit of fishing of course!
The first creek was void of people, and for some reason another, void of fish too—which would explain the creek’s state of non-humanity. We soon learned the exact opposite about the mouth of the creek that morning, people were moving upstream. And eventually, we too found a nice pool holding fish. Our friend Taco and his gang from West Virginia hooked into and lost a few good fish that morning. They didn’t move another, and soon enough had moved upstream to water that was again, void of fish. I hopped in their place at the pool and hooked into what felt like an amphibious bobcat—she was feisty, and broke my tippet in nearly an instant.
The air was cold, pushing bitter, but was actually quite bearable—even comfortable without the wind. The creek roared downstream, bending hard against a large rocky bank, and dumping into a deep run a half a mile below. A crisp, blue sky gave way to a foggy grey in the distance, the wind dissolving the front as it approached us. The morning was slow, so we moved onto a new creek, this time closer to the lake. We met up with the owner of Shadow Fly Fishing, and he showed us the what’s-what of fly fishing the Erie tributaries. This also meant the opportunity to fish the infamous Shadow Warrior 9ft 7wt, the lightest 9ft 7wt in production. It was quite the amazing fly rod, smooth and accurate—and of course ultra lightweight!
It was a long hike downstream to the pools holding the most fish. The occasional puffy white Cumulus would block out the sun—if only I had worn a second pair of socks! Yes, it was cold, but not as cold as it could be in the Great Lakes in November, and the long hike was a good warm up. The good numbers of fish holding in this particular creek helped us forget most facets of life, even the weather. The forest was nearly bare, but a few trees had resisted letting go. The first fish of the day, I remember it well—an exhilaration like sex, or red-lining third gear in a proper sports car. I’ve heard it many times before, and I’ll say it again, “The tug is the drug!” Talk about a turn on! There’s nothing like watching a sealed drag scream on the edge of a cold, hellaciously windy Great Lake in the middle of the winter. I highly recommend you begin chasing this dragon if you haven’t already. “Just don’t let your girl friend smell your fingers…”
Our new friend joked as he unhooked a beautiful steelhead. Fast forward to the next morning—on top of our game after an amazing afternoon of fishing with the man behind Shadow Fly Rods. We had run into a lot of fish, landed some good ones, hooked and broke off a few hogs, and we were ready for round two. Landing over sixty percent of our power punches, we ranked high on the scorecard, but Phil and I weren’t willing to go to an official’s decision. Back under the direction of Taco and the gang… we had pulled into a gravel parking lot much closer to the mouth of the particular creek we had been fishing the day prior. Before a quick pit stop at the notorious Poor Richards Tackle Shop (which to my surprise, had an excellent selection of fly tying materials), Phil had managed to get his hands on a half a dozen of those old-fashioned potato flour donuts—talk about a happy fisherman! I was in an equally happy place as I meditated in the passenger seat of his SUV, basking in the sweet aroma of maple and glaze.
I had wisely suited up in my waders and wading jacket at my bedside that early morning—and so I was quick to be rigged up, 10ft 7wt custom steelhead rod in hand. The rod was quite special, handcrafted by an old fisherman from the Pulaski area. My buddy Jeff loaned me this rod, along with a sweet 1970’s Valentine sealed drag reel to which he had paired to this particular fly rod. Phil was fishing a beautiful Hardy Marksman, paired with a Cheeky Fly Fishing’s Mojo 425. I was really excited to fish this unique setup instead of my Grey’s rod and reel, and equally as grateful that Jeff had loaned it to me for this trip. Speaking of trips…
Hippy, one of Taco’s friends from West Virginia, led us down the creek to one of the most beautiful stretches of water we had seen that weekend. We wandered downstream a half of a mile or so, I stopped at a promising looking run and let them keeping moving. I hooked up and landed a fish on my third cast! The action didn’t stop for hours. One particular hole provided premier outdoor entertainment. It was the hole where we met our new friend with the fishy fingers, and it was the hole where I would hook the biggest freshwater fish of my life thus far.
Hippy was fishing the backend when I arrived, but decided to give it a rest. Our new friend was slaying in the top end, and happily allowed Phil and I to slip in where Hippy had been fishing. “Boom, Boom, Boom!” I hooked and landed fish after fish. They were quite happy about my fly, so happy in fact…hook set, and the line began tearing across the water. It stopped and sat like a rock on the bottom, but then in a feverish fit, shot downstream—tearing off line as it made its way into the rapids below. My first reaction was to start running downstream, taking in line as efficiently as I could while rushing through the heavy current. I fell hard in the middle of the creek while trying to head it off, slipping on sunken boulder. But alas, the fish was much faster than I could wade across the creek. With a snap of my leader…it was gone. But worry not, for Phil and I landed really big fish on our next two casts!
By Austin Green.