Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Dirty Water on Steelhead Streams, Habitat Determines Post-Storm Visibility

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Dirty Water on Steelhead Streams, Habitat Determines Post-Storm Visibility

Article excerpt

ERIE, Pa. -Conneaut Creek oozed northward toward the lake like so much chocolate milk. Steelhead guide and author Karl Weixlmann stood at the edge of an Ohio roadway starring over the bridge. Even the shallows hugging the river bank were thick with mud - visibility zero. My story idea about catching fall steelhead on dry flies with droppers had sunk into the dirty water.

"Come on," said Weixlmann, hopping back into his car. "I have an idea."

The previous night, U.S. Geological Survey water gauges showed a stable flow. By dawn, however, a rainstorm left most of the Lake Erie tributaries high and muddy.

The internet is awash with enough gauges, weather reports and fishing forums that can save steelhead anglers from making a futile 130-mile Pittsburgh-to-Erie pilgrimage. Most of that technology is available for free at Tech savvy anglers can even program their smartphones to beep alerts whenever the creeks are on the rise - from late October through early March that usually means the steelhead are running.

"The thing about blown out," said Weixlmann, waxing poetic, "is there's blown out and then there's blown out. At some point it's unfishable. But high or dirty? It doesn't necessarily mean you can't catch fish, depending on how high or dirty it is. In all hunting and fishing, the main thing is habitat."

Despite their volume, some Lake Erie tributaries release less dirt or hold more water than others, he explained. "You find the right habitat for the amount of rain [or snow melt] you've had, and the water will probably be fishable."

Pennsylvania's narrow stretch of Steelhead Alley is crossed at intervals by Route 5, Route 20 and I-90, accommodating quick and easy bouncing from stream to stream and among stream sections. Weixlmann bumped eastward stopping at the crossing of each steelhead stream. An Erie native, outdoors writer and author of "Great Lakes Steelhead, Salmon and Trout" (Headwater, 2009), he checked streamside visibility at each creek, but had one place in mind.

Approaching the water, 10 steps ahead and carrying his fly rod, he frantically beckoned with his other hand for me to hurry. The well-shaded stream, slightly cloudy and barely two rod lengths wide, rippled with multiple wakes as a silver fleet of steelhead powered upstream. In shallow riffles, tall tails and dorsal fins broke the surface while the pools boiled with the swirls of staging fish. Weixlmann put me at a funneling curve while he rolled a cast into faster water. The moving mass of steelhead continued. Hundreds passed all around us.

"This is the first big migration of the fall," Weixlmann said. "We've had hardly any precipitation. These fish were all stuck down by the lake . waiting for a big push of water. This is the first good push we've had this fall. …

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