(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — This winter has been a wild ride. Temperatures toward the end of December (which marked the beginning of winter, according to calendars) dropped dramatically into negative-digit highs. That froze pipes in homes and businesses. It ran up electricity bills. It was enough to freeze over the creeks.
That cold snap now feels to some like a lifetime ago, and the temperatures swung wildly to unseasonable highs. Snow melted. Since then, what little snow has fallen has mostly melted. The rivers have thawed and are again flowing freely. But guess what didn’t happen? Presque Isle Bay still hasn’t frozen over, and that has completely impeded ice fishing season.
“Creeks are normally frozen over, and they were during those negative temps — when that happens, the only option becomes ice fishing, but nobody is ice fishing right now,” said Anthony Campanella, owner of Poor Richards Bait and Tackle in Fairview.
Thankfully for fishermen, the creeks remain free flowing and the steelhead are abundant. Along the banks of a local creek known for steelhead fishing, Michael Kulak of Eglon, West Virginia, was packing up his gear in the late morning on Jan. 11. Three fish lay on a stringer, occasionally kicking their tails.
“This is my first time up here,” Kulak said. “Going to New York, you drive right past here, and I had always wanted to fish here and never had until this year.”
Kulak estimated that fish on his stringer weighed between 7 and 8 pounds each. He wasn’t the only angler at the creek. There were spaces left in the parking lot, but it seemed busy for a Wednesday.
“I came up on Wednesday for the lack of people. I’ve heard that toward the weekend it’s insane,” Kulak said.
He had been fly fishing on Jan. 11. Kulak has been a fly fisherman for more than 12 years, but he grew up fishing. These days, he chases steelhead when he can.
“It’s the biggest fish you can catch (near West Virginia), and they’re just so pretty, I think,” Kulak said. “I’ll never go back to New York for steelhead compared to this place. It has very good quality fish management.”
That matches the sentiment of the experts at Poor Richards. Campanella said several of his regular customers have reported having their “best day ever” this past week.
“This year, the steelhead in general are larger, and it’s maybe the best year in numbers,” he said. “Stars align sometimes and you get those perfect conditions, but I should also credit the stocking programs through 3C.U. and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission hatchery. Without them we wouldn’t have the numbers we have.”
It takes two things to catch steelhead — the right gear, and patience. On the creek on Jan. 11, the overcast sky made the bare trees a tapestry of gray on gray. The creek was a stark streak of color on the otherwise muted landscape. A waterfall fell into the creek not too far upstream from the parking area.
The riffles, the pools, the runs, the holes, the seams were all fairly clear water — not a great thing for fishing. The time of day was high noon and inching forward — also not a great thing for fishing. Still five anglers waded along the creek casting and hoping for a tug. If they walked away without fish on a stringer, at least they had the scenery.