Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)

Cast­ing for steel­head in Chau­tauqua County

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“Rod up! Rod up!” barks steel­head fish­ing guide Al­berto Rey as fish­er­man Mark Nale com­plies, sets the hook, and the fight is on. This angling drama played out last month in Chau­taqua County, New York, cour­tesy of out­fit­ter Craig Robbins who had ar­ranged an ex­tended “Cast and Blast” weekend for a group of five mem­bers of the Penn­syl­va­nia Out­door Writ­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (POWA). Ac­tiv­i­ties on the out­door menu in­cluded steel­head fish­ing on streams, lake fish­ing for wall­eye and muskie, tur­key hunt­ing, water­fowl hunt­ing, and bowhunt­ing for white­tail deer. For sports­men who travel to this rus­tic part of the world in the fall, there’s no short­age of out­doorsy op­tions.

I opt for two fish­ing ad­ven­tures; the first is a fly fish-

ing out­ing for steel­head trout on an undis­closed trib­u­tary feed­ing into Lake Erie not far from Dunkirk, NY. This is my first choice since it’s some­thing I’ve never done be­fore. An­other in­cen­tive is the chance to be guided by Rey who is also a col­lege pro­fes­sor, writer, and highly re­garded artist who spe­cial­izes in paint­ing land­scapes and fish. His Orvis-en­dorsed guide ser­vice con­cen­trates on steel­head fish­ing from mid-Oc­to­ber through the peak sea­son in mid-Novem­ber un­til the third week in De­cem­ber when the fish re­turn to Lake Erie after their spawn­ing runs. With me on this steel­head trip are POWA mem­bers Mark Nale and Mark Demko.

Rey, age 56, re­sides in Fre­do­nia, NY, where his art stu­dio is lo­cated. As we head out to the stream, he ex­plains that the smaller trib­u­taries (like the one we fish that morn­ing) get more fish as the sea­son pro­gresses. “The best fish­ing is in wa­ter tem­per­a­tures in the mid 50 de­gree or colder range,” says Rey. “I’ll con­tinue to fish if it’s 28 de­grees or warmer.”

Rey points out that there is an­other run of steel­head that takes place from mid-March through Mid-April. “An­other strain of Ska­ma­nia steel­head have now been in­tro­duced here that are more tol­er­ant of warm wa­ter which stretches out the sea­son,” he adds. Ac­cord­ing to Rey, about 70 per­cent of the steel­head are twoyear-olds in the 24” to 26” range. An­other 20 per­cent are three-year-olds from 28” to 29” and about 5 per­cent are 32” to 34” fouryear-olds.

Rey notes that about 80 per­cent of steel­head fish­er­men use egg pat­terns and nymphs. The other 20 per­cent use stream­ers in­clud­ing Rey, a fly fish­er­man with a pref­er­ence for olive or white stream­ers and a va­ri­ety of other wet flies. Rey es­ti­mates that 70 per­cent of steel­head an­glers are fly fish­er­men like him who prac­tice catch and re­lease.

On our ex­cur­sion, Rey pro­vides each of us with 6-weight 9-foot fly rods and out­fits us with po­laroid lenses, a nec­es­sary ac­cou­trement for spot­ting steel­head be­neath the sur­face glare. He then leads us up­stream through knee-deep wa­ter, scan­ning the stream for the tell-tale pro­files of lurk­ing steel­head.

“This is the lat­est we’ve got­ten de­cent rains which also has made it the lat­est we’ve got­ten runs,” he ex­plains. “Big streams here like Chau­tauqua, Canad­away, and Cat­ta­rau­gus now have fish in them. Smaller streams like this one were very low but are now start­ing to get fish. They’ll pod up in pools to rest be­fore head­ing up through the next stretch of fast wa­ter.”

As we work our way up­stream with Rey read­ing the wa­ter, he soon spots the first steel­head of the morn­ing. Since it’s Nale’s 66th birth­day, we all agree he should get first crack at the fish.

Rey di­rects Nale to move up­stream and gently cast the streamer to a point where it would tempt the steel­head to strike. On Nale’s third at­tempt, the fish does just that. Rey’s com­mand of “Rod up!” comes in re­sponse to his vis­ual ob­ser­va­tion of the steel­head tak­ing the fly. “The prob­lem is that these fish will spit out the fly just as quickly as they hit it,” he says. “By the time you feel the strike it may al­ready be too late to set the hook. That’s why it’s so crit­i­cal to wear po­laroids so that you can see the fish, watch it take the streamer, and set the hook as soon as you see that hap­pen.”

Un­for­tu­nately, Nale’s steel­head bat­tle is short­lived. In less than a minute, the fish is lost and we move on, fish­ing our way up­stream as Rey in­structs us on form and tech­nique of proper cast­ing. Along the way we spot a num­ber of steel­head but are un­able to coax them to bite. It isn’t long be­fore I dis­cover how cold the wa­ter is since my newly pur­chased hip boots have both sprung pro­fuse leaks. Nonethe­less, I sol­dier on, and although I never con­nect with a steel­head, I’m grate­ful for the fly-fish­ing and steel­head lessons Rey is pro­vid­ing.

“Ev­ery year and ev­ery sea­son is dif­fer­ent,” Rey says. “The num­ber of fish in a given stream varies. You could hit three or four streams each day to find out where the fish are. I pre­fer low pres­sure streams with fewer peo­ple and I’ve dis­cov­ered some nice stretches where other peo­ple just don’t fish.”

Rey be­lieves that the pod of fish he had lo­cated in this trib­u­tary a few days ear­lier has al­ready moved far up­stream. Nonethe­less, he per­sists in his at­tempts to get us an­other steel­head hook-up, chang­ing up the ter­mi­nal tackle to in­clude eggs. Spot­ting an­other pair of steel­head, Rey en­cour­ages Nale to cast. After a few at­tempts Rey again ad­vises, “Rod Up!” As the rod bends the fish lurches to the sur­face, briefly splashes, and im­me­di­ately throws the hook. The birth­day boy is now ohfor-2, but at least he had his mo­ments.

We fish a while longer but get no other ac­tion. By two o’clock it’s time to call it a day, hike back to the ve­hi­cle and thank Al­berto Rey for the ex­cel­lent steel­head fish­ing clinic he has pro­vided for us. Mean­while, I dump the wa­ter out of my leaky hip­boots, wring out my socks, and thaw my feet out. Maybe I’ll have bet­ter luck to­mor­row when I ven­ture out onto Chau­tauqua Lake in quest of walleyes. At least I’ll be on a boat and won’t have to worry about my boots leak­ing.

For more on Al­berto Rey and his Orvis En­dorsed Guide Ser­vice, visit his web­site at www.al­ber­torey. com. To check out Craig Robbins’ guide ser­vice, go to http://www.wnyguidese­r­vice.net/.

Penn­syl­va­nia elk hunt re­sults

More than 78 per­cent of the hunters par­tic­i­pat­ing in Penn­syl­va­nia’s 2016 elk hunt en­joyed suc­cess in their quest for the Key­stone State’s largest mem­ber of the deer fam­ily. The Penn­syl­va­nia Game Com­mis­sion an­nounced 97 elk were taken by hunters dur­ing the reg­u­lar one-week elk sea­son that ended Nov. 5. And for those li­censed to hunt antlered elk, also known as bulls, the suc­cess rate was 96 per­cent.

The 2016 har­vest in­cluded some large elk. Four­teen bulls each were es­ti­mated to weigh 700 pounds or more, with two go­ing more than 800 pounds. The heav­i­est bull taken in this year’s hunt was es­ti­mated at 824 pounds. That bull, which sported a 9-by-8 rack, was taken Oct. 31 by Stephen Win­ter, of Perkasie. The other 800-plus-pound bull (813 pounds), which had a 7-by-8 rack, was har­vested with a bow on Nov. 4 by Steven Arm­burger, of Guys Mills.

The largest bull in terms of rack size was a 9-by-8, har­vested Nov. 2 by Joshua Fuqua, of Cly­mer. Its rack ini­tially was mea­sured at 418-6/8 inches, ac­cord­ing to Boone & Crock­ett biggame scor­ing stan­dards.

Pa. bear sea­son opens

The next big event on our out­doors cal­en­dar is Penn­syl­va­nia’s bear sea­son. The archery sea­son on Key­stone State bru­ins opened yes­ter­day, Nov. 1, and runs through Nov. 18. Firearms sea­son opens on Nov. 19 and closes Nov. 23.

Tom Ta­tum is an out­doors colum­nist for Dig­i­tal First Me­dia. You can reach him at tatumt2@ya­hoo.com.

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