Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)

Casting for steelhead in Chautauqua County

- Tom Tatum Columnist

“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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