Fly Fishing Beginnings

Steelhead on the fly

Article Contributed by Managing Editor K. Slye.

It was one of those rare days that every fisherman dreams about, when the fish seemed to hit as soon as the bait touched the water. Everyone was either fighting a fish, baiting up, or getting out of someone’s way that was fighting a fish. It was a beautiful, crisp, fall day and we were in the heart of the fall steelhead run on Walnut Creek in Erie, Pennsylvania. The place any man, woman, or child that could call themselves a fisherman would want to be.

Steelhead on Walnut CreekI had just started fly fishing, my awkward and errant casts announced that fact with humiliating clarity at times. But I was determined to catch my first steelhead with a fly rod, the trees behind me be damned.  I was fishing with my Dad, who was using his tried and true set-up, a Shimano spinning reel on a 9 foot noodle rod, with a salmon egg on a single hook and a few split shots under a float.

It was the discovery of my Father-in-law’s 30 year old Shakespeare fiberglass 8 weight fly rod in the dusty rafters of his garage that started this adventure. It hadn’t see the light of day in almost as many years, and Sam was happy it was going to get some use. I’m a spinning tackle fisherman, always have been and always will be. But, fly fishing had always intrigued me, the gracefulness of the casts, the line gently landing on the surface of the stream, and the swirl of the water as a fish inhales the tiny fly. Here was my chance to be a part of that brotherhood of fly fishermen.

So, I put new backing, fly line, and leader on the fly reel, dusted off and strung up the Shakespeare rod, filled up a small fly box with various flies, and was ready to give it a go. I completely immersed myself in fly fishing after I discovered that fly rod; I practiced casting, bought a fly tying starter kit, scoured garage sales and flea markets to accumulate as much fly tying material as possible, went to fly tying workshops at the local outfitter store, and I even got into building my own fly rods. I went to a small lake to try to hone my skills by catching blue gills late that summer, and got on the stream early that fall to attempt to catch my first steelhead on the fly rod to no avail.

That morning with my Dad, I struggled with casting, getting tangled in the trees, breaking my line, and losing fish, as I watched him hook and land several fish. I was ready to give up this whole fly fishing charade every time I lost a fish, but quitting is not who I am, so I steeled my resolve and pressed on, determined to make it finally happen.

Steelhead from Erie, PA Tributaries

After a morning full of heartbreakingly close calls and fish lost just feet from shore, I was able to drag a steelhead onto the bank. I held it up high as I basked in the glow of my accomplishment. I’ve caught many steelhead before, but this one was special. It was not only my first steelhead with a fly rod, but my first ever fish with a fly rod.

Steelhead on Walnut Creek

I caught two that day and several more that season. My Dad lost track of how many he caught. Even though I could have easily switched over to the spinning tackle that I was accustom to using and caught more fish, I stuck with the fly rod. I was able to achieve a goal I set for myself. Even though I may not be a very good one, I joined the ranks of fly fishermen that day.

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