Winter steelie runs are iron hot.
Many anglers believe steelhead trout movement up Lake Erie creeks and streams slows during mid-winter. Don't tell that to licensed fishing guide Ed Luba.
Luba lives a short drive from Eighteen Mile Creek and has taken client-anglers to some spectacular steelie fishing there and on many other Erie feeders throughout the fall and winter.
"This has to be the best I've seen steelhead fishing," Luba said as we headed down to the creek just after sunrise Wednesday. A bright sun began warming the creek bed at 7:30 as Luba arrived at one of his favorite riffles. Four casts later, a 15-incher hit his favorite pattern of late -- a peach-egg pattern.
He uses nymphs, egg patterns or streamers, but this season he has done best with an egg pattern -- four peach-colored egg fly balls, which simulate an egg sack.
His 7-foot leader, with a 6 1/2 -pound test tippet or leader end on a 9-foot rod, reached well into holes and riffle lanes along stretches averaging 50 feet wide. Action started early, but the fishing got even better as the morning progressed.
After a short lull, Luba switched to a green eggs pattern and a few casts later he hooked and released a nice 7-pounder that measured close to 24 inches.
"Got that one behind the same rock that got me a good [about 7-pound] brown [trout] on Monday," he said, recalling the bitterly cold winds of that day.
He continued to work downstream, drawing a rise or a nice strike. Franklin Cirrincione, a creekside property owner and avid angler, came down the bank and joined us, suggesting we move upstream.
Cirrincione brought live minnows, which he presented with a float off a 10 1/2 -foot noodle rod, a spinning rod with a nice, fly-rod like taper. Luba continued catching -- and sometimes releasing before they were shore-bound -- one steelie after another as the morning sun warmed creek waters.
On this outing, I brought along a ThermoHAWK 400, an infrared thermometer that reads water surface temperatures with just a point and click. It did. At our first site, it read 36.1 degrees. Continued shots at sunlit pools and shaded riffles showed higher and lower readings. The morning ended with a 40-degree reading just below some rapids, which meant the rest of this day would be good -- not just sunny but great for fish hits. They did.
As we moved upstream, we met another Hamburg resident, Bob Willis, a regular who has fished the upper Eighteen Mile Creek for 37 years. "This can be hectic in the fall, but when I look down from the road and don't see anyone in my favorite pool, I'm there," Willis said just before he hooked a nice 4-pound female steelie.
As the morning sun warmed air and creek waters, steelie hits increased. "These low and clear waters can still be good," Luba said, "but it's ideal when the water is a bit higher with a slight green cast."
Low, clear water didn't stop him from pulling five nice 5-pound trout in a row from one riffle slightly shaded by a pine tree. Cirrincione fished next to Willis, who started upping his numbers. He left Willis and moved down to where Luba had reached double figures on steelie hits.
Shortly thereafter, Willis brought in the fish of the day, which Cirrincione weighed at exactly 11 pounds. For Willis, it was a nice catch, but his main concern was getting a quick picture and then putting the fish back in the creek.
Cirrincione finally started getting hits when he switched to Luba's peach-egg pattern and removed the float. For Willis, the float took his rig right into good fish; for Cirrincione, no float began sinking hooks into fantastic fish.
As we walked out we passed a wide curve with a riffle channel on one side and a shallow pool on the other. Normally, riffles hold more fish when bright sunlight hits shallow, clear water. Instead, the pool looked like a couple dozen black pipes had been discarded, which turned out to be about 24 steelies that averaged 5 pounds.
Luba, past president of the WNY Chapter of Trout Unlimited and a staunch advocate of catch-and-release fishing whenever possible, just smiled as these big trout swam past our waders. He knew his peach-egg presentation -- or some other fly pattern -- would work well here another day.
"I can take three anglers, but one or two are more comfortable out here," he said as we headed up the hill and watched as Willis reeled in another nice trout and then aimed it back into the creek's current.
For more details about guided winter steelhead trips, call Buffalo Outfitters (631-5131) or check out Luba and other area guides at www.buffalooutfittersflyshop.com. For details on the touchless water thermometer, go to: www.q3i.com.