Recent rain storms raised and muddied the Lake Erie tributary creeks, attracting new waves of steelhead into the creeks. Sometimes the creeks get too high and muddy for fishing. That is a risk you take when you try to be on the creeks for the best days of fishing. The best times for fishing, in general, are when the flow is up moderately and the water has enough color to hide the steelhead in most good pools. But that is asking for a lot.
Changes that take place in creek flow and water color reward anglers who are prepared for various situations by carrying the right lure or bait and the right lure or bait colors.
Carrying an assortment of lures or baits to match any steelhead fishing conditions might seem to be an insurmountable problem, but since steelhead can almost always be caught by using some sort of egg fly pattern, by using eggs or egg sacks, anglers can be pretty well equipped by carrying just one lure type or bait. All that is left is carrying a very good color selection, also not an insurmountable problem. You need only a few colors and shades of those colors, but they must be the right colors.
The essential variation of egg or egg fly patterns is a full range of stages of orange. It can be expanded on the dark, or bright, end by adding bright red, and at the light end by adding pink. Sometimes the light end is bolstered by adding chartreuse and white. The idea is to get a selection that provides optimal visibility at different water colors.
Fishing lures or baits at the light end is most difficult for the simple reason that these colors are best suited to poor fishing conditions- low, clear water. I like to use soft egg patterns when I fly-fish. The usual color is pink. I carry two or three shades of pink, and chartreuse which is also good for clear water. Sucker spawn patterns also can be effective. Try pink, chartreuse or white. For bait fishing use single eggs, or small egg sacks.
Under moderate flows when the water is not muddy but does have a bit of color, orange is the standard color for either fly patterns or real bait. But this is not as simple as plain orange. I carry as many different shades of orange as I can find. Egg sacks probably will be as good as any bait. Use three salmon eggs, or a small piece of egg skein.
Larger baits in brighter colors are the way to go when the water is muddy, from light tan to so muddy that fishing is all but a waste of time. Use about five eggs in a sack, or larger chunks of egg skein. Skein can be tied into a sack, then a bright fake egg for color. If you fly-fish, try the brightest colors in your vest. The easiest way to stick with the egg pattern theme is by using a Glo Bug, which can be tied to any size and in any color. My friend, Jim Simonelli, suggests a Glo Bug an inch in diameter. Fluorescent red probably is the best color for muddy water.
Colored eggs are widely available. But a better way to get color selection while using real eggs is by adding colored fake eggs to an egg sack .
One of the things that improves steelhead fishing now, and through December, is that hunting takes a lot of sportsmen away from the steelhead creeks. Crowded conditions is the most annoying aspect of steelhead fishing in Pennsylvania. I will go to any reasonable length to get away from crowds. This is the main reason I tend to do most of my steelhead fishing during winter. But when we get a bad winter like we did last year, that does not allow much steelhead fishing.
Another way to get away from crowds is to hike into the less accessible places. Unfortunately there is so little of this that even the places guarded by cliffs get hit pretty hard.
The best way to beat the crowds, if you do not have access to private creek frontage, is to find places that are overlooked for one reason or another. Places like this do exist. Do not bother asking me where, though. If I told anyone the charm would soon be gone. You will have to find places like this on your own.
A little trick that I will let you in on is salmon egg scent. You can buy this at some bait & tackle shops. Currently I am using Mike's Extra Strength Salmon Egg Oil Glo Scent. Results have been very good. Steelhead have extremely good sense of smell. Like its salmon relatives, it uses that sense of smell to find the way back to home waters.
Another trick that might turn around your fishing luck from time to time is Power Bait. This stuff is great, but it does not work every time. Nothing else does either.