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Proven Patterns

Walnut Creek/Elk Creek/Trout Run

By: Aaron Letera

Every fall, around the end of October and early November, flashes of mint silver begin to dance in the minds of local fly anglers as steelhead season begins in the tributary streams of Lake Erie, near the town of Erie, Pennsylvania.

The three most popular places to fish for these hard-hitting finned torpedoes are Walnut Creek, Trout Run, and Elk Creek. These three Lake Erie tributaries are easy to access from Fairview, Pennsylvania, east of Erie. Walnut Creek and Elk Creek are wadable; Trout Run is not because it is nursery water and thus closed to fishing except at its mouth in the lake.

Walnut Creek features a hard shale bottom with water-carved chutes and ledges gouged into the rock. Because the creek is both popular and extremely productive, you can expect plenty of company when the steelhead arrive. Anglers crowding the holes may seem intolerable to some, but if such a fishing scene doesn't bother you, Walnut Creek is well worth the effort. An effective combination is to trail a caddisfly larva/pupa pattern, Hare's Ear Nymph, Copper John, or Stonefly Nymph behind an egg fly

At its mouth in the lake-the only area open to fishing-Trout Run features an easy-to-wade gravel/sand bottom. There is a visible surface current here that shifts from side to side. The fish hang in or along the edges of the current. Try dead-drifiting a pair of egg patterns below an indicator along the visible edge of the current or in the center of the current. When the steelhead are present off the creek mouth, the action can be fast and furious, the only drawback being that such action attracts crowds to this highly accessible area (the public access area is maintained by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission).

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Elk Creek feature shale ledges and a bed of gravel and sand, and is the deepest of the tributaries. Most of the steelhead hug the shale walls and lie in the shelves carved in the rock. The best tactics include dead-drifting egg patterns and the aforementioned nymph patterns, and also fishing Woolly Buggers and other streamers, including tube flies. As with Walnut Creek and the mouth of Trout Run, expect to find crowds when the fish are in. To find some elbow room, try heading upstream.

The steelhead run extends from late October or early November into late March on all three of these streams. May delivers hard-fighting lake-run smallmouth bass. These bronze beauties fight with all the vigor of a fresh-run steelhead, minus the cold weather and the fishing pressure. These highly aggressive fish can be caught in the mouths of all three tributaries, with Elk Creek drawing the largest number of smallies running up from the lake. Try swinging tube flies and streamer patterns resembling baitfish, and crawling crayfish imitations along the bottom.

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