IMG 4547Steelhead night bite

When the sun sets, most steelhead anglers put away the fishing gear. It seems that nighttime angling is not for everyone. Yes, most of us have fished for catfish from a lawnchair with a hissing lantern to light our setup; however, there is a new reason to fish after dark. The popularity of Lake Erie steelhead fishing has spawned another style of “after hours” angling.

Usually in September and October, Lake Erie tributaries are low and clear. Anglers face tough fishing conditions in the early months of the annual steelhead run. During the day, spooked fish refuse most bait and lure presentations.  Anglers are forced to fish Lake Erie tributaries under the cover of darkness. When I decided to give late-night steelhead fishing a try, here is what happened.

The plan was to fish a stretch of Elk Creek near Girard, PA, that I have fished many times before. It is always a good idea for safety sake to fish familiar waters at night.

Another good pre-trip step is to consult with some experienced “dark side” anglers for advice. They told me to fish medium sized black jigs under a lighted float, and work my presentation the same way I would during the day. That sounded easy enough, but they did share that I needed some additional gear.

HatLight

First, you need to find your way in the dark, and you need light to handle your equipment and land fish. Forget the flashlight. You need a hands-free headlamp. My first purchase was a LED light that clipped to the brim of my hat. It is inexpensive, lightweight and provides plenty of light.

Next, I did not want to buy a battery-powered lighted float so I went with a system that attaches “glow sticks” to floats. A small rubber ring attaches to your float. It has a second rubber ring into which you place a glow stick. For weighted casting bobbers, you can fit the glow stick into the top of the float.

Finally, I planned to use a 1/32-ounce black, marabou jig.  I was ready to start my “afterhours” adventure.

With necessary gear in hand and the advice of experienced anglers, I LightedFloatwas prepared. This inaugural trip was not going to be a dark to dawn, full night effort. Start time would be 3:00 a.m. I figured that there was no need to waste all that good sleep if the fish do not cooperate.

Following a well-worn trail from the Elk Creek Access Area parking lot, I switched on my cap-mounted headlight to begin my walk to the stream. The moonless night was black as I walked a familiar path from the parking lot to my favorite Elk Creek fishing location.

I must admit to stubbling along the path, but I made it to my casting location without any major problem. Using my headlight to search through my pockets, I located and activated one of the glow sticks by snapping the plastic tube and giving it a shake. After placing the glow stick into the float attachment, I made a few false casts to get my bearings. It was easy to see the glow stick sail across the water and to make accurate casts.

Now ready to fish, I tipped my black, marabou jig with a maggot, switched off my head light and made a cast across the stream. When the float splashed down, I waited until the jig dropping toward the bottom pulled the float into an upright position. As soon as I could see the float was upright, I started my twitching retrieve across the stream. I watched the reaction of the float to my effort to work the jig. From this point on, I was fishing in the black night. Once my eyes adjusted to the dark, casting and watching the float was easy.

I cannot tell you exactly what happened to the float that caught my attention, but the glow stick moved differently as I paused between twitches. When I noticed the odd twitch, I set the hook. A steelhead run, jump and splash immediately followed then the line went limp. I lost my first fish of the night. It was 10 seconds of pure excitement.

IMG 4681On the next cast, I was focused on the float’s path across the stream surface. I saw the same telltale movement and immediately set the hook. Fish on! It was easy to track the hooked fish by watching the submerged glow stick travel through the clear water. It looked like a headlight on a small car driving across the dark landscape. When the battle got close to shore I switched on my headlight, grabbed my net and landed the steelhead. I have landed hundreds of steelhead, but that late night catch for me was special.

Final score: 7 fish hooked with 3 landed and released. I quickly became an after-hours believer.

The next night I anticipated another good trip, but I did not have a strike. Day or night, the story remains the same - you should have been here last night!