Hooking Up - by Casey DiGiovanni
By November the steelhead are usually well up the creeks, unless it has been a very dry fall. Often the best fishing of the season is in late November (sometimes, unfortunately for hunters, the best times coincide with antlered deer season in Pennsylvania). The fishing can be good throughout the winter when the creeks are open. Occasionally the creeks will remain open nearly all winter. In severe winters, the creeks can freeze over by December and not open up until March. Fishing over a frozen creek is difficult and dangerous. Ice on a moving stream is very unpredictable and falling through into the cold water can be unpleasant at best, and life threatening at worse.
As long as the creeks remain open, steelhead can be taken. As the water gets colder, the fish, being cold-blooded, move slower. It is less likely the fish will move far to take a lure or bait. The fish may take a hook and move slowly, making it more difficult to detect a strike. Some fish remain in the creek for longer periods of time. These fish lose their bright silvery appearance and become dark along the bottom.
Because the water can be so cold, fishing early in the morning during the winter months is not normally an advantage. During the winter the fish often become more active later in the day as the air and water temperatures warm.
When the creeks freeze over, the steelhead fishing is nearly over. However, some anglers do fish through the ice in the marina at the Walnut Creek access, and an occasional steelhead is taken through the ice on Presque Isle Bay. Fishing through the ice on the stream itself is dangerous. The depth of ice over moving water is unpredictable, and it is impossible to determine how deep the water is if you happen to fall through.
Fishing for steelhead in the winter is a sport for the hardy. The air and water are generally cold. Multiple layers of clothing and insulated waders are a must. A pick for clearing ice from the rod guides is also handy (the stick from a long float works well). Felt-bottomed wading boots will get packed with snow; rubber-bottom boots with cleats work better.
WHAT TO WEAR
This is where we will talk about gear, layering, etc...