What were the steelheads taking three years ago on Elk Creek at about 3 p.m. when the water was 54 degrees, stained and just starting to rise? In 2010 did you catch more chromers in slate riffles or gravelly pools? When all the obvious pools on Twentymile Creek were elbow to elbow, specifically where did you find fish?
Most anglers are more likely to remember the catch than the conditions that preceded it, even when steelhead behavior is apt to repeat in similar situations. What many of Erie's autumn anglers need is a logbook -- call it a "steelheader's journal" -- to help them take note of the repetition of arcane details that can mean the difference between a skunk and a camera full of fish photos.
Prepared by author and steelhead guide John Nagy of Brookline, "Steelheader's Journal" (Great Lake Publishing) is 171 blank entry forms containing detailed categories to be filled in by the angler. Tributary fished, pool or section, access points, weather, temperature, water conditions, streambed type, flies used, line and leader, steelhead caught and more -- the angler fills in the blanks during or after each bump to another tributary.
Keeping track of the details, Nagy said, can enable an angler to piece together the elements of a successful steelheading trip in most conditions. In time, the journal notes could help in planning the long drive north, and suggest when it's best to bounce to a more productive stream.
"This is an educational tool," said Nagy, author of "Steelhead Guide: Fly Fishing Techniques and Strategies for Lake Erie Steelhead" (Great Lakes Publishing), now in its fourth edition. "A lot of guys who go steelhead fishing don't really know what to look for in a good steelhead fishing trip. Some might not even think about some of these categories."
In keeping the journal, anglers would, in a sense, educate themselves about what's worked and what hasn't in various conditions. Leather-bound with antiqued paper and printed in sepia ink, the limited edition logbook is presented as a valuable part of an angler's gear.
The journal includes knot diagrams, a fishing trip checklist and dozens of tips -- the kind of advice steelhead guide Nagy might whisper to a client:
• "Apply side-rod pressure when playing a steelhead. This rod position throws the fish off balance and allows you to land him much quicker."
• "Know the run-off rates of the tributaries ... This will enable you to predict when prime conditions will occur ... and target the right tributaries for the specific days you're fishing."
• "Don't allow your floating indicator (which is drifting in the fast surface current) to go faster than the slower bottom current, where the fly and shot are drifting."
"What I'm trying to do, especially for younger folks, is get them to slow down and smell the roses," said Nagy. "Keeping the journal physically requires you to sit down and write, think about what you're doing. If you do that you'll have a different experience, be more observant, appreciate things more."
"Steelheader's Journal," $39.95 plus shipping, is available at the Foley's End Campground fly shop near Girard, www.johnnagysteelheadguide.com and Great Lakes Publishing, 606 Crysler St., Pittsburgh, PA 15226.