Fly Fishing Best In Fall
Inside the Outdoors, September 25, 2009

This may be a woman’s thing, but when it comes to visiting stores, I love to buy merchandise in quaint little shops. I guess it is more than atmosphere. They bear character beyond description.

So, when I dropped into the Angler’s Room on Route 217 to talk to Rich Rohrbaugh on the subject of fly fishing this fall, I needed to seek advice what flies not only would be good for the Loyalhanna Creek and local bodies of water as well but those good for steelhead fishing in Erie. I had no idea the make-up of his shop or what I would find when I got inside the door. Confined within the quarters of this Derry Township store was everything and more upon which the fly fisherman may want to possess in the clutches of his hands.

I got the feel minutes after we began talking that the Trout Unlimited member not only was an expert in the field, but was talking from the brain of a fish as well.

He began by telling me, “Most fish, as the water turns over in late summer and early fall, put on their feed bags. These fish know its going to be a long winter.”

So, a feeding they will go, hurrah, hurrah, a feeding they will go, hurrah…

The entrepreneur continued, “Some of the biggest trout you are going to catch all year is in the fall because they do try to bulk up for the winter,” he related. “The fish are looking for a meal to put on calories, so it’s not the small no-see-type stuff that you are going to fish right now, but the biggest, ugliest streamers if you want to catch fish.” He did point out that trees will be shedding their leaves and this matter will be falling on the water, so it will be to the anglers advantage to fish below the surface. “I have been told and also read that 90% of the food that trout consumes is within eight inches of the bottom of a streambed,” he disclosed.

“Use sculpin, minnow or crayfish imitations,” he advised. “You will do well on these during the fall.” A sculpin is a small bottom dwelling fish that inhabits most trout streams. He also recommended nymph fly fishing. “It is not my favorite way to catch fish,” he told me, “but you are going to catch a whole lot more fish when fishing on the bottom of the stream than its top, most of the time.”

We then moved on to the subject of catching steelhead. These fish are rainbow trout that grow up in the Great Lakes and then return to the inland waters. They are meat eaters and love to eat emerald shiners. He mentioned minnow imitations, olive or white wooly buggers, glow bugs, sucker spawn, and good number of nymphs including the pheasant tail, stone fly and prince imitations.

“Steelhead fishing is one of the best,” he declared. “And the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is doing it right. They are doing all they can for the fisherman including acquiring property on which to go. Anybody who doesn’t steelhead fish in our state has no idea what they are missing,” he stated.

Being privileged to fish out in the state of Montana recently, he mentioned, “I talked to some people from Oregon State about five weeks ago, and they steelhead fish in the wintertime just like we do. I asked a number of gentlemen how their steelhead fishing was. “How many times do you hook (referred to as a hook-up) a fish in a day’s time?” was the question.

“A good day there are two to four hook-ups,” they told Rohrbaugh. “A good day in Erie are 20 to 30 hook-ups,” he told them. “Out there they may have two to four hook-ups, but never land a fish. At Erie, anglers may hook up with 10 to 20 fish, landing 30% to 40% depending on your skill level!”

Re-emphasizing how great the Commonwealth is, he stated, “A lot of people don’t know how good we have it in this state. We don’t hold a back seat to many places with everything that is offered around here. The Fish Commission doesn’t get enough credit for everything that they do – and they don’t get enough money, in my opinion, either.” He continued by saying, “I think they need more money because they honestly do more with the dollars than any other government agency that we have.” When asked where there should be an increase with license fees, he recommended “A higher price for Erie fishing as well.”

He had also visited British Columbia where he used his expertise to catch various varieties of trout. “I bought a non-resident, alien license up there, because I wasn’t a resident of the country. An eight-day license cost me $80. I was charged $21.20 on top of that fee. If one fishes the Classified Water Rivers, there is an addition rod fee of $21.20 every day one uses these waters.”

Taught by Russ Mowry, legendary master fly-tier, the local resident is definitely following in the paths of this great teacher and fisherman. Rohrbaugh concluded, “A fishing license has the best value for entertainment in the state of Pennsylvania!”.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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