Chalk up another season in the books. I decided to stay close to home and fished the Rock. It was going to be a bluebird day and this night owl was going to get an early head start. The Rock was running the same consistency as a bottle of Grey Goose. I was out of eggs and that meant using egg flies, beads and shiners. It was the shiners did paid out in huge dividends. I had a good morning hitting drop backs out of several pools. Upstream, I could see the latest crew gleaning the redds. I've never understood the appeal of flossing. Due to the nice weather, a lot of people were out including the game warden. He was hitting every hole asking for fishing licences. Too bad he couldn't issue citations for blatant snagging. I was surprised he wasn't on the East Branch or down at the boat ramps picking on the Russians. He was a young warden fresh out of school. Most graduates end up in Cuyahoga County. The county has over a million people. Due to the sheer number of people and there is practically no hunting. The Rocky is the only steelhead river within the county. The Cuyahoga River gets strays but not a lot of people fish it. For a game warden, Cuyahoga County is dudsville. Time is spend gaining valuable experience and in time, they jump at the opportunity of working in a rural county. We exchange pleasantries and I produce my licence. He asks if there anybody else downstream and I say no. He thanks me and heads back up. The crew upstream watches him.
If there was one word to describe the past season it would be - excellent. But that's my opinion and I'm sure a lot didn't share that sentiment. Last summer wasn't hot as my A/C took a rare summer off. The lake barely crept into the 70s and the month of September was cool and wet. A little birdie told me that fish were being caught on the lower Conneaut, Elk and Walnut after Labor Day. That secret information was passed onto me and I kept it under wraps for the entire month.
I racked up the mileage and prowling the Alley. October was a smoking month and the Conneaut was on fire. The double digits days were the norm. I pretty well fish the Connie and the Elk whenever the creek blew out. Both times on the Elk, I hammered fish and piled up some impressive stats. Towards the end of the month, I needed to change of scenery.
For November, I ditched the Connie for the Grand ole girl. The Grand has a special place in my heart. It's huge, challenging and a pinner's dream. It will always be my favorite river. On July 28th 2006, the Grand made national news as 10" of rain fell in 24 hours. The Grand went 11' above flood stage. Homes along the lower section were overwhelmed with water as many were forced from their homes during the night. Boats at the marina were ripped from their moorings and many were washed out into the lake. It ended up being the 500 year flood and I've never seen the river go that high. Many speculated that the flooding would drastically alter it. But, the river didn't really change that much. Me and others were somewhat surprised and relieved. Most of the pools were intact and none of the gravel beds were washed away. I camped out on the Grand for the entire month.
Both December and January were very mild months. The number of fish kept it interesting, but one river had disappointing numbers of fish. The Chagrin was a tough one to figure out. Most of my money spots really didn't produced. The numbers were way off from a year ago. Then the bottom fell out in February as it was the one of the coldest in recent memory. The rivers quickly froze up and shut down the fishing well into March. Time was spent down at the power plant dealing with those miserable little grebes that stole shiners off my hook. Once the ice was gone the fishing started to pick up once again. Luckily my home river started to get a consistent run of fish.
April was an odd month, it started off mild and I remember taking off one Monday when the temperature was 70F. It was the beginning of the great push of fish up the Rocky. But, then the weather started to get cold. During the Easter weekend, we received nearly 3' of snow and it was bitterly cold. But, the fishing was on fire as a lot of fish starting pulling off the gravel and heading back into deeper water. Since the Rock is a magnet for flossers, I didn't have a problem catching droppies. It was a droppie fest for the next couple of weeks until I call it a season on the last week of the month.
Spring brings promise. After a long harsh winter, the lifeless landscape starts to stir. Both skunk cabbage and trilliums emerge as soon as the snow is gone. The willows along the river sprout leaves. In the forest, I can hear the songs of robins and sparrows. The warmer days are refreshing as I don't need to bundle up. Gone are the toque, layer of shirts, gloves and jacket. I can wear a sweat shirt without fear of succumbing to the elements. Steelhead Alley is the southermost range of steelhead in North America. While not native, they've adapted well to Lake Erie. Spring comes early here usually late March and early April. It's not uncommon to have days in the upper 60s and 70s.
It's a beautiful day on the Upper Grand. It's first light when I park on the hill. I step out and feel the cool crisp air. As I dress, I can hear the goobles of turkeys off in the distant. I cross the road and head onto the trail. The walk down steep as I carefully go over logs and try not to slip on the mud. The riverine forest is full of bird songs. Off the trail I can see the several plants emerging quickly before the trees sprout their leaves and rob them of sunlight. Eventually I get down to the river's edge and walk through the sedge meadows. In a few months, these meadows will be waist high. I look at the river and running that off color that the Grand is know for. It's been a couple weeks since we had rain and I take full advantage of it. The Grand is the largest of the Alley's streams and during the spring it can take a week for it come down. I cross over the river and I'm not far from the spot I want to fish.
In the distance I see my spot and on the other side is the large stands of sycamores. I stand on the bank and scan the waters. The sun has come up but not over the ridge. Somewhere in the murky waters are steelhead. The pool above spills into several riffles. The riffles are chock full of gravel. If it was any other river, I could make out the distant shadows of fish spawning. But, I'm not after them. I have never fished redds nor will I ever. I follow strict code of fishing. I quietly wade into the water and start to fish. The pool here is shallow probably about 3' deep. Somewhere in the pool are drop backs. Drop backs are steelhead that have finished spawning. They move into deeper water to regain their energy. The spawn is hard and their bodies show the ravages of it. It doesn't take long for me get into fish. The fights are hard and in some cases long drawn out. All of them are spawned out hens. No longer fat but, sleek in a bad way. They looked emaciated as the bottom of their bellies are sunken in. Their bodies are scarred and the bottom of their caudual fin are worn out from digging out gravel. It amazes me that a fish in that bad of shape, can expend the energy to fight like a fish fresh out the lake. I release them and they quickly dart back to the run. Tomorrow these fish will be from this spot. They'll gradually head downstream, but at their own pace. If the river had blown out, they would of rode the current all the way back the lake. There in the lake, they pack on the weight they lost and within a few months, they'll head back upstream.
I take a break from fishing and get out of the water. The sun is now over the ridge and I see through the murky haze. I spot the shadows of several fish. Suddenly I see the flash of the hen and plume of mud comes up. She's digging out gravel to lay her eggs. The largest male get the right to mate and others are forced to sit back. This will continue for several days until she's exhausted her supply of eggs. If there were two males of equal size they would of squared off and scrap. They bite at one another and cause a commotion. There's none of that today. Once in a while, I'll the dominant male chase off a smaller one. By next week, if we don't get rain, this spot will be quiet. The only evidence will be the holes in the gravel. Sadly this fish will expend all that energy for nothing as the Grand has too sediment and source of groundwater to keep the eggs cool during their incubation.
Ragged ass fishing. That's how I feel when I'm at the end of the season. When the cool winds come off Lake Erie, that gets my senses stirring. The days get shorter and I start getting anxious for another steelhead season. I had all summer to rest and relax. I'm not a summer angler as I rarely wet a line. When the streams get high from the rains in September, I hit the road and head out east. My step is quick as I hit the trail and head for the river. But as the season progresses, I start to lose a little in my step. Probably because I'm not in the best of shape. Next year, I'll be 40 years old and I keep telling myself I need to hit the gym and lay off the junk food. Some winters I catch a break when the streams are frozen over. But I need my fix, I have to get out. Usually it's the power plant but I would prefer the streams. By spring, I'm tired. Tired of getting up early, tired of tying sacs and tired of walking the endless miles.
Today is no different as it's early April. The weather feels more early March as I leave my place. I'm heading out west to the Vermilion River. The V as we call it the westernmost stocked steelhead river in Ohio. The Vermilion is a rural river running along fields and gradually into forested areas near the lake. The lower section of the river is where I'm today. The river here is lazy and meanders about. Large sections of the clay mud banks have been carved out by years of ice and floods. My ragged ass is parked in one spot as I'm fishing a pool. The cold water helps dull the pain in my one knee. I tweaked it a couple weeks ago when I slipped on some rocks on the Grand. The walk down the hill didn't help as I grimaced all the way down. Nearly every year I get some type of injury usually my ankles or knees. My weight doesn't help as I'm pushing 220 pounds. Something has to give, because I'm going through another year of this.
The fishing is slow as I pick off some fish and I start getting antsy. But that means having to walk back up the goat hill. The long time in the water has made my knee feel better. I decide to head to another spot farther upstream. I walk on the trail and mutter under breath that some of these have deliberately fallen across the trail. I huff and puff as I negotiate over and around the trees. Then I'm at the bottom of the goat hill. The goat hill as we call it is very steep but short. It's nothing like the hill on the Grand at Hogsback Ridge, that one is a killer after a long day.
The trail is very narrow, one misstep and you're tumbling down to the bottom. I make to the top, but I'm disgusted that I winded. My knee is fine for now as I drive the down the road to another metropark. Even though the landscape is grey and lifeless in a few weeks, the steelhead run will be winding down. As I walk down, I see several trillium peeking through the leaf litter. Next week the temperatures are supposed to be in the 60s. The trees will be sprouting leaves and the woods full of bird songs. I welcome spring as winter dragged on, just like my ass is dragging as I shuffle my way down the hill. I cross over and I sink into the gravel bottom. I struggle to make it over and I'm finally on firm ground. The river is narrow here as it runs tight along the bank and eventually spills into another run. Not hard to figure out where the fish are holding as I toss the float out. It runs right down the middle and it gets sucked under. I set the fish the bulldogs on the bottom. It becomes a battle of attrition and I start to wonder if it run under a log or branch. Finally it starts to yield and I see it come to the surface. It's a pretty large male probably pushing 30" and I beach it on the gravel bar. I bend over and pop the hook out. I push the fish back into the water and I when I stand up, my lower back starts to seize up. Lately, I've having back issues and my gut is the culprit. I pretty well have no core and the bowling ball I carry has got to go. I catch more fish and I don't bend over, instead I'm on my knees and slowly get back up after releasing the fish.
I bounce around the lower end until I run out of bait. I had a great day and that makes those aches and pains a little more bearable. I make my up the hill and when I finally get to the lot, I crack open a water. I guzzle the entire bottle and because of my back, I sit on the grass and take my boots and waders off. It's a pathetic sight. I toss everything in the back and hit the road. On the way home, my stomach is grumbling and usually I would stop at Wendy's. I resist the temptation and continue head home. Because I'm single, I tend to eat out a lot, probably too much. I pull into the grocery store and I buy some mixed greens and vegetables. I also pick up a rotisserie chicken. When I get home I make myself a nice chicken salad and drizzle olive oil over it. I plan on starting to eat more healthy and exercise more. Will I follow through? I'll give it my best shot as we all know that the majority of people that go on diets often succumb to temptation. Maybe, I'm starting to get fed up with being so ragged ass when the season comes to end. I have a summer to shed some of those pounds and hopefully I'll be a little more fit this upcoming fall.
Playing hooky and fishing is as old as time. Your dad it, his father did it, and probably his father before that. It's always been a part of fishing and it was something that we did from time to time. Some of it was just to take a mental health day off or for others to weasel out of a commitment or screw over their boss.
Nearly every angler has played hooky as the temptation of having the river to yourself is to good to pass up. There isn't a soul on the water. No worries about being low holed or having someone talk your ear off. Nothing but peace and quiet. Hopefully the fish will be in a playful mood.
Every generation has a tale of the old man landing that huge fish when he was supposed to be at work and then had to figure out how he was going to explain to mom why his face and arms are burnt. Some guys are masters at hiding their adventures from the closest of people and there's others that get caught red handed.
There's that old saying that resonates with anglers, "A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work". While that's true, a lot of us would prefer a day of banging a lot of fish. But there are times when some have called off and struggled to land one fish. Call it karma? Perhaps, but its better than dealing with irate customers and incompetent co-workers.
Nearly every person I've fished with has played hooky from time to time. During the weekend the fishing was on fire, but you had to stand in pitch dark waiting for the first rays of light before the hoards showed. The fishing was great but the crowds were too much. Or you had your in mother-in-law over and later you found out that the guys crushed them. That's when the tempetation of playing hooky to just to hard to pass up. The next morning you make the call and tell them
"I feel like crap, I'm not coming in"
You hang up and make your first cast.
If you are going to play hooky, don't feel guilty about it. Because your fellow co-worker who called off last week, probably played hooky. When calling off don't act like your minutes away from dying. Simply state that you don't feel well. There's no need to apologize or go into great detail. If you have a banner day and catch that 15 pounder, exercise great caution when posting it on social media like Myspace or Facebook. Because if you forgot to put your profile on private settings, everyone can see it, including your boss. Also, your boss isn't stupid. Imagine his reaction when you come in the next day and your face is burnt except for your eyes as you were wearing sunglasses all day. That can land you in hot water and if you're a bad employee that could seal your fate. Some people couldn't care less about the consequences and others go through great lengths to keep their day off a secret. Anglers will continue to play hooky much to the chagrin of their employers long after I headed to the great river in the sky.
I can neither confirm or deny that I ever played hooky.