Gun and Run

Early in the week, a little birdie told me that the Conneaut was primed for action. That's the benefit of having friends scattered across the Alley. I always have the latest pulse on the action. I know several guides who live out east and since I live on the west end, I often know what's going on with the Chagrin, Rock and Vermilion. With that valuable info, I made plans for the trip to Conneaut for Sunday.

The night before I thawed out some King salmon eggs and tied a bunch of sacs. When conditions are primed, I'll mostly tie pink sacs. Pink for some reason out produces any other color. In the other container I still had a bunch of skein left over. The kitchen table was a mess of newspapers and paper towels. The smell of eggs overwhelmed the kitchen. But I love the smell of fresh eggs. I liken it to the smell of upcoming victory. It didn't take long to tied over 50 sacs of uncured salmon eggs. I finished just in time for the Ohio State - Penn State game. I cracked open a beer and settled on the couch.

I woke up around 5:30A.M and quickly fried up some eggs and bacon. I stopped at the gas station for coffee and hit I-90 for Conneaut. The interstate was a lonely place as the only traffic were weary drivers and truckers heading to some far off destination. The skies were clear and there was a slight breeze from the north. When I arrived it was twilight and there were about 4 cars in the lot. I took my time getting dressed and walked down the river. It was still dark and I couldn’t see exactly what the water was like. As it gradually got lighter, I noticed the water wasn’t that high. Even though the water level was low, it had a tea color. This was probably due to the high number of leaves in the water. Usually whenever the water is tannic that worries me. As leaves start to rot, they release acids and I believe that throws off the fish. Trout are very sensitive to acidic conditions. 

The first spot was a riffle that flowed into a flat that is considered a winter hot spot because it a tail out. I used a pink spawn sac and casted out. That’s when I noticed the pin had a hard time free spooling. A bushing pin can have a harder time in slower water than a ball bearing pin. I reeled in and popped off the spool. Last night when I was cleaning the reel, I forgot to apply machine oil to the bushing. The bushing was dry and free spooling was out of the question. I decided to make short drifts and work the water. After a few drifts the float went under and a fresh hen came to the surface. I quickly released it and used another pink sac. Several minutes later and feisty little jack took the bait and leaped out the water. I guess the water wasn't terribly tannic here. Not wanting to quickly exhaust my uncured eggs, I switched over to skein. I fished for 20 minutes and had no takers. That’s what happens when fishing bait. One day uncured eggs work and the next they want skein. I switched back and didn’t have any takers.

I moved farther upstream in search of fishable water. I was somewhat surprised to see hardly any people for a Sunday. Usually the Connie is the hot spot in the fall, because the creek is stocked with PA steelhead. I putzed around several riffles and couldn’t stir up a player. It was now 10:30A.M and I decided to gun and run. Gun and run is my style for getting into fish quick. When using eggs, steelhead will take it fairly quickly. I don’t bother wasting an hour fishing one hole hoping that a fish will bite. If there isn’t any action quickly, it’s off to the next spot. That’s why I usually fish alone because most people don’t like this method of fishing. I swear by it and that’s why I catch a lot of fish.

I made it back to the bridge and blew past the guys fishing under it. I got about 100yds downstream and found another favorite spot of mine. I used another pink sac and started drifting along the seam. The float got hammered hard and I quickly set the hook. A large steelhead broke from the water and raced downstream. I darted back and forth and raced for any cover. It was a plump male in full color.

By now, the sun was starting to peek through the clouds. It was a decent morning, but not great. I started getting into fish when I fished the faster water. I caught nothing in the slower stuff. Out of the all of the Alley's streams, the Conneaut is the more classic trout stream – riffle, run and pool. I starting banging away and the fish started to hit. All they wanted was the uncured eggs and thumbed their nose at the skein. I ended up have a good day considering there were quite a few people fishing. These spots have been fished hard over the past week so I was happy that I did well.

Currently all of the streams are dropping fast. The water table has been so dry that the ground soaked up all of the rain fairly quickly. I wouldn’t cash in the vacation days or use the 24 hour flu excuse yet. There are fish in the rivers, but they’re spread out. You need to do a lot of leg work and work the water. If you do go out, fish the lower sections. We need another good dose of rain and unfortunately there isn’t any for the rest of the week.

Welcome to the Rock

We finally received enough rainfall to get the rivers up and flowing. Like with any heavy rainfall, it was going to take some time for the waters to clear. After work, I stopped by the Rocky to see the water conditions. The river was running very stained but not flowing too hard. This is due to the heavy build up of summer silt. The busy season at work winding down, I would be able to slip out of work a little early.

Today, I got lucky and finished work early. I got to the river around 3:00P.M and there were about 5 people fishing. One of my favorite spots was vacated. The river was lower than yesterday, but it was still running stained. The night before I tied some jumbo skein bags. Skein can be a mess and I prefer to tie them in sacs, rather than hauling around a big bag and cutting chunks. The fishing at first was slow and the constant gusting wind kept blowing the line off the reel. I was fishing the lower section not far from the lake. During the fall, steelhead often stage in lower section before heading upstream. The river is wider but it's not very deep. There was a decent current and I started drifting along the seam. Since the first riffle isn't very far from the lake, winds can affect the flow. Whenever the wind is blowing from the north, the water surges upstream. It common to hear the water gurgling and then all of the sudden it stops. Some time the water level will go up several inches. During one year, the wind out of the south was so strong the lower section dropped by half. It was odd seeing the river take on a whole different character. The flow was very fast and the fish were stacked into several deep pools. But, as soon as the wind stopped the water starting moving upstream.

I moved around and tried different colored sacs, but I didn't have any takers. I decided to move downstream about 50 yards below the first riffle. I was going through a lot of sacs because of the snags. Leaves in the water were also starting to become a problem. Then I finally got into a fish that took a pink sac. It leaped from the water and raced upstream. It felt like a fairly large fish and when I got to shore, it was a large hen that had to be at least 30". I took a quick picture and released her. I resumed fishing in the same spot and it was slow. Nobody else was hooking into anything. Then I noticed a steelhead floating belly up go by me. I grabbed it by the tail and didn't see any visible wounds. Some guy came by and told me some angler caught it upstream at the pool. When he landed the fish and he simply kicked it back into the water. I tried to revive the fish, but it was beyond help. The angler probably over fought it and with the warm water temperature, the shock was too much for it. I all ready had enough skein and salmon eggs at home. I asked several anglers downstream if they were interested in taking the fish. As soon as I said it was a hen, one guy jumped at the offer. It is very important during this time of the year, that fish are not to be over played. Let them run or jump once and then get them in quick.

Even though I live 10 minutes from the Rocky, it's my least favorite river. The river is often referred to as the "urban jewel" Several people I know often call it the "urban sewer" Because of the Lakewood and North Olmsted water treatment plants. The main reason why I don't like it are the crowds. During the fall and spring the entire river can be a zoo. In the winter months, most of the fairweather anglers are on the couch, so the crowds tend to be more tolerable.

One thing the Rock has over the other rivers is access. The main river is flows thorough the Cleveland Metro parks. There is 13 miles of river to fish on and plenty places to park. Because of it's suburban location, peace and quiet is hard to find. One of my favorite places is the lower section near the marina. The mouth of the river is about a half a mile. During the spring when most of the anglers are harassing spawning fish, I'll be down at the marina. In the spring, large schools of emerald shiners move up river. Not to far behind are skippers or dropback steelhead heading back to the lake.

So far the water levels on most of the rivers are still running high, but they're fishable. Get out while you can because the water will start to drop fast.

Went fishing and walked into a nudist colony?

Summer won't go away here along Steelhead Alley. It's been drier than a bone and nearly all of the rivers are running low and clear. But that is expected as steelheading in Ohio during early October is often being in the right place at the right time and little luck has to be thrown your way. When conditions are not favorable, I'll head out to the break walls to cast spoons.

During the fall the best break walls to fish are the Grand River, Ashtabula and Conneaut harbors. Generally, in early fall, Conneaut is better because Pennsylvania's steelhead are a fall running strain. But, when October rolls around fish start showing up around the Grand River. I prefer the Grand River wall as it more accessible and not as steep as Conneaut's wall.

I've been fishing the walls for the past couple of weeks and the fishing has been slow. Usually a handful of fish are caught at first light and depending on weather conditions such as bright skies, the fish will retreat back to deeper water a couple hours after sunrise. As I walked along the wall, I could see large schools of emerald shiners racing along the wall. The wall was their only refuge from other predatory fish such as bass, perch and of course steelhead. During the early morning hours, I could see and hear the slapping and splashing of water as  steelhead were chasing shiners towards the surface. Even though the boat traffic was heavy it didn't stop the fish from feeding. Fishing off the walls or pier can be hit or miss. There are a lot of factors involved such as temperature, water visibility, sunlight, wind and time of day. First light is usually the best time as steelhead often come closer to the shore. The best conditions for pier and wall fishing is a cloudy day and the water has a nice chop. The waves will force the baitfish to move farther out from the rocks.

It's doesn't take a lot of know how when it comes to pier fishing. Steelhead are very aggressive and will hit any that resembles a baitfish. Simply cast out and retrieve, steelhead often cruise along the upper water column. Strikes are often hard and in open water they'll rip off a lot of line. Other anglers take the other approach and use a jig tipped with maggots under a float. Usually the anglers will have 4' to 5' of line between the float and jig. Casting out about 10' to 30' off the pier produces fish.

On an end note, the slow day ended with me running into several elderly bird watchers. They had a disgusted look on their faces. The one lady said "Nothing ruins a morning than having to look at" I looked over and there was this fat guy strolling along the beach totally naked. I wanted to a shot with my camera, but he was too far away. When I got the parking lot a Grand River police car pulled up and I said "You better bring a towel......a big towel"