Winter Steelhead Tactics

winter steelhead on the rocky river

Fishing for steelhead in the winter separates the boys from the men. Frigid temperatures can test even the hardiest of steelheaders. We have to deal with side ice, slush, and riving through lake effect snows. We can wear the warmest of clothing, only to succumb to the elements. Working the pools and holes can be a long drawn out process that can test the patience of most anglers. But you can be rewarded if you know what your doing and willing to put the work in.

Location, location, location

When water temperatures get into the low 30s, a steelhead's metabolism is almost catatonic. They'll seek places in the river where they'll get relief from the current. That's where reading water is invaluable. When I fish during cold periods, I look for the slowest flowing parts of a river. Places I'll fish will be the lower sections close to the lake if ice isn't an issue. Here the rivers tend to be wider, more flat, and a little deeper. Any structure at the bottom such as rocks and lumber will be utilized by fish to conserve energy. Other places will be the wide bends and the tail end of pools. On bends, fish will hang off the main current, so watch the speed of the bubble line. At the tail end of pools, fish prefer to be there as the current is deflected up and away. Other areas to target include along shale ledges and drop off in pools that are not deep. If side ice is present, drift a float as close as possible as fish often use the ice as cover. 

winter centerpinning for steelhead

Time of Day

When night time temperatures get into the low 20s or teens, I'll sleep in. The reason why is slush. Fishing in slush is pointless and quite honestly a waste of time. At times it can be so thick that it's impossible to fish. The best thing to do is go later in the day, especially on days when the sun is out. As the day progresses, the sun's rays warm the water. Gradually the chunks of slush get smaller and smaller. By mid to late afternoon, it's usually all gone. The other advantage of going later is the water temperature might go up a couple degrees. That little bump could the difference whether a fish is willing to move to take your bait or fly. The added bonus is a lot of the best spots will be vacant as the majority of anglers that tried to fish in the morning are gone. 

Cut Back on Bright Colors

I've heard some people say that bright colors are effective on steelhead in cold water because  "bright" colors get their attention. There's been plenty scientific studies that show fish will react in certain light and background conditions. While it's true that bright colors are more effective in stained conditions and natural colors in clear water. It depends what river I'm fishing on. The Grand is a river that runs off color the majority of the time. But in the winter when the clay and mud bank freeze up, the water will turn to a tea color. In water like that I'll use a chartruese or pink colored sac. The other rivers run much clearer and in the deeper sections the water takes on a greenish hue. In conditions like that I'll use white, blue, peach, or red as they're more subtle. The same can be said about jigs as my favorite color is simple 1/32 oz white one.

Getting Jiggy With It

The majority of steelheaders will use sacs exclusively. During cold weather a jig can be deadly. I carry a wide variety of jigs of different colors. The best color for me are white with a red or pink head. Another favorite pattern is a white zonker. The marabou breathes enough life that a lethargic steelhead might be tempt to take it.

Bundle Up

Winter along the Steelhead Alley isn't as severe as the Northern Great Lakes states, but it still can get cold. Wearing the right type of clothing is essential. When I fish during the winter, I layer my clothing. All of my clothing consists of fleece and polyester. Your clothing should also have the ability to wick away any moisture. For a shirt I wear a compression long sleeved shirt. For my legs I wear a compression long johns and over that I are fleece pants. For my feet I wear a pair of polypropylene socks and over that wool socks. Make sure that you have enough room in your boots. Because if your boots are too small, your feet won't be able to move blood and that's when your feet start to get cold. That's why I buy boots a couple sizes bigger to accommodate socks. For a jacket I wear a fleece one and over that I wear another jacket made of goretex. Head gear is always a toque or balaclava. I'll also bring along a pair of gloves. Even though I never wear them while I'm fishing, I'll put them on when I walk from spot to spot. Another important item that anglers forget is bringing a small towel. Towels come in handy to wipe your hands when releasing a fish. Nothing is worse than cold fingers, because you need them to tie knots. In my jacket is where I carry a couple heat packs. They give off plenty heat to get those fingers functioning again. 

Have Patience 

You'll need a lot of it when it because these fish won't budge as you'll need to practically put it on their nose. That means working the section and having to try different colors or presentations. You might have also move around to find where fish are holding. 

Back To The Grind

Vacations are never long enough. It's Monday morning and I'm heading to work. Inching along in traffic, its back to the grind. I'm not thrilled at the prospect walking into the office and looking in my box to see nothing. Winter is usually a quiet time for me. It's either feast or famine when it comes to work. I enter the building and I see some of my co-workers who ask how the vacation was. I said the fishing was great and I wished I had another week. They nod in agreement. I look at the calender and sigh, next November seems so far away. 

The vacation was needed as the grind of a busy season wore me out. The last time I took vacation was in early April and you guessed it, I was out fishing. I couldn't bare the thought of taking time off during the summer. That's the time to make as much money as possible. Those huge bonuses and overtime, fueled me to go all out. I had all winter to kick back and relax. 

I look at the schedule and there's odd jobs for the week, enough to get me out of the office. But for the time being I sit a chair back in the break room and drink my coffee. I have a couple hours to kill before I head out to my first job. I start to reminisce about the week I had off. The entire week hitting different streams along the Alley. Even though it was my vacation week, I still got up early. I drove in the dark on my way out east. I wanted to be on the trail at first light. I wasn't going to dick around. I had a plan on where to fish. Since I was single, I was going to fish until I either ran out of bait or light. It was like that nearly every day. 

Unfortunately when you're on the streams all day, time flies. Before you know it, it's Friday and there's two more days before the fun times are over. There are times I wished I could retire early like my father or win the lottery. I spend nearly every waking moment on the streams. One of the guys we fished with just retired from GM and that was last we saw of him. I don't blame him, why would I want to fish on the weekend with the hoards? He had the rest of life to get out and fish. As I'm sitting finishing off my coffee, I wouldn't be surprised if he's down at the Rock fishing alone. I feel a ting of envy thinking about it. I cherish the one week I had. If I make it to ten years at the company, I'll get another week of vacation and that's eight years away. 

Hopefully I can make it to ten years, because another week off would help make the grind that more easy.

Just Another Outing

Any hardcore angler knows that the weathermen is wrong most of the time. Last night they tossed the dart at the board and it came up as lake effect snows and they would be severe at times. Lake effect snow is often hit and miss and today it completely missed out where I was fishing. The roads were wet and I bombed down the interstate without breaking a sweat. It was chilly when I started fishing not to long I was fighting with ice build-up on the guides. This was the only annoyance with the cold, as last week I spent a ton of dough on winter clothing. Last season I got tired of getting cold after several hours of fishing. I wasn't a tightwad as I bought several Under Armour coldgear undershirts and longjohns, Polartec fleece pants, fleece jacket, and a toque. If this was last year, I would of been squealing about the cold and today I didn't even feel it. As for the weather you couldn't ask for nicer conditions - partly cloudy with periods of sun. A friend of mine was surprised that it didn't snow as he cancelled his trip today.

It was nice to see snow again and nicer to see my nemesis the fair weather fishermen absent from the water. As expected with colder temps, the fish parked themselves at the tail end of the pools or off the main current. Even with the colder water, all of the fish fought very hard and a couple leaped from the water. Most of the fish were in their full winter colors and the hens had full bellies of eggs. The fishing wasn't bad and the key was staying mobile as I bounced around from spot to spot and had most of them to myself.

Old man winter will be hanging around for most of the week. On the way back home, most of the other streams are still a day away from being fishable. The eastside as expected received more snow and during the day some of it was melting from the trees and cliffs. Another cold front to arrive later this week and drop the temps below 32F for Friday and Saturday - the diehards will be smiling and the fairweather fishermen will be marking off the days until April...........

Deja Vu All Over Again

As expected the beginning of my vacation starts off with what else - rain. Yes we needed a lot of it to flush out the leaves, summer silt and trigger a big push of fish. But could it wait at least another week! This is the chance I took when booking off time in November, as the weather is so unpredictable. Last night the weather honks were calling for rain all day Saturday and on Sunday the bottom drops out as temps are to be in the 30s all of next week -lovely. Last November, I started my vacation week with rivers in Ohio blown out and I had to jump across the border to get my fishing fix. As it turned out I had the best day fishing wise in the 10 years of living in Steelhead Alley. But this year, I might be in for a tough time as a bunch of Alberta clippers (what's a clipper named that enters Alberta?). But this Canuck can deal with some harsh conditions.

Last night I checked the radar and noticed the rain wouldn't start until early Saturday morning. That was plenty of time to get in some fishing before the water got too high. That evening I tied up a ton of sacs and went to bed later then usual as I knew I wouldn't have to beat anybody to the river. When I left it was still relatively warm and lightly rained the entire way out. I arrived at 6:30A.M, there were no cars to be seen. I looked at the river it was in perfect condition, I figured I had at least 7 hours of fishing before the river started to blow out. I stuck to the lower end and fished the faster water as the river was still warm. It was a mixed bag of skippers and plump adults. Some of the fish were on the large size and with the warmer water temperature, a couple of them ripped off some nice runs. As the morning progressed the water levels came up, but the visibility held. Nearly all of the fish were hold in shallow water right in the middle of the bubble line or at the head of the riffles and runs.

The rain on the other hand didn't let up as a couple of anglers around me that didn't have waterproof jackets bailed after a couple of hours. I was lucky enough to get a spot under the bridge and enjoyed the period of fishing without having to wipe water off my glasses. The fishing was off and on as several would be caught and then the bite would shut off. I was going to fish as long as possible as I knew the river wouldn't be fishable for at least 3 to 4 days. I moved downstream not far from the lake and I meet up with a friend. We knew some fish were staging at the lower end waiting to come up. As the water levels started to rise we noticed waves of fish moving up as we would bang fish quickly and then it died off. Once I used up all of my sacs I called it a day as I looked like a soaked rat and it was a good call. On the way back home I hit the cold front and the wind really picked up. The lake turned nasty as the winds shifted from the south to the northwest.

Now we're offically into winter steelheading. The fair weather fishermen will be parked on the couch for the duration of the year and the true diehards will be on the prowl. Fishing in the Buckeye State will be out of the question for most of the week as nearly an inch of rain fell. We'll she if ole Red is up to the challenge driving through the heart of the snowbelt.

Another Road Trip

Today ushered in November and many of the diehard steelheaders welcomed Daylight Savings with an extra hour of sleep. Another bonus was the lower gas prices as I filled up the Jeep the night before with gas at $1.86 per gallon. That's a far cry from a couple months ago when gas was almost $4.00 per gallon. With the lower fuel costs, I was more willing to rack up the miles in search of steel. I took the Saturday off as I fished pretty hard the day before and my knees needed a break. It was refreshing to sleep in. I spent the afternoon at Gander Mountain buying some clothes for the upcoming winter. They had great deals on socks, sweaters and long underwear. After that I spent the rest of the day stinking up the kitchen as I tied a ton of sacs for Sunday.

The weather was to be warmer and that meant my old nemesis would be out - fairweather fishermen and hillbillies. I left in the pitch dark and I wasn't that groggy considering it was really 5:30A.M. This is the time of the year to be cautious during the early hours as the rut is on here in Northeastern Ohio. All over the local highways there is a fair share of carcasses littering the median and blood splats on the road. Wired with a week's worth of caffeine, I made it to the river around 6:00A.M and I could see about 6 cars parked. I pretty well knew where all of the folks were fishing and I walked upstream to one of my favorite spots.

It was still dark and with a click, I started fishing. I have to admit that those float lights are killer and a couple of friends asked me to get them some. It was a chilly morning as I noticed ice forming on the guides. I fished tailouts and it was a chore to get a bite. The water had a perfect color, some of the leaves were washed away and most of the fish probably had very little pressure. For two hours, I banged one section from top to bottom and had two fish for my efforts. By know it was 8:00A.M and I packed up and walked around the bend, in the distance I could see a lot of people fishing upstream. I knew how this morning was going to shape up - elbows and assholes. I walked downstream and I could see a ton of people, as I walked on the bridge I looked down and noticed one spot wasn't being fished. I've learned over the years that you never leave any stone unturned and I apply this to fishing. Most people would decline fishing it since it's so close to the bridge, thinking it was probably pounded earlier. I casted out and on the first drift the float tapped and it was a chrome hen that hit a peach sac. I quickly caught a couple more fish and several people downstream looked surprised considering I whacked them so quickly. But this was a small hole and probably a small number of fish. I looked the time and it was 10:00A.M and I had a hankering to move another river. I called a buddy up fishing farther upstream and he told me it was a zoo. I knew where he was fishing and I didn't want to take a number and wait in line.

I hopped in the Jeep and drove west. I had one section I wanted to fish and this early in the season can be a crap shot. Either there will be fish or none at all. I pulled into the parking lot and got out. I looked downstream and didn't see a soul. My curiosity got the better of me and I figured what the hell. I walked along the river and you couldn't ask for better conditions, the water was slightly stained and the flow was perfect. I fished a favorite spot and managed a couple of fish in two hours of fishing. I figured most of the fish were still downstream and still making their way upstream. I walked back and drove to the lower section, thinking that most of the people were at home watching the Browns. I headed to one of the metro parks and walked downstream. In the distance, I could see four anglers and there was plenty of room to get off some Olympic distance drifts. This was a nice flat with some depth that flowed into a bend and a pile of lumber. The flow was fast, so I pulled all of the shots down to the bottom about 14" from the hook. I set the float at 4' and cranked out a long cast. I feathered the pin to slow down the float, but I had no takers for a while. It was early afternoon and I wonder if there were a lot of sore jaws on the bottom. Undaunted, I start to shuffle my way down and it I hit the first fish - a large male. I managed some fish and looked at the time 3:30P.M and sun was starting to get low. I was satisfied with the day and gave some poor soul the rest of uncured eggs as he was posting a goose egg. I gave him some pointers and wished him luck. On the way home I listened the Browns cough up a 14 point lead and eventually lose to the Ratbirds.

Sounding like a broken record, the streams will be low and clear in a couple of days. We'll be getting a small dose of Indian summer this week as the temps are to be in the upper 60s and low 70s. I think the fish will push their way upstream regardless of the flow. Counting down the days for vacation week.

Trick or Treat

Took a well deserved day off from all of the bullshit at work and what better way to spend it fishing on the last day of October. Earlier in the week we had some cold weather and my procrastinating caught up to me as I waited until the last minute to get my gas hooked up at my apartment. Wednesday night the temps dipped into the low 30s and I froze my ass off. Out east in the snowbelt there were reports of snow and sleet. With the front going over the lake, it was either lake effect rain or snow. I heard through the grapevine that some of the eastern tribs got high as of result of precipitation. How much rain or runoff was anybody's guess. That was perfect for Friday as the weather was be sunny and in the 60s.

With it being Halloween, it would been a hoot dressing up as a giant pink spawn sac or piece of skein or maybe as Donnie Beaver with a giant streamer stuck in the eye. Joking aside, I was going to meet up with a good friend that I haven't fished with for a while. Earlier in the week, I made plans and kept an eye and ear out for info. I heard some rivers were too high and others too low and others had very little fish in them. But there's always a place to fish on Steelhead Alley.

I arrived at the river just before first light and noticed it was in perfect condition. The water was stained from the rotting leaves and the color was perfect for concealing steelhead. The night before I tied a bunch of assorted flavor sacs - peach, pink, red and chartruese and any leftovers would be used as treats for the neigbourhood brats. I was to meet up with the Dfishinfool - Don Mathews. Don was scouting the river for the upcoming weekend of guiding. But before he showed up, I killed some time by spanking fish out of a hole in one section. Eventually he arrived and I was armed with the pin and he had his fly rod and battle ensued. Due the tannic conditions and lower water levels, most if not all of the fish were in deeper runs and pools. We had some double headers and every spot gave up some fat spunky fish. We ended up equal in the pin vs fly battle, but I'm sure I'll kick ass as soon as the snow flies. Most of the fish were holding in the tail end or slack parts of the pools. We continued downstream and I ran into another old friend and we chatted for a bit.

By now the sun was coming up and I was going to head over to the Conneaut with Don as he was going to Erie to get some supplies. I called a source to find out that the Connie was still high and off color. I had second thoughts and Don told me he would stop by to take a look on his to Erie. I started back upstream and tried the same spots we fished earlier. I recieved a call and was told the Connie was out of the question today and tomorrow. It was 11:30A.M and the sun was high in the sky and the temperature was rising. The bite shut off and I was starting to get really hot, so I walked back to the lot and took off the two sweaters I was wearing. I hopped in the Jeep and drove into town to fish a couple of spots. As expected there were a lot people that called in with the 24 hour flu. I was able fish one spot and caught some more before calling it a day around 3:00P.M. I wasn't thrilled at the thought of driving into Cleveland around 4:00P.M as 2 lanes were closed on the I-90 bridge crossing the Cuyahoga River. Sure enough the traffic piled up about a mile from Deadman's curve and I was lucky enough that I knew my way around "da hood" and avoiding gridlock.

We're still waiting for that elusive blowout to happen. For the time being, every time the water levels go up some more fish push up. However, the majority of trees have yet to shed their leaves. Most of those leaves have ended up on the bottom of the streams and the water has that tannic color. Tannin is a weak acid that can affect steelhead's behaviour and movement. But with a good presentation, fish can be had. As it's with every year here on Steelhead Alley, we eventually get a rainfall that flushes out the leaves and silt. Hopefully, that doesn't happen the 3rd week of November - the week of my vacation.

Night Time Steelhead

universal beacon

There's something about fishing at night for steelhead. The eerie feeling that something or someone is watching you. Hearing the rustling of some unknown creature in the surrounding woods. The hairs on your neck stand up. You stand alone in the dark and you don't see anything. All you hear is the sound of moving water. Fishing in the dark isn't for everyone. It takes a special type of angler that loves the challenge of fishing during the night. The biggest appeal of night fishing is you won't have to worry about other anglers. When the crowds leave and the river becomes a quiet place. Once the sun set and darkness encroaches, steelhead will become active. I've done it several times on the Rocky and Conneaut. It will either be early in the morning or after the sun set in the fall or spring. I've learned from one guy, who we call the night stalker as he does a lot of fishing in the dark, even in the winter. Over the years, he's honed his craft and enjoys his time out when most of us are fixtures on the couch watching TV. 

night float set up

When comes to night fishing, you need some form of light. A head lamp isn't strong enough. The best lights are the universal beacons from Rod and Bobber. Nearly every Walmart carries them or you can buy them online. They come with a variety of holders for different types of floats. I prefer the holders that fit on the float as it's more stable and you don't need to cut the line. You simply slide it up the float until it's snug. I find either the 5g or 6.2g Raven FM floats to be the best for the set up I use. The light is one of those sticks that you crack and the fluid inside mixes and starts to glow. The stick is pretty bright as you can see from a far distance. 

The hardest part of night fishing for steelhead is detecting the hit. When the water is clear, the light is strong enough that it can be seen underwater. If the take is light, you might think you've bottomed out and not set the hook. But most of the time, when the water is warmer, the hits will be fast and violent. What I've learned is watching the light for any odd movements and setting the hook regardless. 

Berkeley atomic jig

Most of the time when I'm night fishing, I'll be using sacs. But, another effective presentation is Berkley's power bait atomic glow tube jigs. The jigs are prerigged and come in packs of 3. I like the use the 1/16 ozs jigs. You can use a headlamp or the flashlight from your smartphone and shine it on the jig. Within a few seconds the jig starts to glow. This is very effective in the spring when shiners will come up the lower section of the rivers. There's times when I've caught a lot fish using them. 

But before you head out make sure that you're allowed to do it. The Rocky River metroparks closes at 11:00 PM so if you're out on the river, don't be surprised that you a visit from the park ranger asking you to reel in and have a nice night. Other communities might have hours where you're not allowed to fish during late evening hours. Usually I don't like to fish in the dark in rural areas, because I've heard cases of people cars getting broken into, especially around the more popular spots. However, I really don't know anybody that pulls an all nighter when it comes to fishing at night. I'll usually fish for a couple hours once the sun sets and that's about it. 

Night fishing can be thrilling and a challenge. So instead of sitting on the couch flicking through channels on what to watch, head down to the river and give it a try. 

No Browns Game = Everybody on the River

Finally after weeks without any sufficient rainfall, Steelhead Alley received some much needed rain and during the mid-part of the week, the weather got colder. With the combination of the two, many steelheaders hoped for a big push of fish into the streams.

As with every year, I plan my trips farther east as the fishing tends to be better, due to the close proximity to Pennsylvania. I got a report through the grapevine the streams didn't get blown out, but got high and stained. Stained conditions never bothered me as I knew where to find fish, plus I had goober sized sacs to get the fishes attention. I arrived at first light to see that the water was high, but manageable. I stuck to the lower end and knew of some killer holes. I fished one spot and drifted along the slot and paid off with some large fresh chromers. The majority of fish caught were hens loaded with eggs and they were on the large size. Due to the high water the number of anglers were low and I had the spot to myself for several hours. The fishing was good for an hour and died off, so I decided to head to another trib. This trib was not as high, but the water was stained. The fishing here was a little tougher as I hopped from hole to hole in search of players. The only players I found were those annoying little bastard creek chubs. In one section, I hooked one after another and flung them across the stream. Too bad it wasn't Northern Ontario as I would love to use those fat pricks for pike bait. But I managed to weed out the chubs and caught a couple of steelies. Overall it was a slow afternoon but it was nice to be out and enjoy the fall weather.

The following day was another story. I arrived to see about 10 cars parked along the road. You would of thought the internet got plastered with reports. There were no reports on the local fishing sites and it was the good ole word of mouth that got around. The spot I fished yesterday had 8 people standing in the water waiting for first light. I hit the trail walked upstream and it would be a morning of "gun and run". Even though the water conditions were better, the fishing was tough. There were more people than fish caught and I lost count of the people I passed and people that passed me while I fished. This was due to the nice weather and the Browns had a bye week. I usually tolerate the fair weather fishermen and none of them bother me this morning. I managed to catch some fish that were holding in narrow runs with a depth of 3' off the main current. As I walked back nearly ever spot was occupied and I noticed a lot of people were fishing in sections that never hold fish. For shits and giggles I decided to check another spot and there were 20 cars parked along the road. It was late in the morning and I decided that it's still early in the season and I could wait for colder weather.

I still think it's early in the season and this past high water episode didn't bring in a ton of fish. I heard across the border the fishing was better, but I would rather have my balls stuck with ice picks then fishing the Elk in October. The good news the fishing will get better as the weather gets colder (no more fair weather fishermen) and the shorter days.

Another Season Begins

The days are getting shorter and the nights cooler and right around the corner is steelhead season here on the north coast of Lake Erie. Last week we received enough rain to get the streams up, but due the dry conditions the ground soaked up the water and the streams quickly went back to low and clear. But that wasn't going to stop the diehards from dusting off the rods and reels and seek out some early season action. 

It was great to get back on the water after a long and uneventful summer. This is the time of the year that I've been waiting from ever since May. With all of the new gear I bought over the summer I was eager to break in the Kingpin and my G Loomis rod. I was lucky enough to get some King eggs and decided to head out east. I heard through the grapevine that some fish have been sneaking up river. 

I arrived at the lower section and as expected the river was low but somewhat stained. Many of the riffles were barely flowing and the deep pools looked stagnant. I placed my hand in the water and it felt cool probably in the range of the high 50s to low 60s. I knew of couple spots that held fish during the early fall. It was early morning and the forecast for the day was calling for sunny skies and temps in the high 70s. I figure early morning was the only time to catch fish before the sun shutdown them down. I walked along the stream and noticed a couple fish rolling in one section below a riffle. It didn't take long to hook into the first fish of the new season - a feisty skipper. Fish were in an aggressive mood and nailed any offering. The fights were fast and furious and I quickly brought them so not to exhaust them. 

I wouldn't start calling in with the 24 hour flu or blowing a personal day. The fish are few and far between and if you don't know the rivers very well you'll more than likely be disappointed. The weather for next week is sunny with temps in the 70s. Without rain, most of the fish will probably hang out close to shore and wait. 

Kingpin Review

Over the past couple of weeks I've took my new Kingpin reel for (no pun intended) a spin. The reel is made by K.W Engineering of Poole, England and it's the latest pin to be offered here in Steelhead Alley. To the hardcore pinning crowd Kingpin was formly known as Arnold Kingpin. During the past winter, I was lucky to see the first prototypes at Erie Outfitters and I was very impressed with the reels and the work put into to them.

There have been several upgrades of the reels from the previous model such as the clicker being placed on the bottom and having a lower profile. Instead of grease bearings, the company uses oiled stainless steel ABEC 5 bearings as oiled bearings tend to perform better in colder weather. The reels also come in a variety of colors such as black, blue, red, and platinum and with a combination of colors.

Kingpin reels has two models - Series I and Series II. Both are 4"4/8" and weight slightly over 9ozs. The Series I reels are the most sensitive and lightest of the two. The reels have the distinctive "wagon wheel" spokes and the Series II reels have the circular holes. Both models come in fully and semi ported and the reason behind fully and semi ported are the degrees of sensitivity and flows. Fully ported reels are better suited for slower flows and semi ported for faster flows. For extra sensitivity and very low start up, the Series I fully ported is considered the best model. For lower sensitivity and faster flows, the Series II semi ported is the best choice. Personally, I don't like super sensitive reels with extreme low start up as I find they spin too fast in faster flows. Plus, I like a heavier reel because it balances extra long rods better. Those were the reasons why I bought the Series II semi ported reel.

The series II reel has the more classic look and some have compared it to the Mykiss reel in appearance. The biggest selling point for me, were the handles as they're set farther in. I prefer to use the tips of my fingers on the spool as a drag. The clicker has a lower profile and sturdier than my Bob James. The sealed bearing housing another feature that sold me as it makes getting any dirt or grit inside almost impossible, perfect as I'm a clumsy oaf. Being a customer that spends a shitload of money at the shop, I had first dibs on the reels.

For the past several weeks, I've been down on the Vermillion and Rocky trying the reel on the local channel cats and carp. The rivers were very low, slow and the flow depended on the surge from the lake. Several times the river would start flowing upstream and 20 minutes later the river would drop 8". During the times when the water drained back downstream, the reel started up fairly easily. It balanced well with my G Loomis GLX and I'm eagerly waiting for fall to try it out.

The Kingpin reels are not cheap and they start off at $442.00 for semi ported and $500.00 for fully ported. The reels come with a small hand wrench that removes the sealed bearing housing and an extra rear nut. After carefully reviewing other reels in that price class, the Kingpin had those extra features that I was looking for and I finally found the reel that I always wanted. I really believe they've produced the perfect Great Lakes centerpin.

Simple Stone Fly

This is one of my favorite nymph patterns, it's small and drab, but it's deadly. When steelhead are pressured in low and clear water, this pattern can produce. I've tinkered with it over the years and it's one of my favorites. This pattern is also effective on carp.


Daiichi 1530 #12 - 14
Black 6/0 thread
Black or ice dubbing
Micro-wire - black or copper
Goose biots - black
Krystal flash or flashabou - pearl, yellow, pink

Wrap the thread around the hook until you reach the end of it. Then take a goose biot and place it on the side of the hook. Make sure the boit flares out and tie it in securely. Repeat the same process on the other side.

Cut a section of micro-wire. Place it under the hook and tie it in securely.

Spin some dubbing on the thread and start to wrap it around the hook until you reach the midsection of the hook. You can use either strands of flashbou or krystal flash as the thorax. In clear water the strands often reflect light, which gets the fish's attention. Place the strands on top of the hook and tie them in securely.

Wrap the wire evenly around the hook until you reach the strands. Wrap the thread around the wire several times and cut the excess. Spin some more dubbing on the thread and warp around the hook. The body should be slightly larger than the abdomen.

Pull the strands over the dubbing and tie them in securely. Cut the excess, form a head and whip finish.

The end result is a very simple easy to tie nymph that works very well. You can tie different sizes and colors schemes depending on what type of water you in fish in.

The Carp

During the summer, I rarely fish. Summer is my busiest time for work. Since I don't own a boat, I can't fish the lake. The times I have, I've gotten sea sick. Summer is a time for me to rest after a long season of chasing steelhead. The chase started back in September and didn't end until the end the April. The early mornings, long drives and the long miles in search of fish eventually caught up. I was ready for a break, but that didn't mean I stopped fishing cold turkey. 

Hit the Rock this weekend after a month hiatus. During the month of May, reports of steelhead still lingering were being caught as late as the last week of the month. May is the one of the busiest months for me and it was time to stockpile the extra cash I would be making for the next 6 months. With the insane fuel prices, I'll be needing a Brinks truck to fill up. Plus, I was hungover from 8 months of fishing.

Eventually the fishing itch returned when we received a blast of hot weather during the past week. I figured the channel cats and carp would start their run upriver. June is when I'm on the prowl for carp. Last year, I started to fly fish for them as they are the big game in the rivers during the summer months.

I fished the midsection of the river to enjoy the peace and quiet. I was mindful that sometimes errant golf balls do end up in the river. There were enough tall trees to prevent me from getting bonked on the head from the many weekend hacks on the course. The river was very low and it was hard to believe that a month ago, the river was packed with anglers and steelhead. Many of the gravel beds were covered in algae and I could see male smallmouth bass guarding nests. I hit a favorite section that usually holds a lot of carp.

Over the years, I gradually got away from fly fishing. But I wanted another challenge and I've heard that fly fishing for carp can be somewhat difficult. Carp may look like a fat, lazy fish. But looks can fool you and carp are very smart and wily. Putting myself to the test, I tied on a #12 hare's ear and started searching for feeding fish. Unlike last year, there wasn't that many carp in this section. Usually more carp start piling in this section in July and August.

The clear conditions allowed me to easily spot carp without the aid of sunglasses. Last month, I got a new pair of glasses with the Transition lenses. In the full sunlight the lenses tint and I noticed a slight difference in the reduction of glare off the water. But, still brought along my trusty Polarfits.

I was able to find a small school of small carp feeding. The current was slow enough that I could use a small BB shot and still get a perfect drift. Usually carp will be dislodge or stir up invertebrates when feeding. The most numerous invertebrates in the Rocky are caddis larva and crayfish. I had four carp feeding downstream of me and I casted and quickly mended the line. It was hard to figure out were exactly my fly was and several times I didn't come close to them. During that time I could hear a munching sound behind and I looked back to see a young buck feeding on a willow. Deer in the reservation are use to people and most of the time they'll walk by or feed right near you. Over the years, I've seen some huge bucks - 12 pointers along the river. For years, I remember the huge buck that hanged out by the I-90 and Hillard Road bridge. But every several years the Metro Parks will cull the herd. Since the last cull, I haven't seen him and figured he got whacked and ended up on the dinner table at some local homeless shelter.

I finally made a great drift and I watched one of the carp move over and inhaled the fly. The fish hooked himself and quickly bolted for the cover. I was using a 4X fluoro tippet and the fish wasn't very large. So was able to muscle him away from the brush. He wasn't a bruiser as most river carp are much smaller than the lake variety. The other fish wigged out and I had to search for another school. I walked farther down and could see about 10 carp and there was a huge one, probably about 15lbs. Only a couple were feeding and most of them were swimming about. Usually when I fish for carp I bring along a bag of sweet corn. Chumming the water gets them into a feeding mode. I tossed a handful of corn downstrem and within several minutes, the carp started feeding. This time, I tied on a yellow globug and of course a yellow globug resembles a kernel of corn. I casted upstream and did a quick mend. It was easy to see the globug drift downstream and I watched a large carp come up and inhale it. I set the hook and the fish shot downstream taking me into the backing. Most of the time, carp will make one long run and run out of gas. I hauled him onto the beach and measured him at 29" and fat as a tire.

The problem with carp fishing in clear shallow water that usually one fish will be caught as the others take off. So I had to move to another spot and I didn't find any other fish. Soaked from the humidity and the ton of gravel in my old sneakers, I decided to call it a trip. Hopefully this summer will go by fast it's only 3 1/2 months until late September.

That's A Wrap

The season is winding down here on the Alley as temperatures hit the mid 70s for the past several days. The majority of the streams in the area resemble fishbowls in clarity and flow. Like with the past tax filing deadline, many of the fish were quickly doing their thing. I don't blame them as the herd was stampeding for the river this upcoming weekend. I wanted to end the season on the Grand as I got reports a lot of fish were far upstream and I knew I would have plenty of options to find them without having to crack some skulls.

Late last week a shot of rain raised the streams and the last run of fish pushed upstream. I checked the flow gauge and the Grand was on target for the upcoming weekend. On Friday, a friend of mine guiding told me the Grand was a zoo as many called in with the 24 hour flu. I was working that day and it was in the mid 70s with plenty of sunshine. If I hadn't taken vacation last week, I would of called off sick. The whole zoo comment didn't bother me as I was fishing for droppies and the majority of anglers were looking for spawners.

I rolled in at 6:00A.M and there were 10 cars parked along the road. With the warm weather and the window closing on the season, a lot of anglers were out. I wanted to stay ahead of the migrating herd and it was going to be one of those "death marches" - logging a lot of miles over uneven terrain and wading through water. Lucky for me, I was the only pinner and I knew I could find a lot of fishable water. The herd stopped at the favorite watering hole that was 200 yds from the parking lot. I continued to walk down the trail until I hit the first mile marker. Downstream there were several anglers fishing the gravel. I started at one of my favorite holes - a nice bend that ran along the cliff. There was a nice slot that was about 3' deep and it usually held fish. I had the last of my salmon eggs and they didn't let me down. The first fish of the morning was spawned out hen that hit a orange sac. The slot gave up some fish as it was a mixed bag of hens and males dropping back to the lake. I looked upstream and the herd was crossing over at the bend. I had cleaned out that spot and wanted to hit another section farther down below the gravel.

As I walked, I noticed the fish were stacked near the bank in very little water. That didn't stop some of the anglers from trying. Most of the fish were males what I dubbed the "fight club" - beaten up, torn fins, gashing wounds and some were adorned with some of my favorite flies - buggers, zonkers and crystal meth to name a few. As expected with a sunny day and temps in the mid 70s, the recreational yakkers and canoeists took advantage of the day. I could hear them upstream as they scrapped bottom and cursing about it. I'm sure a fair share of them drove the anglers crazy as they floated over and spooked spawning fish. I continued to bang fish in fast water with a moderate depth. I threw something different as I used white tube jigs tipped with maggots. Tube jigs are deadly on late season steelhead as many drop backs are starting to pack on the pounds after a long lean winter and expending a lot of energy spawning. I think the maggots I left cooking in the Jeep for the past several days gave that wonderful aroma.

I tried to stay near sections that had spawning fish as I knew not far were the drop backs hiding the holes. Usually drop back steelhead prefer to stay in sections with a moderate to slow flow as they need to rest. But deep and slow water is few and far between on the Grand. I fished moderate flowing runs with depths of 3' to 4' deep. Since the Grand was running stained, the fish would be fairly comfortable holding in shallow water. I started running low on eggs and stayed with tube jigs as I was catching fish with them. Another sign that the season was coming to end was when I started hooking into golden redhorse suckers and quillbacks.

By now it was almost 1:00P.M and I was boiling hot from the heat. I couldn't believe the number of people fishing, nearly every section had at least 4 or 6 people fishing. Like the fish, I wanted to seek refuge from the sun. I was down to 3 sacs and the fish basically took the rest of the afternoon off. I started the 2 mile walk back and I was huffing and puffing all the way. I was soaking from sweat and tuned into the weather station on the CB and found out the temperature was 78F. I stopped at a gas station for some ice cold water and made the long drive home. I was relieved when I finally got home and took a shower. I had enough energy to tied the last of the eggs I had in the fridge and later crashed on the couch. The weather tomorrow was to be cloudy and not as hot.

Sunday morning I left the house around 4:45A.M and drove in the rain. The weather was calling for scattered showers and I knew the rain wouldn't affect the river. Since this was the last time out the season, I was going to make it an all day event. Today was much different from yesterday, when I arrived at the same spot, I was the first person there. I figured the rain might of kept some people at home or the wives didn't issue day passes. I had a long list of spots I wanted to hit so I didn't waste time dicking around. I hit the first spot and wondered if any fish moved in or left packing for Lake Erie. Right off the bat I hooked into a sucker - bad news. Usually suckers prefer to hold in slower currents and sometimes will evict steelhead by sheer numbers.

I heard the noise of metal scrapping bottom and I looked upstream to see Don's drift boat heading down the rapids. Don is one the most popular steelhead guides on the south side of Lake Erie. He has a guiding service called the Dfishinfool and I've guided for him several times when his regular guides are booked. He had his Hyde drift boat with a couple of clients. During the season, both me and Don will exchange info on where the hot spots are and what's fishable. I live on the west side of Cleveland and he lives farther east in Portage County. The day before his other clients did very well and I posted well into double digits considering the number of people I had to contend with.

The fishing was much tougher and I thought with the cloud cover the fish would be more active. I began to suspect that the fish were dropping back farther downstream. It was an hour before I hooked into my first fish. I fished every inch of runs, riffles and holes and it was a couple of fish here and there. I gradually walked down to where Don was fishing and he was having a tough time finding players. I fished further up using tube jigs and managed a couple of more. I told him I was going to head further downstream to the route 528 bridge and work that water. On the way back, I only counted 3 people before I got near the parking lot. As expected, I found the herd and it was much smaller than yesterday as 8 people were fishing several riffles. I fished one pool and caught a couple of spawned out hens. It was almost 1:00P.M and I hurried to the Jeep.

It was a quick 10 minute drive to the Metro park and there were 4 cars. This section of the Grand was better suited for winter steelheading as it had some killer pools and flats. It didn't have that much gravel and I had a feeling that most if not all of the anglers were at the mouth of the creek. On the way up, I looked into the river above the banks and I could see bottom. That's pretty rare on the Grand as most of the time when I'm fishing it, it's murky. I arrived at one pool not far from the creek and started fishing. During times when the river is that low and clear, I make mental notes of rocks and ledges. During the fall and winter, this pool can give up silly numbers of fish. But I managed one member of the fight club - a male nursing a nasty jaw injury. I worked my way farther up towards the faster water and I could see some fish splashing in the riffle. I walked up and found one redd that had one huge male. If he was in the fight club he would of been 6'8" and 350lbs. This bastard was huge and I figured he had to be over 15lbs and pushing 3' long. I knew this bunch had one thing on their mind - spilling their spooge. I watched him chased the other males off and he didn't have one scar on him. I noticed a couple of canoes coming downstream. I left the fish alone and walked to the mouth of the creek. I was hoping the canoes would force the fish off into deeper water and both canoes went over them.

By now it almost 3:30P.M and I was starting to get tired. The mouth of this creek is popular and I figured it got worked over this morning. I worked the run and several times I would look upstream to see how the other anglers were doing. During that time, I felt a sharp tug and noticed the float was gone. I set the hook and a fish exploded out of the water. After muscling it out of the rapids, I landed it on the bank and took a quick shot. I had a feeling this was the last fish of the season. After releasing her, I tried to coax that male but he wouldn't come out and play. It was getting late and I was down to 2 sacs. I was really tired and plus my waders sprung another leak as I felt my left foot getting wetter. Since this was late April and the water temp was in the low 60s, it didn't bother me as these waders were hitting the garbage can once I got home.

I think there will be at least another week before the fat steelie sings. I got reports that the V and Rock sucked ass. The Chagrin was as clear as a bottle of vodka and the Conneaut was winding down. The Grand seems to be the best bet for the last minute steelheader.

A Well Timed Break

Several months ago, I asked to take the last week of March off. Unfortunately a co-worker with more seniority had already booked that week off. I asked for the second week of April off and I was granted that. Lucky for me, the last week of March was a disaster weather wise. It was cold and most of the streams were blown out. As April rolled in, we received more rain and I was thinking "not again". My last vacation week got rained out in November and I had to go to Pennsylvania. The rains didn't blow the streams out and by Saturday, most of the them were dropping like a rock - sweet.

The weather for the upcoming week was to be in the mid 60s with sunny conditions. For Monday, I decided to hit the Chagrin as it's the first of the big five to be fishable. On Sunday, I scouted the river and it was still stained. Many of the fish were starting to hit the gravel as I could see males darting about the riffles. I knew Monday morning, I would have first dibs on these fish because as the water clears the more people will start fishing. Whenever conditions are stained, I'll bring along the fly rod and swing streamers. It had been a long time since I last held a fly rod. With the water temps in the high 40s and the time of the year, the fish would be getting on their groove in the fast water. The rod I bought from my friend was perfect for swinging as it was 11'3" long. I had a sink tip and tied on a black ice bugger. I positioned myself upstream and started roll casting. With a quick mend, I let the line swing across. It took some time to get it down pat, as I was use to bottom bouncing and high sticking. It didn't take long to feel that strike of a fish hitting the streamer. The first fish of the morning was a bright silver hen and she shot out of the water like a rocket. This section of the Chagrin I was fishing was loaded with gravel and it didn't take long to find fish. It didn't matter that I used black, purple, white, pink, chartreuse buggers, egg sucking leeches and zonkers. The bonus was I didn't see one person for the entire day and it was a rare day to fish in a T-shirt.

For Tuesday, you couldn't ask for ideal conditions in regards to weather. Spring was in the air as the robins were singing, the grass was starting to grow, the willows were budding and the fair weather fishermen were out in full force. It doesn't matter what socio-economic class they're from. You can spot a fair weather fishermen from a mile away - the fly fishermen looked like they stepped out a LL Bean catalog and the bait chuckers have those $15.00 rubber hippers and yellow poles better suited for deep sea fishing. You never see these guys on the river when it's 34F and the water temp is numbing 35F. It seems the Rocky is a magnet for them.

Today, I stayed close to home and fished the urban sewer. I had a afternoon meeting with a lawyer and I didn't want to enter his office smelling of BO and stewed salmon eggs. I fished the lower end as earlier in the week a large school of shiners came upstream and right behind them were the skippers. The weapon of choice was these glow in the dark grubs I got from a friend. Berkeley who produced them, doesn't make them anymore. These grubs when tipped with maggots are deadly. Right off the bat, I hooked into a fish and that's a bad omen because usually I'll go an hour without a fish. As this skipper shot around, shiners were jumped from the water. Sure enough the morning on the lower end sucked as I only saw five fish caught. I started to bounce around looking for fish. As I drove and walked from hole to hole the sun got higher and higher. It was really bright and I knew the fish would be either on gravel getting pounded or sulking in the holes. Make a long story short - I got bored and went home around 1:00P.M. Later that day, I called a friend to see how the fishing was and he told me it was a zoo as there were no available parking spots. He basically said "get me the fuck out of here". I don't blame him as I hate the Rock in the spring.

Wednesday had the threat of rain as I headed to the Vermilion. I hadn't fished the V since last year because it was either frozen over or had the consistency of vanilla latte. The flow gauge had the V at 280cfs and I figured that might be a tad too high as I got burned the last time fishing it when it was that high. On the way to the V, the sky to the west was black and I hit a downpour for several minutes. Before leaving, I checked the radar on the weather channel and there was small sliver of rain. As expected, when I arrived the river was stained. There was a ton of mud and debris in the woods as the V hit flood stage last month and blew her load into the surrounding woods. It was brutal as I had to walk through a maze of shit. The river changed a lot the last time I fished it, so I had to relearn it. I looked around the gravel beds and could see a couple of fish on them. Most people would of turned around and went home, but I decided to give it a try. I popped open the container of eggs I had stewing in vest for the past several days and they smelled somewhat raunchy. Well the fish liked them green eggs as I hooked into a fresh skipper. All morning, I hooked into skippers in every spot I fished. The treat of the morning was when I hooked into a large quillback sucker. At first I thought it was a large steelhead as the fish took off hard. I gradually got it closer and this large sucker came to the surface. I tried to beach it and the hook popped out. Through out the morning I started to get bored and four days of hard fishing was taking a toll on me. My hips hurt, my back was sore and my shoulder ached. I decided to call it a day around 3:00 P.M and went home to apply a heavy dose of Ben-Gay.

Thursday was the day that I finally hit the Grand what seem like an eternity. There was the threat of rain for Friday, so I had to make the most of it. I arrived at the river shortly after first light and the river was shrouded in fog. It was slightly chilly morning and I eagerly walked to the river. As I walked along the trail next to the river, I could see and hear fish spawning in the shallow water. There were pods of fish spawning in some of the narrowest water imaginable. I left the fly rod home and used the pin. I hit some of riffles and drifted off the main current with sacs. I was hoping that some fish had finished spawning and were starting to drop back. It took some time before I hooked into the first fish of the morning and it was a small spawned out hen. I started to work my way downstream and didn't get any takers. My instincts told me all of the fish were spawning as I was fishing the upper section. I knew of spot that would yield me some fish as there was plenty of gravel nearby. When I finally arrived at the spot I could see fish moving about in the water. The river was fairly stained I knew the fish would be willing to hit. I had both cured and uncured salmon eggs and started working above and below the spawning pods.

I gradually started to drift further out into about 3' of water off the main current and got a violent take down. I set the hook and this fish took off like a rocket. Over the years, I knew what a large fish felt like and this one was a monster. It charged downstream into the fast water and I hauled ass to keep up being mindful of the overhanging trees. I managed to get a glimpse of the fish and it was a huge hen. I pretty well let her do what she wanted and continued to follow her. I kept her high in the current until she got tired. I had to cross over and get her into the slack water before the hook popped out. I was thankfully that I replaced the tippet before I hooked into her. I was using 6# fluoro and if it had any nicks or tears, she would of busted me loose. I got a firm hold of the tail and placed her on the bank. She was nearly spawned out and I pulled out the tape measurer - she was 35" long and I figured with a full load of eggs she would of been in the range of 15 or 16 pounds. At 35", this fish broke my record of the 34" male I caught last year on the V. She was a truly magnificent looking fish and out there somewhere is my unicorn - the elusive 20 pounder.

The original plan was to fish one section of the river today and head to another tomorrow, but with a 80% of rain for Friday, I made a change of plans. On the way back, I noticed several U.S Wildlife officials in the parking lot. Several technicians were getting prepared to treat the river with lampricide. The Grand and its feeder creeks have suitable spawning habitat for lamprey and every several years some sections are treated and traps placed out. This year I didn't catch one fish with a lamprey scar and that was an improvement over a couple of years ago, I when 30% of the fish I caught had a scar or two.

It was noon and I pulled into the lot and noticed it was almost full. I was hoping the nature lovers were out taking a stroll and I was the only angler. The area I was fishing was at the mouth of a feeder creek. Whenever the Grand is blown out, steelhead will find refuge in the many feeder creeks. During times when the main rivers are blown, some anglers will also find refuge in these creeks. Personally, I can't stand ditch fishing. There is no fun in hooking a fish that came out a hole the size of my bathtub. Some of these creeks are narrow enough that I could piss across them. When I got down to the creek it was gin clear and barely flowing. It was loaded with suckers and several steelhead trying to spawn in whatever water was available. I was surprised that there were steelhead as they usually head back into the river whenever the water gets low. Of course, there were several fuckards fishing for them in water that was 6" deep. I guess some people are really hard up for a fish. I got to the mouth and started fishing along the mudline and quickly got into fish. But once I got away from the mouth, I couldn't get a hit. I figured there were no dropbacks and like upstream all of the fish were spawning. By then it was almost 3:00P.M and I wasn't looking forward to driving through Cleveland at rush hour. The sky was getting darker to the west and I crossed my fingers that I can get one more day in before the weekend warriors cut loose.

After 5 days of getting up at 5:30A.M, fishing for hours and spending over a $100 in gas it was worth it.