Winter has the Alley deep within its grasp. The land is covered in snow and ice. The rivers are silent, locked up in ice. Most of the steelheaders are in their warm and cozy man caves. There they'll stay until the warm days of spring arrive. But there's me, the steelheader that doesn't wait. Despite the frigid weather, I have one place in mind - the power plant.
I walk out of the apartment building and I greeted a jolt of cold. The sky is dark blue and I can still see the stars. As I wait for the Jeep to warm up, I call the brothers and I tell I'm leaving. It's a short 20 minute drive to the lake and I guzzle my scalding hot coffee. I pick up some shiners and it's a short drive down to the plant. I see the brothers pulling in and I notice both stacks are pumping, it brings a smile to my face. Whenever it's cold, the nearby Ford plant and the surrounding communities have an insatiable appetite for energy.
The lake is covered in a massive sheet of ice as far as the eye can see. Within that sea of ice was a small oasis for waterfowl. As we walked along the shoreline, we could hear the calls and cries of gulls, swans, geese, and diving ducks. There were hundreds of them and during the winter months, the fishing pier is a popular spot for bird watchers and photographers.
We enter the water and it's crystal clear. The water is so warm that one could go for a swim. The water coming from the plant is often 30 degrees warmer than the lake. That difference is what attracts the massive schools of shad and shiners. Not to far behind are the steelhead and they feast on the plentiful bounty. We stop at the drop off as the water goes from clear to an ominous dark green. Over the decades, the discharge has carved out a long trench that starts at the plant and goes along the breakwall and out into the lake. We picked the right time because the plant is discharging water. The steam rises from the surface and dances along the surface.
Due to the depth, I use a slip float. The depth is over 10' and the fish generally hug the sandy bottom waiting to ambush bait fish. I'm using shiners and the others tube jigs. The fish here are more aggressive due the abundant food and most of them are juvenile steelhead. We all cast towards the breakwall and watch the floats head out into the lake. Due to the steam it's difficult to see the floats. Not much is going on as we make adjustments to get the correct depth.
I move the slip farther up the line and cast out. I watch the float and I strain to see it. I can't see it and I stop it. For a brief second, I let stop and then I feel a jolt - a take. I set the hook and I feel the fish surge. I get behind the others and start hauling it in. I catch a glimpse of the fish and it's a skipper. I grab it and it's resemble a football. These fish gorge themselves and pack on the weight. Just as soon as I release my fish, I hear a cry of "FISH ON!"
The bite is on as we start getting into fish. The action is fast and furious as we watch some go airborne. For an hour we've landed well over 20 fish and just like that the bite shuts off. During the morning we watched several anglers go into the plant. Space is limited and during the weekend it can be a crowded place. Out of the three coal fired plants in the area, this is the best one for fishing.
For the record, I'll only fish the plant when all other options have been exhausted. Cold spells here often brief and we've have experienced several winters were it hasn't been cold enough to ice over the rivers. In some years, I never fish the plant because there was no need to go. Due to the growing number of anglers, the plant I fished at started enforcing security measures. Years ago, they tolerated people wandering into the discharge pool, but from what I've heard that area is now off limits. Whenever homeland security issues a yellow alert, power plants set up enforcement. I remember one cold day in December standing out in the lake with a friend listening to a security official constantly barking over the loudspeaker that the current was strong and we needed to stand back. Then he informed us that the road conditions were getting worse. We looked at each other and started to laugh. After a while he relented we knew we weren't breaking any laws.
The plant can be a fun place when the conditions are right. At times it can be either feast or famine, but it beats sitting at home waiting for the thaw.
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