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.
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.