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.