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.