"We're having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave"

Whenever we get blast of Arctic cold and I'm heading out, I think of the song Heatwave sung by Ella Fitzgerald from one of my favorite movies about two miserable widowers that love to fish - Grumpy Old Men. I often see myself as the belligerent, crusty old fart - Max Goldman played by Walter Matthau when I'm in my "golden years". While I'm not crusty yet, I can be surly to anybody that dares to low hole me. Just like Max in the movie, I'm humming the tune and dusting the snow off my Jeep, getting ready to head to the lake.

Many here in the Cleveland area are hoping for a heat wave as the past few days have been the coldest in recent memory. When I lived in Northern Alberta, the locals thought -5F was a balmy day. Friday morning in Rocky River the mercury hit -11F, Friday morning and most of the city couldn't cope with it - no school, cars wouldn't start, and furnaces conked out. I remember as a kid when my mother prepped me and sister into our winter suits as if we were going to explore the dark side of the moon. It was -10F and she sent us off and watched us waddled our way to school. We never thought about staying home, we just did it as if it was something done naturally. Canadians love to point out that fact to others and here in Cleveland whenever the temperatures get into the single digits or snows, school is often canceled. If that was the case back home, I would still be in the 8th grade.

Saturday morning it was a more reasonable 14F and the Jeep groaned and managed to start. When I got in, the overhead readout of the outside temperature was Venus-like 128F, however the wind direction was right. I left the pin at home and took the spinning reel, as I have a difficult time casting it with gloves on. Plus the wind was going to be a royal pain in the ass. I was no hurry to get to the lake as I was meeting the Wright & McGill pro staff. The three of us are as hardcore as you can get when it comes to winter steelheading. Our other steelheading brothers were probably under the blankets sleeping the morning away, dreaming of spring. 

Because of the cold, I didn't even bother to get shiners and used gulp minnows, as wet cold fingers become useless fingers when tying knots. The plant was in full overdrive as both stacks were belching. We walked along the lake and the steam was rising off the water. Thankfully there wasn't any wind to speak off and that meant we would fish off the point. Whenever it's colder, the better. The plant had been releasing warm water for the past several days. We entered the water and felt like wading into a stream in late April. It was a welcome relief from standing in bone chilling water before the streams all froze up. The open water was an oasis for a lot of waterfowl as the majority of the lake was frozen over. Both Bubba and Dick are avid duck hunters and they pointed all the species of water fowl present - buffleheads, bluebills, tundra swans, redheads, scoters, mergansers, mallards, canvasbacks, goldeneyes, gulls and geese. The air is full of their cries and calls.

We set up the floats and I was running 0ver 8' and using 3" emerald shiner gulp minnows. The plant's discharge is a magnet for both shad and shiners. The majority of fish in the plant are gizzard shad and they come in by the thousands. I prefer to go inside the plant and fish off the discharge. The amount of water coming from the plant is staggering. Over the decades, the current has gouged a long deep trench that runs along the steel wall then hit the  rock breakwall before spilling out into the lake. Inside the plant, I bottom bounce with a minnow or spawn sac. When it's on, the number of fish caught can be mind boggling. Takes are often ferocious and many of these fish often go airborne. The majority of fish find around the plant are juvenile fish with some adults scattered. Feisty and fat as football, these fish can kept the angler busy and forgetting about the chilly conditions.

Since both Bubba and Dick are using centerpins and the wind isn't bad, I elect to fish with them. We set the floats for 8' and I stack about 4 split shots above the minnow. We cast together and watch the floats head out into the lake. There was so much steam coming off the water at times it made picking up the floats difficult. Nothing happened for the first 30 minutes and the switch was turned on. I followed both Bubba's and Dick's float and they reeled in. I let me float go a little further and then I stopped it. I briefly let the minnow flutter and then I felt a hit. I set the hook and watch a steelhead leap from the water. I moved behind the others and adjusted their floats. For an hour the fishing was fast and furious. A couple of times, we had double headers. Due to the warmer water, the fish were more aggressive and willing to strike. If the action out here was great, I couldn't imagine what it would be like inside. The action would go from hot to cold and then the wind started to pick up from the west. Blowing over the pack ice, it was frigid. My face started to get numb and red. Both Bubba and Dick decided to they wanted to go home. Since there wasn't anybody else fishing, I was frothing at the mouth to get into the plant. I stayed and walked back inside.

I waded along the shore and large flocks of gulls rose from the water. The diving ducks took the wing quickly and paddled their feet furiously on the water's surface. I reached the discharge and took the float off. I added more weight and fired out into the current. The mergansers weren't bad so I wasn't worried about them stealing the minnow or getting caught. I felt the sinkers hit bottom and started to bounce along the sand bottom. I kept my finger on the line to detect any slight hits. Most of the time when using minnows, the take is very hard. The line twitched and then I felt the hit. I set the hook and the fish charges. The current here is very strong and the fish rips off line. About 50 yards out, I see the fish rocket out of the water. Because the water here is so clear, I see the fish race about the bottom. It's a juvenile steelhead and he's as fat as a football. They gorge themselves on the massive number of shiners. These fish stay inside the plant all winter until the water gets too warm. I've often wondered if these fish ever see a river. For the next three hours I have my hands full as fish are taking the minnows with reckless abandon. The minnows themselves don't fare very well. A lot of them pop off the hook or fell victim to a couple of mergansers nipping the tails off. I lose my last gulp minnow and that's enough for me to go home. I've probably caught well over 40 fish and it's one of my best days here.

I head back to the lot and once I get around the fence, I'm greeted with a blast of wind. The wind now is about 20 miles an hour and the wind chill is probably below freezing. Only the foolhardy would even attempt to fish here. By the time I get to the Jeep, my waders are completely frozen. I sit in the Jeep and crank the heat wait to take them off. I have a hankering for some of Joe's Deli chicken matzo ball soup. The waders thaw and I remove them. I call Joe's for take out and head home. I call Bubba and tell him about the back of the plant. We make plans to hit the lake early tomorrow. I get lunch and the soup hits the spot. I feel it instantly warm my insides up. I lie on the couch and cover myself in a blanket. Slowly I drift off to sleep, thinking of the tropical heatwave to hurry spring along. 

The Steelheaders

These are the steelheaders we run into on the rivers and more than likely you fall into one of these categories 

The Greenhorn

Easy to spot as they fish aimlessly waiting for a seasoned veteran to show them the ropes. They usually have the wrong type of gear for steelheading as they often have a 6’6” spinning rod, Zebco spinning reel, a monster float, rubber hippers and a jar of Uncle Josh’s eggs. However, they can be using a fly rod or even a centerpin. They're always fishing in the wrong spots because when it comes to reading water, they're illiterate. They try to strike up a conversation to glean any information. Most of the time veterans take pity on them as they were in the same boat a long time ago. They frequent fishing websites looking to others for where the best fishing locations are and that leads to accusations of blatant spoon feeding and in most cases are attacked by the resident trolls.

The Legend

They have a mythical status in the steelheading community. They're often treated as royalty or like a rock star. Mother Nature will try to throw everything at his way and he brushes it off with a sneer. They’ll drive in squalls, wade across raging rapids, are oblivious to the cold and will go off the beaten path. Rarely do they ever get skunked and put on clinics much to the awe of greenhorns and dismay of others. They carry no watch and most of them are single as no women could ever tolerate their addiction. They're on the rivers as soon as September hits and are off it by May. They carry their gear at all times and often wet a line before going to work. They follow a strict code of steelheading and rarely let outsiders into their small circle of friends.

The Stay At Home Steelheader

Can post a reply faster then tying a knot. Gets their fishing knowledge from spending endless hours reading blogs and visiting the numerous fishing forums. Spends most of his time doing online fishing looking for the hottest action and quickly replies to any question posted. Their posts and replies are often long and well thought out. Most are married and are stuck babysitting. They've accepted the fact that their wives allow them to fish a couple of times during the season - with strict limitations. They have a difficult time fishing during the winter as they never had time to get acclimated to the weather.

The Loner

Other anglers think they’re an asshole or a snob. Most of the time, they don’t care. Their fishing gear is their most prized possession and they take well care of it. They fish alone not because they have no friends, but prefer the “quiet time”. Generally they avoid other anglers at all cost and rarely engage in small talk. They’re good anglers and often catch hogs, but nobody ever sees photos of them or hears about it. They frequent fishing forums as lurkers.

The Scumbag

The scourge of the river. They violate every rule in the book and make a lot of enemies on the water. They try to muscle in on the hot spot and never ask. They litter, cuss, low hole, hog entire pools, pull off hero drifts, start arguments and try to bum hens caught by others in order to get eggs. They tend to be at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder but they can be middle class or wealthy.

The Narcissist

Often afflicted with the “I’m a legend in my own mind”. They have to fish around others to show off their prowess and they make sure that everybody around them knows it. If nobody is watching they might as well be at home jerking off to Canadian Sportfishing. They hate having their rigs get tangled or caught in trees because they fear others will think they suck. They'll throw a hissy fit when ever a fish gets off as they might not hit the 50 fish mark. Numbers are very important to them as 20 fish caught is considered a poor outing. The way their gear looks is just as important as how well it works. After a day on the river, they race home to plaster fish porn on the forums and reports often consist of "hammered them", "killed them", "lit them up", and "went 46 for 67". Their reports never have important details such as presentation, water conditions, and temperature. To them that’s useless information. They also love to correct other forum members on proper presentations and methods.

The Fairweather Steelheader

Often sighted during the fall and once the weather turns cold they hibernate for the winter and only emerge during the spring. All of their equipment is spotless as they only fish a handful of times. Due to the extended period of time off the river they can be found ripping the redds as they need to make up for the lack of fish caught. They often join clubs so they can be considered a true steelheader.

Hole Beaters

January is the month that brings doom and gloom to the majority of steelheaders as streams begin to lock up with ice. Every year my heart sinks when I'm driving by the rivers and I see a thick sheet of ice covering miles of water. If I drank, I would be come a full-blown alcoholic probably spending the weekend yelling at the walls or kicking small dogs. That's why I wanted to hit the water hard before the window started to close shut.

For Saturday, I was the official tour guide as I had four others accompanying me. After the New Year’s day slamfest, both Bubba and Dick swore off the urban sewer and left it for greenhorns and hillbillies. Tagging along were Bubba’s friends from Dayton and all of them never fished this section of the river before and were excited to wet their rods on virgin water. You couldn’t ask for better conditions in January as both the flow and color were in perfect condition. Even though there was a lot of anchor ice on the bottom as we crossed over, the amount of slush was low. Whenever there is anchor ice, the water temperature is just barely hovering just above 32F and can make fish very hard to catch. This when I start beating holes looking for active fish.

I put a couple of guys on one section and I took the others farther downstream. By doing this we took up some great spots as I knew the hoards of diehards would be making their way downstream. Sure enough as the morning progress, I could hear the branches and twigs snapping as others looked in dismay as their favorite spots were occupied. It was pinner’s day out as every person walking by had a pin. Many years ago it would been guys with fly rods, spinning reels and the odd pinner. This section of the river is classic pinning water - wide, slow and shallow. The morning was chilly and the lines and rod tips constantly iced up giving us fits. Even though the water was cold, the fishing was decent as we caught enough fish to make those cold feet feel warmer. We didn't hear anything up stream and figure both of them were either beating the hole for one fish or hammering them and keeping the glory to themselves. After banging our section, I suggested we head upstream and see how they were doing. We all piled into the spot and managed to catch a couple more before calling it a day.

On Sunday it was another day of hole beating and I wanted to head farther downstream to check out some more water. Today I was with one person and we hit the first spot where everybody was banging fish the day before. It was the same as yesterday - ice on the rods, anchor ice and a slow bite in the morning. We caught a couple here and there to keep the morning interesting. This was the latest I’ve fished this section of the river and usually I’m fishing it hard in the months of November and December. But whenever the river got down to fishable levels it blew out before the weekend. We started to walk downstream and nearly spot was occupied. Away from the cliffs the wind was a tad too strong and there was more slush. I felt it was too difficult to fish and I used the time to pointed out some good spots and suggested that when conditions were more favorable we would fish it. On the way back we noticed a spot was vacated and we decided to fish it. Most people think that spots fished early in the morning are usually pounded and often pass it up for something downstream. Since we were heading back I figured what the hell and started another round of beating the hole again. Sure enough we started hooking into fish and they had a hankering for fresh steelhead eggs. We ended the day early as there were more people near the access.

Monday was the day for the diehards as me, the Dfishinfool (Don) and one of his guides Trout (Travis) were going to hit the river hard. I took a floating holiday and knew the river would be vacant today. I arrived at a tardy 7:30A.M and it was a chilly morning and fishing would be tough as the temperature was going to stay in the upper 20s. That meant another day of flicking off ice from the guides and line. The plan was to hole hop on the way down to the 2 mile marker. We had every type of rod available today - spey, switch, regular fly and noodle. But from the get go the pin kicked ass. It was mostly fresh hens that fell for steelhead eggs tied in pink and chartreuse. Even though the hens looked fresh, Travis caught one and when he was ready for the money shot, she started to spit eggs out. Considering this is still winter, there have been reports of some people catching spawned out hens. We continued downstream and every spot gave up fish. Surprisingly it was the Dfishinfool himself - Don that was carrying a skunk around his neck and that is very unusual for him. But he took in stride and didn't seem to mind that others were enjoying the day.

It was an exhausting 4 out of 5 days of fishing and I'm happy that I was able to get out and fish with others that many would consider crazy for standing in freezing water all day to catch fish. Looking ahead the rivers will remain open as we recieved some rain Tuesday as it got the water levels slightly but enough to blow them out.

Wright McGill ProStaff Outing

While everybody else was getting wasted and celebrating the new year, I was in bed copping z's for the first outing of 2009. I learned from past experience that excessive amounts of booze, cold weather and freezing water makes for a short day. Even though all of the rivers along Steelhead Alley were at fishable levels, nighttime temps were to be in the teens. It was another gamble that all of the streams would be slushy and possibly unfishable for the day. However, I'm a hardcore steelheader that doesn't have a problem rolling the dice.

The night before I had a game plan with the Wright McGill prostaff. They wanted to fish one river and I had my sights on another that I was really chomping on for some action. I was still in the process of trying to wean them off the urban sewer. The plan was if the sewer sucked, they would head my way. On the way out I got the call that the sewer was indeed slushy. When I arrived at first light, I could see no slush..........nada. The lot was empty and I walked a great spot that holds a ton of fish during the winter. The river was off-color, but the flow was perfect. It didn't take long to hook into the first fish of the new year, a bruising hog that hit at the tailout. It bolted downstream and it was a battle of tug-of-war. For 15 minutes I couldn't budge the prick off the bottom and with a heavy current and a frayed 6lbs tippet, it was see ya.

With the colder weather, I knew a lot of steelheaders would be in bed nursing hangovers or just hitting the pillow or toilet. I don't blame them as I remember getting calls when I was in my 20s from friends that were out fishing the day after New Year's. It usually went like this after they took a break and called from a payphone down at the park.

"Dude, where are you? Were hammering the shit out them"

Me - "I'm still shit-faced"

Silence and "But were hammering fish and could you bring us some coffee later?"

Me - "You guys are killing me, I'll be down later" hangs up the phone.

I called the crew and told them it was slush free and I found some players. Even though it was cold the scenery was nice as a fresh coat of snow covered the shale cliffs. The river dropped almost a foot as I could see the where the water level was previously. Eventually the crew pulled in and I showed them the lay out of the river. It was a huge section and there was plenty of room for all three of us to get off those "hero" drifts. The fish were mainly holding at the tail end and hitting sacs in pink and chartreuse.

All three of us had identical jackets and waders and unlike a squeaky clean prostaff, we were a motley crew as our jackets and waders were covered with egg goo and rods and reels splattered with fish slime. But if it was a steelhead pro tourney we would be cleaning house. Even though the temperature was in the 20s and at times the wind made it feel colder, the fish were very active. No light takes or taps, just hard take downs. We had several fish go airborne and some charged downstream.

We made the most of great day as all of us have a grind out one more day at work before the weekend. I couldn't weasel my way out work for tomorrow and the dolts in dispatch scheduled a job for me at 1:00P.M and I still have to come in at 8:30A.M. - brilliant and it going to be one of those mornings were I guzzle coffee and find ways to annoy Jill and Chuck up front.