March Madness

This was the first voyage of the S.S Bubba and the captain was excited to break in his boat. This was the perfect weekend to do a float as it was another Saturday of elbows and assholes. I dropped my Jeep off 4 miles downstream from our starting point and as we rolled in we could see 15 vehicles in the lot across the river and it was wasn't even daylight. We went down the check list - rods, bait, food, beer and we shoved off. As Bubba sat in his boat, it groaned and protested. It was smaller than the boat I had and I feared as we floated down river Bubba was going to slowly sink especially after lunch. Aside from that, I really pumped for a great day of fishing.

Floating during the spring is very effective crowd control and that was evident as we had to weave around several anglers fishing the first set of riffles. Over the past couple of weeks me and others have commented that this was the most people we've seen fishing in recent memory. As we made our way downstream, I could see and hear the herds of anglers racing to get down river. As we approached the bend, this was the first test for the S.S Bubba as there was a set of rapids. Luckily the river was low, but the rapids ran very close to the bank and there were a couple of large sycamores in the water, not to mention about 10 guys fishing the length of the rapids. I scooted through quickly and turned back to see Bubba bounce off the first tree. I didn't hear any loud popping noise or a Mayday distress.

Prior to launching, I had a game plan and we were going to blow through the first 2 miles of water as its been pounded beyond belief. Most if not all of the fish had finished spawning and I knew of several large pools below gravel beds that held droppies. We made it to the first pool which is massive by Steelhead Alley standards - nearly a 100yd. In the winter it's chock full of fish and during the spring spawned out fish drop back for a smoke. It turned out to a be a bust as I managed to hook into 2 fish and Bubba was wearing a skunk. As we fished I watched 2 guys walk downstream and started to fish a spot that I wanted. I mentioned to Bubba that we could fish between them and if we didn't get any action and next spot was the pool along the cliffs.

Then we started down towards the "club". This a section on the Grand were the assholes come out in full force during the spring. The club is the Slovenian club and they have property on the river and this section is loaded with gravel. I know a guide who has permission and I've heard the landowner himself tell us that he doesn't mind people fishing it. The road to the river is private and that is posted. It's a two mile walk from the dam so a lot of anglers rarely walk down. But that doesn't stop some of the club members that try to act like the club enforcer. I've had a couple of them try to kick me out and I simply tell them the owner's name and the discussion is over. But there are the dickheads that don't seem to get it. 

Today it was some guy casting spoons off the bank and he wasn't wearing waders. Just before we could get the rods off the boats, he walked over and told us that the section was posted. I said I had permission and continued to untie my rod. He then said he was the landowner and I looked and said

"Spare me your bullshit and take a hike"

He just stood there with this stunned look on his face as we walked to fish a hole. Obviously his plan backfired because he didn't confront us. 

We worked the hole and I watched 4 guys drift by - fuck. I watched them drift downstream and they pasted over a pool that I wanted to fish. But I knew where they were heading and I wasn't thrilled at the thought of it. The hole didn't produce that much action and we were ready to launch when a father and son drifted by - fuck. The next pool started to produce some decent number of fish and we were contend on camping out there until we cleaned it out. 

The place I want to fish was still another mile away and I feared that it would resemble the Rocky River's Rockcliffe ford on a Saturday afternoon. But I didn't want to race down river only to have our trip cut short because after that spot we were about 1/2 mile from the hauling out. I could see the father and son fishing a set of riffles that holds a lot of spawning fish due to the large amount of gravel. We went around them and parked downstream. This was the spot that I wanted to break in my new fly rod as the river is fast and shallow. This was a rod that replaced my 11'3" Redington as I broke it fighting a monster carp last August and only two weeks ago did I finally send it out. To my dismay, Redington had discontinued the model as it was perfect for Lake Erie steelheading and I had to settle for the standard 10' rod. As expected we saw a lot of empty redds and only a couple of males that showed late for the party. We worked the entire the area and Bubba briefly had one on. We had lunch and watched the 3 guys in the canoe, their buddy in the kayak, one hillbilly in a canoe and his buddy in a kayak, father and son and their two buddies go by - fuck, fuck, fuuuuuck. Maybe I'll look into having a couple of torpedoes mounted on the sides on the boat, strategically dropping mines in the water or pulling out a favorite from Donnie Beaver's playbook - piano wire across the river.

We shoved off and I could see in the distance that the spot we wanted to fish was occupied by all except for the 3 guys in the canoe and other in the kayak. All of them were fishing the faster water and I noticed nobody was fishing the pool below. This spot has a ton of gravel and in the spring it has an obscene number of fish. There are so many redds it resembled a mine field. This pool had dropback written all over it and we got the pins raring to go. Bubba was fishing further down and it was difficult section to fish due to all of the slack water in front of us. I moved up to the head and stood on a gravel bar. On the first drift, the float got slammed and the fish turned and burned - a typical droppie. I corralled the fish and it was a spawned out hen. I motioned Bubba to move up to where I was. Then it was like somebody rang the dinner bell as we started to hook up left, right and center. When I released a fish, he was hooking into one and it was like for over an hour - non stop. We joked that we wouldn't have the energy to paddle back. It was one spawned hen after another and by the time it was said and done we landed over 20 fish. All of them were hens except for one male. That's how many hens were spawning in those riffles last week and any fly fishermen stumbling on that probably blew his load.

We ended up having one of the best days of the season. The S.S Bubba survived its maiden voyage, Bubba was sold on floating and wanted to do another. We decided to end the day on a good note and lazily paddled back having a ice cold brew. Staring tomorrow it's five days until vacation..........

Cigarette and an Egg Sac

I loathe crowds. This is is the result of me being spoiled growing up and fishing in Northern Ontario where I had a plethora of lakes, rivers and creeks to fish from. There were hardly any crowds, nobody talking politics, nobody trying to lowhole me or trying to bum a caught fish. But I knew sooner or later, I would be exposed to the urban life. I got a taste of an urban fishery, when I went to college not far from Toronto. I was blown away at the number of people and was exposed to the worst types of anglers I've ever seen. It took every ounce of strength in me not to deck somebody. I can't stand stupid people and unfortunately a lot of urban areas have a lot of them. Cleveland is no where as bad as Toronto. But I do have ways to deal with crowds.

Generally on weekends during the spring, I prefer to fish way up river. These sections are more rural and you have to a lot of water. Fairweather anglers detest walking far because it might damage their waders or boots. Most of them are out of shape so walking farther then the nearest hole is out of the question. But, today we decided to hit the lower section very early. I wasn't really keen on the idea but we enough people that we could tie the best section. There were a couple of cars already there and it didn't bother me. During the spring you start to see more fly fishermen and we know where most of them go. As we walked down I could see three guys on the first gravel bar - perfect. The pool below was ours and we started picking off mostly skippers. The action was fast and furious for the first hour but it dropped it after that. We struggled to get into fish as we shuffled down. It was mid morning when I made the call - road trip.

We drove to one of the Lake County metro parks located on the middle section of the river. We pulled into the lot and it was packed. From the type of vehicles we could see, I knew they weren't bird watchers or hikers. They were the weekend warriors pillaging the feeder creek and I felt confident that we wouldn't have a problem finding a spot on the river. On the way down to the river, we had to walk along the creek. It was low and clear and fish were trapped in the small pools and holes. Most of the anglers were farther up where the creek is wider and deeper. We arrived at the river to see only person fishing and nobody was down stream at the long pool. Once again it was a slow as we caught a few here and there. Time was limited and I made the call to go even farther up. To punctuate the dreary morning, on the way back to the lot Bubba decided to fish a hole about the size of my bath tub. He wanted to do for shits and giggles and I would never thought the fish would take the bait, but it did. I suspected the fish want to end its life and be spared the constant harassment from the hordes of hillbillies over the next couple of weeks. To add insult to injury Bubba released it and the fish was resigned to its fate of being snagged and clubbed over the head by some dirtbag in the not to distant future.

The upper section was where all of the action because that's where all the gravel is and the dam prevents any fish from going over. We were lucky to find a parking spot. There was a lot of fish and the majority of them were still on the gravel. People who fish redds are pieces of shit in my book. I don't consider them anglers, but inept slobs who can't fish. We were in dropback mode and found plenty of them in the numerous runs and pocket water. Drop backs are jizzed out males and spent females. Bubba joked that they were off the gravel having a cigarette after an intense week of fornication. Droppies can be nasty looking, males have numerous scars and bite marks from scraps with other males. The hens are in no better shape, they look emaciated from digging out gravel. Then there is being snagged and flossed off the gravel every day. You would think they would fight like a water logged boot, instead they do fight like a mother. We ended up with a decent day and walking paid off as we managed to score fish in nearly every spot we fished.

The next day I would be fishing solo for most of the day. Bubba only got a half day pass from the warden and he limited to where he could fish. I fished with him for several hours and wandered farther downstream to scout out some water for the upcoming float. I pounded a lot of water and managed a few here and there. I walked until I hit the 2 mile marker and started the long laborious walk back to the lot. The closer I go to the access point I could see rows of anglers working the water where the fish were spawning. I found some open water and knew it held a lot of droppies. The first fish took off like a rocket and I'm amazed how well it fought considering it expended more energy I could ever muster in a weekend with vodka and Viagra. But the number of people was too much and I drove to another spot for the afternoon.
The highlight of the day was when I pulled into same metro park the day before. I could see two hillbillies walking with 8 steelhead hanging from a long branch. I fumbled about looking for my camera and cursed myself for not having it next to me as it would been my crowning achievement in fishing photography. It was a sight indeed as those hillbillies were happier than a baby in a barrel full of titties. There were two fly fishermen looking in disbelief as they dropped all of the fish on the pavement and dumped them in a bucket. You were either appalled or laughing your ass off at the sight of it. They were fishing the feeder creek and I'll bet my left nut that none of them were caught legit. In tow were a litter of young ones and I'm sure they were excited for the fish fry at Uncle Goober's cabin.

I walked along the feeder creek and noticed a old man tormenting the poor fish that Bubba released yesterday. As I turned back I could of swore I saw a white flag emerge from the water. What made it more pathetic was the river was in prime condition and there was nobody fishing at the mouth. It turned out be a slow couple of hours as I found fish on the gravel and caught one spawned out hen. There is a small chance of rain on Wednesday and if it doesn't rain most if not all of the rivers will be running low and clear. The majority of fish will have wrapped up spawning and start to drop back into the deeper pools and holes. The best is yet to happen and be patient............

Unsexy Water

Sexy water was a term coined by Gene Norland for prime water. When I think of sexy water, it's that sapphire water found in the South Pacific or the Caribbean. Ohio's streams are unique, much different to the tannic colored Lake Superior tribs I fished in my youth. Most of Lake Erie's streams run low and clear due to low ground water sources. The water depending on the time of year can range from gin clear to chalky white. As the water levels drop, the rivers take on a "greenish" hue from the clay particles suspended in the water. The deeper water has an emerald-like color and within that dark green is where steelhead often lie. Unfortunately, sexy water is often a temporary condition and earlier in the week, we had a huge blowout and several rivers hit flood stage. The end result was the rivers turned into a bunch of dirty girls and they stayed that way well into the weekend.

This is the time of year when fish start making the transition from winter to spring. Pennsylvania's steelhead are wrapping up spawning and Ohio's Manistee's are slowing making their way into the rivers. March is a fickled month as cold and warm weather can wreak havoc on fish migration and spawning. It can wreak havoc on steelheaders as it's a guessing game on what river hit the jackpot. Having the phone on speed dial and humping a lot of miles can put you on a bunch of fish.

Saturday was going to be a tough day as I knew several rivers were too high and there was only one game in town. As expected with the warmer weather, the crowds were going to be thick as thieves and I had to gun and run. That meant I didn't beat any holes to death and I hopped from hole to hole, pocket to pocket and run to run. I managed to hit fish in several spots, but the crowds were bad enough that I had to make a change of scenery. The next river was higher and had the consistency of vanilla latte. However the number of people was low and several others that had to battle the crowds on the other river found refuge. Even though it wasn't the sexiest of water, I made the best of it and managed a couple of fish. I figured as the river dropped overnight we might see some of that green water and I had my finger crossed for tomorrow. Since it was only early afternoon, I decided to drive back to the previous river as the morning crowd called it a day. With the warmer temperatures, I could see some of the fish were getting their groove on and like flies drawn to shit there were plenty of people to intercept them. I could go on for days about the ethics of fishing redds and I'll save it for another day.

Sunday was going to be a zoo regardless of what river was going to be fish. It was the annual OCBS spring tournament. For those who don't know what OCBS is, it stands for Ohio Central Basin Steelheaders or as somebody know calls it - Ohio Conceited Bastard Steelheaders. I'm not a member, but I know several who are and they are outstanding steelheaders and deeply care about the fishery. The club does a lot for the steelheading community and they embrace both bait and fly fishing. I arrived early to see the cars pulling in and I quickly dressed and greeted the other fellow steelheaders. I fished the lower section of the river, thinking that most of the fish were coming in slowly and staging in the deeper water. The morning started off fast as several hooked into skippers, I don't knock them as they're fun to catch and they fight very hard. The number of fair weather fishermen was high and it wasn't hard to point them out and some don't seem to have a grasp on steelheading. As I walked upstream, I watch a couple of young fellas loading up a bucket and I asked if they were leaving. They said yes and remarked the fishing sucked - it was only 8:30A.M. and they were giving up a classic steelhead tailout that holds a lot of fish. They told me they were going walleye fishing and I said "knock em dead" and chuckled as they left - idiots. After an hour, I was thinking of joining the idiots and looking for some walleye action as the tailout only gave up a couple of fish. I wasn't the only one scraping the bottom of the river for fish as I noticed nobody else was really banging fish. When that happens it time for a death march and that's what I did.

I started to trek upstream and I bitched about the dingy water. It was almost a week after the rain and the water was still murky. I plugged away at all of the spots I knew and it was a skipper here and there. There was no bulls to be had and I started thinking where the hell were they hiding. With it being mid-March it was bound to happen sooner or later - I snagged a sucker. Several friends I know dubbed them hillbilly bonefish and unlike bonefish, suckers are lucky to peel off 10yds of line when hooked. But this one caught me off guard as I thought I hooked into a large steelhead. The fish moved quickly and I struggled to get it off the bottom. But as soon as I got it to the surface, the red fins were the dead give away - it was a monster golden redhorse sucker. I was fishing with a couple of OCBS members and they were hooking into skippers. Too bad they weren't allowed as they would of won by a landslide. One them hooked into a hen that had a fresh lamprey scar. Over the past couple of years, I've noticed fish with numerous scars and raw ones are nasty. I can't imagine what a fish goes through as one of these parasites bores through its flesh and drain them of their bodily fluids. Surprisingly the fish was fat and healthy looking.

By now the sun was high and I was tired of pissing in the wind. I jumped in the Jeep and headed west to another river that I've yet to fish this season. I arrived around 1:00P.M and not to my surprise the river was dirty even though the flow was low. This was more or less a scouting trip for my upcoming vacation in April. Once again the river changed as I noticed some killer tailouts were no more and some pools were wider and deeper. I was some what surprised to see that all of the gravel beds had no fish spawning - there was one redd here and there but no fish to be seen. The puzzle was solved when I caught a couple of spawned out hens in one deep run. A lot of others were posting goose eggs as nobody could point out where the fish were holding.

It turned out that a lot of fish didn't make their into the rivers. For the past three days, I've talked to several others that struggled to get fish into the net. Hopefully once the rivers start to clear up the fish will seek out the deeper water. But don't fret as the best fishing has yet to come.....

Gorillas Of The Missed

The theme of the title was Bubba's hulking mass slowly disappearing into the morning mist and my periodic ADD episodes as I missed setting the hook or getting distracted. This is the time of the year when winter steelheading is coming to an end and spring is arriving. The past couple of days have been blistering hot compared to the frigid temperatures last week and today was no exception as the temps were in the high 60s. When that happens it means one thing - the attack of fairweather fishermen.

Fairweather fishermen are easy to spot, like a hooker on downtown street. They can be a easy target for the hardcore steelheader, but I find them usually harmless. Most if not all are not capable of walking past 100yds from the parking lot and usually fish water that never hold fish. But, we knew the hardcores would be out in full force and we had to be a step ahead.

Being the eternal optimist, I thought we would have a banner day. The rivers were in prime condition and the temperatures were in the 60s. It turned out to be a trifecta of misery as we struggled finding fish at the three rivers we fished. We fished fast water, slow water, shallow, deep, lumber, pocket water, tailouts and heads. We knew the fish were there, but they seemed unwilling to cooperate. When we decided to hit another river and you know when the fishing was bad when the easy access spots are vacant at 9:30A.M on a Saturday.

We drove farther east and were hoping that the threat of rain was just a threat, as Sunday was going to be a washout. We arrived to see that the ice was gone, but there was a ton of it littering the banks. Due to the warmer weather and cold water, there was fog on the river. The water was primed and knew where to find fish. But, it turned out to be one fish here and there. We plugged away and decided to go to head west. We arrived to prime conditions - dark green water and partly cloudy. Once again, the fishing was tough and Bubba shook off the skunk with a spawned out hen.

The tough day was the result of a coming cold front and that many of the fish had spawned in the previous days and seeked out the deeper holes to rest. With the rain tomorrow, I'm sure a lot of the PA steelhead in Ohio's tribs will high tailing it back to the lake and the Manistees will start pushing upstream. Either way there is excellent fishing to be had for the next couple of months and watch out for the suckers!