Sick My Ass

A terrible week for me as I struggled to rid myself of a nasty bug. This tenacious little bastard has made my life miserable. When it comes to being sick, I'll tough it out as my sick days are strictly designated for fishing. I rested the entire day to give my body a chance to recover. Bundled in blankets, I still hacked and wheezed. I never moved off the couch and drifted off into a deep sleep. The alarm in the kitchen quietly chimed announcing it was time for a day of fishing. I still felt groggy with a slight headache. I walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I was pale and haggard looking. I thought to myself, it's only one day and dress warmly - you're a tough guy. I popped two Tylenol, eat breakfast and hit the road. 

My battle with the bug was coming close to an end. He would be vanquished from my body. The coffee did wonders as I felt a surge of energy. The thoughts of a good day of fishing was giving me a rush of adrenaline. No stinking cold was going to keep me on the sidelines. I exit the freeway and it was a brief drive through suburbia. The McMansions gave way to the long winding roads and surrounding forest of the metro park. I pulled in to see a group of anglers suiting up. It didn't take much thought to where they would be fishing. They eyed me as I pulled out the gear and once they caught sight of the centerpin, they went back to talking amongst themselves. They felt I would be competing for spots. Generally fly fishermen feel more at ease whenever they see one using a pin. I fish water that they never would try attempting. 

I was well dressed for the elements and I had my flask of whiskey to give a spark whenever I felt the need for it. The walk to the river helped loosen and rid my lungs of phlegm. The river was slightly up and I passed the group of anglers that clustered at the first hole. I suspected that they never fished this section of the river. I proceeded to cross over and I looked back and all of them had there eyes trained on me. They were waiting to see if I would plunge into a unknown hole. At 6'0 tall, the water came up to my waist, but the bottom was all gravel and the current wasn't terribly strong. Once over, I knew the others would eventually cross over. 

First spot was the yapping dog hole. Nearly every time I fished this spot, I'm greeted by the most obnoxious dogs. They won't stop barking until you leave. They never shut up and their owner never seems to care. After a while it becomes unbearable and there have been times when I left despite the good fishing. After 10 minutes my head starts to pound. I'm tempted to pick up a rock and fling across the pool. It's almost nine in the morning and you would think the owner would stick his hear outside and tell them shut up - no. The guy probably hates anglers, but the nice tax abatement from the county for preserving riverine habitat is too good to give up. Houses here start at $700,000 and well into the millions. 

The yapping dog hole surrender four nice fish and I'm off to the next spot. The cold crisp air seems to help unclog my head. Still its a miserable morning with dark grey skies. Spring seems so far away. The water temperature is in the low 40s and some fish might of started to spawn. I examine one gravel bed and I don't notice any redds. The fish are probably lying in the pools and holes, waiting for the sun to come out and warm the water. 

The next pool I'm fishing starts to yield fish and that makes the aches feel a whole better. A little victory swig and I feel the slow burn of the whiskey. So far this morning I haven't anybody and I'm perfectly fine with that. It's a good thing that the river isn't high because times my legs feel rubbery. Another gravel bed and no fish. The pool above use to be a great spot, but over the years, it started to fill in and has become nothing more than a sandy bottom. But, I will toss a sac to see if anybody's home. After 20 minutes, I have no takers. 

I hit the last spot because I don't have the energy. It's another of my money holes and on the second drift, I have a hard take down. I watch a large fresh hen come to the surface and she immediately bolts downstream. She doesn't go that far as I steer her onto the rocks. A bright silver hen and when I lift her, I notice her stomach is tight. If she had some color, I'll bet as soon as I lifted her, she would be spitting eggs. It will probably take a couple of weeks before the eggs start to loosen. 

It's almost noon and I'm over double digits. My stomach starts growling and I need to pop a couple more Tylenol. I head back and pass the group of anglers who are still camped out at the first hole. I'm not in the mood to strike up a conservation and I quickly slip by them. There are too engrossed with their drifts and I hit the trail - my stomach is demanding food. Even though I'm in a metropark, it's takes all but 8 minutes to go up the hill and to the nearest fast food joint. I gooble down a cheeseburger and some fries and its back down to the park. I go farther upstream to another pool and park by the field. The burger and fries did the trick and I feel a hop in my stride. The pool is vacant, but I do wonder if it was worked over in the morning. I managed to pop a couple of nice males and that was it. 

A 14 fish day keeps the doctor away. My body feels chilled and I stop for a coffee. The first sip immediately warms me up. I take my time driving home and 40 minutes later I'm home. My head is clogged up and I apply some Vick's. I lie on the bed and I'm out within five minutes. Amazing what a good day of fishing can do. 

Green Eggs

Eggs can make or break a day and I learned that during the past two days. Winter's grasp on the Alley has finally weakened. All of the rivers were free of ice. Since I had nothing scheduled at work for Friday, it was the perfect excuse to come up the 24 hour flu. You couldn't ask for a better day as the river was slightly stained and the temperatures were to be in the low 60s. 

Conneaut was a bustling place this morning when I rolled in. I watched a group of anglers heading upstream. I took that as the cue to go downstream. I wasn't going to be raking gravel, instead I was after staging fish. I walked along the tracks and I looked over to see a guide with three clients working the gravel. I look down from them and the pool was all mine. I slipped down the hill and quietly walked on the opposite side of the island. I avoided detection and started at the head of the pool. 

This pool can be a killer in the spring. At times fish can stack in there like sardines. In the spring it's mostly skippers and you practically have to club them off the sacs. It turned out to be like that morning - lights out. I started piling up numbers like crazy and those scrappy little skippers kept my hands full. The problem was I started to run low on bait. I forgot my fly box home. It was a little after noon when I ran out of bait. I was bummed because I felt I could had a banner day. I called Bubba and gave him two thumbs up and told him to go overboard with tying sacs tonight. 

Late spring is when I start running low on eggs. Some times I'll keep a couple of steelhead hens for eggs and give the fish to one of my co workers. So far this spring, I haven't caught a decent sized hen, plus I felt I had enough eggs in the freezer. When I go home I pulled the largest pack of eggs to thaw out. The eggs inside were a little loose and over the winter it must of leaked. I shrugged and figured it wasn't too much to worry about........d'oh.

Me and Bubba drove out in the wee hours and arrived when it was still dark. Nobody had pulled yet and we quickly dressed. We reached the pool and camped out waiting for the first light. In 45 minutes, there was enough light to see the floats. Bubba started getting into fish and I didn't. I popped the container open and sniffed, nothing objectionable. I started to make adjustments and still nothing. I was perplexed and starting to get annoyed. He couldn't keep them off the hook and I was posting a goose egg. He was serving them T-bone and I was offering pig slop. I knew I had funky eggs and immediately toss them. I did have some gulp minnows with me and I managed to toss the skunk off my neck.

But that's what happens when you use uncured eggs. I swear by them and I rarely cure them. Cured eggs do work as Bubba was using them and he was hammering them. He took pity on me a shared his eggs. I was more than happy for him as he doesn't fish as often as me. The action for him was fast and furious and he eventually ran out of bait.

When I got home I examined all of the remaining packs in the freezer and all of them were sealed tight. I had enough to get me through April. 

Cue the Whining

Steelhead runs slower this winter; reasons for it differ

By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Contributing Writer
Mentor, Ohio - Bob Ashley believes rust is showing up on Ohio's steelhead program.

The Mentor trout-fishing expert has experienced a frustrating steelhead fishing season thus far. His to-date catch is way below previous years. It's more like when the DNR Division of Wildlife first started stocking trout, and not now, with an annual planting of 400,000 fish.

"I'm 469 fish behind where I was last year at this time," Ashley said.

Then again, Ashley is not alone. Other steelheaders are reporting dismal catches as well.

"This has been one of the worst years I've ever seen. I think maybe it's partially due to low water conditions and a number of other variables," said Les Ober, an Ohio Central Basin Steelheaders board of directors member.

At first, many anglers were willing to tolerate officials' thoughts that the fall run was slowed by a lack of water in the streams. That logic can no longer apply, some of these trout seekers said.

"No doubt about it, though, if we don't see a good run this spring, we'll know that something is up and then we'll have something to worry about," Ober said.

They may be on to something. Fisheries experts in Pennsylvania have their own theory as to why the lake-run take of steelhead in that state has proven abysmal this fishing season.

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission fisheries biologists believe Lake Erie's abundant crop of large walleye are feasting on the horde of stocked steelhead smolt.

"We do see an inverse relationship between adult walleye abundance and the quality of the steelhead fisheries two years later, even back in the 1980s when we also had strong walleye populations," said Chuck Murray, Lake Erie Unit Supervisor for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. "We didn't realize the impact of that predation until this past year."

Then again, Ohio's fisheries biologists have their own thoughts regarding the matter. And their opinions don't exactly mesh with those of their Pennsylvania counterparts.

"We know that low water conditions are still a factor. And we expect that once we get into good water conditions, the runs will be better. Certainly, they'll pick up speed," said Kevin Kayle, manager of the wildlife division's Fairport Harbor Fisheries Research Station.

Kayle also is the agency's steelhead program facilitator/manager.

Another possibility for a drop in steelhead returns is potential severe mortality on the trout by the invasive and predatory sea lamprey, Kayle said.

"Last year, we saw that the wounding on trout caused by sea lampreys had increased, based on surveys done by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and prior to treatment of the Grand River and Conneaut Creek with a lampricide," Kayle said.

However, the wildlife division does not believe predation by large walleye on stocked 6-inch steelhead smolt is much of a factor. At least not in Ohio's share of Lake Erie, Kayle said.

The wildlife division argues that most of Lake Erie's spawning walleye are in the lake's western basin at the time the state is stocking five rivers with steelhead smolt. Annually, the state stocks about 400,000 steelhead into the Vermilion, Rocky, Chagrin and Grand rivers, along with Conneaut Creek. Lakewide, there are about 2 million steelhead stocked by the various states and the Province of Ontario.

"There may be a small incidence of foraging by larger walleye, but we have not been able to corroborate that with our work," Kayle said. "We continue to see the walleye eating smelt, gizzard shad and emerald shiners, which is not to say there isn't seasonal predation on steelhead smolt."

But as compensation for a decline in angler success, the idea of annually stocking a greater amount of trout is not in the picture. This is because of the wildlife division's current limited steelhead production capabilities, Kayle said.

The state's coldwater trout hatchery at Castalia, near Sandusky, is undergoing a multimillion dollar renovation, which will be completed no later than 2013. At that time, the hatchery's ability to produce larger - and possibly, more - trout will materialize, Kayle said.

Yet, if Ohio wants to increase its stocking of steelhead, the state would need to present its plan to the Lake Erie Committee of the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, which would have say in any expansion, Kayle said.

"That would be based on the health of the lake and its forage base," he said. "But we're not prepared to do that now because of our limited capacity and because of our budget."

Supporting a number of Kayle's views is Jerry Darkes, another Steelheaders group board member.

"We certainly had less-than-ideal conditions this fall, but I still think that when the snow and ice are gone we'll see a pretty strong surge of fish. I'm hopefully optimistic, and maybe we'll do even better this spring because we didn't get the runs earlier," Darkes said.

In the end, however, Kayle thinks Ohio's steelhead anglers need to accept some variability in their success. The region's best steelheaders have grown accustomed to daily catching numbers of fish in the double digits, Kayle said.

"There will be years that will be stellar and years that are just good. Anglers also will have to accept that our good years are better than the best years in some other states," Kayle said.

Murray heartily agrees.

"Even though we're seeing below-average catch rates, it's still one of the best fisheries around. For a lot of people, a 5-pound steelhead is the largest trout they'll ever catch," Murray said.

But anglers like Ashley are not buying any of the biologists' arguments.

"This is the first 'off' season I can recall. I think I need to take some blood-pressure medicine," Ashley said.

Some people on the Alley are just spoiled rotten. These guys have no idea how good they have it. Compared to other steelhead fisheries, the Alley is like the trout pool at the sportsman show - jammed packed with fish. I remember first fishing the Alley and I couldn't believe the number of fish I caught. It wasn't 3 or 4, but 12 or 20. There were times when I caught over 40. I though it should been called the Cannery not the Alley, due the sheer number of fish, especially in Pennsylvania.

But even Steelhead Shangri-La can have a bad year, but even a bad year is a hell of better than most fisheries on the West Coast. There are a lot of factors that can tip the scales such as low water, walleye and lamprey predation, and heavy rainfall. There is also the fact that a lot of Lake Erie steelhead don't imprint very well on the streams of stocking. So these often will run up streams that have the best conditions and those can be in either New York, Ontario or Pennsylvania.

But that still doesn't stop the bitching. The prefect example is the loser complaining about being down 469 fish. Is this guy serious? I'll bet he carries one of those clickers commonly used by perch anglers. If he thinks he needs to take blood pressure medication for a "off" season here, he'll need a new heart and the works if he had to move to BC.