Pellet Head

I seemed so long ago when I actually fished when a river had a decent flow and color. Prior to Thanksgiving, we got dumped on with over an 1" of rain. We need it to flush all of the crap out and hopefully bring in some fish.

It was another outing of having to cover a lot of water to catch fish. I'm concerned that this might be the bulk of fish as the rivers are so cold. I have a feeling that the majority of fish in the lake are going to stay there and wait for spring. So far this season, its been one of the worst since I've been here in Steelhead Alley. To add more salt to the wound, the long term forecast for December is calling for below average temperatures. Usually we get iced over in January, but it might happen earlier, especially when the rivers get low.

The fishing was good as I caught fish at every spot. Every season, I'll catch a steelhead that will make it into my bizarre looking folder. Over the years, I've caught fish with an eye missing, broken jaws, deformed spines and so on. Today, I hooked into a small male that looked like one of those pellet heads stocked by some slimy I hate Joe Lunchbox corporate trout club cough Donnie Beaver cough. It's entire body was stunted whether it was a result of swimming into a concrete pier at full speed or it been dealt a shitty hand of genetics. It looked and swam like a football...........poor bastard.

Tale of Two Streams

Finally! We have fishable water and many here in Steelhead Alley were hoping for a large push of fish. Hit the road early for a day out east and hoped today was better than last week. I was stoked at the thought of hooking into some feisty chromers. I arrived at first light and made my way upstream.

The river had a perfect flow and color. But I was once again left scratching my head - no takers. With the water being colder, I fished the tailouts and runs with moderate flow. After a couple of hours, I had two fish. I considered myself lucky as many others were posting a shutout. I started fishing the faster pocket water and still no takers. I moved downstream and I hooked into two more fish and that was it. The two other anglers above only caught one each earlier in the morning and that was it for them. It was almost 11:00 when I walked back and several popular holes were vacant - not a good sign and the parking lot was half empty. I guess a lot of people bailed and headed to another river. With a steelheader club tourney going on, the number of people fishing on that particular would be high. I finally realized that it wasn't going to pan out here and it was on to plan B.

Arrived around noon to see only 3 cars in the lot and that usually not a great sign as most of the morning crowd called it a day because the fishing stinked. Undeterred, I figured why not? The flow and color was great and I fished a long pool below a large gravel bed. Several guys were fishing the head of the pool and slid into the midsection and on the first drift I hooked into a fresh male. It turned out to be great afternoon as I caught enough fish that I didn't even care about the multiple leaks in my waders. Even the fishing was great today, however the season so far has been a major disappointment.

A message to newbies, just because one river doesn't produce doesn't mean the others are the same. So the next time instead of going home Sunday and inflicting punishment on yourself by watching Browns drive to the next river.

Farewell Pat

Yesterday Pat Burns, the former head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs lost his battle with cancer. There was great excitement back in 1992, when the Leafs hired him and prior to his hiring, the Leafs were a terrible team. They were the Bad News Bears on ice and during the 80s and they were absolutely pathetic. Before coaching in Toronto, Burns took the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in 1989 and they eventually lost to Calgary. With his hard nosed style of coaching and GM Cliff Fletcher's crafty trades, they built a powerful team and made hockey exciting in Toronto again.

I was in my mid twenties when the Leafs started to become a contender. I was probably the only Leafs fan as most of my friends rooted for the Habs. I would never consider jumping on the bandwagon. The Leafs were a stacked team and Saturday nights we cheered on Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Felix Potvin, Gary Anderson, and Dave Andreychuk. I didn't hear the Habs fans talk shit, they were yesterday's news. The Leafs were the talk of the town now.

In 1993, a Montreal and Toronto cup final was becoming a possibility. The Leafs dispatched the Red Wings and Blues in seven games. Then it was the Kings and Wayne Gretzky. Both teams fought it out and several games were decided in overtime. The Leafs took the Kings to game seven. In overtime, Gretzky high sticks Gilmour and he draws blood, but referee Kerry Fraser misses it. Leafs fans are livid and then the rest is history. Gretzky scores and with that dashes the dreams of a cup final. I was 25 years old at the time. The last time the Leafs won the cup, I was born a year later in 1968. 

I loved Burns gruff and no bullshit attitude. When McSorley elbowed Gilmour during the final period in game 1 of the Campbell Conference finals. We watched Clark cave in McSorley's face and then Burns wanted to go over and beat the shit out of King's coach Barry Melrose. When he left, the Leafs were never the same again. Burns did win his Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2003.

Thanks for the memories Pat.

At Least I Got Some Exercise

Now I know what a steelheader in B.C feels like. Walking endless miles, pounding every hole, pool, run and pocket water in the hopes of getting a bite. That what it was like this weekend as the fish basically took it off and I would of had better luck finding the location of Jim Hoffa's body.

The rivers were very low and even the Grand was barely flowing. With no where else to fish, most anglers piled into the last remaining holes and pools on the lower section. Not wanted to rub elbows and possibly cracking somebody's skull, I opted to go up river. It was a gamble, but worth taking. Most of the spots I fished were so low I could see bottom without the aid of polarized sunglasses. That's pretty rare for the Grand as it usually run that shit stain color. Speaking of shit, that was a word I commonly used as I scoured nearly every spot imaginable. I caught some fish but boy did I have to cover a lot of water

There has been a lot of bitching on the river this season as many are complaining about the lack of fish. You can chalk that up to virtually no rainfall and a lot of fish have park themselves in the lake. Last year, we didn't get a lot of rain but several times the rivers rose enough to spread fish out. Even though numbers were low, most of the fish I caught were on the large size. So far this season, it's been a skipper fest.

Guides had their truck's odometer working overtime as they raced from river to river looking for fish. Newbies to old salts had a hard time landing fish and I felt fortunate that I got some tugs and even happy that I caught a chub. How pathetic is that!

Once again, Mother Nature is going to tease us with some rain early next week. Sooner or later, we'll get the blowout that many are hoping for.

Low To No Flow

Flows are often hard to come by here on the Alley. With little to no groundwater sources, some of the rivers here can go from muddy to gin clear within a matter of days after rain or snowmelt. The window for prime conditions can close quickly for the inattentive steelheader. In Ohio the window can stay open a tad longer because our rivers are larger in both size and drainage area. However, most of time, we have to contend with low and clear conditions. It can be a headache for the steelheader that is lucky to get out a few times in the season. I know many who will wait on the sidelines until the conditions are perfect. This year, many of them have resorted to sitting on the bench. 

I'm in the same situation this week as I'm stuck fishing in early November. A trip to Europe was cancelled for a variety of reasons. I tried to switched my week at work for the end of the month when conditions are more favorable. Being the low man on the totem pole, my chances for switching were dim. The policy at work is that three techs can't be off the same week. I knew one of the guys wasn't going to change because of deer season. That left me with Dave and I worked him like a politician trying to secure a last minute vote on a bill. Unfortunately, he couldn't because of family coming to town for the holidays. I was screwed. I had no choice but to accept what I was given. I was bummed. 

The Alley has been parched for most of the fall. I couldn't remember the last time to rained. I looked at the flow gauges and my heart sunk. A few registered flows in the single digits. The weather report for the entire week read - partly cloudy and temperatures in the mid to upper 40s. I wasn't going to sit at home and pout. I knew one river that would give me a fighting chance. 

During the fall, the fishing on the Alley tends to be better farther east. The closer to Pennsylvania, the better. From my place it's about a 90 mile drive. Monday morning I started out at Conneaut Creek and I'm greeted to a river loaded with leaves. The water was tea colored and holes black as deep space. It reminded me of the rivers of Lake Superior that I fished during my youth. That stain was enough to cloak fish in the shallow pools and holes. The river flowed lazily and meandered along the banks and lumber. There was a slight nip in the air as I hit the first spot. About half of the trees had shed themselves of leaves. In some spots, the leaves were neatly bunched up in piles in the water. The night before I tied up dime sized sacs. They contained no more than four salmon eggs. I always used the motto - when it's low, think small. If they sacs didn't work, I had beads, streamers and small nymph patterns.
I cast out and watch the float chug along. I'm using a small thin profile float. The bright red tip stands out against the white bubbles on the surface. I continue to watch move along the seam and I move it slightly as it nears the downed tree in the water. The float taps and goes under. 

"Oh no, not chubs"

I set the hook anyway and I felt a jolt. It's no chub. A loud tail slap and the water boils. The fish fights it out in the hole. I swing it over and it's a large chunky male. The river I'm fishing is stocked both by Ohio and Pennsylvania. Ohio stocks the Little Manistee strain and Pennsylvania's is hodgepodge of different strains. The fish is dark in coloration, that's a dead giveaway it's a Pennsylvania steelhead. I release it and watch it dart back to its lair. Since there is nobody on the river this morning, I leisurely fish the pools and holes. There are fish, but not in big numbers. It's one or two from each spot. By the end of the day, I've caught 15 steelhead. It wasn't easy and my deep knowledge of the river certainly helped me. Tomorrow I would be fishing closer to home. 
Even the mighty Grand was reduced to a feeble flow. The Grand is the crown jewel of Ohio's steelhead streams. It has a special place in heart because the upper stretches have some the prettiest scenery. The high shale cliffs, large stands of hemlock and sycamores and miles of remote waters. Today, I'm trading in the tranquility for a former brownfield. I meet up with a couple of friends and fished the "Uniroyal" hole. The hole is located next to the former Uniroyal plant. The plant is long gone, unfortunately the surrounding property was classified as a brownfield. The soil was heavily contaminated and in 2007 the property was finally cleaned up. It was a prime piece of property right near the lake. Both Lake County Metroparks and IMG the massive sports and media conglomerate wanted it. The village decided that IMG had more to offer as they wanted to build condos (property taxes), resort (sales taxes) and hire staff to run it (income taxes). A lot of people were concerned that IMG would post the entire section. On the other side of the river, is the Paineville landfill site. Flash forward four years and the project is behind. There is construction on the lake, but the old brownfield is still undeveloped. So far nobody has said anything in regards to posting it and I hope IMG will allow anglers to fish it.

The long sweeping pool struggles to flow. During prime conditions the water comes up to my waist when I cross over. Today the water is at my knees and I cross with relative ease. We work the head of the pool and the floats immediately start to drag. We make the adjustments and I'm running 2' from the float to the sac. From the start, it's evident that the pool is far too shallow. Even at 2' the float hangs up bottom. We bail and head to the hole. Tagging along is Herb, who brought along his video camera. We arrive the hole and it's the only deep for about a mile in both directions. We're pretty sure that some fish trickled in over the weeks. By the number of footprints in the muck, the hole has been pounded hard - really hard. Undeterred we all cast out towards the opposite bank. There's enough flow that the floats can cover a lot of water. Even though the river is low, the floats are set at 7' deep. 

The skies are partly cloudy and it's a warm fall day. Herb sit on the shore and waits for the action. At first nothing is happening. We make adjustments, hoping for the right depth and presentation. Ron casts out and I follow suit farther up. I hear Ron call out

"Fish on!"

Herb jumps into action and starts recording. I can hear the commentary and then I watch my float go under. I set the hook and bellow

"Fish on! Double header"

Ron has his fish under control and I got my hands full. We get our fish towards the shore and they are the both size. Both are the typical Lake Erie steelhead. about 24" and four pounds. The hole once in a while coughs up a fish, but it's very slow and tedious. I've come to accept that my vacation week, will involve driving long distances and walking many miles to catch fish. Vacations are planned months in advance and I have no idea what the weather will be like. Suck it up and make due with what you have.