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 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
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.