Steelhead Alley In The Winter

The Alley got its first significant snowfall of the year. There's something about the first snow of the season. It ushers in the winter steelheading season. This the time of the year when only the most hardy anglers venture out. The Alley can get tremendous amounts of snow, especially along the eastern shore of Lake Erie. Lake effect snow as we call it, is produced  when a cold air mass moves across long expanses of warmer water, warming the lower layer of air which picks up moisture from the lake, rises up through the colder air above, freezes and is deposited on the downwind shores. That's why the eastern side of the lake gets more snow, because of the lake's position. I live in the western suburbs of Cleveland and we rarely get lake effect snow. Where I live we can get 3 inches of snow and out by Ashtabula they can get 3 feet of it. 

Today, I'm on Conneaut Creek and they got dumped on. As I drove east, I hit several bands of snow coming off the lake. A few flakes would flutter about and gradually it got more intense and finally I would hit a squall. I had to pretty well go to a crawl and hoped motorists behind would slow down. Generally, squalls are short lived and I was back to good visibility. I reach the exit on the interstate and head for one section of the creek. The roads are snow covered and my Jeep handles it well. I drive down a country road and turn off onto snow covered dirt road. The hill going down to the creek is fairly steep. My Jeep Cherokee has BF Goodrich mud terrain tires and they grip the road hard as I make my way down. I reach the end of the road and I'm the only person there. 

I step out the Jeep and I'm standing in about a foot of fresh snow. The temperature is about 28F and the winds are light. I dress and I'm snug as a bug. I use a balaclava to keep my neck warm and a toque cover my head and ears. In both pockets are hand warmers and I carry a small micro fiber towel to dry my hands. The walk to the first pool isn't far, just across the campground. I trudge through the snow and in past years I've walked in deeper snow. I see the creek and the surrounding landscape is a winter wonderland as the trees and bushes are covered in it. Hard to believe that just 3 months ago, the leaves on the trees hadn't turned color and I was complaining about the heat. The creek is emerald green in color and I start at the head of the pool and work off the main current. 

Flakes of snow swirl about and very soon a band of snow will be going through. I look to the north and the sky is dark. The snowfall becomes more intense as I strain to see the float. Flakes pelt my face and my hands are getting wet. I pull my hood over to keep my toque dry. I keep my head down so my face isn't getting the full effect of the snow. It becomes so bad, that I reel in the line and wait it out. I get out of the water and sit on log. Eventually, the snow stops and I enter the water and start fishing.

The pool I'm fishing is small. but always holds fish. It doesn't take long for the first fish of the morning as I land a small female. She looks like a recent arrival as she's bright silver. The next fish is a large male and he's more dark. He has a mixture of charcoal, silver and red. The pool gives up a couple more fish and I start to head downstream to another one. As I walk down I brush along the willows and snow falls off the branches. The flakes appear again and another band of heavy snow hits. I hear the flakes land on my hood and look across the creek. The falling snow dances and once it hits the water instantly disappears. With this much snow, I can't see anybody making the long drive out. Most of them wouldn't dare attempt going the hill where I'm at. If we get anymore snow, I'm concerned I might get stuck.

The snow relents and I scan the pool. I watch the current hug along the opposite bank and follows the bank and it curves and eventually tailouts at the next riffle. This pool is deep and long and I slow down my presentation. The float drifts along and slowly goes under the classic winter take. Due to the cold water the fight isn't very long in duration. I see a large female come to the surface and she doesn't offer any resistance. I gently pull her along the edge of the rocks and I use the hemostats to pop the hook out. I use my boot to push her back and she slowly swims off back to her resting place.

With the colder temperatures coming next week, it won't take long for the streams to ice over. The sides will freeze over first and the water temperature will eventually reach freezing. When that happens, slush appears and it makes fishing virtually impossible. I've seen streams clogged in slush and that's why I don't get up early. Every season, when I get my morning coffee, I'll drive down to the Rocky and see guys fishing in vain in the morning hoping to get a drift off. If the sun is out, I'll wait until afternoon and by then, most of it is burned off and the added bonus is those guys that fished in the morning are long gone as they succumbed to the cold.

I hit a few more spots along the river and the fishing for the most part has been slow. But that is expected in the winter as it can be very challenging. The foot and half of snow when I arrived is over 2 feet deep. I lug my wet waders and boots into the tote box and close the hatch. I start the Jeep up and back up towards the gate. The Jeep is in four wheel drive and start to accelerate when I hit the hill. The Jeep's tires digs in and the engine roars. It goes through the snow like a tank and with little effort makes it to the top. Before getting on the interstate, I stop at McDonalds for a scalding cup of coffee. It hits the spot and I get on the interstate. The highway is free of snow and ice as crews have been out all day clearing snow. The weather report isn't calling for any snow for the rest of the day. I set the cruise at 70mph and enjoy the ride home. 

What's For Dessert?

spotted dick

The Brits love giving hilarious names to their foods. My mother is British and I remember as a teen visiting my grandparents in England. One time we were at the grocery store and there was a package of faggots ( pork meatballs ) and I started snickering. Luckily, my grandparents never forced us to eat them, as I thought British cuisine with the exception of fish and chips was absolutely horrible. But it would of been great to hear my grandfather say at the supper table "I've got nothing against faggots, I just don't fancy them."  

Tonight, I was at World Market browsing the food section and came across cans of spotted dick. Spotted dick of course is a British sponge pudding. If I had a Christmas party next week at work, I would of bought it and baked the boys a lovely cake.

spotted dick
Photo Credit -

600 Miles For Steelhead

600 miles for steelhead

Anglers will go to extremes when comes to chasing their favorite quarry. I know some guys I fish with making long journeys to chase steelhead. Some will go to Indiana for skamanias in the summer. Others will go in the fall to Salmon River in New York or the Manistee in Michigan. And others go north into Canada on the Nipigon or St. Marys for early summer steelhead. That's the allure of our passion, going to a place that we never fished before or dreamt about it or we simply need our fix.

Rain has pretty blown everything out here in Ohio as I see the huge spike on the flow gauge for all of the rivers. Tomorrow I start my vacation week and I'm not going to sit on the sidelines. I'll be heading over to Pennsylvania tomorrow morning to fish Elk Creek. Pennsylvania didn't get as much rain as we did, but enough to blow out the creek out. Pennsylvania's steelhead streams are much smaller than Ohio's and can come down to fishable levels in a matter of a day. The creek on the gauge had peaked and started to drop. I was pretty confident that tomorrow I would have decent conditions.

Monday morning I'm at the gas station filling up my Jeep. I love my 1991 Cherokee Laredo. Even though she's old, she's in great shape. Over the years, I put on a lift kit and got off-road tires. But she has a thirst for fuel. The pump clicks and I look at the amount $50.00 and I'll probably go through more than half a tank there and back to Elk Creek as it's a little over 200 miles round trip. I'm on the road before most of the minions are heading to work into Cleveland. I arrive at the upper section of the creek and there's nobody at the campsite. Over the years, I've had a love/hate relationship with Pennsylvania. I hate the crowds and I don't find the streams all that challenging. But the number of fish landed can inflate one's ego.

600 miles for steelhead

The creek is running dirty and it doesn't take long for me to start racking up the number of fish caught. It's a quiet morning except for the odd crack of a rifle as its deer hunting season. With my orange toque on, I'm pretty sure that I stick out like a sore thumb against the grey landscape. I continue my way downstream hitting fish and I'm concerned that I burning through a lot of sacs. The high water brought in a lot of fish. I take full advantage of the conditions because the window for prime fishing conditions can be brief. By tomorrow, this section will most likely be clear. I'm down to my last container of sacs and I've reached the cliffs. This section at times will hold the mother load of fish. The creek runs along the cliffs swiftly and right off the current is the shale ledges and fish pack themselves like sardines. A novice could slaughter them in the current conditions right now. By the time, I'm out of bait, I've lost count of how many fish I caught, probably well over 50 and for some of the diehards I know, they would consider that an "average" day. I start to walk back and I feel the drops of rain hitting my jacket. I look at the weather on my phone and more rain is coming. I suspect that tomorrow the Elk could blow out. On the way home, the rain comes down harder. I get home and I see the Elk is on the rise, heading for a blowout.

Tuesday morning I wake up and see the Elk has blown out. Today will be spent at home chilling and tying sacs. This time, I took an extra pack of eggs out. I toll at the table as I tie one sac after another. It's a tedious process that at times I start to hate, because of the monotony. Wednesday morning I'm back on the road and I stop in Ashtabula to fill up. The pump clicks and its $55.00, nobody said chasing steelhead was cheap. I continue on I head back to the same place, but instead, I head upstream from the campsite. The creek is a little higher than it was Monday but still fishable in my book. I walk along the empty campers parked near the edge of the creek. I see the bridge and there's nobody fishing there. The water swirls about around the supports and the pool runs along the cliffs. I toss the float out and move it to the seam. It chugs along and quickly goes under. The first fish of the morning is a dark male and I have a feeling it will be another "average" day. The pool gives up a lot of scrappy fish for the taking. Within an hour, I'm over double digits. Pennsylvania stocks the lion share of steelhead into Lake Erie. They annually stock over 1.1 million smolts into their streams that run into Lake Erie. Compared that to Ohio that only gets to stock 400,000 smolts annually. Then you wonder why so many anglers go to Pennsylvania. Personally, I think it's excessive, but I'm not complaining this morning. I move farther upstream to another section after getting my fill. It's refreshing not having to rub shoulders with others. I cross over and start at the tail end of the pool. The creek runs along a series of small cliffs. The hemlocks hang over and are still wet from the rain. I watch the bubbles and toss the float out into the middle. The float moves along and goes under quickly. I watch a bright silver fish leap from the water. It thrashes about and with the heavier tippet I land the fish quickly. So far on this trip, I haven't seen one person. That in itself is amazing as there's always someone coming up the creek. I can relax and fish the entire section without having to worry. The pool gives up quite a few fish as I shuffle upstream. There's another large pool farther up that I want to go to.

600 miles for steelhead

It's already late morning and the bite has slowed down. I stand in the middle of the creek working the ledges along the cliffs. I've already noticed that the water visibility is getting better. By tomorrow, it will be either green or clear. Fishing clear conditions on the Elk is difficult. The fish really have nowhere to hide. Some will squeeze tight against the shale ledges hoping they blend in. For the brighter fish, it might help. As for darker fish, they're a sitting duck. Most anglers will resort to a single egg. The problem with that is the hook is so small that a light tippet will only work. These aren't the 12" trout that the state stocks in the spring. Most steelhead will shred a light tippet with little effort. Whenever Pennsylvania's streams run clear, I'll be in Ohio. The bite starts to pick up again and I'm down to one container. I've pretty well cleaned out the pool and I start fishing pocket water and small runs.

By mid-afternoon, I'm out of sacs and I start the long walk back. As I'm walking back, I'm trying to figure out where to go tomorrow. There's no rain in the forecast, the streams here will be most likely clear. The only option I have in Ohio is the Ashtabula. It's the smallest of the Ohio streams and usually runs a day or two behind the Elk after a blowout. I hit the highway and I look over at as I'm crossing Conneaut Creek, it's still running high and dirty. When I see the exit to Ashtabula, I pull off and head to Indian Trail. It's not a long walk to the river as I walk down the hill and along the trail. I see the river and it's a little dirty. By tomorrow it will be better and I make the decision to head there in the morning. Before I get on the highway, I see that I need to fill up. I stand by the pump and I know what the dollar amount will be $47.50, I'll probably go through a quarter tank by the time I hit Cleveland.

Wednesday night I have another date with the kitchen table as I slave over a pile of eggs. I grind it out as the days of getting up early, driving, walking and tying sacs is taking a toll on me. I finally finish and hit the sack. The alarm blares as I stumble out of bed. This will probably be the last trip for my vacation, but I've said that before as the guys will twist my arm to go out. I'm surprised I haven't received calls from them about the fishing. The drive to Ashtabula is about 70 miles. I get to the river at first light and there's nobody there. The Bula as we call it is small compared to the other streams in Ohio. The river isn't stocked, but there's talk of eventually stocking. Back in heydays, Ashtabula was a thriving industrial community. It was common back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s to dump wastewater in the river. The result was decades of sludge that accumulated on the bottom. It became so bad that the EPA declared it an "area of concern" That's why the river was never a candidate to be stocked by the ODNR. There is news that in 2013, the lower section of the river will be dredged to remove contaminants.

I'm far upstream from the city. This section of the river is primarily shale and I know this section very well. I look for shadows in the water as that's where the ledges are. If it was clear all you see is a flat rock bottom with a few deep cuts. The number of fish here is significantly lower than Pennsylvania. I have no idea how many steelhead come upriver. I pick away at some fish, but it's a couple here and there. I have to really work the water, unlike the Elk where I can toss a float out and predict with great accuracy that a fish will hit. I plug away as I head downstream seeking out long pools and runs. It turns into a grind as there are a couple spots that don't give up fish. Ohio can humble the best of steelheaders. My back is aching as I stand in a run as all week I've been walking miles of water. My phone rings I see it's one of the guys. I answer and tell them it's a grind on the Bula. He asks if I'm going to Conneaut and I tell him doubtfully as it's getting late in the day and I'm tired. We do make plans to go out this weekend as I'm taking Friday off to rest.

I end the day and it's been a decent one. Friday will be spent sleeping in and relaxing. I fight through rush hour traffic and I see the yellow light come on telling me I'm low on fuel. I've driven a little over 600 miles this week and spent close to $200.00 in fuel. For a lot of the hardcore steelheaders, 600 miles is a drop in the bucket. I've probably driven thousands of miles during the season going to the far reaches of the Alley. I've probably dropped a couple thousand dollars in fuel in that time also. But, that's the price of pursuing my passion as money is no object. But this upcoming weekend, you can bet I'm leaving the driving to others. 

Turkey Day Fishing

Elk Creek, Pennsylvania

Steelhead Alley has its own version of Black Friday. Just like shoppers that cringe at the thought of people beating one another just to get the 3 laptop computers listed at $299.00 or freezing their ass off waiting in line for hours. The same can be said about the streams the day after Thanksgiving when everybody needs to escape from the in-laws or the kids. The streams are packed and this is the reason why I often skip the day after Turkey day and sleep in.

Since all of my family lives in Canada, I can stay out as long as I desire on Thanksgiving. During past turkey day outings, I've often thought about my fellow steelheaders trapped at home with their mother-in-law, going to different grocery stores looking for that certain brand of cranberry sauce or entertaining 10 kids. I'm sure all of them were wishing they were on the river. The mornings might be crowded as some get a pass to fish for a few hours. By noon, most rivers are vacant except for a few souls. It's refreshing to have an entire river to myself and after a long day, I was the last person to leave.

A couple days ago we received rain that bumped the streams up. I was more than happy because I'm off all of next week and the other bonus is both Ohio and Pennsylvania's deer hunting season starts Monday. Wednesday night I watched the flow gauge on the Elk start to creep up into that "it might blowout" zone. All of Ohio's streams were still too high to fish, so it was across the border we go. Since the others could only fish in the morning, we drove separately as I wanted to stay longer. The drive took longer than expected because the others weren't as lead footed as I was. The cruise was set at an annoying 65mph. I groused for a little bit that other people would be on the water by the time we got there.

Elk Creek steelhead

However, when we pulled in at first light, nobody was there. We walked down and the creek was dirty and somewhere in that murkiness, there might be a lot of fish. Usually in Pennsylvania when the water comes up, a boatload of fish will come in. The guys fished near the first access and I wandered a bit downstream. The spot I fished cut hard into the shale wall that ran about 50 yards. Off of the main current is where the fish usually hold. Sure enough, that's where they were. It wasn't deep, maybe 3' but deep enough to hide them. It was a mixed bag of fresh and older fish. Once in a while, I would look upstream to get the others attention to see if they wanted to move to new water. We gradually moved downstream and started banging fish in every spot.

As I've said in the past, nothing beats an uncured egg. There is something about an all natural egg. Curing eggs is an exact science. There's plenty of guys who swear to about their own personal cures. I heard all about the borax, brown sugar, anise oil and so on. There's one guy who I jokingly refer to Colonel Sanders because he has that secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices. His cured eggs work very well much to the chagrin of others. He would rather die than give up his secret recipe. I, on the other hand, am not the mad scientist type. Salmon eggs are hard to come by for me, so I'm not the type to experiment and hope that the latest batch works. Uncured eggs do have limitations. They don't last as long and you have to replace them after several drifts. The only cure I use is Flashcure. I've found out that uncured eggs can last about 5 days before they start becoming foul in odor. I simply put the sacs in a ziplock bag and sprinkle on some on. I simply shake the bag and throw them in the fridge.

Elk Creek steelhead

Today, my eggs are outfishing everybody. To the fish, they're little nuggets of crack. It was a hoot when I placed a fresh sac on the hook, cast out and watch the float go under. I watch the others floats go by and then I cast out and pop goes the float. Dave demands that I stop hoarding my eggs as it was the day of giving. I begrudgingly gave in and tossed him one sac. Sure enough, he hooked into a fish and I just chuckled as I handed him another. The pools and run give up plenty of fish. But the good times must come to an end. 

Around noon, the others had to leave and I wished them a Happy Thanksgiving. I see them head upstream and gradually disappear around the corner. I start to wander downstream and plug away. Nearly every spot, no matter how big or small, gives up fish. I look downstream there's not one person out. The only thing that keeps me company is a couple of chickadees, chattering above me. The number of fish continue to pile up as I'm well into the double digits. I've probably landed well over 50 fish, but I notice I'm down to 6 sacs in my last jar. I decided to fish one section of fast water running along the bank. The bubble line tells me where to cast. I use up the last of my sacs fairly quickly. 

I start the long walk back. By now, the guys are probably home enjoying time with their families. I do get a sense of sadness that I when I return home, it will leftovers in the fridge and I'll watch a football game. As I walk back, the creek is a very quiet place. That quiet will be replaced tomorrow by boisterous voices and sounds of boots over the rocks as anglers race to their favorite spots. As expected when I cross over, I see my Jeep and it's the only car left. I undress and quickly head up the hill. By the time I get home, it will be dark. 

As for tomorrow, the Elk will be the Alley's version of Black Friday. As for me, I'll be in bed getting some much needed sleep. 

Tale of Three Rivers

All of Steelhead Alley's streams are generally the same. All of them run over shale bedrock, have mud banks, gravel beds, have little to no groundwater sources, and most of them with the exception of the Grand become fishable within 3 to 4 days after rain. But, that's where the similarities stop. One river might get a monster run and others might get a wee one. That's the result of Lake Erie's steelhead not imprinting well enough on their river of stocking. The smolts are lucky to spend several weeks before being unceremoniously flushed into the lake after a high water event. As a rule of thumb, I generally fish farther east and as the season progresses, I start to make my way back west. Even though, I live in the western Cleveland suburb of Rocky River, I prefer the eastern rivers because they're scenic, more rural and tend to get more PA steelhead.

Friday, I fished solo as I decided to take a well deserved day off. Work has been slowing down and this is the time of the year when I start cashing in personal days. The plan was to fish far out east as I was scouting for others for the upcoming weekend. Arriving at first light, there were two cars and every time I've been there, I know where the people are going. Then another car with Ontario plates pulled in across the road and it was packed with guys. Lately, I've seen a lot of Canadians on the Alley and I hoped they didn't had a clue on where to go. But, I noticed a person jumping out of the car, fully dressed in gear walking briskly to the river. When I got down to the river, as expected he locked up the spot for them. Maybe he was a guide or something, but who cares, because I knew of spot that probably would fish better.

The river was slightly stained and had a nice flow. It was cold with temperatures in the 30s and that meant working the tailouts. I could see everybody at the spot downstream. I have a photogenic memory and I know the lower end of the river very well. I knew there was a shale ledge towards the tailout right below a willow tree hanging the over the spot. I started yanking fish out of that spot in no time. During my time at that spot, I would look downstream and see the group of anglers not doing a lot. Sooner or later they would start getting antsy and start heading up or down. I was hoping to they would head down. Then  one by one they started to come up. I tried to be coy as we exchanged greetings. I resumed fishing and looked over my shoulder and watched them walk up and around the corner. I continued to bang fish and eventually I cleaned the spot. The bottom of the pool was littered with a lot of sore jaws, so it was off to another spot. This section was a long sweeping pool. There were plenty of fish from top to bottom and like the last spot, it was polluted with skippers. I blew through sacs in no time and ran out around lunchtime. I should tied more last night, but I do hate the long and tedious task of tying them. On the way home, I gave two thumbs to the working stiffs that were anxiously waiting for Saturday morning.

The plan for Saturday was the same place. One person that tagged along was Michael from Germany who comes to Ohio on business twice a year. Micheal is an avid angler in his home country and when he was in the Cleveland area several years ago, he stumbled onto Erie Outfitters. He was interested about fishing for steelhead and the owner of the shop Craig helped him out. He asked one of his good friend who happens to be a fishing friend mine. Saturday morning we drove east and the game plan was to lock up one pool near a popular spot. Locking up a pool involved getting up fairly early. Conneaut on the weekend is a bustling place especially during the month of November. We arrive while it was still dark and we could several anglers gearing up. When they spotted our 3 vehicles pulling in, they dressed with a sense of urgency. I was surprised that they didn't grab all their gear and race to the 20 hole. I wasn't terribly worried because I mentioned they would hit the 20 hole. Sure enough, they were at the hole and they probably wouldn't budge an inch.

We moved up the spot that I was fishing yesterday and we staked our claim. We were spaced out accordingly and made sure that nobody would be able to squeeze in. The water had cleared considerably from yesterday. The fishing was slower, but we all caught fish. The was hot and cold and I suggested that we head to the other spot. As we walked out, there was about 20 cars scattered along the road. We pulled into the next spot and it wasn't hard to figure out what type of angler was fishing. There was a Prius, Subaru, and a Toyota Highlander. All of them were plastered with Patagonia and Trout Unlimited stickers. Foreign cars and high priced outfitters manufacturers logos are associated fly fishermen. Nearly every fly fishermen I know, drives a Sabaru Outback. Pinners on the other hand other usually drive a pick up or a beater Jeep like me. 

We hit some fish out of one hole and I could see two people fishing upstream. This was a spot I didn't fish the day before. The one angler greeted us and we started fishing, only hear the other angler way up start complaining about us fishing between them. We looked at each other puzzled. Ask anglers their definition of low holing and you'll get answers ranging from 10' to the entire length of a football field. This curmudgeonly loser was 50 yards upstream and he thought we were too close, I say Mr. Magoo needs to get his eyes checked. Of course, we could of been assholes and walked up started fishing in his hip pocket. His pissing and moaning session, thankfully was short lived. The morning crowd probably worked the hole over and we the left the miserable crank alone.  

Sunday we fished the Vermilion as Micheal was heading back to Columbus later in the afternoon and flying back to Germany on Monday. The Vermilion is the westernmost river that gets stocked in Ohio. I was ok with it because I getting tired of making the long drive out east was putting a hurting on my sleep and wallet. The Vermilion was 20 miles from my home in Rocky River. The lower section of the river is a mess as there's plenty of pools and holes littered with lumber. But the river does have plenty of deep holes that steelhead love to hide. But it has one major problem, it runs dirty. Years ago it never had that problem and nobody knows why. Some point at the runoff from agriculture as there's plenty of farms farther south. The Vermilion can be a river that runs hot or cold. Today it was running frigid cold as we hooked into 3 fish. We bounced from hole to hole and there's no action. When we returned to the cars, I was waffling on whether to go home or continue fishing. Mike on the other hand wanted to cram in as much fishing as possible. I don't blame him and I told him we could fish the Rocky, but it was going to have to play nice with others. However it was already pass noon, so most of the morning crowds was gone. But I still had some cards in my hand and knew where to find fish. I took Mike to several spots and we caught some fish. The only excitement was when we watched 4 female deer running across the rivers and then a large buck following briskly. Another buck wanting to cashing in tried to head off the other by crossing further down. I gave Mike some pointers for tomorrow and wished him luck and safe trip back home.

Three more days until vacation time.

Cattaraugus Creek

Every angler has a dream destination to catch their favorite fish. For me it's British Columbia's Skeena River and it's magnificent wild steelhead. I've often dreamed of fishing either the Kispiox, Babine or Buckley rivers, standing in the cold pristine waters looking up at the mountains cloaked in mist. Both my parents and sister live in that province, unfortunately it's a 700 mile drive from Vernon to the Skeena. So I had to settle for something a little closer to home and that was the Cattargarus or known by local steelheaders as the "Catt". Many years ago, I was suppose to go there, but high water made fishing all but impossible. For years, it sat on the back burner and I could never get anybody to go for a variety of reasons - work, rather fish the Rock or being denied by the wife.

This past weekend I finally made it there and it's another notch on the rod. The Catt is considered the jewel of Steelhead Alley as it's the largest steelhead tributary that runs into Lake Erie on the American side. Steelhead can run as far as Springville Dam, which is 34 miles from the lake. The lower end of the river is flat and wide and loaded with gravel. There are many deep pools and holes that will hold fish. This is the most popular section of the river and is considered a pinner's dream. But, nearly all of it runs through the Seneca Indian reservation and you need to purchase a special licence. The middle section runs through the Zoar Valley one of the deepest gorges in New York. It's a wild, scenic place full of wildlife, numerous waterfalls and old growth forests. If you want seclusion and are anti-social, then the Zoar's your place.

Several buddies went up several weeks ago as all of Ohio's streams were running low and clear. I received the call that the four of them nearly landed 30 fish. I course, I love to bust their chops and called bullshit. Kidding aside, I knew it was possible as the Catt was nearly unfishable this fall due to rain. Finally a break in the rain and it was enough time for the river to finally come down. Timing is the key, because when it blows out, it can take weeks for it come down. That's because it drains a huge area, a lot more than the Grand River. I've heard that some springs the river goes unfished because of the snow melt and rain. 

Earlier in the week, I talked with a friend about going. I was game and nothing was going to stop me from getting there. The river was at a perfect flow and I wanted to get away from Ohio as the fishing here has been pathetic. Hoping to get to bed early turned out to be another late night as I had a lot of things to do - tie sacs, watch the football game, and trying to purchase a licence online. I didn't hit the sack until almost midnight. With a little over three hours of sleep, I knew I was going to have my hands full with the drive out to New York and back. We left at 4:00A.M and it would be about a 3 hour drive. We finally got off the turnpike and the tripometer was over 170 miles if we drove another 40 miles we would be at the border. Not wanting to spend over $40.00 for a licence, we opted to fish outside of the reservation. The first place we stop was in the town of Gowanda. We parked practically next to the river and fished one spot the guys did well a couple weeks ago. The river had a chalky color and the visibility wasn't that great. Farther up there was a mix of bait and fly fishermen working one pool. I was pumped to hook into my first New York steelhead. The fishing was very slow as only one fish was caught. We fished several spots downstream and nothing was happening. This theme would be replayed over the day.........ugh

Due to limited time and not wanting to make the 3 hour drive back in the dark, we made the decision to fish the Zoar Valley. The Zoar wasn't very far from town, about 10 minutes south. We turned onto the road and the first thing I noticed a large sign greeting people by stating that nobody and I mean nobody will get any permission to hunt my property. To make his point clearer, nearly every tree along the road had a posted sign. We continued down the road and there were more signs and I wondered how much money this person spent on signs, probably thousands of dollars. I figure he would be the type of person to greet you with a shotgun pointed in your direction when knocking on the door. We dressed and started the descent down into the Zoar. When we finally made it down, I was awestruck at the height of the cliffs. These cliffs were 4 times the height of the ones on the upper Grand. The river itself was a mixture of blue and green colors. It mainly ran over shale as I could make out the ledges and cuts. It reminded me of a giant Ashtabula river with a lot of flow. Because there are limited gravel areas in the gorge streambed, fish push through it rather quickly. As a general rule, steelhead prefer to hold and rest over gravel, but there is fishable pocketwater and many shale ledges in the valley where fish pause temporarily on their upstream journey. The river was low enough that we figured some fish stopped to rest and waited for the next high water. 

Right off the trail, there was a pool that held a lot of promise. It was fairly long with large rocks. Along the river, it was littered with rocks and at times it made walking difficult. As I walked I knew both boots were spitting cleats. Upstream I could see the typical V shape of the cliff that announced where the main and south branch of river meet. Even though on the flow gauge the Catt was slightly under 300, it had a pretty good flow. For the insane whitewater kayaker, this section would be a blast at higher flows. As for a drift boat, I would be hesitant to use it through here, because the shale bottom and ledges and many large rocks were barely underwater. One wrong move and the boat would suffer a lot of damage. As for a pontoon boat, I wouldn't even dare use it. I could see the breaks and seams were fish could be holding. We started working the pool and nothing was happening. I moved downstream working the tailouts and still nothing. I surprised with the sheer number of rocks in the water, that I didn't snag bottom. The only action was when Dave hooked into a large fish only to have his  leader break due to a large rock. Dave mentioned that yesterday, a local angler told him the fishing was better downstream. We heeded the advice and started to walk down to the cliffs. 

We made it down and I looked up, the cliffs were incredibly high and steep. Several trees were precariously hanging on the edge. The cliffs themselves were chiseled and scarred by thousands of years of rain and runoff. The entire section along the cliffs were a pinner's delight - a long slow moving pool that eventually tailed out about 200 yards down. But before we fished the cliffs, we worked a pool below a large set of rapids. I finally hit my first fish of the day as I watched the float popped twice and go under. I set the hook and felt the rod throb hard. The fish hit at the tail end and then I noticed the leader was wrapped around it. The fish started to drift into the rapids that spilled into another large pool. As the fish tried to fight, I had to hold the rod high to prevent the leader from fraying on the rocks. By then the fish had unwrapped itself and was trying head back into deeper water. I guided the fish between two large rocks and managed to beach it. It was nice large hen and her bottom caudal was worn - a sign of a repeat spawner.

After that there wasn't a lot of action. Maybe there wasn't that many fish here. As we walked down, we could see two anglers fishing the lower end of the pool. Both were using spey rods. If there was a place to swing flies then they were in the right place. The river here wasn't that deep, maybe three feet deep, but it had a lot of places for fish to hold. We shuffled down stream, pulling off some Olympic distance drifts. But we had no takers and I was puzzled at the lack of action. The two people fishing told us they only caught one fish. It was a little after 12:00P.M and we had about a couple more hours before heading back. We tried another spot had promise - a long deep pool below the island. It was fairly deep over 6 feet deep, but nothing was biting. Due to high winds, there was a lot of leaves in the water and it made drifting at times difficult as the float would get lost in all of the litter. We had one more spot below the two branches of the river. We passed 3 other anglers and they had no luck either. We made it to the spot below the branches and it was a large shale ledge. The water here had a nice green tint and the low water above probably prevented any fish from making it over the series of stair cases. As with every other spot we didn't get a hit. I walked up to the south branch and it was barely flowing over the shale bedrock. It was almost 1:30 and we decided to call it a day.

The drive was brutal as I fought to stay awake. Only after filling up in Erie did the cold wind knock some sense into me and the steaming mug of coffee saved me from dozing off. Even though we didn't have the number of fish we hoped, I was very impressed with the Catt. It's a beautiful river and very challenging for either the pinner or fly fishermen. It's a long haul from Cleveland and if I was going to fish it again. I would purchase a reservation licence and spend a night at a hotel. If you have the time and money, I would add this place to your list.

Has The Internet Ruined Fishing?

Has the internet ruined the fishery? It's a subject that has riled up a lot of anglers here on the Alley. Personally, I think a lot of people are over reacting. Why? Any resourceful angler will find the necessary information, whether the internet existed or not. If it were to shut down tomorrow, I'll bet that most of the streams along the Alley would be full of anglers. If you asked them where they got their information from it would be from a bait shop, a buddy or they lived nearby a particular stream.

However, there's a small group of people that absolutely hate what the internet has done to the favorite fishery. Here is a sampling of what I generally see whenever a thread gets blown up

"I'm sick and tired of these losers asking to be spoon fed, get off your lazy asses and do your own leg work"

"I can't find solitude anymore"

"More and more property will get posted"

"I hate people that give out specific locations"

"Our fishery will be ruined by out of towners"

The internet has made fishing a lot easier for today's angler. All the information is available with the click of the mouse - state fishery departments, USGS flow data, weather channel, blogs, e-magazines, websites dedicated to steelhead and even Uncle John's webcams at his camp on the lower Elk. The majority of anglers still use fishing websites to find out what the pulse of the Alley is like. I never post a report on the two most popular sites for Lake Erie steelheaders - and, because I've been banned from both. I'll admit for shits and giggles, I loved to stir the pot and rattle the moderator's cages. Both have declined in membership over the years because of the constant bickering and accusations. That biggest complaints are spoon feeding and naming locations on the rivers. The haters will attempt chase off any newbie or out of towner that dares to ask the question "Are there any fish in the river?" or "Where can I go to catch them?"

If there's one thing the internet has created, it's the lazy inept steelheader. Instead of going out and learning from trail and error, they'll post question like "Are there any fish in the rivers?  or "Where are the best locations?" They'll start breaking out in a cold sweat Friday night and go into full panic mode when they get up Saturday morning and there are no reports. They come up with all of the excuses - can't risk wasting gas because they live a couple hours away and there isn't enough time to figure out where the fish are. I call bullshit because I go through a lot of gas in pursuit of steel. That's part of the game and I'm willing to shell out the dough.

I pretty well use the phone and the USGS flow data - that's all I need. I have the flow data down pat and know what's fishable. I've told people there always somewhere to fish on the alley any given day. Over the years I made a lot of contacts and those contacts are on speed dial. Every week we're on the phone with the latest information and in a lot of cases it's saved a day that could of been terrible.

The internet hasn't ruined the fishery because that cat was let out of the bag a long time ago. The main purpose of state agencies that stocks fish is to generate revenue for the state. Revenue from licences, lodging, food and gas all go into the state's coffer. Steelhead Alley has more steelhead per mile than any other streams in the lower 48 states, so word is bound to get out. Big numbers of fish equals big numbers of people. So don't panic when the latest person posts his latest outing and notice that 100 people viewed it because more than likely it's a bogus report to deflect pressure off his river heh heh

Bluebird Days

When rivers are low and clear, I often dread "bluebird days". Bluebird day is defined as clear blue skies, bright sun, and warm temperatures. For many, that's considered the ideal fishing weather. I, on the other hand, prefer dank grey skies, no sun and temperatures hovering just above freezing. Today, it was a bluebird day and I wasn't going to wish for awful weather. Weather on the Alley can be fickled at best and fishing time is precious. As I do most of the time, I'll deal with the conditions the best I can.

Daylight savings couldn't come at a better time. No more stumbling around in the dark and it's only 7:00 A.M and for this hopeless sleeper, an extra hour is what I need. I really didn't feel the need to get up early because the word out was the fishing has been terrible ever since the rivers came down. Not a lot of fish made it in and they're spread out. Many steelheaders used the beautiful weather to score points with the wife in regards to raking leaves and tossing the patio furniture in the shed.

It was first light when I was halfway out to the Grand, driving at a leisurely pace as I listened Rush's Exit Stage Left. This would be the second trip out to the upper stretches and I hoped it would be better than the previous one, but I wasn't holding my breath. I crossed over the covered bridge below the dam, the final stop for steelhead about 20 miles from the lake. I could see several anglers clustered around the bridge. I knew from past experience that the fish will move downstream whenever the water the gets lower.

Whenever the rivers are low and clear, I'll fish the Grand. The Grand was one of those rivers that never runs clear. It always has that murkiness to it. I know the river very well, but there are times that she doesn't want to reveal her secrets or her fish. The upper stretches are where I'm at home - the long shale cliffs, lazy flats, and the remoteness. As I pulled in to the back lot, there wasn't anybody fishing downstream. The large rock that I use as a gauge was halfway out of the water. That meant the river was low but perfect for wading as I had the plan to fish the 2 miles downstream. Unfortunately, I looked across to see a large drift boat being loaded. As for their destination? Hopefully, a lot further where I was planning on fishing. Even though the Grand is one of the largest steelhead rivers in Ohio, it's very shallow. With three people in the boat, I'm expecting them to bottom out a lot and the boat to take a beating. I try not to worry, but I don't linger about as I immediately hit the trail.

I immediately walked down to one of my favorite pools. The river is moving at a lazy pace. The water is tea stained and I can make out some rocks at the bottom. Even though it's early  November there are plenty leaves on the trees. I stand on the bank, watching the water swirl and move. I scan the pool on where to cast out. I watch the bubbles race around some of the rocks. I start the process of working the pool. It doesn't take long to get into the first fish of the morning. The float chugs along and quickly goes under. I set the hook and feel the line surge upstream. The fish darts about the pool, but I'm in control as it's not a large fish. I swing the fish over in the slack water and it's a male, bright in his fall colors.

I pop the hook out and fish quickly takes off as I wash my hands in the cool water. Upstream, I hear the banging of the boat as it goes over the riffles. The banging hull echoes all the way downstream. I can see the guide whince whenever the boat grinds over a rock. They eventually drift by me and we exchange greetings. Not once did he ask how the fishing was. I noticed that they had fly fishing gear, so that meant they would most likely past up the water along the cliffs. I had an idea where they were going to fish. I continue to work the pool and there were no more fish to be had. By now the boat was long gone.

I make it down to the cliffs and the sun is beaming down the waters. It's so bright now that I can practically see every rock without the aid of polarized sunglasses. I can make out the shale ledges and cuts. Those shadows are where steelhead like to hide. The river here was deep enough that the passing boat wouldn't spook any of the fish. I methodically work the pools and for my hard work, I manage to catch another small male. It turns into a grind and I start to hear all of the excuses in head

Not a lot fish came in

It's too bright out

The bite is off today 

I could continue downstream, but who knows where that boat stopped. It wouldn't make sense to walk down and bang away in the same spots these guys were fishing. Due to the size of the boat, I knew they would haul out at Hidden Valley Metropark which was 8 miles from where I was at. They were fishing a full day and wouldn't be at that spot because it was so close that Metropark. So I made the decision to make a move further downstream where I k

It was very odd not seeing people fishing during the first week of November - the prime month of steelheading on the Alley. Perhaps it was the weekend to rake leaves or do other yard work. But it most likely the negative reports of poor fishing was the reason for the lack of people out. I start to feel hot as the sun feels stronger. My fleece jacket is becoming a burden and I'm relieved to take it off when I get to the Jeep. I get back on the road and make the quick drive to Hogsback Ridge Metropark. I pull into the lot and there's plenty of cars. But, I suspect most of them are people hiking down to Mill Creek to see the waterfalls. I don't blame them as it's a beautiful day to get out and enjoy one of the last few remaining warm days before winter. I head down the trail and I see a couple of anglers walking up. Both of them had that grim look on their faces. The look of defeat and frustration. One them asked if I fished upstream and said yes but it was slow. We talk as they were both were not from here. They were picking my brain to see what their best options were. and I was hard pressed to give them any info that would help them. They were thankful and wished me luck.

I walk down the trail and there I see the feeder creek, it's barely trickling. In the spring, some fish go up to spawn. In some spots you can pratically jump across it. The water is crystal clear and I don't see any steelhead hiding under the lumber. I get to the river and I see one angler downstream by the cliffs. I start fishing at the mouth of the creek. The clear water of the creek mixes with the main river and the water here is much cleaner. I work the run and there's no takers. I look down and the other angler that was fishing is gone. I head down the pool is moving at a nice leisurely pace. The pool is long and sweeping and the bottom is scattered with rocks. I look at the time and it's almost noon. I've decided that this will be the last spot to fish. I squint as I look at water. The sun's rays sparkle off the water as I try to figure out where if any fish are holding. I work the pool until I finally throw in the towel. I use hunger and thrist as an excuse to call it a day. The wind is getting stronger as leaves start falling into the river. I look high above and see several people hanging by the fence on the cliff taking pictures.

I make the long walk back, huffing and puffing up the hill. I'm dragging my feet by the time I get to the lot. I'm fortunate that I was able to catch a couple of fish. I know that better days will come and vacation week starts after Thanksgiving. I stop to get lunch and wolf down the burger and fries. I call a couple of friends and tell them that the day was slow and they were better off getting yard work done. Lucky for me, I live in an apartment so there's no yard work for me. I finally get home, plop myself on the couch and take a nap. I had my fill of this bluebird day.

Fishing Solo

When I moved here 12 years ago from Alberta, I didn't know a soul here. Since I was an introvert, that made it even harder to connect with other people. My first few years on the Alley was mostly spent fishing alone. I didn't mind, because I wanted spend as much time as possible on the water. It was a unique fishery as I never fished this type of water. My first impression of the rivers was how on earth does this support any life? Most of the rivers here flowed over shale bedrock and the water was clear. It looked so sterile and it would be the last place for a steelhead to be. But these rivers did support a large number of them and I was eager to start learning.  

I decided to venture far from home. The river I would be fishing today, would be the Ashtabula. The Ashtabula is a river that isn't stocked by the state of Ohio. But the river does get quite of fish. It's the smallest of the Ohio's rivers in length and size. After a rain event or snow melt, it's the first river to be fishable.

It was a fairly chilly morning out as the temperature was hovering a few degrees above freezing. I wasn't in a hurry today as I arrived at first light. Walking down to the ravine I could see the signs of the first frost of the season. It was eerily quiet as the only sounds were my boots rustling the leaves on the ground. I could see the my breath as I looked to the horizon waiting for the first rays of sunlight. Looking down the water had that dark tea color and there's a smile on my face. Because that meant, I had a good chance of getting fish. 

As with every fall the trees litter the streams with leaves and in some spots the piles in the water can be measured in feet. As the leaves start to decompose, they release tannins and the water starts to get that dark tea color. Some steelheaders believe that tannic conditions can affect fish as it effects the PH level in the water. I started believing that as I fished several spots that hold a lot of fish when the water is lower. I plugged away working the deeper cuts and ledges. A few hours into the morning, I managed one small hen. The day before I got a report that the fishing was outstanding but that window of prime conditions closed Sunday morning. As the morning progress, I could see bottom in a lot of spots and that same spot we fished the week before and caught over 10 fish when the river was higher was visible right down to the bottom. I checked the time and it was almost ten and I knew I needed to make a move.

I drove over to the next river and it was in much better condition color wise but the flow was still strong. Usually when flows are strong, steelhead generally don't tend to hole up. Even though there was a lot of leaves in the water, it had more of a clay based stain, but the visibility was good. The first spot didn't produce and usually when nobody is there at eleven - the fishing sucked. I knew it was going to be one of those days of banging spots all the way up river. That was the case as I worked seams and tailouts and it was one or two fish here and there. I guess I was one of the lucky ones because a lot of people I talked to got shut out. As I drove back back home I stopped at Harpersfield dam to see what the Grand looked like. As expected it was high and unfishable, but I wondered how many fish made it up as last year it was dismal. Last season was the first time I didn't fish that section of the river because of very low numbers of fish. With no rain for the rest of the week, it looks like I might make a visit there this weekend.

Pennsylvania Steelheading and the Unexpected Phone Call

Pennsylvania's steelhead fishery is one of a kind. I liken it to some mad fishery biologist's experiment gone bad. Take over 1 million steelhead and dump them into small streams and ditches. The state stocks the lion share of steelhead into Lake Erie, while Ohio, Michigan, New York and Ontario throw in the rest. In 2008, the Pennsylvania fish and boat commission stock over 1.1 million steelhead into 11 tributaries. During that same year, Ohio stocked a little over 465,000 steelhead into 5 rivers. If you want big numbers of fish then Pennsylvania is your destination. If you absolutely hate crowds, I would give you about 5 minutes before you lose it.

Nearly all of Pennsylvania's streams are very small and all of them run over freestone shale much Ohio's. When ever there is rain or snow melt, the streams can blow out very quickly going from low and clear to a raging torrent. As with all flash floods, the water level can drop very quickly. The window for prime fishing conditions can be brief as within a couple of days, the streams will return to low and clear. Since the shale is light in appearance, darker fish stick out like a sore thumb and some of those fish have no choice but to seek out shelter. Some on the other hand are forced to stick it out and dodge the endless numbers of flies and bait drifted by them.

I had a full slate of work on Saturday because I lost 3 days to rain. I wasn't complaining since I was going to make a boat load of money. Later that day, I heard the Elk was on fire because of the stained conditions. When ever their creeks have a hint of mud in it, you be surprised at the low the number of people. Anglers in Pennsylvania love to sight fish. Personally, I can't stand it as I don't find it challenging. Saturday night the plan of action was to fish the Elk. The only concern I had was the river was dropping big time as the flow was at 7 on the gauge. That meant it was running gin clear, but nearly all of Ohio's streams were still too high to fish and I wasn't going to waste a day.

I heard that there were hardly any people out Saturday. Sunday it was the opposite as we rolled into the lot before first light. There were about 8 cars ahead of us and I knew it would be a busy day as the weather was beautiful, the creek was lower, and the Steelers were playing a late afternoon game - a perfect recipe for elbows and assholes. I noticed a lot of fellow Buckeyes were here because they had no where else to fish. As we crossed, I looked down and the water was very clear. We continued downstream to one spot that I knew would hold a lot of fish because it was the only deep hole in the entire section. It was first light and we started banging them on small sacs. Unfortunately the ruckus attracted a lot of attention as the vultures started to make their way to the pool. One guy fly fishing below started to inch over as he asked what they were hitting on, I told him small peach sacs. The hole wasn't that big but it was dark and somewhere in that darkness, fish huddled tight against the shale ledge. The fish were on the large size and most looked like they've been in the creek for some time. Dave had his hands full with a large fish, after hauling it in he held it up and it was a dark male with broad shoulders - a beautiful specimen. We worked the pool some more but by then they shut down and we left the others to fight over the scraps. As we walked I found the water too clear for my liking as I'm not terribly keen on fishing water that resembles the clarity of vodka. We decided to go upstream and we could see about 10 anglers clustered around the pool. I can imagine what the fish would be seeing - flies, boots, and hearing a lot of swearing.

As expected I started getting antsy because I can't stand crowded conditions. I watched people fishing water a foot deep and it was obvious there wasn't anything there. It just boggles my mind why people do that. I looked upstream and there were people everywhere and I couldn't take it anymore. I had to leave and we decided to jump back across to our yard. We drove farther downstream to see how many people were fishing. Nearly every available parking spot was taken and of course some of the dolts ignored the no parking signs on private property. Some people just love to learn the hard way.

As we drove over to Ohio, we stopped at one river and it was still too high. We continued on to the next stream and it was as a perfect as it gets - a nice tea stain with a mellow flow. Even though the small lot was full and a couple of cars parked off the road. We didn't see anybody and one of my favorite spots was vacant. This river has the same characteristics as a Pennsylvania stream - shale bottom with a lot of ledges and cuts. All we did was drift over the dark cuts and that's where the fish were holding. Over the years, I've seen plenty of anglers simply walk by these cuts and chutes because they believe the majority of fish are holding in deeper slowing moving pools. That might be true, but during the warmer months those spots are often pounded mercilessly by the morning crowd. Just in one large cut we managed to hook into over 10 fish. For us, Ohio saved the day and we wondered how our fellow Buckeyes were faring across the border. Satisfied with the results, we drove home and listened to the Browns laying a beating on the Seahawks, the score late in the 3rd quarter was 3-0.

What should of been a relaxing evening was cut short when I received a phone call as I was watching the Sunday night game. I answered to hear a women on the other end telling me that she found my wallet. I was caught off guard and had to ask twice. I checked my fleece jacket and there was no wallet. I groaned and it was almost 9:30 but I had to get my wallet as it had all of my important ID including my green card. To make matters worse the lady lived in North Kingsville which is outside of Conneaut. I wasn't in any condition to make the long drive there and back. I filled the coffee mug and drove as fast as I could. I arrived and my wallet was handed over. The first thing I noticed was both my driver licence and green card were missing. She told this was all she found as it was lying on the road near the top of the hill. I thanked her for finding it and making an effort to track me down.

It started making sense as I drove out. When I placed my jacket on the roof and removed it, my wallet fell out. When I drove out it flew off and everything fell out. I arrived and it was pitch dark as I parked off the road on top of the hill. It was chilly enough that the crickets could barely chirp. I took out my headlamp and started to scour the side of the road and ditch. I couldn't believe how the  lady could of seen it on the road as most people fly up and down it. I gradually walked down the hill painstakingly looking for a small black folder. I continued to look and then off to the side I found it - thank God! Because it would of been a major headache contacting the INS and going through the endless bureaucratic hassle of getting a new card. I also found my Ohio fishing licence and my state applicators licence. I mutter to myself how stupid I was to leave the zipper open, but I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I dodged a bullet. I got back into the Jeep and it was almost 11:30 and it would be another hour before I got home. I was beat and I had to refill the mug at a truck stop. Nothing like industrial strength truck stop coffee and I kept the window open as not to nod off. The last 20 miles were hard as I fought to stay awake, sticking my head out of the window as the blast of cold air reinvigorated my senses. I made it home and basically fell on the bed and I didn't move until the alarm when off at 7:00 starting yet another day.

Run for the Border

Last season nearly every steelheader did some type of rain dance, prayed at church, or secretly performed some type of sacrifice behind the woodshed. Unfortunately the fish gods would have none of it. Once in a while we got a sprinkle and we were thankful for that. This season, the opposite has happened -  rainfall by the buckets. So far to date, we've nearly broken the record for most precipitation in one year here in Northeastern Ohio. Since September, we've received rain nearly every week. The majority of steelheaders are not complaining and many will say bring more rain.

With heavy rainfall also meant a lot of days lost to rivers blowing out. That's where a PA license comes in handy. So far, my license has been paying dividends especially during the first time out. When Friday rolled around I could see another large green blob invading Ohio on the weather channel and the weather honks were calling for 80% chance of rain. The honks got it right as it started raining late Friday, as I watched the flow gauges creep up and finally spike into the "your fishing for the weekend is toast" category. I clicked on the Elk's flow and it was in the "go fish" zone.

Saturday morning I woke to see that almost all of the Ohio tribs out east had blown out. The only rivers that escaped the rain were the Rock and Vermilion. During the early fall, I'll avoid the Rock like the plague as it attracts some of the dumbest anglers in the area and the Vermilion is off my radar during the month of October. But when I checked the weather for Erie, I could see a large green blob parked over the lake. I hoped it would be light rain and the flow gauge was starting to crept up. That afternoon, I decided to go for a road trip out east. I often like to drive the rural roads where ever I go. One of my favorite drives are the country roads of Geauga and Ashtabula counties. The drive was much better as I replaced the shocks on the Jeep. Prior to that it had the handling characteristics of a boat riding on choppy water.

The fall colors were bright against the dull grey skies, the weather on the other hand was down right nasty - gusting cold winds and low clouds. I brought the camera along and snapped some pictures of old barns and farm houses around Amish country in Middlefield. Whenever, I'm there I'll stop at Middlefield cheese for their great Swiss cheeses. I drove north towards to the sleepy hamlet of Thompson as many wineries that found in that area. I crossed one feeder creek that ran into the Grand and it was ripping pretty good. After several hours of driving the roads, my stomach started talking and I stopped in Willoughby's historic downtown and eat at one of the many restaurants found along that section of the street. Dinner was bummer as I had a pulled chicken pizza. It should of been called the tossed lettuce pizza because chicken was far and few between.

 When I arrived home, I checked the flow for the Elk and as I expected it shot up to nearly 140 on the gauge. I wasn't too worried even though the Elk was a raging torrent it can drop 2 feet overnight so I was confident enough to tie some sacs for tomorrow's trip. I called Dave and he agreed that the Elk would fish and if it didn't we had other options to go to.

I woke at 4:30 and the Elk as I predicted dropped back down to respectable 30 on the gauge - a tad high, but great for goober size sacs. We made the drive out and arrived at first light. As expected there wasn't anybody around and we walked down to the creek. It was high and the visibility wasn't great, but it was fishable in my books. The only thing that concern me was the flow as I thought it was a little too strong for my liking, as the bottom here lacked a lot of structure. We fished breaks in the current and nothing was hitting. I walked down to fish some pocket water and stirred up a fish resting at a tailout. I watched four anglers walk down and mill about debating whether to stay or go. I could see the looks on their faces that drove a far distance and conditions were not what they expected. It probably didn't help that they had spinners and flatfish. We planned a move and I planted a stick in the water to see how far down it would drop if decided to come back later.

We drove farther down and the number of people was a lot lower than the previous time out. We were practically at the lake's doorstep and the water here was even more dirtier. Most of the angler were using lures and all of them were a little cranky that nothing was hitting. I could barely see pass my knees, however in Ohio, I fish this type of water all the time. We banged away and nothing was hitting. We figured maybe the lake was rough that the fish didn't push in as the crashing surf would of pounded them into patties. It was two hours in and no fish so I made the call to head up river, figuring the creek was a little cleaner. We pulled in the lot was almost empty, about 2 cars which for a Sunday is unheard of. The creek here was a lot cleaner, but had a slight stain to it.

Even though Pennsylvania stocks a gazillion fish, the fishing can be either boom or bust. As I mention before, many locals feel a 10 fish day is lousy, even pathetic. Today was a tough day in steelhead Shangri-La as we had to work for them. All of the fish we caught had been in the river for several weeks and I figured most of the fish were in the mid and high sections. Nothing was crammed like sardines in the pools and runs. We was two or three fish here and there and you had to pound the pavement so to speak if you wanted good numbers. We returned to the same spot that we fished at first light and the creek dropped about 4" in a period of 7 hours. Just shows you how fast Pennsylvania's streams can drop and in a couple of days all of them will be low and clear.

The Skunk


Every angler experiences it from time to time, the dreaded skunk. When we throw everything out in vain, we cover endless miles of water, and we look to the sky and curse in frustration. 

In my case, it was literal as I came upon a dead one lying in the water on the lower Conneaut. It was waterlogged and ripening. The smell was overwhelming. Which made me think, was he responsible for the all of the non-action downstream? It was morning and early in the steelhead season. I had pounded several holes and pools downstream without much success. The dead skunk should have been taken as an ominous sign that things might not be fine and dandy today. But, I'm a half glass full kind of angler. I looked at him one last time and wondered if any of the critters would have to the courage to feast on his filthy rotting corpse. 

The skunk happens when we less expect it. The conditions can be perfect. But, whatever reason, the fish won't bite. There's noting we can do. It can be maddening, because there's been times when I thought I would gotten skunked and I couldn't stop the fish from biting. But there are certain times when the skunk will rear its ugly head and that usually early in the season here along the Alley. 

It was unseasonably warm and the creek was running low and clear. I knew before heading out that my chances of getting skunked were good. The other option would to be sitting at home and doing nothing but thinking about the better days ahead. The Alley was experiencing a beautiful Indian summer. You couldn't ask for a nicer day. Most of the guys I knew would be out on the lake, getting in the last perch or walleye outing before the winter winds would usher in the end of the season. 

I walked down the train tracks and my boots kick up some dust, It's been another dry fall, but weeks before the stream blew and there were reports of fish moving in. Conneaut is practically on the state line with Pennsylvania and the creek does start in that state. Both states stock steelhead in it and Pennsylvania's fish are a fall run. That's why Conneaut is a popular stream early in the season. When I get the bridge, the stream is barely flowing. I see two angler watching their floats barely move. 

I don't even bother to fish above them, because most likely that spot has been pounded for weeks. Deep water was few and far between on the lower section. The only action I was getting was fighting off the repeated hit and run attacks of the resident creek chubs. I would watch with great disdain as the float popped up and down. It was wasn't that violent take that is often associated with steelhead. I would flick the float as if they were that annoying fly bothering me. When I reeled in the line, I would see the sac nibbled down to the last few eggs. By now that glass that was half full, is gradually getting a little more empty. In most spots, I can see right to the bottom. I'm starting to run out of deep holes and pools. It's almost late morning when I finish up at the last spot and the riffle above is barely registering a gurgle. I stand on one othe train trestle supports and look over at the shale ledge. It relatively dark and could possibly hide some fish. I work the spot and my gut tells me there probably isn't any in there or they've been caught repeatedly. The glass is empty and I'm resigned that today isn't going to be the day. I chug some water, hang my head and head back downstream.

We've all had our fair share of the skunk, even the most experience steelheaders have had those where they have nothing to show for. Lucky for me, my skunks are few and far between. On the way back, I see my old friend baking in the sun and not a single fly is hovering around him.