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.
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.
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.