Last night I was looking for boxes for Christmas presents in the basement. I started moving them around and I stumbled upon my old John Milner bushing reel. I purchased it from an Ebay auction about ten years and that was when pinning was starting to take off on the Alley, especially here in Ohio. I was as green as got when came to pinning. No videos or articles to help guide me. It was all trail and error and a lot of birds nests. But, I eventually mastered it. It was a well built reel, but I'm always getting the latest trends in steelheading. It was the Milner, then a Bob James and today a Kingpin. I sold the Bob James, but I could never part with the Milner. I knew John Milner only produced a handful of reels every year, but it had no serial number and I had no idea when it was made. It was tucked away but never forgotten.
I took the reel out of the box and spun it. It spun for a couple of minutes despite the lack of any lubricant. It still had the old Siglon line from five years ago. I took it upstairs and replaced the line. I put a couple of drops of sewing machine oil on the bushing and spun it. It was just as quiet as the bearing reel. I rigged the reel to my G Loomis rod and I was all set for the trip out east tomorrow. I sat back and watched the latest of the never ending bowl games. Tonight it the ever popular uh oh better get MAACO bowl game. Personally I think there is way too many bowl games and some of them have the dumbest names such as the Beef O'Brady or Tax Slayer bowl - seriously. But colleges are always looking to squeeze more cash out their student athletes. It actually turned out to be a thrilling game as Boise State beat Washington 28-26.
The Alley got it first taste of winter a couple days ago. It was suppose to be a major storm, but it didn't amount to anything but a light dusting here. As for the the snow belt I would find out in the morning. A cold chill greeted me as I walked out. The sky was clear and full of stars. Many of my fellow citizens were getting sleep, preparing for a day of last minute Christmas shopping and waiting for family members to arrive. Unfortunately due to work I wasn't able to get time off and it would of been to expensive to fly out to British Columbia with just days before the weekend.
When I crossed into Pennsylvania, the amount of snow was much greater. I got off the exit and drove south to the creek. It was first light when I pulled in and there was a couple cars. I watched all four of them head downstream and I immediately headed up. I walked along the creek and checked the temperature, it was 27F. There was ice along the stream and some slush in the water. The surrounding forest and cliffs were cloaked in fresh snow. The creek was running clear and the deeper water was emerald green. It was winter steelheading at its finest.
The best place to be was the monster pool farther up stream, but with nobody around I wasn't in an hurry. The water was probably in the mid 30s and that meant tailouts and slicks. With it being this late in the season and farther up river, nearly all of the fish were dark, post spawn and dropping back. Unlike the fresh fish of Ohio I caught before the last blowout, all of the Pennsylvania fish had a palette of charcoal, reds and whites. The highlight of the morning was the yuletide log that I hauled out of one hole. It was the lightest of takes as the float barely hesitated. It was truly a pig and just as fat as one. He was in his winter glory with the brightest of colors. I guess he also garnered a lot of attention as he about five flies stuck in him. I removed all of them and took a couple of quick pictures. I gently placed him in the frigid water and I watched slowly sulk off into the depths.
The frigid temperatures made fishing challenging as the line and guides constantly iced up. I remembered not to whack the rod in the water as I learnt my lesson from last winter. The fishing was mundane as best as I picked away at them. They weren't piled into the few holes but scattered through out. The sun slowly crept up through the trees and I started to feel the warmth. It was mid morning I had yet to see a person out which is a blessing on the Elk. I started the long trip back downstream and as I got closer to the access, I started to see people. Groups of the them were clustered around the holes I fished earlier in the morning. In the distance I could make out 8 cars and trucks. I could of made the trip downstream but instead I wanted to head to another stream. That stream was my little secret. It's a small gem that I get to rarely fish anymore.
I arrived to see not one person out. This stream practically runs over shale. The bottom is pockmarked full of small holes. Along those holes are the shale ledges. The ledges provide with little cover for the fish. It was partly cloudy and whenever the sun came out, the ledges could be seem very easily. I fired the float across and moved it into the heart of the hole. The float shot under and from a distance I could see the side of steelhead flash as it took the bait. Unlike Pennsylvania, the majority of fish caught here were fresh. Every little hole yield some fish.
It was three before I hit the road and I-90 was more busy for a Sunday. A lot of people travelling including fellow Canadians. I stopped for a coffee and took my time driving home. I was in no hurry as all of my Christmas shopping was done weeks ago. The couch was calling my name when I arrived home. I flopped down and put on the game. I covered myself in the blanket and quickly fell asleep. Tomorrow will be a slow day and I'm sure the boss will close shop by noon. That will give me some time to scout the Rock out for the annual Christmas outing with the boys.
Nothing beats having a river full of steelhead in your backyard. Then add living 10 minutes from work and it's the slow season. I call it being blessed when I can wet a line for a couple of hours and get into some nice fish. I still follow my I don't fish the Rock on the weekend decree. But after work especially during the winter can be great. The cold chased the morning crowds off hours ago and a full day of sunshine can bump the temperature up a couple of degrees. Just enough to get them to perk up when a fresh sac of salmon eggs drift by.
With the slow season, my work load has decreased to the point that I often leave work around three, plenty of time to wet a line. With the festive season around the corner, there has been times when I've gone home around two. I could of used the time to do chores or take a nap. Yeah right, this steelie junkie has fish to catch. I've heard through the grapevine that a decent number of fish have moved in. Despite it getting dark around five, I've had plenty of time to make the rounds at my favorite holes. Winter steelheading is around the corner.
Many steelheaders that fish the Alley are familiar with the PA mutts. Pennsylvania's steelhead are hodgepodge of different strains. Depending on the dominant strain, they'll run in the fall or spring. This is why Pennsylvania's fishery is popular or much maligned. Unlike, Ohio's sleek Manistee strain, Pennsylvania's will come in a assortment of shapes and sizes - a genetic mess. Case in point, the specimens I caught on the Elk. If they were football players they would be the nose tackle. Despite their hefty girth, they fought like champs.
Oddly, I rarely catch morbidly obese fish in Ohio. Instead they are sleek silver missiles. They often shoot out of the water and fight with reckless abandon. That's what the Manistees are known for and they pale in comparison to the Skamanias of Indiana. I've heard of their legendary fighting abilities and in some cases they'll literally fight to the death. The mutts instead will bulldog and never yield an inch. It's like trying to pull a log from the bottom. After releasing these chunky individuals I watched them quickly dart back into the hole to catch their breath and lie on the bottom for the reminder of the day. I guess we share something in common after a hard workout instead mine involves a couple of beers after a 4 mile run........
That's the question many are asking on the Alley - where the hell are the fish? In the 14 years I've been here, I've never seen numbers this low. I mean ridiculously low. It's almost like the steelhead have vanished or the population has crashed. Now I know what a steelheader in B.C feels like. With the exception of Pennsylvania, it been a struggle to find consistent number of fish here in Ohio. We've been spoiled like a group of rich kids. A skunk was so infrequent that it never crossed our mind. Double digit days were the norm. So far this year, it's been a case of practically kicking over every rock and log to find fish. Some anglers are probably seeking professional help on how to get their game back. We're thrilled to land two fish. Reality has sunk in for me as I know it will be one or two here and there. Like most, we're patiently waiting because we know the fish will eventually show up.
I believe that Hurricane Sandy is the major culprit for this woeful fall. The hurricane produced 15 to 20 foot waves, major lake surges and massive flooding. Any staging fish would of been battered and the end result is all of them seek refuge miles out in the lake. Fish have returned to staging but now the rivers are so low that very few are trickling in. Instead of fishing low, I've been fishing far up river in some cases nearly 20 miles from the lake.
What was the results of Turkey Day and the day after Ohio State went undefeated? A lot better than others. Both days I ventured out at an unheard of nine in the morning. Didn't have race to any holes or pools as a matter of fact I ran into three people - a guide and two clients. As for the guide, talk about pressure. I'm sure guides on the Alley were feeling the 800 pound skunk on their shoulders. People living outside the Alley are reluctant to fork over $3.40 for gas and drive a 100 mile to get skunked. Not many happy faces on the river but what can you do? Deal with it.
I used the opportunity to scout some new water on the Chagrin. Ever since the dam in Gates Mills collapsed a couple years ago, the fish have about 8 miles of new water to run up. I fished the South Chagrin reservation several times last season and caught a few fish, but it was nothing to write home about. This section of the Chagrin runs through a gorge with steep shale cliffs and a series of waterfalls before the river itself splits into the East branch and the Aurora branch. The scenery here is beautiful as there are stands of old growth stands of hemlock and high cliffs. The center piece of the reservation is a rock sculpture called "Squaw Rock" that was created by artist and blacksmith Henry Church in 1885. Unfortunately this section is not the best holding water as it shallow and shale bottom. Fish will more than likely blow through it on their way up past the metro park into private waters - bummer.
Well at least I can sleep in, go to Starbucks for coffee and drive leisurely to the river with no worries of some body being in spot. As for rain...........nevermind
The old saying of 10% of the anglers catch 90% of the fish. I truly believe that and the it's dedicated and most persistent steelheader that can still catch fish despite low numbers. Dealing with one of the worst fall runs in recent memory, has tested the patience of most anglers. That's been evident over the past couple of weeks as the number of anglers has dropped. Newbies have thrown in the towel and old timers are sick and tired of catching nothing out of their favorite holes. People can bitch all they want, there's nothing we can do about it. If your willing to put in the time and effort, you'll be rewarded but don't expect huge numbers. It was like that for me over the past few days on three rivers.
At times, I'm not the most patient angler. But when times are tougher, I'll start working a little harder. Instead of walking by marginal spots, I'll give it a shot. That's the problem with a lot of anglers, especially ones new to the game - they give up too easily. Parking yourself at one hole is a recipe for a skunk around your neck. You have to walk and fish hard. I fished the Conneaut hard and it was seven fish. The Grand was even tougher as it was four fish. The Chagrin was better as I almost hit double digits. The distance covered was measured in miles, sore knees and back, and my cleats were worn down to nubs. But it was it well worth it and I credit my success to the years of constant scouting and knowing the secrets of the Alley's streams.
There are many theories why the number of fish have been off. I have my usual suspects, but I don't have the answers. It's always been a cycle ever since I've lived here. One possible theory was the effects of Hurricane Sandy. The storm nearly dumped 8" of rain in some areas. The Grand went 8' over flood stage and she bulldozed runs and pools and filled in holes. I noticed the effects once the river came down. Trees were moved and gravel bars appeared out of nowhere. Under one bridge it was a wall of trees and logs stacked along the supports. With flows that strong, I seriously doubt that even the hardiest steelhead would have made the journey upstream.
It was first light when I arrived at the lower end of the Grand and the sky was filled with stars. The sun started creeping over the horizon filtering out the darkness. The temperature was 30F and the surrounding vegetation was covered in a layer of frost. The river was probably hovering around the 40F mark, that meant tailouts and bends. Earlier in the week we received more rain, just enough to bump it up. Many hoped that more fish would of moved in, but I had reservations. All of my hard work managed three fish from a tailout. All of them had been in the river for some time as they were in full winter colors. After those three, there wasn't a lot going on and several anglers I ran into were grousing about the lack of fish. I fished around the bridge and I was dismay at the sight of one my favorite spots turned into a babbling riffle. The pool below the bridge got washed out, as it was turned into one large riffle. I decided to give another spot downstream another chance, I hoped third time was a charm because the previous other times were dismal. A half mile later, it was one fish. That closed the books on the Grand and it was off to home to watch the Ohio State and Wisconsin game.
The Chagrin was a river that I yet to fish this season. From reports, I heard it too was greatly effected from the flooding. The chatter I got about the Chagrin were less than favorable, but than again it was like that every where else. Another chilly morning greeted me when I arrived and I didn't bother getting up early. I was the first to roll in and slowly took my time walking to the river. From the trail I could see the river was on the verge of low and clear. This part of the Chagrin is my favorite. It's far from the lower stretches that on the weekends are a zoo. It's more rural and it has a mixture of pools filled with lumber and long sweeping runs with gravel and sandy bottoms. It's very reminiscent of the streams found in Michigan. It was cold enough that ice started to build up on the guides. I was mindful not to start whacking the rod tip in the water as I broke it this past winter. The first fish of the morning was a hen that came from the tail end of small run. It was a small enough that it was probably the only fish in it. I had a lot of water to explore and next spot I found that the gravel got washed out. The flood deposited a gravel bar and it was funneling water through it. It was light enough that the tail end of the pool above had been filled in with gravel.
It was a theme as I found pool after pool was filled in with gravel and sand. Hopefully over time the current would start creating holes and deeper pools. The second fish came from a pool in the past that fish would stack themselves like cord wood. The depth was reduced by half and I could see the bottom. Not a lot of rocks or structure to give fish relief from the current. As I fished, I began to hear the chorus of coyotes starting to yelp and bark far off in the woods. Hard to believe, because a mile and half to the west, there's the hospital, large malls and one of the busiest streets in the Greater Cleveland area. My persistence was paying off as I picked away at fish and one spot held a decent number of them. It was several large trees stuck in the middle and their roots allowed the current to start gouging out a hole. It had the perfect depth and size and gradually tailed out. One fish turned out to be six fish including one hefty male. That male turned out to be the last fish of the day as I started working some of the same spots on the way back. I didn't see one person on the river, which is unheard of for a Sunday in November. I drove to two other sections and there so much as a nibble, but it was a valuable scouting trip.
I don't expect much to change in the upcoming weeks as we make the transition from fall to winter. The number of fish will still be low, but on the bright side the number of anglers will be a lot less. Time to swap out the cleats...........
Every anglers biggest annoyance - prime conditions and little to no fish. The stars and moon are aligned. The weather is beautiful, the water is spot on, a prior blowout, and wind coming out of the south, but there's hardly any fish. That what it was like this weekend - nothing but frustration on the Alley. We waited with anticipation as we were into the month of November, generally when Ohio's steelhead start migrating into the streams. I relished the thought of getting into fresh spunky steelhead.
Hurricane Sandy did a favor as the streams got the thorough roto rooter cleansing we needed. A couple of them - the Grand and Chagrin went well over flood stage. All of them were coming down just in time for the weekend. Wanting to give my wallet a break, I decided to fish closer to home. One river I wanted to hit was the Grand. It's been a while since I've wetted a line and the times I've fished it, it was barely flowing, clogged with leaves and very little fish. It was primed for action and you couldn't ask for better conditions. The plan of action was to fish high Saturday and low on Sunday.
The first stop was below one of the Grand's feeder creeks. As I got dressed, I watched three women jogging up the trail at first light. I was caught off guard to say the least. I started the long trek down the feeder creek and to the river. The Grand ole girl's flow was inviting and I crossed over to fish the monster pool below the mouth of the creek. I started at the head and wondered how many fish moved up. A half hour turned into an hour and I was still waiting for my first bite. By now, I was working the tailout and I was puzzled. Plan A turned into plan B and headed farther up river. I started a quarter mile below the dam and began to fish. It was the same result - nothing. I banged every hole, pocket water and pool for nearly a mile. The result was no fish, not even a nibble from a lowly chub. I muttered and cursed under my breath "Where the hell are the fish?". I combed the same spots on the way back and the same result - nothing. Of course the conspiracy theories started to pop in my head. If they weren't up high, they had to be down low. I hopped in the Jeep, grabbed some grub and drove downstream.
I traded rural for urban and fished one of my favorite places. To my dismay, the long run I loved to fish was reduced to a riffle. The high water filled in the run with rocks - bummer. As I walked up to the pool, there were three anglers fishing. All of them were posting a shut out. One of them told me he seen eight fish caught in the morning. That gave me a glimmer of hope but it was almost noon when I started. Magic eggs come on! It was time to think outside the box and I fished the bend because I figured nobody bothered. It turned out to the right call because it was fish on. A nice bright chunky male, the skunk was thrown off my neck. One turned into another fish, a dime chrome male. A absolutely beautiful specimen with a gun metal hue and bright white belly. I guess the fishing was terrible as I heard upstream some angler yelling out "It's about fucking time" Yes, it was fucking time to bail from this spot. On the drive to the next spot, I got on the horn and a pattern was revealed. The fishing on Conneaut blew, the V sucked ass, the Chagrin was shitty and so on. When I arrived the last spot had one car, oh boy. I gave it a shot and didn't bother to cross over. I fished off the bank and it was same pattern - casting over and over and over. It turned out to be a bust. What the hell was going on? Two fish? Oh well, there always tomorrow and I watched Alabama self destruct against Texas A&M - such much for your shot at another national title.
I gave the grim news to the boys yesterday and I figured I was going solo. I was already halfway out when the phone rang. It was them and I told them I was heading back to the same spot where I caught my two measly fish. I arrived at first light and walked down the trail with my coffee in hand. The trail the river was reduced to the width of a narrow mountain goat trial. One slip and its a mud bath. Well, I slipped went I jumped down and it was face first and spilled coffee. I slowly got up and brushed the mud off and cursed that all of my coffee was gone. Nothing changed water wise, but I hoped the fish changed their minds from being assholes to willing players. On the second drift I hooked into a fish - a small hen. From experience whenever I hook into fish that quickly, it's either the only one from spot or I'll start picking them off. It turned out be something in the middle as I picked one off - every hour. When the boys showed up I had two landed. With five of us, I wondered what the odds would be? I caught another and that was it. None of us could coax a fish into biting. We drove another spot and we all posted a shut out. Five experienced anglers in the month of November win one of the hottest spots and nothing! That's unheard on the Alley and a first for all of us.
It seemed either Hurricane Sandy flushed mostly all of the fish back into Lake Erie or the fish still dig the warm water of the lake, because numbers so far have been off this season - way off. In Pennsylvania, the locals are bitching that 20 fish in a pool is an unacceptable number and I'm sure letters are being written to the head of the fish and boat commission demanding that another million steelhead need to be dumped into the ditches immediately. I still think the lake is too warm and small number of fish moved in. The end result is fish are scattered through so much so, I've heard of guides floating 8 miles of the Grand and they landed one fish only. A lot of head scratching and questions why this weekend was so bad despite the great conditions. More rain is on the way and colder temps for the rest of the week. So we'll get another kick at the can.
Hurricane Sandy was heading for the Alley and I was lucky to get my fishing in before she unleashed her wrath. It was a night of rolling the dice as the Elk blew out the day before during the afternoon. The chance of rain for Sunday was 90% with most of it starting in the early afternoon. I tied some sacs early on and sat back to watched the Buckeyes beat down Penn State as they continued their quest for a perfect season. During the game, I would check the weather report, because we know how unpredictable hurricanes can be.
I woke up early, I checked the weather. There was a large green band of rain creeping northwest into Pennsylvania. I quickly checked the flow data for the Elk and it dropped down to 14 on the gauge. I knew a lot of people wouldn't make the drive out because of the threat of rain. Like I said before, I'll roll the dice when it comes to weather. Most of the time I win big, but there has been a couple of times where I see the stream is a little too high and dirty. I quickly loaded the Jeep and hit the road. It was still dark when I left but the roads were dry as I drove through Lake County. When I passed Ashtabula, it started to rain and it progressively got harder as I made my way east. It poured and the wipers struggled to wipe the water away. The window was going to shut quickly if the rain didn't stop. I got off the exit and headed south as I was fishing higher up as the creek generally runs cleaner here. It was first light when I pulled in and there wasn't a car. The creek was running a little higher and stained, but this is typical Ohio water that I'm used to fishing.
By now the rain has lessened and I would keep an eye on the flow gauge all morning. With the stronger current, I fished along the seams. The fish were not in a playful mood as I poked and probed the pools and holes. So far for the morning, I had 2 creek chubs which I never caught from the Elk before. I walked farther upstream to another spot and fished along the ledge. Even with stained conditions, finding ledges is easy because the shale bottom creates waves. Off the waves is where I fish and the first fish of the morning was a bright silver hen. I struggled to get into fish but the creek held steady so I knew I had all morning to fish. It continued to be a tough morning and I figured the approaching storm was throwing off the fish. I banged away and for the morning I had 6 fish. By now the rain had picked up and I was getting drenched. I looked at the gauge and the flow was starting to creep up. I checked the weather app and the radar showed a large dark green blob over western Pennsylvania. Being wet, cold, the bite was off and hunger were good enough reasons for me to bail. On the way, I ran into a couple of hardy souls braving the conditions. I got back to the Jeep there was a truck behind me. Usually on a Sunday there are cars and trucks parked all the way up the hill. I didn't linger and after getting lunch and a coffee, I headed home. On the way home the wind pushed the Jeep around and I knew we were in for one hell of a storm. When I arrived home, I checked the gauge and the Elk was blown out.
When I left for work on Monday, the wind was howling and I got pelted with rain. The rain never once let up and as the day progressed the wind got stronger and angrier. Sandy was at the doorstep and she was ready to huff and puff and blow the house down. I finished work around 4:00 and decided to drive to the lake. By then the Rock was blown out and I could see massive waves crashing over the breakwall down by the yacht club. I knew of a little park on the edge of the bluffs near the mouth of the river. I drove around the corner, I could see several cars parked. I was the only person to get out and the gusting wind pushed me around. It was probably gusting over 60mph and Lake Erie was rolling and raging as massive waves crashed into the shore. The wind was straight out of the north and there was nothing to stop it. I've never seen the lake so rough as many people stopped by to sate their curiosity. I started the video recorder on my phone and started filming. I had a difficult time holding the phone steady and several other people joined me to take pictures or film the action.
The weather honks said that the worse would happen around midnight. I sat back and watched the Monday night game as the wind roared outside and the trees swayed back and forth. Once in a while the lights would dim and flicker. While watching the game, I would change stations to see what the storm was doing. On the local station, they had a video of the waves crashing over I-90 near the E.55th power station. The waves and spray from the winds were too much for officials and they shut down westbound lanes. Many people drove down to the lake, to witness the wrath of the storm. Several times, I would see flashes of lighting through the curtains. I opened them and it wasn't lighting, but transformers arcing. The wind's intensity got stronger and stronger as I was waiting to hear one of the trees to snap and fall into the ravine. The ground was so saturated from all of the rain during the weekend that a night of gusting winds was enough to tear the roots out of the ground. The game turned out to be a blowout ( how ironic? ) and I looked out of the window to see the large oak by the carport being whipped into a frenzy by a tempest. I mutter to myself that it would be a matter of time before the lights went out. Once again, the lights started to flicker and I could hear the fridge's motor began to struggle. I was still looking outside when I watched a transformer in the distance explode. Orange sparks littered the sky and the lights went out. I was standing in total darkness. I was prepared as I had my headlamp close by and began to light candles in all of the rooms. It was 11:20 and I took a shower because I knew by morning, there would be no hot water. As for the power coming back on, who knew? I got into bed and listened to wind gust with ferocity, I set the alarm on the phone and drifted off to sleep.
The next morning I looked out of the window. It was first light and it raining and windy. The intensity of the wind had died down, but there was still gusts. I drove to work and there was hardly any cars on the road. All of the schools were canceled and I'm sure some businesses in the affected areas were closed as well. With the winds blowing over 40mph, there was no way for power crews to do any work. They had to wait it out. I was concerned because I was running on empty as I forgot to fill up the yesterday. On the way in, the radio reports confirmed that the west side and along the lakeshore got hammered. In total, over 140,000 homes and businesses were in the dark. I was lucky to see to the gas station off the exit to work was open and I promptly pulled in to fill up. I arrived at work and noticed the ladies up front calling customers to see if they had any power. About half of them had to canceled appointments. It was a light day as I toured along the east side. Many streets were littered with branches and the occasional downed tree with a police officer blocking the street. I drove by the Chagrin and it was above its banks and with the rain still coming down, it was more than likely it would go beyond flood stage.
After a short day on the job, I stopped by to pick up some dinner. Finding food was a difficult task as both grocery stores were closed and I eventually settled for fast food. I returned to my apartment and walked into a darkened building. It was eerie as everybody else left to stay friends or family who had power. My footsteps echoed along the hallway. I lighted several candles and sat at the table. I watched the candles flicker and I listen to rain pelting the window. This would the first night with no power. All day I didn't see one crew on the road. There was no heat and the apartment was at 55F. The only thing link I had with the outside world was my iPhone. I emailed my parents back in Western Canada and told them everything was all right and I lost power. That evening was spent reading a book in bed. I checked the flow gauge and both the Grand and Chagrin were above flood stage and the Rock wasn't too far behind. The pelting rain eventually put me to sleep as I slept comfortably under layers of blankets.
It was Wednesday and the 2nd day without power and I started to wonder how long I would be. Inside my freezer were my season supply of salmon eggs and when the power went out, I had about 48 hours before I had to do something like get dry ice or move to them to a working freezer. It was another slow day and the news reported that power companies from surrounding states were heading to Cleveland to help assist restoring power. I finished work early and as I drove down my street I noticed some lights were on. In the distance, I could see Joe's Deli was open and it brought a smile to my face. I walk in the apartment building and the hallway light. I opened the door and the furnace was roaring, the TV was on and I checked the freezer. All of the food and eggs were fine, but I had to toss the eggs, bacon, milk and lunch meat out. I headed down to Joe's to get dinner and the lobby was full. From what I heard the power was restored in the morning and fortunately I was one of the lucky ones. Many people in the lobby were there because they still had no power and they had no idea when it would come back. Communities such as Bay Village, Rocky River, Lakewood, Fairview Park and Westlake were hit the hardest. According to reports most of the power would be back by the end of the weekend.
As for the streams, they got blown out big time. In a way, it was a much needed as all of the leaves and summer silt were flushed out. Many on the Alley were chomping at the bit because many felt that was the blowout to bring in the motherload of fish. I was one of those curious to see but I knew I wouldn't be the only one. With all of Ohio's streams high and muddy, the only option was Pennsylvania. Saturday was still slightly high but I heard the Elk was a bustling place. Sunday would probably worse as the water levels would be lower and the Steelers were playing a late afternoon game. If the Elk was too crowded, I had the option to skip over to the Ashtabula. When I arrived around 6:45 there were cars parked halfway up the hill. I shrugged it off, dressed and made my way down the hill. The creek was primed as I could make out shale ledges and holes. Upstream the most popular spots were occupied and I kept walking.
The previous week I noticed a tree had fallen over and across a nice hole. The high water had pushed the tree over and opened the hole. As I walked up I watched 3 anglers pass it up because they probably felt the tree was a barrier. I crossed over and it was a typical Elk creek hole - no more than 20' long and a couple feet deep. But that was even to hide a lot of fish and it was off to the races. The first drift and I hooked into a chrome hen. Then it was fish after fish after. But it caught a lot of attention from anglers wandering upstream. I often dub these anglers as vultures. They slowly scan the creek looking for action. They can be either an experienced or a novice. They often across as friendly but I know what they're looking for - fish and to squeeze me out. Three guys watched me hooked into seven fish quickly I knew their intentions. They fished the opposite side and it was futile as the tree on my side as the top branches blocked their casts. It was a difficult spot to fly fish because of that and the trees above. I continue to hook into fish after fish considering I was fishing a spot no larger than 20'. They looked frustrated because they weren't hooking into fish. Eventually, I cleaned out the spot and moved upstream. As I walked upstream the flock of vultures quickly occupied the spot I was fishing.
The next spot I could see several anglers packing up and leaving. This section is considered one of the largest pools on the Elk. It runs 100' along with a large shale cliff and fish hold along the ledge. I didn't have my glasses with me and I really didn't need them. It's a difficult spot to fly fish because anglers would be waist deep and try to fire line 40' across with the current running amok makes mending the line a chore. I started at the head of the pool and noticed a large piece of shale sticking out the water. Picked off 2 fish from that spot. Despite the crowded conditions I never once seen a person fishing where I was. Several anglers walked by without even considering fishing it. I gradually shuffled down and the bite turned off. The weather for the day was cold, overcast and at times snow flakes appeared. The water was chilly and I had this feeling the fish might be down at the tailout. A fish rolled downstream and that was enough to get me there. I walked above the riffle and farther out from the rocks, the water gradually became murkier. From memory, this was a go to spot in the winter as fish will cram into that hole. In total, I caught eight fish all bright silver.
After cleaning that hole out it was only 11:00 A.M and I wanted to fish farther downstream. Around the corner, I could see a line of anglers and all of them were properly spaced out. Not a lot of action and another crew was fishing the hole I did well in the morning. I picked off a couple of fish in the skinny water as I gunned and runned downstream. As I continued to walk I could see 10 anglers all clustered in one spot. All of them had sour looks on their faces. That's typical on the Elk as a few do very well and a lot go home skunked. I reached the fly shop and the number of cars on the hill didn't change and some anglers at the campsite were preparing lunch. In the five hours of fishing, the creek dropped and it became clearer. By tomorrow it would go back to low and clear. The number of anglers dropped considerably as I didn't see a lot of people. The number was low enough that I passed up a couple of spots to get down to the bigger holes. There were a father and son fishing and way downstream three other anglers were fishing a pool. I slide down below and patiently waited for them to leave. Luckily they gave up and I watched them walk up and around the bend. Fish can be had on the Elk, even in the afternoon when many believe the fish were hammered all morning. I picked off 6 fish from that hole and I looked at the time, it was almost 1:00 and I were down to a dozen sacs. On the way down there was a small run that I knew held fish and it was a spot I passed over. The father and son were fishing the small shale cliff. Once again I slipped below and on the first drift it was fish on. It turned out to be a decent spot as I caught four more fish. The father yelled out what colors I was using and I told him pink and chartreuse. By then I was down to two sacs, my back was sore and stomach grumbling. The father and son were using trout beads and told me they didn't get so much a nibble. I felt bad for them as they made the drive from Pittsburgh. But, I've had those days too when nothing goes my way. I was fortunate to have a banner day I was over 20 fish for the day. The eggs and my knowledge of the creek made it possible.
As for Ohio, were still a long time before anything becomes fishable. I'm sure both the Grand and Chagrin will look different due to the extremely high water. It looks like they fish for the upcoming weekend and all of us will be ready to get our fish on.
I've been blogging my fishing adventures since 2007 and I often find myself going back to see what happened over the years. Last week, I was reading about the first trip to Elk Creek that took place on the first weekend of October of last year. The year before was one of the worst seasons I've experienced since moving to the Alley. Lousy weather and even more lousy returns. We put that horrible season behind us and hoped it was nothing more than an aberration. With fingers crossed and looking to the sky, the gods took pity of us mortals. Last season early on we were blessed with enough rain that kept the rivers at prime levels and fish moving in all of that autumn. We received our first cold weather and the Elk blew out the day before. The conditions were primed and it was a go. Armed with jars of fresh Michigan king salmon eggs, we planned our assault. It turned out to be a banner day and the Alley was rejuvenated. We had one of the warmest winters on record and that meant fishing all season - uninterrupted.
Fast forward and so far the season was been an difficult one due to the lack of rain. Small numbers of fish have pushed in but we've have been patiently waiting. I've gone out several times had decent numbers of fish, but I knew the best was yet to come. Saturday the Elk blew out and I knew the window was opening for some prime action. I spent tying up sacs and getting the gear prepared for tomorrow's trip. Ohio State was playing a night game and I meet some friends at the local watering hole. The place was packed but we were able to secure a table in front of a big screen. The beer quickly came and I was famished. The first thing that popped out on the menu was the porky mac-n-cheese. The waitress brought out a huge bowl of penne, onions, pork, crispy pork bellies and all of it was smothered in three cheese sauce. It was that comfort food that sticks to your ribs. It was delicious and it hit the spot, Nothing better then comfort food, beer and a great football game. The Buckeyes smack the Cornhuskers around and I was slightly buzzed. We hung around after the game and it was a little after midnight. This hardcore steelheader wanted to stay longer but he needed to squeeze in some sleep before waking in a few hours.
I was jolted out of a deep sleep when the alarm blared. I rolled over and squinted at the clock, it was 5:00A.M, I was lucky if I got four hours of sleep. I crawled out of bed and my feet touched the hardwood floors. It sent a chill up my spine and I shuffled towards the closest. I fumbled through it looking for my fishing clothes and dressed in the dark. I was still half asleep when I got the coffee maker brewing and frying pan was popping and sizzling some eggs and bacon. As breakfast was cooking, I peeked out the window and noticed the pavement was wet. The day before the weather honks said the rain was out of the area and there was a 20% chance of it for Sunday. I hit the road with a hot mug of coffee and I listened to Rory Gallagher's fine playing in the background. As I made my way through Cleveland and the eastern suburbs, it started to rain. I checked the weather app on my phone and there was nothing on the radar, so I figured it wasn't enough precipitation for the radar to pick up. As I continued east, the rain became more steady and once again I checked the weather app and nothing on the radar. I was puzzled that nothing was showing and I hoped they were isolated, because I didn't bring my fishing jacket. All I was wearing was an Under Armour long sleeve shirt, sweat shirt and a fleece jacket - not the best clothing for an all day soaker. It rained off and on and when I hit Pennsylvania the rain became more steady. I checked the flow gauge and the Elk was flowing at 3.5 which as prime as you want it. The day before Uncle John's webcam showed the Elk running the same consistence as my coffee - heavy with cream.
I pulled in and it was raining harder, by then it was first light and the clouds were very low and not in hurry to move through. By then I didn't bother checking the phone because it didn't matter, it was going to either rain or not. But it didn't matter because the spot I was fishing was the tubes and if the weather got worse, I could seek refuge deep within the tunnel and stay dry. I walked down the hill as I could hear the rain hitting the trees above. I looked down the trail and I could see 4 people fishing mostly in the faster water. If my memory serves me correct, we struggled to get into fish early on the previous year. I fished along the wall and beat it like a dead horse - nothing. My fleece jacket was hold up against the light rain and I hoped it stayed that way all day. My gut told me to venture into the tubes. I finally made my way in and the cracking of my cleats against the concrete echoed loudly up and through the tunnel. Last year we yanked fish left and right and it was a conga line as we walked our catches down and around to the shallow water to release them. In told, we probably caught about 50 fish. At first I hit nothing and started making some adjustments. Periodically, I would look downstream and see nobody was really hooking up. Farther up I heard a fish roll in the dark. I finally hit pay dirt and as I walked around the corner Dave showed up. Talk about perfect timing and I asked him is he brought some of his mojo. The fish were inside the tunnel and the both us had a great time. But good times must come to an end as we cleaned out the spot and I had to venture out into the rain.
We walked downstream it was fish after fish out of every hole. It continued to rain but it didn't seem to effect the creek at all. It was a typical Elk Creek day when the water is dirty as we hit into double digits. A lot feisty fresh chrome that kept me on my toes and by then my hat was completely soaked as was my jacket. There was no way I was coming off the creek - never. I could be dripping wet and shivering and I would of tough it out. That's the sign of a hardcore steelheader. After a while both me and Dave went seperate ways as he was getting ready to head home. I drove farther upstream to another spot that had several deep holes along the shale ledges. It was early afternoon and I noticed nobody was fishing. When a hot spot is vacant on the Elk, the morning crews have usually worked the holes over. But, sometimes the bite might be off in the morning or fish moved in later in the day. It turned out that nothing was biting and it was good timing. It was like the floodgates were opened from above and the deluge commenced. That was enough for me as I started the long walk back. Walking along the trail I got pelted and sloughed through the mud. When I finally made it back, I felt a sense of relief as I started remove my jacket and shirt. Luckily, I always bring along fresh shirts, pants and socks. My lucky Leafs hat was placed on the floor mat to dry as I started to make my way back to Ohio. On the way home, I stopped by for some hot chili and coffee and that hit the spot.
I found it ironic that I had the same results from almost a year ago. Fished the same spots, the creek was running dirty and the only thing different was the rain. It will be interesting to see what next year has in store for me.
There have been times, when I get that feeling of giving up when fishing. When I'm not hooking into fish, I'll start ringing off the excuses - low or high water, the time of the season, my eggs, my lack of patience and so on. But at times, I get that nagging feeling, if I leave I might miss out something great. In the past, I've been burned when I'm speed fishing. Speed fishing is when I set a certain amount of time on one spot. Once I've reached that allotted time, I go to the next spot. I do this when my time is limited. It isn't the most effective way to fish as some times it pays in huge dividends and other times I struck out.
Today it was like that when I fished the lower Grand. The day before the other guys did well on the lower Rock. I passed up the opportunity to get in some much needed sleep as I was worked a very long week. Today, I would be fishing solo and I wonder how the Grand had been fishing. I didn't hear much chatter and nobody I knew had fished it yet. I arrived at first light and to my surprise, I was the first person there. When I reached the river, it was running low but the water was stained. The river looked the same when I lasted fished it back in July for catfish. I crossed over and started fishing the head of the pool. The flow was lethargic and the banks reeked of something rotten. The bottom was very silty as clouds of it swirled up as I walked. The river definitely needs a good thorough blowout. I had the float adjusted to about 3' and I watched struggled as I knew it was dragging bottom. I made some adjustments and resumed fishing. I pretty well half assed it all the way down because I figured the fish would be in the deeper hole around the bend. I finally reached the hole and there was some flow albeit slow. I worked the hole and the only things interesting were 3 juvenile bald eagles chasing each other along the river and several deer watching me do a lot of nothing. Speaking of nothing, I didn't see one fish roll. In the distance, I could hear thunder off over the lake. The black clouds loomed closer and closer. I took my phone and checked the radar and it was going to miss us. This section generally holds new arrivals from the lake, but a little over an hour, I had nothing. It was time to take a leak, when I walked to the shore and when I looked down, I could see some scraps of blue spawn sac netting on the rocks. I chuckled as it was my netting I used back during the summer to tie chicken livers. Despite some of the rain we received, it never got high enough to wash it away.
The hole was a lost cause and I made my way back up. I started doubting that if there was any fish present. I looked up and there was still nobody. Maybe the locals knew something that I didn't know. I pounded away working the pool and I was getting frustrated. The only thing I could hear were bass chasing minnows. I was getting ready to throw in the towel when I was back at the head of the pool. I gave myself 15 minutes and that was it. I tossed the float out and watched it go downstream. Bored, I yawned several times and continue to watch it when it shot under suddenly. I quickly set the hook and felt the fish charge downstream. I knew this was a very large one. It peeled off line at lighting fast speed. I kept the rod high and gingerly applied pressure. I watched the water boil and I could out make out a very large fin coming out the water. Several times the fish charged back out in the middle and I started to gain the upper hand. Luckily, I was using a 3X tippet so I was able to muscle it in as fast as I could. Being mindful that the water temperature was still at the upper threshold for these fish. It turned out to be a massive hen, thick and fresh - a titan. She already sported a hefty gut. Her tail was so thick, I could barely get my hand around it. I whipped out my phone and took a couple of quick pictures. I popped the hook out and quickly placed her in the water. I gently moved her back and forth and I started to feel her regain strength. Finally, she surged forward and bolted back out to the river. I figured she must of weight close to 15 pounds and if she survived to next spring, I'd bet she would tip the scales at 18 pounds.
When I was fighting her, I watched another fish roll further up. It started to make sense as the head of the pool had the fastest current. I casted out and quickly mend the line. The float started down along the seam when the float shot under and the water erupted. A small male flew out of the water and ran downstream. It was a fairly quick and intense fight as I was able to pop the hook out without beaching him. Shortly after that, I hooked into another male that aggressively hit a pink sac. After that it pretty well shut down once the sun came out.
I almost passed up that last spot to head to another one and I was glad I gave it another kick at the can, because who knows if I would caught fish at the next spot. By then it was almost noon and I watched two anglers head upstream. I drove further upstream and fished a long run that spilled into a wide pool. I worked it for about an hour and my stomach talked me into to leaving. I wasn't disappointed with my outing as it can be hit or miss and it was nice to end the month. All of the rivers are woefully low and we need at least several heavy rain falls to replenish the ground, because the ground basically soaks up any available water before it has a chance to run off. As the weather gets cooler, generally we start to see more wet weather and hopefully October turns out to be like last year - outstanding.
Every few years I start to upgrade my fishing gear as I like to keep up with current trends. Several years ago, I bought a Kingpin Series 2 reel to replace my Bob James and Milner reels. My series 2 has logged a lot of miles and brought in a ton of fish. I truly loved the reel and recommended it to other steelheaders. While I was cleaning it last night, I noticed a lot of nicks and scratches. Despite my rough treatment, the reel performed flawless in all of the conditions whether it was heat, cold, being dropped on rocks or in the water. It was a beautiful piece of engineering as the British are known for.
I drove over to Erie Outfitters and purchased my latest reel - the Kingpin Imperial 475. Several friends of mine had purchased the reel towards the end of the season and they loved them. The Imperial is the 2nd generation and the only differences are the knurled front spindle bolt as opposed to the slotted one and the clicker is positioned slightly higher and is more beefier. There were plenty of color schemes to choose from and of course I selected the purple with the black backing plate.
When I got home, I held both reels and found the Imperial was lighter due to the fact it has more ported holes and a thinner profile. The Imperial weights in at 9.1oz while the Series 2 is slightly heavier at 9.96oz. Both were the same diameter, but I noticed the Imperial is more refined looking. Like its predecessor, the Imperial has ABEC 5 bearings and is machined from high quality aluminium bar stock. The reel spinned so effortlessly and there was barely any noise.
I place the reel on my 13' Loomis and noticed due to the lighter weight, I had to position it farther down on the handle in order to properly balance it. Generally, I prefer more handle as I like to tuck it between my elbow and ribs when fishing, so I might have to look into adding some more weight at the bottom. Looking forward to breaking in the new reel in the couple of weeks as some steelhead will start showing around the lower sections of the rivers.
So far its been a hot and dry summer and I predicted that way back after the season was over, as we had record precipation during the winter and spring. The Alley's is bone dry and the streams have been running on empty all summer. Any rain that fell has been quickly absorbed by the parched ground. During my after work runs in the metro park, the Rock struggles to flow. In the remaining pools, carp, bass and panfish have to make use of any cover available. Most of the fish seem to aimlessly swim around or are content to hide under the trees and logs just out of reach of the bucket crowd.
Usually whenever the streams are that low, I'll head to the Grand for some catfish. The night before I stopped at Hienens - a local grocers that caters to the more affluent crowd and what better place to get my chicken livers from. I tied chunks of livers using spawn sac netting and I made sure they were quarter size. The kitchen table became a bloody mess as my fingers were covered in blood. I stuff a jar full of them and placed them in the fridge. The remaining liver I had leftover was left it out to stew in the heat as that was my chum.
Today was no different when I woke early to see a high blue sky. I was groggy due to the fact I have been sleeping in the living room to stay cool. Sleep is hard to come by as my AC roars like a jet engine, but I'll take the deafening roar over a bedroom that feels like a sauna. It wasn't your typical catfishing day, it was a bright and the temperature at 8:30A.M was already in the 70s and sweltering. When I got the river it was barely flowing. Upstream, large rocks and boulders were scattered everywhere. I crossed over at a spot that during the steelhead season that goes over my crotch. Today, it barely reached my knees. It's been so dry that killdeers have nested and successful raised young on the rocks without any thought that one hard rain would wash their precious eggs or young away. I reached a large pool that is one of most popular spot for steelheaders. There was practically no flow but the water was stained.
If there was a place for catfish this was the place as everywhere else was barely 2 or 3 feet deep. It didn't take long for those livers to work as the float started popping. It kept popping and that usually means - dinks. All anglers know what dinks mean - lousy fishing. I hauled in one dink after another, nearly all of them were a little over the 12" mark. I guess pickings are slim at the bottom of the pool, because they had a voracious appetite or perhaps it was the organic non-caged chicken livers. I kept plugging away until finally the size of fish started to get larger. I guess the scent of the chum was starting to stir some of the bigger fish. Instead of the teasing taps, the float was dragged under with convincing fashion. The larger cats do give a nice fight and there have been times when I thought I hooked into a nice steelhead turned out to be a monster cat. The largest one I caught to date was one that tipped the scale at 20lbs about five years ago at the LaDue reservior. It was a battle of attrition for nearly 20 minutes as I finally won out.
The sun however was slowly burning me as the sweat started to bead and roll down my back. The cooler full of beer in the Jeep was beckoning me. I yanked quite a few cats from that hole but I wanted to head farther upstream. On the way back I waded out to the long run that I frequently fish. I was halfway out and I could see the bottom littered with rocks, the perfect holding place for steelhead. Hard to believe that just two months ago this river had a decent number of steelhead in it.
I got back to the Jeep and I was parched. Nothing hits a parched throat than a ice cold beer. In the cooler were Brooklyn lager, one of my favorite lagers. I chugged it down and felt the dryness go away immediately. It was absolutely refreshing. I hopped in the Jeep drove to another spot up river. This was another favorite steelhead pool and the volume was half what it should be. I could make out the school of carp swimming along the logs as their golden scales gave away their presence. But I had no corn or doughballs for them. The downed trees on the opposite side would give a cat some shelter. It was more shallow so I figured there wasn't a lot of room and larger cats tend to be anti social. But now it was nearly 90F and the humidity was thick. If I caught one fish I would call it a day since I've been in the sun for almost five hours. Sure enough I was able to coax a cat out of the lumber. I managed to pull it in and noticed its caudal fin was a ragged mess. It was practically non existent and in tatters. Despite its lack of caudal fin the fish swam off in snake like fashion.
Satisfied with the day's outing I made the drive home back west. Before leaving I had another beer and was plenty for tonight. I do hope this dry spell doesn't extend into fall as in past years we experienced drought like conditions well into October. Last September and October we received a lot of rain that kept the rivers up and allow some steelhead to make their way in much early. I looking forward to those days again.
During the summer months I'm stuck on the land. I don't have a boat and quite honestly, I wouldn't want one because of let's face it boats are a money pit, that's what most of the guys I know constantly say about them. To pass the time while I wait for the eventual return of steelhead. But the wait can be a long one. So instead of sitting at home wishing for the change of seasons, I've started dabbling in the art of carp on the fly.
For the past several years, I've been learning how to fly fish for them. During the summer months they're really the only big game fish to be found. Many of the larger cats are gone after the spawn and the smaller ones often stay in the rivers. Plus I've grown tired battling the numerous soft shelled turtles that love to take my liver or shrimp bait.
When you look at a carp, they're fat and slow. They resemble a morbidly obese goldfish. Many of the guys I fish with view them as the same as a sheepshead or a goby and that's they're a trash fish. They often give me that "are you fucking serious" look whenever I mention that I'm fly fishing for them.
"Why use a fly? Just toss some corn!"
Fair enough because using bait for carp is like offering a kid a bunch of candy. They'll take it every time and beg for more. But, using a fly is a different story. Now you have to outwit a fish that is naturally wary and a lot more finicky when it comes to a fly. Carp are far from stupid and I've grown to respect this fish. It's become a mouse and cat game and more than often, I've been the cat that has gone home empty handed.
When it comes to fly fishing for carp I use my old 9'6" 7W rod that I've used for steelhead. The majority of carp in the rivers along Steelhead Alley are often smaller than the ones found in the lake. Anything over 10 pounds is considered huge. I have an arbor reel with a drag that is beefy enough to stop them from running into cover. The leader needs to be stiff to handle flipping the larger weighted flies that I use. I pretty well use a leader that consists of 30 and 20 pound fluorocarbon and the tippet is 10 pounds.
When I first started to fly fish for them, I used some of mine old yellow egg flies, as it resembled a piece of corn. At first I cheated as I would chum the waters with corn. This was more as an experiment to see the foraging behavior of the fish. I would watch to see how they would feed. The fish would slowly move along and suck up the individual pieces of corn. I would make my presentation and wait for a fish to take it. It was easy to catch them, but like I said it was cheating and I would get that skeptical glare from a real fly fishermen.
Once I understood the foraging behavior, I ditched the cans of corn. I started to use woolly buggers, hex nymphs and ones that resemble a crayfish. I remember one time, I watched carp slurping up cottonwood seeds. I went home and tied a bunch of flies using white yarn and I teased the fibers out. I had to wait for a day where the wind was strong enough blow the seeds on the water. Several carp would start feeding and I wait for one them to come up to the surface. It took some practice and patience to finally get one of them to take it.
When I said practice patience, I mean it literally. Carp are easily spooked if you cast carelessly. Early on I would curse when my presentation would slap on the water and school of them would bolt. Another observation I've made over the years is I've never seen a carp chase a fly. I've seen stop and slowly swim over to investigate one. What I do is I select a feeding fish and watch how is feeding. Some carp follow a straight line and others do a crossing pattern. Once I select my target I cast away from it and strip in quickly trying to drop into the window. That window is can be really small as I try to drop it as close as possible. Once the fly drops the carp will either take it or ignore it. I've seen times where a carp will come up to my fly and the last second swim away. Other times they have their face in the bottom and I'll feel the line tug slightly and that's when I set the hook.
Since many of Steelhead Alley's streams are shallow, it's easy to see them without the aid of sunglasses. If I see a school of carp suspended off the bottom, I'll keep walking. What I'm looking for are the mud plumes of feeding fish. Because the streams often run low and clearer, I have to be slow in my movements and try not to make any noise. The other problem I often run into are trees. There's been plenty of times where I can't make a cast and I'll have to resort to roll casts or just flipping the fly out to the fish. Carp don't have the best vision so you don't to have to worry about a fish bolting useless you make some sudden movement.
There's a reason why some people call them golden bonefish, because it's very similar to fishing for bonefish. Fly fishing for carp can be fun if you're willing to put in the time and effort. Early on I had a lot of failure and there were plenty of times I went home skunked. These fish can humble the best of anglers.
Nobody loves me. Everybody makes a mockery of me. I'm a bottom dweller (aren't steelhead considered bottom dwellers too?), fat, lazy, tastes like mud and ugly looking. I'm sick of this bullshit stereotype. I can hold my own in fast water and I can fight as tough as those stupid smallies and steelhead. I may not be as handsome as those steelhead with their pretty colors and sleek bodies. But, I'm a mean looking bastard and doesn't that count. Seriously, I scare the shit out of some people when they see me. Plus, some women dig noodling for me.
No fanfare, no special event or announcement. The last outing of the year has always been that. I stirred out bed and had the same - bacon and eggs with a mug of coffee for the road. I walked out into the dark and got in the Jeep. The musty smell of wet waders and boots was a constant reminder that I must clean it after the season. In a odd way, I'll miss that smell. I rarely every get a good night sleep before an outing, it been like that for years. I stumble if I'm still feeling the effects of bar hopping in Tremont or the Warehouse district. The strong mug of coffee and the Tragically Hip keep me on the straight and narrow. I start to feel energized.
It was first light when I walked the along river. The last high water was a distant memory as the river struggled to flow. A kingfisher darted across the river chattering as it flew above the water. The robins were in full chorus as they ushered in the morning. The majority of maples and box elders were in full color. All signs that the season is winding down. Some of the fish are long gone, while others didn't want to leave the comforts of the river patiently waiting for the rains to gradually push them back into the lake.
Even though the river was very low, there was enough flow that I could see where the pockets of deep water. Some where in those pockets were the last remaining fish. I touched the water and I feel it was much cooler. By now it was light enough that I could see the river was slightly tannic but I could make out rocks and other structures.
I started to work the pool, casting into the bubble lines. Downstream I heard a fish smack the surface. After 20 minutes I had no takers. I continued to methodical work the water and made slight adjustments to the shots. There was no speed fishing today - not on the last trip. Even though I was fishing the urban stretches, it felt so surreal and quiet. I watched the float slowly move along the bubble line and it started to tap slowly. There and then I knew it was a fish slowly taking the sac and I promptly set the hook. The fish took with a surge and broke the surface. A loud slap and a hard turn upstream. I gingerly applied pressure to the reel being mindful that I using 6 pound tippet. I could see a large hen come to the surface. A truly beautiful fish without a blemish on her body
I found a pod of fish that were in playful mood, aggressively hitting both sacs and gulp minnows with recklessly abandon. I started to feel that I didn't want the season to come to an end. I was having too much fun, but I eventually it would to come to an end. The wind started to gust as the day progressed as did the heat. By early afternoon, it was 70F and the wind made it feel hotter.
It wasn't the cold that chased me off, it was the heat. I had my fill and when I changed out my gear I pulled out a cold bottle of Great Lakes Dortmunder and quenched my thirst. I sat on the back of the Jeep reflecting the past season. It was a hell of a lot better than the last. But soon enough it will be time to chase carp and maybe spend a couple times on the big pond perching. That will make the summer go a little faster.
The most dedicated steelheader will do anything to catch fish and one of them is walk endless miles in search of them. Today was a day like that. The river was at its lowest for the season and nearly of all of the fish in it were done spawning. No easy pickings like in December or early March. The last rain event was a distant memory. But whenever the river is at its lowest, the fish can be easy to find, especially for the steelheader that knows the river like the back of his hand.
The river was very tame almost lazy in nature. She flowed so quietly as even the faster water only gurgled, barely noticeable. Only when she's low does she reveal her secrets. I could make out shale ledges and rocks scattered along the bottom. It's very rare to see the river like that. I scanned the river downstream looking for structure that would hold a couple of dropbacks. First thing was weeding out the chubs as they had a ravenous appetite for uncured steelhead eggs.
I continued further down into areas that even I and others rarely venture into. The footprints of humans were gradually replaced by deer, raccoon and coyotes. I found more fish but I had reached the limited on how far I wanted to walk. But I wanted to walk more to see what lied ahead. If I was younger, I would pushed myself to go a little further. But I told the kid in myself to take it easy as my knees and back could only take so much. I turned and started to walking back and headed farther downstream. The old man knew what he was doing.
The next spot, I walked along a feeder creek I could see right to the bottom of the deepest holes. I looked into the massive pile of downed trees that clogged the creek. A large snapping turtle was sitting on the bottom patiently waiting for a chub to swim nearby. I didn't see one steelhead. The clear water of the creek flowed into the murkier river as I crossed with relative ease. More distance to go as I thought to myself. The skies turned grey and the wind whipped over the cliffs and down towards the river. As it was upstream, I started the process of weeding out the chubs. Eventually, I started getting into some steelhead. Including one male that sported the wounds worthy of a gladiator.
But deep water was few and far between. Dropbacks especially when the water is cooler often take their time heading back to the lake. Nobody knows how far they travel. One day they're there and the next they're gone. It was back on the road, covering more miles as I made into the urban stretches. I started to see more people and there wasn't a lot of happy faces. Many were frustrated with the lack of fish.
The skies started to part and the sun came out. The river had a strong tea color that filtered out the sun and somewhere in that murk, I knew fish were lying in wait. Unlike the smaller fish caught upstream, these fish were much larger and full of vigor. They were in playful mood as I had my hands full. I gingerly played these fish on light line and I watch several leap and thrash about catching the attention of anglers downstream. All of them had changed back to the beautiful silver. The only blemish on them was the red sores on the bottom caudal fins and bellies.
I covered a lot of water and road today. It was late afternoon as I changed and my feet were thankful that they were no longer trapped in my boots. I stretch as I felt my back and knees loosen. It was a quiet drive home as I reflected on the day I had. Hard to believe that the first fish of the season was caught 8 months ago on a beautiful late September morning. I traveled a lot of miles and I have more to go.