Until We Meet Again

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. 

I Hate You

For the record, I hate you. You caused me nothing but grief. I gave you chance after chance and for what? I almost slipped numerous times, developed nasty corns, and rolled my ankle. I tried to believe in you and you let me down. I took the mud off from you and dried you the best I could. I bought the best sheet metal screws money can buy and all you did was spit them out, with such disdain. I tried to be faithful but I have my eye on somebody else.

After the season is over, you have a date with the garbage man.

Miles To Go

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.

The End? I Think Not

April 1st and a lot are talking about the end and others are more optimistic. I tend to fall into the latter. The word out on the Alley is the run is basically over - that's if you need to see fish. Old sages like me know where to find them and the bounty can be plentiful. Perception can be a bitch to the lazy and ill informed. The weather over the past few weeks did throw everybody for a loop. The fish were way ahead of schedule and of course they wait for nobody. However, summer finally remembered it was here far too early and retreated. Fine by me as I want at a couple more weeks before calling it a season. 

It was still twilight as I slowly walked through the woods. Turkeys announcing my presence as goobles echoed along the riverine forest. As it got lighter I could see the Grand was back to normal. She was running sweet, slow and inviting. The water was so cool as waded into the first spot and it was refreshing. My senses are all better considering I only slept four hours and the high- octane caffeine I consumed began to kick in. Maybe I feel like that because the end is coming near. Time is precious and I enjoy every minute of my time out. 

The cool air is refreshing as I feel it rush into my lungs and I'm sure the fish are happy too. I finally reached my first destination. The river here splits into several channels and it's chock full of gravel. The fish prefer to spawn in the inner channel as the river funnels into a series of short rapids before spilling into a long lazy pool. Somewhere in the murky depths I hoped fish were resting and hiding. It turned only a few pods of fish were spawning in the channel. 

Personally, gravel is for kids. I don't mind people fishing it because it opens a hell of a lot more water for me. I can confidently pull in late in the morning and walk by dozens of anglers working the beds and having every pool and hole for the pickings and glory. Dropbacks were the quarry today and like any quarry you seek, you need to know the habits of them. The rigors of spawning is hard to imagine. Racing many miles upstream and in some cases fighting a raging current. Once they reach their destination, the hens dig out gravel and fight the current. The males fighting among themselves for the prize of spawning. Once its all said and done, their bodies are ravaged - worn fins, sores and emaciated. They seek the shelter and comfort of the deeper and slow waters to rest and rejuvenate. Despite being in such poor condition they fight like they just enter the river. Acrobatic leaps and hard charging runs and of course they have an appetite to match their feistiness.

Dropbacks were found albeit I had to scour the river getting by on gumption and determination. As for the nay sayers calling the season over - fine with me.