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