The Push

The push that many were eagerly awaiting finally happened. I never doubted that they would come. They always do. Waiting patiently for the right conditions. As expected they come in unannounced under the cover of darkness or murky water. What made this push special was it happened before my vacation week. With colder weather for the following week, meant I could get away with sleeping in. In my youth, I would have been on the water in the dark, waiting for the faint signs of first light. I still love to hit the river at first light, but there are times when hitting it later in the morning can still pay off.

After 15 years of living in the states, I have lost my Canadian hardiness. I squeal at the thought of fishing in 20-degree weather. As a teenager, I would go cross country skiing when it was -20C and doing the 10-mile loop with no complaints. Sunday morning, I fished for only an hour because of the cold. I bitched the entire time, complained about the wind, ice on the guides and the fish being jerks. That was enough, looking to seek refuge under a blanket and guzzled a bowl of Joe's Deli chicken matzo ball soup. The day would be spent watching football. 

Monday morning,  the wind is moaning and groaning. I peek out under the flannel sheets and look at the time. I bury my head into the pillow and muttered I'm too old for this shit. The warm embrace of the sheets refuse to let me go and I go back to sleep. Eventually, I gather enough energy to pull myself out of the bed. My feet touch the hardwood floors and it sends chills up my spine. I gingerly tip toe to the kitchen and fire up the stove. I dunk eggs, bacon and hash browns into the pan. The coffee maker is gurgling away. I peek out the window and the large oak next to the carport is being whipped around. The temperature outside is 28F with a wind chill of 12F. I wolf down the food and fill up the mug. I dress and it's nothing but fleece. Long underwear, shirt, pants, and jacket. Instead on my Toronto Maple Leafs cap, it's a black toque. I'm completely dressed in black from head to toe and with my scruffy appearance, I could be mistaken for a burglar.

Walking outside the wind is blustery. I barely notice it as I load everything into the Jeep. Rush hour is long gone and I'm making a good time driving out east. The hot topic on the sports radio is another weekly bitching about the latest Browns loss. They rant and rave. I can take about 10 minutes of it and turn off the radio. Crossing over one river, I glance over to see it clogged in slush. No concern, resuming my journey east. 

Arriving at the Grand and there isn't a car at the first spot. It's mid morning and I hit a faithful old spot. The high cliffs and bend give me relief from the wind. The water is a light tea stain, the flow perfect and there's no slush. Bends, slicks and tailouts are on the menu. I fish the bend and work the inner edge. Watching the float chug along and it stops dead in its tracks and slowly goes under - a cold water take. After setting the hook, the fish starts bulldog along the bottom. The surface boils and it's a typical Lake Erie steelhead - 25" and four pounds. A male in his winter colors. Rosy red cheeks, charcoal on his belly and kyped jaw. A few shots from the camera and I gently release him. Working the pool, I pick off several more fish until reaching the end of it. I'm satisfied with the results. Looking at the time, I want to hit another productive spot.

Just like the last spot, there isn't a soul. It's another long sweeping pool that eventually flattens out all the way to another deep hole. It's a pinner's wet dream. The time of the year doesn't matter, it's always loaded with fish. I cross over and start shuffling downstream. Because the pool is so long, I'll often walk the float down until I start hooking into fish. The depth is uniform about 3' deep with rocks scattered along the bottom. Because of the current and the colder water, my gut tells me to fish further down. I continue to walk with the float until I see it pop and go under. I set the hook and I feel a frenzied run - a skipper. Then I start working the tail end and I have my hands full with fresh fish. The majority of them were skippers, but I battled several large adults. It was fast and furious as most of these fish probably haven't seen a sac or fly. If this pool had fish, I was frothing at the mouth thinking about the one further downstream. I start to walk and once I make it around the bend, I'm blasted by the wind. It's roaring upstream and I see waves. I give it the old college try and turns out to be a clusterfuck of epic proportions. The wind the line off the reel and I can't mend the line. The float resembles one of those marine buoys you see in the North Atlantic going up and down. The wind chill is frigid as my fingers go numb. I bail after 30 minutes and decide that tomorrow will be better as the wind is to die down. I head back up and spank some more fish. 

Eventually, I run out of bait and daylight. It's starting to get dark once I'm off the river. It turns out to be a monster push on this particular river. I want to make the most of this, because eventually these fish will get pounded on. I'll be here early tomorrow as the temperatures are to be in the mid-30s. Then it will get cold again for Wednesday and Turkey Day. As for Black Friday, I'll be buried under the sheets as the rivers will be a zoo. It's been like that for years. Besides me getting a workout so is my wallet as I fill up the Jeep and I'll be piling on the mileage this week.

The Journey Begins

The alarm blares and my eyes barely open. I slowly move my head and look over at the clock, it's five in the morning. I struggle to whether to hit the snooze button or get out of bed. I stare at the ceiling for a couple of minutes and I finally leave the warm confines of the bed. This past summer, I worked long hours and the weekends were for sleeping in. I couldn't remember the last time I got up at four or five in the morning. I debated because it was so early in the season. Not too many people would be out. All of the rivers were barely flowing and a couple days ago we had strong winds from the north, so I didn't know if the lake shore was trashed. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

I decided that I needed to get back into "steelhead" mode. Going to bed early and getting up even earlier. The problem is it's college football season. Even though I'm a huge Ohio State fan, I often watch other games and some of those games finish late. When it's all said and done, I'm hitting the sack around midnight. I slowly walk down to the kitchen and prepare breakfast and coffee.

Last week we were soaking up the last days of summer as the temperatures soared into the mid 90s for a couple of days. Steelhead season seemed so far away. Then a cold front from Canada made its way down and the temperature plummeted - all the way down into the upper 50s. The wind roared across the lake and cold rain made it feel like October. Steelhead season is around the corner.

It's a crisp cool morning as I hit the road. The highway is a lonely place as I pass a few trucks and cars. Towards the east, I see the first signs of light. The weather today is suppose to be warmer and the wind is out of the south - perfect for lake fishing. I pull into town and head north to the lake. I see the breakwall and there a couple of people fishing. The wind is chilly and I see a number of boats heading out into the lake from the nearby marina. For a lot of these guys the window is closing as we're at the middle of September, about a couple miles off I see the perch pack.

The high winds of Friday really didn't affect the lake and the water looked perfect. There was a nice breeze from the southwest and the water had a nice chop. I opened the tackle box and rummaged through the various spoons I had mostly Cleos and K.O Wobblers. With my 13'6" rod I fire off the first shot of the season. I watch the spoon  fly far off into the lake - time to fish. For a couple of hours, I go through a variety of spoons and vary the speed of retrieval. That's breakwall fishing in a nutshell. It's a waiting game of seeing if a steelhead is in the vicinity of your spoon. I crank in a silver spoon and then I feel a hard tug - a strike. The rod bends and I catch a glimpse of silver. That's all it would end of being, nothing more than a glimpse. The fish threw the spoon. I looked to the sky and muttered. It could be hours before I get another chance, plus my wrist was killing me.

I decided to make another move, but before I went I had to check out the stream. It was a short drive and I pulled over on the side of the road. The stream was barely flowing and crystal clear. I stood on top of the bridge and looked down to see one lone steelhead mixed in a school of carpsuckers. The fish lazily rode the current, content on waiting for the next high water. I walk upstream to check out a popular hole. I stood where during the season, the water would been knee high. No signs of fish, I figure all of them are down in the deeper channel. I didn't linger long and I was off on the road again.

I arrived at another stream and I could see the parking lot was half full. Several people were sitting on the rocks and some in the water. It was a beautiful day to wet a line whether fish would be biting or not. I had no desire to fish the stream, it would be pointless. I dressed into my gear and started to walk towards the lake. The stream was low and clear and I could see numerous steelhead cruising up and down the pool. There was probably at least 50 fish and all of them had something in common, they had no interest in what the anglers were offering them. I watched several guys flip shiners in their direction, only to see the fish swim away. Others would cast out their float and hoped a fish would take their single egg dangling above the bottom. I could of called them fools, but I was taking the same chance as I was going to try my luck off the mouth.

The waves on the lake were not very high except for the odd roller. It was far more shallow, no more than 3' deep. I waded into the lake and I could see the water was clear. I kept wading and it was still shallow. I fired off a long cast and it didn't take long for the spoon to hit bottom. I wasn't comfortable wading farther out as several rollers almost knocked me over. I worked my way towards the mouth the water was deeper and had enough color to give fish cover. I worked the entire section and ended up with nothing. In fact the people fishing the mouth never got a single take all morning.

I had to remind myself that it's only mid September, still early yet, but I never pass up the opportunity to get in some time on the water after a long summer. 


Once again, some steelheaders in Ohio are complaining about the state's steelhead program (imagine that). This usually happens whenever Ohio gets a bad run and the finger gets pointed at the ODNR. Ever since the switch was made from the London to the Manistee strain, most of the reaction has been positive, but there is a small camp of discontentment. After the dismal experiment of stocking Londons - which was a lousy strain to begin with. The state looked to Michigan and their Manistee strain. After much consideration, they felt the Manistee would give them most bang for the buck. Unlike the London, the Manistee was a spring run fish. As it was later determined, the Manistee had a better return rate and was well suited for Ohio streams. But that didn't stop the grousing as I hear the same complaints all the time and here are some of them

"Our spring run is too short"

"Whenever it rains, the streams blow out for weeks and most of the fish will be gone"

"Fishing Ohio in the fall sucks"

"We don't stock enough fish"

"Bring back the Londons"

"Why can't we stock both a fall and spring run fish?"

For some people they are valid questions. For me, I find them puzzling because there isn't a lack of fish. We live in the most productive steelhead fishery in the lower 48 states. Name me one place near a major metropolitan area of nearly 2.5 million people where you can catch close to 40 to 50 fish? Every year, over 2 million smolts are stocked into the Lake Erie's streams. Nearly everybody knows that Lake Erie steelhead don't imprint very well on their streams of stocking and they stray a lot. In one sample study done in the fall and spring in various New York Lake Erie streams, found that 75% of returning fish were from either Ohio and Pennsylvania. We get plenty of leftovers and then some. 

The whining is generally done by people who are lucky to get out a couple times of the year or are deathly afraid of cold weather. If want fish in the fall, your going to have pull out the wallet and fork out the money for the far drive east. Ohio does get fish in early fall, but the eastern streams tend to be better. As for spring, Ohio is the place to be. The biggest complaint I here about the spring fishery is the run is too short. I find it odd, because I've caught Manistees in late winter all the way into late May. If my math is correct that's almost 4 months. Again, it's the guys that fish when the weather is in the upper 60s, gin clear water and fish stacked on the gravel that complain the most. It's like the old saying if you snooze, you lose. 

I have news for the whiners, the Londons are never coming back and Pennsylvania won't give up their precious mutt quota. With state's budgets being slashed to the bone, we're lucky that the state spent the money upgrading the hatchery or even getting the eggs to begin with. We've been spoiled and I can have my brother-in-law in British Columbia tell you how tough it is just hook into two or three fish in one year.

See You In September

I'm showing signs of wearing out. I look haggard, I've lost a step and I would rather sleep in. All signs that another long season is coming to an end. There will be no more slaving away into the wee hours tying eggs, getting three to four hours of sleep, fishing in freezing weather and making the drive to the far ends of the Alley. Even though it's almost the end of April, I always get that nagging feeling of should I go just one more time? After all I have all summer to rest right?

The freezer looks more empty as I've used up all of my eggs. There's my "break glass in case of emergency" supply of eggs. These are for the early fall, just in case we get an early run in Pennsylvania. I dare not touch them. I have no desire to tie anymore eggs and I'm out of spawn sac netting. During the week, I've heard reports of fish far up the Grand, but the clock is ticking.  

Warmer temperatures have finally arrived and spring has exploded along the Alley. Most of the trees have sprouted their leaves. The forest floor is a blanket of green and flowers. As for the streams, most of them have become low, clear and very warm. The water temperature has crept into the 60s and that's the upper threshold for these fish. There are still fish left but a lot of them are long gone far from the reach of me and land locked brothers. 

For the past couple of weeks, its been mostly dropbacks and I've had to deal with the plague of smolts. Despite their cartoon like appearance of huge eyes, round heads and small fins, they are cold blooded killers. They will attack anything that swims or move. That was evident as I watched schools of shiners skirt along the shoreline, trying to avoid detection. All morning I could hear them smacking the surface. I try to avoid them as I don't want to harm them. Ohio only stocks 400,000 of them into the Rocky, Vermilion, Chagrin, Grand and Conneaut. Out of the 400,000 of them, I would be surprised if 5% of them make through their first year. The lake is an unforgiving place for them.

The last two trips were very different. Conneaut Creek had a decent number of fish. The runs and riffles had plenty of skippers willing to scrap it out. Even though the river was clear, they were perfectly hidden among the rocks. When they struck, a quick flash of silver revealed their presence. In most cases, they immediately leapt from the water. Leaping and thrashing about, I have a smile on my face. It makes those nights working at the table, tying sacs well after midnight and getting up at four in the morning worth it. I'll never get tired of it. I don't linger for very long, I have many spots to fish. I battled with several large spawned out hens. Looking to pack on the weight after a hard spawn, they are extremely aggressive. A heavier tippet insured the fight would be brief. The larger fish had to be revived and I felt confident that they would be fine. They slowly swim back to their lairs and by tomorrow they would more likely be gone. As the morning progressed and the sun bearing down, I started to feel parched as I covered a lot of water. Several holes and runs coughed up some fish. Once the sun was high, the bite shut off. I was working up a good sweat as I walked back. If this was March, the river would be a busy place. Today, I was the only person on this section. I finally reached the Jeep and quickly pulled out an ice cold beer. I was no hurry to get home as I sat on log and enjoyed my beverage and lunch. I sit back and soak up the sun. The rays feel refreshing and I want to nod off. I finish lunch and guzzle the rest of the beer. I undress and put on a pair of shorts. I chuckle as my legs are pasty white. The temperature is now in the 60s.  I make my down several rural dirt roads with the windows rolled down. I drive by a couple of anglers and they wave. I give them a smile and wave back. I drive on to I-90 west. I looked in the rear view mirror and I won't return to Conneaut until September, I felt depressed. 

The Grand would be my final trip, it seems to be that way year after year. I arrived at the river and it was moving at a pedestrian flow. I greeted by numerous bank swallows catching insects emerging from the water. High above several turkey vultures soared taking in the warm early morning breeze. The surrounding woods were full of bird songs. I walked along the river and came upon a dead steelhead. It was a fairly large hen and its rotting corpse had attracted flies. The body looked robust and there was no wearing on the fins. The fish was fairly large probably over 30" and about 12 pounds. Spring is the time of birth for many and sadly the death for others. The rigors of spawning is a very stressful event. For the females, the constant excavation of gravel, releasing eggs and fighting the current. For the males, expending energy in fighting for the sole right of inseminating the female's eggs. I suspected the fish was overplayed and not properly revived. The smell was overwhelming and I continued to the head of the pool. I fished a favorite spot for spawned out fish not far from a prime spawning area. Farther up on the other side, there was a scattering of anglers looking to see if there are any last minute spawners. I was pretty well out of eggs so I had to resort to minnows. 

The sun slowly crept above the trees and a warm wind blew from the south. The high for the day would be in the 70s with winds gusting by late morning. The window was shutting quickly. It was a far cry from a month ago when the trees were grey and lifeless. We were still dressed for winter and dreaming of warmer weather. I started to work the bubble line and it was an uneventful hour as I worked the entire pool. The odd slap of water from either a bass or steelhead, broke the monotony. I watched the float move along and it dipped slightly. Nothing hard and it almost seemed liked I bottomed out. I yanked and felt the rod throb. The fish darted about but it was very quick battle. It was a spawned out male and he sported numerous wounds through out his body. Bite marks, ragged fins and his colors were fading. I grabbed his tail and moved him back and forth. At first he didn't flinch or react. The stress of spawning and warm water also didn't help. Gradually the fish reacted and I gently released it. The male slowly swan off into the murky depths. It ended up being the last fish of the season.

I drove to another spot further down river. Driving along I looked down at the river and didn't see one angler fishing several popular spots. I parked along the road beside another car. The wind was gusting harder and the sun was creeping higher. I get to the river and I see two anglers above looked in vain for any fish on gravel. I watch them move up and down, scanning the water for any signs of activity. I fish the head of a long sweeping pool. I look down and I see a large number of emerald shiners swimming along. They swim close to me, thinking I might offer them protection. There is a sense of purpose in their movement. Because of the sheer number of shiners, I was hoping some fish would be lying in wait for one to stray from the school. I worked the pool for about an hour and nothing.

It was almost noon. I knew it was time to throw in the towel. I started my way back, closing the chapter on another season. I placed my gear into the tote box and cracked opened an ice cold beer. I open my fishing journal and write in the date - May 5th, 2013. I wrote in the details and it was same as the last trips of the season - it was hot, the river was low, hardly anybody out and not a lot of fish caught. I finish writing and place the journal in the center console of the Jeep. I've been at it hard for over eight months and even the hardcore steelheader needs a break. Time off to charge the batteries and do other things. I finish my beer and drive off - See you in September

Ugh It's Almost Over

You know when the season is coming to an end. The Indians are back in town, the robins are singing at 4:30 in the morning, my rod and reel are caked in egg spooge and my supply of salmon eggs is dwindling. The marathon started on September 9th and I see the finish line in the distance. I get a sick feeling in my stomach. 

I'm generally the last one to throw in the towel. Several steelheading brothers are in full walleye mode and others are just burned out from getting up early, tying an endless supply of sacs, driving hundreds of miles and their wives have reached their limit. I agree that tying sacs starts to get old and tired. Sitting at the kitchen table working on pile of eggs and looking at the clock as midnight gets closer. I finish the last of the eggs and I look at the clock - 12:30 and I'm too wound up. This is common for me whether it's fall, winter or spring. I past the time watching TV and I start to get sleepy. I look at the clock and it's 1:30 - fuck. I stagger off to bed and the set the alarm. Within minutes, I'm out for the count or I thought.

Just as I feel I'm sinking into a deep restful sleep, the alarm blares. I squint in the dark and the clock reads 4:30. If it was the work week, I would slam the snooze button. But not when it comes to fishing. I crawl out of bed and shuffle my way down to the kitchen. I follow a procedure of brew coffee, cook eggs and bacon, toast muffins, eat food, fill mug and hit the road. All of it done in 20 minutes. It's been like that for years and I could probably do it in my sleep.

I lug everything into the Jeep. My Jeep stinks, the inside smells of wet waders. There is trash and spilled coffee on the floor mats. I don't want to even think what's under the seats. I bought it used 3 years ago after my divorce. It's been reliable but age is starting to show as there is rust on the rocker panels and doors. It looks like a meat hunter's ride and maybe this summer, I'll start shopping for a new vehicle, but that's a long way off. 

With it being almost the end, I'll be out all day. No six hour trips as that would be fine back in September. I hit I-90 and it's a lonely place. With the exception of a few trucks, there is little traffic. To the east, the sky gets brighter. The clouds are a mixture of black, white and crimson. It's a little after six in the morning when I get to the river. The temperature this morning is 28F and that's a far cry from this past Thursday when the mercury hit 80F. I fished the Rock the day after it and I liken it to fishing in a bucket of piss - warm and uncomfortable. The water today was cool and inviting. 

I was in the transition zone of fresh fish and ones spawned out. The fresh ones were without a blemish. They were in full spawning color and full of eggs. Their eggs were so tight when I lifted them from the water, they didn't drop one egg. As for the dropbacks, their bodies were a tale of how hard and stressful spawning is. The females bodies were ravaged and they looked so emaciated. It's a wonder how these fish can even muster the energy to fight so hard. But fight they did, with such ferocity. 

Oh and I could I forget those smolts. I often have to remind myself they are the future of our fishery. Since I was fishing the lower section, I knew it would be thick with them. The ODNR generally stock smolts at the closest boat ramp. I was about a quarter mile up and I knew I would have to weed through a lot of them. All morning, I watch the float tap and tap, go under and tap several more times. Once in a while, a skipper or a dropback would hit, but the smolts were overwhelming. Enough of them that a couple of Caspian terns had a field day with them. I watched them hover over and suddenly plunge into the river. In total, I watched the pair take about 6 of them. My patience had all but worn out and I needed to make the move far, far away.

By now the sun was high and bright. If it was a month earlier, the river would be a bustling place. Not today, anglers were few and far between. It could of been the higher price of gas or the lack of fish. Whatever the reasons, it didn't matter to me. A quiet day on the Alley in April is a blessing. As expected farther up river, the number of fish dropped. I picked off stragglers in the various pools but I was spent. The few hours of sleep, the sun and hunger had sap what little energy I had left in me. A quick lunch and I was off for home. The end of the season has little fanfare. I rarely tell anybody about it. Probably because it will depress me. In a few weeks, I'll be jogging through the metro park and I'll go along the Rock. It will be an empty place. The waters quiet and still, waiting for the cool winds of fall. 

I think I'm up for one more road trip.

Global Warming Took The Winter Off

Global warming, global swarming. Today is April 1st and the temperature is 34F with a stiff wind from the west. The rest of week is to be below normal and then by the weekend it will a balmy 50F. Last March, I could of fished in shorts and nothing else as records were smashed along the Alley. We even had three days in row of temperatures in the 80s. Every thing was thrown out of whack from trees budding to fish finishing spawning before April. 

This March we've had one day in the 60s and the rest of the month its felt more like February - snow and cold. The lion had the lamb for dinner and even the old salts are starting to bitch about the lousy weather. It's a mix blessing as the cold has kept the fair weather steelheaders deep in their man caves. I've gone to both sides of the Alley for fish and shared highs and lows with my brothers. Welcome to spring on the Alley as the weather can be as fickled as a high school girl.  

This will be my fifteenth year here on the Alley and for this Canuck the brutal winters of Northern Ontario and Alberta feel like a distant memory. The last time it was -45F, I was living in Grande Prairie, Alberta trying to start my fiancee's car. Her car was originally from California and didn't have a block heater. It was so cold that my lungs could of used a block heater. I got in the car and the seat was as hard as a rock. I connected the jumper cables and put the key in the ignition. I knew it was pissing in the wind, but why not. The engine never turned over, the starter was frozen. I had it towed to a garage to thaw out and a heater was installed. It was all for nothing as two months later we were heading for Ohio. Ohio's winters are much like Southern Ontario - can be cold but bearable. With the odd Alberta clipper, the Alley's winters are tropical compared to Northern Canada. So I shouldn't complain right?

St Paddy's day was a cold and miserable day. I expected nobody to show up at the V, but I watched six cars pull in before the crew showed up. It was odd because the temperature was 30F but the air was so cold and dense. It went deep into your bones. Even with Under Armour gear on, I started to shiver. I should of brought along a bottle of whisky and a propane heater. We stood in the water, chattering and complaining. Ohio's winters have turned me into a pussy. I've lost all of my Canadian cred, I was once hardy and could fish in sub zero weather. Today, I race to the nearest Starbucks for a caramel macchiato to warm up. What happened to me?

The fish were in a fickle mood as one minute they turned on and just as quickly they turned off. My fingers were numbed and I prayed every time I had a fish on the line wouldn't break because my fingers were basically non functional. Walking to the next hole got my frozen blood flowing. We picked off some more fish and I decided to head back home. The scalding hot coffee did wonders and by the time I reached the Rock I was functional. The cold must of chased everybody off the river because the only people left were an Asian couple huddled on their buckets. I worked the lower section and didn't get a bump. I'm sure the morning crowd worked them over. That's why I hate the Rock on the weekends and once the weather turns nice, everyday will be like a Saturday - elbows and assholes. Once home, I curl up in a blanket and take a snooze.

We're still waiting for April showers and May flowers. We gotten teased once in a while but as soon as we say finally, we wake up to 6" of snow on the ground and that's seems to happen every week. Punxsutawny Phil messed up with his bogus prediction and the little prick is too scared to emerge from his flea ridden hole. Fish are still parked in their winter holes and are in no hurry to hit the gravel. I look at the calender and I'm not happy.

Yesterday, I fished out east and it was a pleasant day. I didn't have to wear my grungy spooge covered jacket. Even though it was cloudy, the south wind felt inviting and warm. I fished a section rich in gravel and found very little evidence of spawning activity. The water temperature over the past few days was in the 40s and I was lucky to see one or two dug out redds. All I caught were spawn out PA hens and some older males. That's how its usually is in the spring as the Manistees wait for a warm rain to usher them in. That is one of the reasons why people continue to bitch about the ODNR's steelhead program. They want a fall run that stays in all winter. They always point out that April's weather is fickle. The season is too short and a week of rain can keep some the rivers unfishable for weeks. I can assure you that will never see the inferior London strain making a comeback. Personally, we get enough PA's leftovers so I don't what the fuss is all about. 

In way, I want the colder weather to stay a little longer, as it extends the season a little longer. But the clock has officially started to tick towards the inevitable. 

Confessions of a Guide

From time to time, I like to read fishing articles from magazines at the library. One particular article caught my attention was from the latest issue of Fly Fishermen. The article's title was Confessions of a Guide and it was written by Karl Weixlmann. It's a cautionary tale about greed, big money, and throwing your ethics aside. For those who don't know, Pennsylvania's steehead fishery is under siege. The state stocks an obscene number of fish and their small creeks are clogged with them. The huge number of fish attract hundreds upon hundreds of anglers and they descend on the creeks during the season. Some acted like a herd of unruly cattle as they trample through people's properties with no regards. Over the past decade posted signs start popping up. Looking to seize on this golden opportunity are the guides and fishing clubs. It's tough enough to get clients on fish and it's worse when every piece of water is occupied. One club started leasing property and it was no other than Darth Vader - Donny Beaver. Beaver's club lured Karl to the dark side with the promise of steady gigs, good money and personal use of the playground. At the time, it sounded like a sweet deal.

Karl was once the president of Pennsylvania Steelheader Association and board member of the Erie Advisory Committee. He was considered one of the top guides in Erie. He did a lot of good work in promoting and developing the fishery. Beaver's club started to expand and they viewed Erie's streams as another playground for the corporate fat cats. Streams filled with massive numbers of steelhead - all paid for by Joe Steelheader. He used Weixlmann's connections with landowners to secure leases on the Elk and Twenty Mile creeks. Club members would never have to worry about rubbing elbows with the neanderthals. He was warned that going over to the dark side would do away all of the good he did and he would never been seen in the same light again. But over he went and the entire Erie steelheading brotherhood turned on him. He was called a sell out, a scumbag, a corporate weasel and some dubbed him as Karl Waxworm. His other title was club enforcer as he had to boot out fishermen and some of them were friends. But the money was far too good to pass up or so he says. Times were good in Beaverville.

But eventually in the corporate world, everybody becomes expendable. Weixlmann lost his gig to another guide (which he failed to mention) and got the boot from the playground. Now Karl was one of us, looking in from the outside. Many felt he deserved what he got and quickly became a pariah. In the article he mentions that money had bought him and now the money shoved him out. Karl learned the hard way and wanted to share his experience and the plight of the fishery with others. 

After reading the article, I'm glad that Joe Steelheader's dilemma is getting exposure, especially from someone who's been of both sides of it. Do I feel sorry for Karl? Hell no, he knew of the consequences and it was all about the money. On FishErie's website, he disputes that charge and a lot of the members called bullshit. His tone through out the article reeked of "poor me". 

But if I'm going to point the finger it's at the PFBC for creating an amusement park by stocking far too many fish into streams that really can't support their numbers and nearly all of the streams run through private property. Build it and the hordes will come. They also failed to secure enough land to ensure that everybody could enjoy the resource. Instead more and more people are crammed into what little sections are left. I've witnessed the circus on the Lower Elk and Walnut during the fall. It's a clusterfuck of epic proportions. Now add Beaver into the mix and he's locking up more water by throwing money at landowners who are more than happy to take it. This makes a lot of people resentful as they feel they're getting the shaft because they pay for the stocking by purchasing the stamps. The PFBC is finally trying to get public easements and they have secured some sections but it's a long way to go.

It's a shame we don't have the same laws like Michigan has, where anybody can wade the streams without worrying about some landowner calling the cops or even worse getting shot.  I can't see that ever happening here in Ohio or Pennsylvania as politicians will kick the can down the road. The only solutions are offering property tax incentives for public access or purchasing the land outright. It's a proven fact that less and less Americans are fishing and it's even worse with the younger generation. That means less revenue for the stocking of fish and securing access. I don't want to become like some European countries where only the rich can afford to pay for the right to fish on some of the best lakes and rivers. Because if that happens I'll turn in my pole.

Banner Days

What I love about banner days is you never know when they'll happen. I've fished when conditions were absolutely perfect. I was pumped and hit the water hard. At the end of the day, I was lucky to catch one or two fish. My back and feet were sore after banging away hole after hole. I drove home pissed wondering what the hell happened? Then there's been times when I woke up and the weather was awful. I debated whether to go back to bed. I sucked it up and made the drive out. I get the to river and it's a little high. I sigh and try to make the best of a possible bad situation. I couldn't keep fish off the hook. I'm like a kid in a candy store - whooping and hollering. I have a shit eating grin on my face when I tell the others what they missed. I've poured through almost 14 years of entries in my journals to see if there was a pattern. Unfortunately, there wasn't really one. I did well whether the river was high, prime or low. I checked to see if temperature played a role. The best range was between 36F to 45F, but I've done well when the water was barely above freezing. The time of year also didn't matter because, I'll fish out east in the fall and in the spring I'm primarily in Ohio. I guess it's one of those when the moon and stars align and having a little luck. Just like reporting the weather, trying to figure out a banner day is still an educated guess.

To have a banner day you need factors that go in your favor. The weather is the biggest of them all. A lot of people here on the Alley don't like the cold and snow. Only the diehards will go out and some will venture to far ends of the Alley. For the upcoming weekend, the price of gas is at an all time high for the winter. Lake effect warnings were issued for the snow belt and there was always the threat of slush. It was no brainer and I had one stream in mind. Sure it's a gamble and luckily I have deep pockets and a Jeep to boot.

I load up the Jeep and head east. I punch through a series of squalls coming off the lake. Not for the faint of heart as the truck in front of me is swallowed by the squall. I sip my coffee and the stereo is playing Kenny Wayne Shepherd - no problem. As I pass one exit I noticed the price of gas at Travel America is going for $3.75. I have a feeling that the stream is going to be a lonely place. I pull into the sleepy town and drive down what's left of main street. A lot of empty store fronts and the street is deserted. As I head down the hill there isn't a car in sight. To my relief there is no slush and the water is slightly off color. The banks are littered with massive chunks of ice in both directions.

It's a grey morning and it starts to snow. I reach the first pool and fish the tailout. It takes all but two minutes to hook into the first fish - a bright silver hen. Then its another and another and another. I shuffle farther upstream and its the same as I quickly get into fish. I have a feeling I'm onto something. I check the weather and it's 28F, light wind from the west and cloudy with snow. For many, it's not the most favorable conditions, but in my book it's just fine. I cross over to another pool and the snow starts to fall heavier, to the point that I have strain to see the float. The first fish of the pool produces a large robust male. The fish are parked under a tree along the seam that spills into a long sweeping pool. Despite the water temperature being 34F, the fish rip off line and have their way. It's a little after 9:30 and I'm already well into double digits. I could of been a douchebag and call the guys telling them I'm hammering the snot out of them. I could imagine the response and I have no time to call because all of the fish I'm catching.

I release another hen from the tailout and I've worked the entire pool. I look downstream and there isn't a person out. I start to head for a spot that usually on a Saturday has people fishing it. The snow has tapered off when I reach the run. The current flows hard along the opposite bank and there is nice hole that runs about 40' and the fish hold in there. It's late morning and the sun starts to peek out. As it was upstream I immediately get into fish and all of them are fresh. No stinking skippers as some of them are pushing over 8 pounds and full of piss and vinegar. The numbers are piling up and I can't contain my glee. Then there is one take. It wasn't a hard one but a lackadaisical one. The fish basically stuck itself on the bottom. No hard run or anything. I started to horse it in and then I watched its back come out of the water - my heart stop as it was massive. The fish started to head out into the current and I was mindful that I had a 4X tippet on and I hadn't check the line for over an hour. Numerous fish were caught previously so I had no idea if the knot would hold up. The water temperature was my friend and foe. The frigid water didn't drain the fish of energy but also prevented it from blasting downstream and possibly shredding the line. The battle wore on as the fish stubbornly refused to come in. I gradually gained control and I move it in slack water. It was a massive hen as I slid her onto the gravel. I could barely get my hand around her tail. Her was stomach was bulging from the large number of eggs inside of her. I moved the rod along her as there is a small gold ring on the blank. From the ring to the bottom of the handle is about 33" and she was a little over an inch. I figured she was about 34.5" and probably pushing over 15 pounds - a trophy Steelhead Alley specimen. I gently released her and watched her slowly swim off. She was at the lower reaches of the river and there was long distance for her to cover. Where she would spawn? Who knows I was lucky that I chance to catch her.

It's a little after twelve o clock and I can't imagine anybody making the drive from Cleveland. I looked back at the pool and the bottom is littered with sore jaws. But even on banner days there are times when the fish turn off. I struggled for an hour to get a bite. Wading was difficult as the huge chunks of ice had buried the trail. Boredom quickly settles in and I get that nagging feeling of heading back to the previous spot. In the distance, I see another car parked behind me and I doesn't take much to figure out where they are. Sure enough two of them are at the hole where I caught the huge hen. They look at me with puzzled looks and continue to fish. I could of told them but why bother? They struck me as the types that fish the most popular spots and never venture further. I was out of sight when I started fishing and the mid of the section started coughing up some more fish. I had finally ran out of bait and that was a good enough reason to head home. On the drive home, I thought about my day. Why did I have such a great day? Was my experience? My knowledge of the river? Or was it just my lucky day? I may never find a truthful answer. 


It was the perfect day for a hardcore Ohio steelheader. Almost 2' of snow on the ground and rotten weather on the way. The Alley was cloaked in a fresh blanket of snow. I trudged thorough it as I made my to the river. The snow was so light, that it made walking effortless. The hemlocks, maples and oaks were covered in a fresh coat of powder. There was a crispness in the air that was inviting. It wasn't very cold, maybe in the low 30s. The trail gradually took me along the river and it was running clear over the shale bedrock. The cliffs showcased a magnificent display of icicles. The trail ended and I walked along the river. The deeper pool and runs had a deep dark emerald green. It's only during the winter when the water is that intense. Somewhere deep in the green were steelhead. 

The fresh snow concealed any evidence of the anglers from the previous days. This morning there wasn't a soul on the river. The only sound I could hear were the nuthatches, chickadees, geese and the babbling riffles. The pool looked inviting as the current swirled around the logs and submerged rocks. I stood on a sandbar and casted out towards the bank. To the north, the sky had darken and flakes started to fall. Gradually it started to intensify. Through the flakes, I watched the float slowly move towards the tailout. It hesitated and slowly went under. I slight jerk of the rod and I feel it throb. Not much of fight but that's expected when the water is barely above freezing. The surface boiled as I watched a small male surface. He was in full winter colors. Bright red cheeks and charcoal along the underbelly. But what stood out was the series of scars along his face. Not sure what caused them, but it gave the fish a rugged look. I released him and watched quickly dart back into the depths. 

I worked another pool and I watched a male cardinal dart from bush to bush. His bright red plumage stood out against the white. I was somewhat mesmerized by the bird and had to focus my attention back to fishing. This was a favorite pool of mine. It was a classic Steelhead Alley pool - narrow, full of lumber and gradually flattens out. Over the season, I have pulled out some impressive specimens from this particular spot. It has rarely failed me over the years. With some adjustments I got the float as close as possible to the lumber. I gingerly guided it along the branches and got it right in the middle of the bubble line. I watched the float tap once and it was taken under with authority. This wasn't a small fish, but a large predator waiting in his lair. The rod slammed in an instant. The surface boil and the fish quickly charged downstream. It was a battle of wits as I had to keep it from running into the submerged trees. I took charge and the battle was quickly over. I grabbed the hen's tail and she didn't have a blemish on her body. Silver along the sides, ivory white belly and a darkish gun metal blue on her back.

I ventured further south into another metro park. With a fair amount of snow, the trails in the park were a busy place today. People walking dogs, families taking a walk and some skiing. I was the only angler to make an appearance. Time unfortunately wasn't on my side today and I had to make a decision whether to go up or down stream. Down stream meant blazing a trial through the snow, buckthorns and downed trees. Upstream, it was a brief walk along the trail and down towards the river. The latter made sense as crossed over the riffle. It was a medium size pool that spilled along the bank and tailout hard. The current was probably too hard and shallow to hold fish. Off the current, the water flowed much slower and there was a sand bar. It take much thought where the fish would be. It turned out to be the right call as I caught five fresh fish out that spot. A couple of hikers watched from the bank and gave a thumbs up as I held up the fish I just caught. Both of them were unaware that trout that big could be caught that far up river. 

Turned out be a great day despite the weather. That's why I love winter steelheading. The challenges and the fruition of hard work can make putting up with the frozen fingers and feet all worth it. Sadly, just as fast as the snow fell. It will be probably all be gone next week as we'll get a brief taste of spring. It's a shame, because I wanted more snow. 

Christmas Outing

Christmas for me during the years I can't make the trip to British Columbia to see family can be a difficult one. Most of my friends have family over and are enjoying a hearty meal or going to mass. Christmas Eve at my place consists of talking to everybody on Skype. Some times it turns into a technological headache because somebody's webcam stops working or has a crappy modem. The screen becomes full of talking heads in bubbles. Because of the time difference, my family usually calls early in the evening. All eyes on the computer turned to me as I opened all of my presents. After that I sit back and drink some Great Lakes Christmas ale. I'll look at my pathetic tree and give a toast to another lame holiday. Usually there will be some irrelevant football bowl game on and I barely get pass the 2nd quarter. This year it was the Hawaii Bowl and I'm sure both Fresno and SMU players weren't bummed because nothing beats the holidays like sitting on the beach ogling scantily clad women or playing football in 80s with sunshine. It turned out to be a snorefest and I went to bed early. 

Christmas morning came and instead of tearing through presents, I tore open the packet of bacon. Eggs, bacon, muffins and coffee - all wolfed down in record time because it was the Christmas outing and I was running behind. Luckily it was a quick five minute drive into the metro park where I meet up with the guys. Because all of them have adult children, they can get the precious morning pass that most steelheaders are hoping for. Those with younger kids, might have to settle for the afternoon pass. For the ones who have the grinch-in-law, they're SOL and might have to wait until the weekend.

We started off at the infamous "bunker hole". The bunker hole is the go to place for us. It a classic winter holding spot. The hole is located at the bend of the river and it tails out. This is where the fish park themselves. It's not very deep and only fishes at a certain flow. When conditions are perfect, the fishing can be fast and furious. The action was like that yesterday and of course the scrooge I work for decided to have us came in for a half a day. Five hours of bullshitting in the back, figuring out the who the Browns will hire as the next coach and picking straws to see who goes out for a pizza run. Seriously, what a waste of time. I could of been fishing. When we finally went home, I wet a line for a couple of hours, but I missed most of the action.

This morning the action was slower as we picked off fish. It seemed a lot of skippers made the trip in. The bunker hole didn't pan out so we headed downstream. The same results as we picked off fish. By then it was late morning and more people started coming out. Even though it was Christmas, some decided to leave their goodwill and common sense at home. One hillbilly decided to low hole us and crowed that they "caught them by the boatload" yesterday. From the looks of him, he couldn't catch a cold in room full of sick people. He was the typical Rocky River hillbilly - neoprene waders, 6'6" bass rod, spinning reel, monster float and a green mister twister. God, I absolute hate them because of their stupidity and poor hygiene. I sniffed bullshit and we chuckled at one another. We could throw some coal his way, but the fish had turned off. The guys morning pass had expired and we went our separate ways. I moved further down to the lake and there were people scattered about. I fished another spot that people I know did well yesterday. Just like the other spots, it didn't a lot of fish. As I was getting ready to leave, there was one guy fishing from the shore. Poor bastard, on his first drift he snagged line. It turned out to be at least 60 yards of line that he pulled out. When I left he quickly moved to my spot. Unfortunately Santa didn't bring him waders or boots. I watched him jump from rock to rock and then the inevitable happened - he slipped. Ass first into 36 degree water and chorus of curses followed. He cursed so loud that the guys down at the marina looked upstream. That was the end of his fishing outing as he huffed and puffed back to the parking lot. Nikes and wet rocks = epic dunking. It was early afternoon and more people started to show up. Screaming kids and the thought of kitchen duty was refuge for of them. Others probably were trying out their latest gifts. For me, I had enough. I was satisfied with the results and I was looking forward to the soup I had in the slow cooker. Tomorrow its back to work albeit a very short one.