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.