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, 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.