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.

My Backyard

For the record - I have a love/hate relationship when it comes to fishing the Rocky River. I live right next to the Rocky River Metro park and whenever I take the garbage out, I can see the river below. It takes all but 5 minutes to get there. But most of the time especially on weekends, I avoid like the plague. Due to the close proximity to Greater Cleveland area, 13 miles of public water and parking lots galore, it's a favorite destination for many and unfortunately many of them are the bucket brigade, the Russian dimwits, hillbillies and the Orvis snobs, it's too much. I guess I don't play well with others as I've been told. But then again who likes having Joe Bunghole waddling in 20' below you, greeting you thinking you have no problem sharing the hole. Screw that - I would rather drop $50 into the Jeep and drive 80 miles east.

But during the winter months, my work slows down and some days I'm done around two in the afternoon, then I'll give the Rock a shot. Generally the morning crowd is long gone and the river can be a desolate place. Case in point this week, when a little birdie told me the Rock got a good push of fish. I got off early and I had all of the gear in the Jeep. Lucky for me, I work 10 minutes from the river. I start off low right near the lake. I wonder where the old farts are, must be bingo this afternoon or nappy time. The water is perfect as I can see those micro holes. Small depressions in the shale bottom, that have enough haze to hide a fish. Takes all but two minutes to hook into a feisty skipper. Then I hook another one and I try to yank the hook out as the fish dangles halfway out of the water. The fish twists and the line snaps. I watch him dart back into the hole with a large pink sac in his mouth. I sigh and tie on another hook. The phone rings and it's work. I don't have to come in tomorrow until noon - sweet. I cast out and the float goes under. To my surprise it's that little skipper again. I see the pink sac and I laugh out loud. Greedy little bastard. I've had it happen over the years of catching the same fish out of the same spot, but not this quickly. I yank both hooks out and he darts right back into the same spot. Obviously this little fella has some memory problems and it won't be long before he ends up somebody's stringer.

I manage a couple more fish, but the number of people coming and going gives me a reason to move. I drive a little way up the road to another pool. I peek over from the lot and I see an angler below. He has the best spot locked up. I move above and fish the faster water. On the first drift, I hook into a fish. The other angler barely acknowledges my presence. I watch him cast over and over and over. I pull my phone out to check the time and it was four o clock. I wasn't sure what he was using, but I was getting impatient. Hole beaters can test even the most patient of anglers. I was getting ready to low hole him if continued to linger. Thankfully he finally gave up and the old goat had a look of disdain as he walked out. I shuffled down and threw out the float. Halfway down it went under and I set the hook. The water surface boiled and the fight was on. Oh those magic eggs of mine. Nothing is more demoralizing then pounding a hole for hours and watching somebody quickly hook into fish. The pool had a nice of fish as I continued to hook into fish. By now it was almost dark and I wasn't going to leave.

I had my hands full until it was too dark to fish anymore. Funny thing because I almost called off work today to go to Conneaut. But I decided against it because next week was vacation week. Instead of driving 80 miles, I drove 5 miles from work and caught 15 fish. Maybe the lousy fishing over the month finally chased everybody off of it, but after this week, I'm sure a lot of people are going blabber about all of the fish. Is it great to have a river in your backyard? Yes but I still rather drive far away to get away from everybody.

Kicking Over Every Stone

I keep hearing the old saying goes that 10% of anglers catch 90% of the fish has never rung so true this season. The diehards have scoured the far ends of the Alley found some success in a otherwise dismal season for most. Without a doubt the toughest fall I can remember. In Ohio we've become accustomed to the bust and boom cycles of fish. But in Pennsylvania, they've acted like the sky has fallen and the world as they know it is coming to an end.  Steelhead Shangri la as I like to refer to it, has been pitiful. I've been Pennsylvania four times and I've struggled to catch fish. In past years, I would be yanking them left, right and center. I pounded away, working every slot, cut, run, pocket water, seam, pile of lumber and exposed rock. I would try different color combinations and presentations only to be denied. I would just stand there, lost for words. I'm thinking it's early November and there should be a ton of fish here, but there isn't. I manage to catch one or two from a hole. I consider myself lucky as others haven't whiffed a hit all morning. After plugging away and I return to the Jeep and the total is seven - seven fish for the entire day. During prime conditions, I can catch seven fish from one hole. Something isn't right for sure. 

Back in Ohio its been just as bad. We've received plenty of rain to bump up the water, but only a trickle of fish have come in. Plenty of theories being tossed around. I think the lake is still too warm because of the warmer than usual October. The colder streams have kept the fish in the lake and they're waiting for the right conditions. Last week, I fished the Chagrin and I managed one fish for the entire day. Fishing after work on the Rock was a exercise of futility. After an hour, I'll come up an excuse to go home. It was the same story every week, a couple of fish caught here and there. Fall fishing in Ohio is generally bust or boom, so I shrugged it off and waited for the next weekend. I know they'll eventually come in - unannounced. 

Sunday I headed east and the wind was howling. Overnight we were expecting a lot of rain, but nothing eventful happened. The temperature was to be in the 60s and then free fall into the low 40s. Pulling into the lower section of the river, I see about four cars and two of them are from Pennsylvania. Desperate times call for desperate measures as I chuckled to myself. I walk towards the river and I see all of them at the most popular hole. Miles of open water and everybody piles into the first hole - I love it. The strong wind has blown a lot of leaves into the water, but it's manageable. I ignore the lazy pools and fish the faster water. I start plugging away and I pick off a skipper from a run. I work the entire the section and nothing. I'm thinking, speed fishing. I'm off to the next spot and it coughs up two more skippers. I head further up and I see another angler fishing the opposite side of the pool. He's at the tail end and because he's fly fishing, he can't fish the head of the pool because the trees. Good for me, bad for him, because the first drift I hit a nice male. Then I hook into the another. I found a pod of fish parked behind the rock. I end up with five decent sized fish. During the entire time, the poor guy downstream snags bottom nearly every drift and gets tied up in the tree behind.....poor bastard. The pool doesn't produce anymore fish and I'm off.

No time to linger as I head back downstream. I pass the Jeep and noticed all but two cars are gone. I head to another spot and the current is flowing nice due to the strong south wind. Being so close to the lake, the flow often goes up and down. One minute the riffle goes quiet and within ten minutes, the riffle starts babbling. It's a killer spot in the spring as it's polluted with skippers. I managed one small male and that's all. The fish are scattered so beating a hole would be a waste of time. I'm getting a good workout as I've covered over 2 miles of stream. I get in the Jeep and I'm off to the mid section. 

I drive down the hill and I see six cars, no big deal because I have an idea where everybody is. Sure enough, they are at the one pool and I look upstream to see nobody at the cliffs. Instead of crossing over, I elect to walk along the cliffs. The water level is low enough that I can walk with ease. The stream cuts hard along the cliff and runs over the shale. The shale drops off and there is a ledge that is about 60' long. The bottom is dark and fish usually hold tight along it. I inch over to see where the drop off is and I plop the float in and guide as close as I can get it. The current runs haphazardly as I watch the float swirl around and I watch it eventually hit the ledge - fail. I reel in and cast farther out as it's a cloudy day and I figure the fish might be hanging off the ledge. I watch it go under and I set the hook. In the murky haze I see a flash of silver. The fish charges upstream and leaps from the water. It's a fresh hen. 

When its all said and done, I manage to land 12 fish, not bad for six hours of fishing. Chalk it up to 14 years of hard work and dogged determination. A little help from some friends who started back when Ohio barely stocked fish and catching one or two was a major accomplishment. I have to keep telling myself that better days will come and I won't have to trek as far or work the water a little harder.