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.