Got Bait?

Fished the lower Conneaut and I came across this massive school of emerald shiners. For weeks shiners have shown up in huge numbers on the Conneaut and Grand. Since the water was in the mid 30s, the shiners clustered in the slack water. In one spot they were clustered in the slack water by the bridge. I could dived off and never hit bottom as they packed like sardines. Probably a lot of steelhead lying on the bottom belly up after feasting on the endless buffet.

The Grind Begins

For second consecutive summer, I barely wetted a line. Seriously? What the hell is wrong with me? A so called fish junkie hanging it up for another summer? Chalk it up to work and road trips during the weekends. I've come to accept that I'm a one species angler. There's no steel during the summer, unless I get a boat. It doesn't really matter as summer goes by so fast that suddenly the cool winds come across Lake Erie ushering the end of summer. The nights get a little chiller and the days shorter. My steelhead clock inside my head goes off. I go into closest and dust off the rods and reels. The waders and boots could use a good cleaning. I inspect the tackle box to see what I need to order.

The grind usually starts a week after the Labor Day weekend. Unfortunately the Alley was in dire need of rain. It seems to be a problem every year - a lack of rain. Rain dances or sacrificing a goldfish never seem to work. The rivers are bone dry, so I'm forced to fish off the piers. Several times out it didn't produce anything and I attributed that to the non stop boat traffic coming out the Grand River - fishing boats, pleasure boats, muscle boats and jet skis constantly roaring by. Finally we get some rain, but not enough too blow the rivers. 

The first trip out was Conneaut and it was nice to see her again. Despite being low, she had a dark tea color. Hopefully within that dark water were some steelhead. With it being so early in the season, I didn't even bother getting to the creek at first light. I arrived around ten in the morning and some anglers were coming off the water. Some wanted to get home to watch the Browns, who have seem to turn the corner after a long decade of losing. For years I hoped the Browns would be a more competitive team because meant a lot of guys would leave before noon, clearing out space. The creek turned out to be a lonely place as I moved from pool to pool. The trees were still green and it felt like fall was a long way off. As the sun crept higher, it became more evident that my chances of catching a fish was becoming nil. In sixteen years, it was a first for me - no steel in the month of September.

Getting up early has been a struggle as I've often slept in during the summer. I couldn't remember the last time I got up at five in the morning. I groan as I hear the alarm go off. In my stupor, I slam the night stand trying to make contact with the clock. The lamp falls over and I finally hit the snooze button.

 "It's early October, no need to rush"

Not wanting to get into bad habits, I fight the urge to sneak in a few more minutes. On the road back to Conneaut again as I'm still tired. The grind can be hard early in the season. I arrive at the lower Conneaut and there's a couple of cars. On the way down I peek to see nobody fishing under the bridge. I seize the opportunity and quickly drop a line. Knowing the hole very well, I fish the tail end as it's deeper. I quickly get into a couple of fish and both are fairly small. Sure enough, I look over and see a couple of anglers heading towards me. I'm not concerned because I know the number of fish in the hole are small. I'm content yielding the hole as I have more water to fish. We exchange greetings and I head upstream. I fish the lumber pile in one spot and nothing. 

Early season steelheading on the Alley requires a lot of walking. I continue to walk upstream passing shallow riffles and pools. The water is clear enough that I can see the shale ledges. I arrive at a run that cuts along the bank. It's just deep enough to give a steelhead or two cover. I make the adjustments on the float and sinkers and start to work the water. I drift along the bubble line and I see the float tap and go under. I set the hook and watch a fish leap from the water. It was a furious but brief battle and I beached the fish. She was a beautiful plump hen starting to her darker colors. I grab her tail and pushed her back into the deeper water. She bolted hard and headed back to where she was hiding. I continue to walk further up and one pool didn't produce any fish. I look up towards the tressel and nobody was there. The tressel is a tricky place to fish and only fishes at certain flows. The pool is nothing more shale, but the ledge drops sharply. At higher flows the current is too strong as the hole is not very long. Today the flow is slow enough that I get my presentation down. Standing on the edge directly below I feather the float along the ledge. I kept working further away as I wasn't sure where the ledge directly dropped off. Steelhead love to hide right along the ledges. The float pops and I feel a hard surge. It's a larger fish as I see come to the surface. It will difficult landing it as the cliff is behind and there's hardly any room to beach it. The fish finally gives up and I pull it along the rocks. It slides along and rests. The fish seemly wants to cooperate and I quickly yank the hook out. I slide the fish back and it slowly swims back into the depths.

More walking and my feet start telling me enough is enough. My heel starts aching and my back is getting sore. The grind can take a toll on the body, especially somebody who just turned 46 years old. The bite has turned off and my grumbling stomach tells me fishing time is over. I'm almost 3 miles from the car. By the time I get back to the car, I've worked up a sweat and I let a huge sigh of relief when I take off my waders and boots. It's 85 miles to get home and I'm fighting to stay awake once I reach Cleveland. Once I'm home, I literally fall on the bed and I'm out for the rest of the afternoon.

This week, I need to hit the road earlier as I'm heading out to Elk Creek in Pennsylvania. The Elk blew out the day before and was frothing at the mouth for some real action. I quickly wolfed down breakfast and hit the road as it was a 100 mile drive. I set the cruise control to 75 and listen to some Pink Floyd's greatest hits. I arrive at Folly's campground and I'm the seventh car in. I quickly dress and make a bee line for one my favorite spots. As expected people are cluster under the bridge and I slip behind them and into the woods. The creek is still stained and I wonder how many fish are in the creek. I make to the cliffs and I immediately noticed that the pool has changed. The gravel bar is gone and pool has narrowed. I start banging away and for the first 20 minutes I have nothing. Most of the time on the Elk, I've caught a fish on the first drift, but 20 minutes? It feels like an eternity. I'm left scratching my head as I start walking away.

I reluctantly walk away and head back downstream. Now there's another problem - other anglers. I can see people clustered around the riffles and pools. The water is stained enough that fish can't be seen. I pick off a couple fish from a long sweeping pool. The fish were hold along the shale ledges and I worked the pool over. Something isn't right as I'm catching one or two fish. I get closer to the fly shop and I see the same people I ran into early in the morning under the bridge. The glum expressions are telling as the fish are few and far between. With eight people behind the fly shop and I walk by and cross over. I hit a small pool with the hopes that some of the worst steelheaders failed to get one fish to hit. I was lucky enough to yank one out of the pool. I grind all the way down to the posted property and I had three fish. That was remarkable considering the sheer number of people. The total for the day - 7 fish and in past years I can pull 7 seven in one pool within 30 minutes. Something isn't right in Steelhead Shangri-La.

Once home, I rest my sore feet, knees and back. Within minutes I'm dozing off as I struggle to watch the football game, the Browns seem to have that effect on me. Eventually, I'm out for the count and snoring away. A week off to rest and it's back to the grind.

Low Holing


Many steelheaders have seen this scenario play out. The river has come down after a warm rainfall. There should be a good push of fish. You arrive at the pool at first light and it's ripe for the pickings. Here's to a banner day as you get ready for the first cast. Then you hear the sounds of voices and snapping branches. Before you can say oh shit, four guys emerge from the woods and enter the water below you. You've been low holed.

Low holers can't be defined. They can be young or old. Rich or poor. Bait or fly fishermen. Experienced or inexperienced. Nothing gets my blood boiling when a moron is practically in my hip pocket and thinking it's perfectly acceptable. I read and hear the complaints all the time. I've seen some anglers almost come to blows over it. Some of it's unintentional and for others deliberate. All I know they're a pain in the ass.

If you're going to be a dick, watch out. Case in point, I'm fishing the Chagrin and I was the first person on this section of the river. I hit one of my honey holes and start catching fish. Then I look downstream and I see a guy heading upstream. I was the first person to pull into the lot and he's the first person I've seen this morning. There's three miles of open water upstream and I figure he'll head to the next pool, wrong. The guy is practically next me. He never acknowledges me and acts that I don't even exist. It's one of those you got to be kidding moments. I generally don't like to start conflict, but this morning I'm tired, crabby and in no mood for bullshit. I clear my throat and say

"Excuse me, do you mind fishing above or moving to another spot?"

The dope ignores me and I reply in a more forceful tone. I ask him again to move. He's turns to me and calls me a hole hogging prick. Hole hogging prick? Dude has some balls. I reel in my line and I get in his face and growl.

"What the fuck did you say?"

He sees that I'm serious. Maybe it's my scruffy appearance and bloodshot eyes that gives him the impression that I might be nano-second from snapping. He looks shocked and heads upstream. I'm more pissed that he could of walked to the next pool and had it to himself. It was one of the rare times that I had to stand my ground. I didn't like it and the last thing I want to do is drop the rods. Should I just yield the pool and go somewhere else? Nope I wasn't finish working it. It wasn't a long pool, just enough room for one angler. I've always respected an angler's space, even if its my favorite hole. If the pool is large, I always ask if I can fish above and I give the other angler plenty of room. It's common sense, but common sense gets thrown out in the pursuit of fish.

The Alley basically covers the southern shore of Lake Erie. There are plenty of rivers, creeks and ditches for the steelheader too choose from. Unfortunately, the best places are in the heart of urban areas. These highly populated areas have easy access that attract anglers especially during the height of the spawning run. It can be elbows and assholes in the most popular spots. But you would think there's plenty of water to fish right? That depends on where you fish.

Plenty of water is starting to get harder to find, especially in Pennsylvania. Almost all of Pennsylvania's steelhead streams run through private property. Over the years, the state has stocked millions of fish and those large numbers of fish have attracted a lot of anglers. Landowners fed up with unruly anglers started posting their properties and some leased their sections to clubs and guides. Because of that, anglers have be herded into the last remaining public waters. I've seen the circus on the lower Elk and Walnut. The parking lot at the Elk Creek access would rival a Walmart on Black Friday. 

Over the years, I've become more savvy when it comes to dealing with crowds. I've noticed three key observations. Most steelheaders hate to walk, hate to fish in the cold and hate fishing dirty water. The hardcore steelheaders are the ones that blaze the trail in search of fish. They slip silently by the crowds and disappear into the woods. There's been times when I'm walking in the pitch dark and by the time it's first light, I've covered a couple of miles. By the time somebody gets to where I'm fishing and it rarely happens, I've already caught plenty of fish. It's not for everybody, a lot of my older fishing buddies would probably succumb to my death hikes.

Winter is the time I relish the most. The fish are spread out in the rivers and gives me plenty of options where to go. The fair weather fishermen retreat deep into their man caves and will not be seen until spring. Winters here are not as severe as the ones in Michigan or Ontario. But, we do get a ton of snow. Squalls off of Lake Erie can be treacherous especially for anglers making the long drive. Then there's slush and ice that can ruined an outing. Many people don't want to chance wasting gas and time, to only see a river choked in slush. If the night time temps are in the teens, I don't bother setting the alarm as the rivers will be loaded in slush. The best thing to do is wait until afternoon and hope that it will have burned off. By then most anglers who tried in vain to fish in the morning have given up. Some of best days came when most people preferred to buried under the cover of their blankets.

Then there's dirty water. Some anglers still believe that steelhead will only bite when the water is clear. That's completely false. I've caught steelhead in water that resembles my coffee - loaded with cream. Steelhead have a very acute sense of smell and have no problem finding a sac in stained water.  Many people prefer to wait for prime conditions such as water that is green. I don't have the luxury of fishing everyday unlike some of my retired fishing friends. I make due on what's given to me. Most Ohio steelheaders are use to fishing dirty water. The Grand and Black Rivers run stained whether it's high or low. That's why I primarily fish with sacs because I prefer to fish dirty water over clear water.

The things I mentioned above have cut down on the aggravation. You can find places that offer peace and quiet if you're willing to put in the time and effort. I still from time to time will get low holed. But that's usually happens when I'm fishing on the lower Rocky in the spring. By then, I'm burned out and I don't give a shit.

Lazy Days

First day of June and believe it or not just a week ago there were scattering reports of some steelhead dropping back to the big pond. One evening run through the Rocky River metro park, I stopped by one hole to take a rest. I walked over and there were three steelhead mixed in with several carp, bass and carpsuckers. The water was clear and I watched them swim about. One was a large hen that reverted back to silver. The males were battled scarred and slightly darker. Hard to believe that some of these fish manage to survive the massive flood that happened several weeks ago. That evening, we had several severe thunderstorms roll through and dumped nearly 5" of rain. The Rock spilled over its banks and flooded the valley. That was evident as I took my evening run down into the park. The road was closed off to traffic. When I got down to the parkway, the river had receded slightly. The water was right at the edge of the road. In both directions farther down water covered the road. Several geese were resting on the road taking in the beautiful weather. The river was a mess and I could see the water boil as some type of fish were swimming where people walk on the trail. So much for the evening run, it would probably take a couple of days before they would open the park back to traffic.

Once the river receded, my curiosity got the better of me. I took a walk through the lower section of the park. It look like a bomb went off. Near the Rockcliffe ford, large trees, logs and branches were piled about. The surrounding woods were water logged as the river went above and over the trail. The trail is about 100' away from the river itself. I continue to walk and there lying in the water I could see a dead steelhead. I wondered how many fish succumbed to the forces of the raging waters. The water level could be determined by the number of leaves stuck in the branches. They were neatly tucked into the branches. In this section of the park, it's very flat. A serious rainfall can create massive flooding here. I've never seen the water get that high. Even though the water receded a lot, the river was still running swiftly. Whenever the river floods this bad, its course will be changed dramatically. Banks are craved out, trees removed and rocks moved about. I wondered how many pools and holes were changed. 

Those steelhead I seen last week were long gone. I'm heading to the Vermilion in my new car for some catfish. I'm still getting a buzz from the new car smell. I've wondered why they don't market that scent for candles or deodorizers? It's seriously addictive. The Equinox is a joy to drive, the seats are so comfortable and the cabin quiet. I flick through the endless stations on XM to find a channel and of course I find Hair Nation - metal from the 80s. I sit back and get a dose of The Scorpions, Dokken and Maiden. I never made to the Vermilion this spring for steelhead, because I heard the fishing was terrible. The lower section of the river is a great place to fish for them. Unlike the Rock, the Vermilion has more deeper holes and meanders on its way to the lake. This morning the river was low and off color - perfect. If it was a couple months ago the side of the road would of been littered with cars and trucks. I walk down the goat hill and the forest floor is a lush layer of ferns. I started at one of the best spots for steelhead, it was a long sweeping pool that had numerous trees in the water. I took out my bag of uncooked shrimp from my pouch and tore a hunk off. The shrimp was starting to get that funky odor and the funkier the better. Shrimp is one of my favorite baits for cats. I always get a funny look from the ladies at the grocery store when they asked me how I'm going to prepare my shrimp. I tell them I use them for bait for catfish.

"How could you waste such nice shrimp on catfish?

First off, I'm not spending $18.00 a pound for them. I'll generally buy about six shrimp and it's those big juicy Brown shrimp that I prefer. Some guys I know like the cooked shrimp because it's cheaper, but I feel uncooked ones have a better scent. Before shrimp, I would use chicken livers. They were a pain as I had to tied them in spawn netting. The bag was a bloody mess as were my hands and reel. I was never a fan of night crawlers as panfish gobbled them up before a cat got a chance to find it.

A large tree is in the water and current starts to slow down after it. I cast out and get as close as I can get without getting snagged. Even though it's sunny out, cats will never refuse to pass up a juicy chunk of shrimp. Still a lot of people prefer to go out right at dusk or at night. That was evident as I could see numerous branches stuck in the mud, litter, and a still smoldering fire. The bite might be better at dusk, but the mosquitos are enough for me to pass up the offer. The lower Vermilion is infested with them. I learned the hard way one summer night as I practically ran back to my car as thousands of them chased me. Nothing happens near the tree so I let the float drift further down. The float pops and I set the hook. Cats don't fight with the ferocity of steelhead. They're more deliberate and stubborn. This one is fairly large as it refuses to come off the bottom. Out of the murkiness, I see a fat cat. It's a large female with a plump belly. A great start to the morning as I watch the fish swim away. The breeze to pick up and I notice a large number of cottonwood seeds flying through the air and landing on the water. As the line drifts through the water, it starts to collect the seed hairs. The tip of the float is covered as are sinkers. Casting is made difficult because the hairs prevent the line from shooting through the guides. It becomes more and more difficult to cast and eventually I have to cut the line to remove the seeds.

Once again, the wind starts to pick up and more seeds scatter about and land on the water. The slack water is completely covered in them. I try to pull off as much of the seeds as possible. It's starts becoming annoying as I spend more time removing the hairs than fishing. The faster moving water is where I work. So far I caught seven catfish ranging from scrappy dinks to 10 pound plus females loaded with eggs. I coming to the end of pool and it becomes more shallow. For an hour I get no takes and head to another spot. The walk through the woods is a tough one as the vegetation is thick. Also thick are the mosquitos and start to quicken the pace. I weave around trees and branches and jump over logs. I finally get down the last pool before the lake and it's practically frog water. I throw the float and wait. I wait and wait and during that time, I'm swatting mosquitos away. Nothing happens and I look at the time. It's almost noon and the sun is bearing down on me. I'm getting hungry and I use that as an excuse to go home.

On the way back I get confused as I missed the trail. I start walking back looking for the trail. The brush in some spots is so thick that I have go around it. That confuses me more and eventually I see the goat hill. I'm parched from the climb back to the car. I sweating and I wished I had some cold beer. The spawning run will last maybe a week or two. Then the big cats will mostly be gone. Dinks can get old really quick and that's when carp will spark my interest. Got to make the summer move along faster.

Last Kick At The Can

The calendar shows it's May 11th and if it was any other year, my steelheading gear would be stored away for the summer. But not this season, there are still fish in the rivers and I'm going to have one more crack at it. Thanks to the idiots that live on the upper floor, their monster party keep me all night. The people above me stomped about as they were pissed at their neighbors for being too loud. I hear yelling and doors slamming shut. I look to the ceiling and cursed under my breath. Shortly after I hear the voices of the police as they question a couple of people leaving the party. It's almost four in the morning - assholes. I'm too tired and pissed to head out east. Once the sun comes up, the building is a quiet place and I finally get some sleep.

I wake up later in the morning and call Bubba. I have no choice but to fish the Rock. Over the past week, I've heard reports that fish are still showing up. I meet up with him and we fish the lower section of the river. It's a beautiful day out with sun and some clouds. Not a lot of people out today as we have several spots to ourselves. As we fish I watch hundreds of emerald shiners swim about. Whenever they're shiners, there's the skippers not to far behind. But we haven't caught any yet. All spring on the lower Rock I've struggled to catch skippers. To make up for the lack of steelhead were the smallmouth bass. The pool we were fishing held a large number of them. I used a white jig and popped several chunky fish that pushed around 3 pounds. They were in a playful mood and I was more than happy to play with them. But in the back of my mind was what if I did make the trip to Conneaut. It started to bug me and I wanted to make one more trip. We catch plenty of bass, but neither of us even sniff a steelhead. There's no way I'm ending the season without a steelhead.

The weather for next week was to be cool as night time temperatures were to be in the 30s and then gradually warm into the 70s. As I was undressing, I couldn't help but notice how bad my boots looked. They were on the verge of falling apart. One boot was tearing along the sole and other had several tears in it. All I needed was a cloth stuffed in the holes to complete my hobo look. Can I ever get beyond two years with a pair of boots?

Sunday morning and the daytime temperature is to be in the upper 70s. I leave home in my shorts and tee shirt. The cooler is loaded with water and beer. This will be the last trip of the season. As start walking to the creek, I feel my boots getting loose. I know the inevitable would happen, especially the distance I travel when fishing. The 20 hole is empty so I fish it. With the warmer temperatures, the fish would be holding in the faster water. The 20 hole only gives up two fish - a drop back hen and skipper. I get nothing after that and head towards the pool that I did well last time out. As I cross over I start to feel my right boot begin to tear as I start slip on the rocks. I eventually make over and I look at my boot. The sole is halfway from tearing from it. As I walk I drag my right boot to minimize any more tearing. I'll be lucky to make by noon. At the end of a downed tree, I see darker water. I cast out get as close as possible to the tree. The goes by and slips under. I pull back and feel the rod throb. The surges and leaps from the water. A bright silver fish races along the current and I get the fish unto the rocks. An average size steelhead and when I examine her, she has a full belly. She just came into the river probably days ago. Were almost halfway through the month of May and some fish are trickling in. In past years, we see some stragglers come after many have tossed the gear into the basement and garage.

I work the pool further up and I have hands on something. It doesn't fight like a steelhead. I figure it must be a large golden redhorse sucker. I catch a glimpse and I see a catfish. It's another sign that steelhead season is over. It makes sense as cats love to hide around lumber. I pick off a couple more steelhead in another run. The sun is high and I feel parched. The warm wind starts to blow through the trees. I check the time and it's almost noon, the bite has turned off. As I walk back, I'm dragging my boot. The sole is hanging on for dear life. It sound like a flip flop as I walk back to the Jeep. Is this going to end my season? Hell no. I stop at the Rite-Aid and buy some laces.

Like every season, I end it on the Grand. I haven't had any reports on the Grand for weeks. Instead of fishing the upper stretches, I elect to fish low down in Painesville. I tie the lace around my boot to hopefully secure it. I chuckle at the thought that I would do something so desperate. But the lacing starts to come loose as I walk to the pool. The river is vacant as most have probably went home hours ago. There is a reason as I don't get a nibble. Upstream there isn't anybody in sight. I work the pool for an hour and I come to the conclusion that any fish in there are not interested. Walking back the lacing snaps and my boot's sole tears loose. I've had enough and I call it a season. I sit on the back of the Jeep and pull off my boots. I throw them to ground and another angler looks over and remarks

"Dude, that boot is so fucked up"

No kidding. Add Korkers to the list of boots that I've destroyed over the years. They didn't even last two years. I crack open a beer and slowly chug it. I write in my journal and for once I had a decent last trip. Even though it's hot, the rivers were prime. But I struggled to catch fish on the Conneaut and nothing on the Grand. I down the rest of my beer and chuck it in the cooler. Another season comes to end.

This past year was the worst in the 16 years I've been on the Alley. The winter gripped the region with ice and cold for months. Even Steelhead Shangri La (Pennsylvania) had a down year. Fish never came in huge numbers. Some of my brothers gave up weeks ago and went out to the big pond to chase walleye. Work will make the summer go along quickly and before we know it the cool winds of autumn will beckon my back to the rivers.

The Worst Is Behind Us?

The worst is behind us, that's what I'm telling myself as I'm working on my third pool without a bite. The rivers are finally freed of the ice that old man winter held in his grip for months. I dubbed it the "relentless" winter. The cold never let up. It lingered and punished for weeks. If it wasn't the cold, it was the snow. The only smiling faces were the the ODOT plow operators as they piled up the overtime. But we did get a couple of warm spells. We hoped the thaws would give us enough time to get out. We were punished enough. But winter was toying with us. Just when rivers freed themselves of ice, they were frozen over within a matter of days. The door was slammed shut. Winter slowly departed, but it didn't leave without a few parting shots. Spring struggles to assert itself, the weather is still cold for April. Some parts of the lake are still covered in ice. We struggled to find fish as they were few and far between.

Grumblings were rampant about the lack of fish. Numbers were very low for this time of year. A trip out to the Chagrin was proof of that. I walked by several gravel beds and there wasn't a fish to be seen. There wasn't a single redd anywhere. I watched four anglers look in vain for a shadow moving in the water. They would of had better luck sighting Bigfoot. I plugged away at every hole and pool and didn't get a single hit. I suspect the lake was still too cold. I didn't fret as I knew the fish will eventually come.

The fish started to show up in small numbers and I was fine with that. Low numbers equal low numbers of anglers. We were halfway through the month of April and the landscape was still bare and grey. There was still a chill in the air as I'm fishing Conneaut Creek. Easter Sunday is a blessing as I have the entire creek to myself. I went on a Easter egg hunt myself as I scoured the creek for fish. The ice floes altered the creek as banks were gouged, rocks dumped from one spot to the next and trees fallen into the water. I found my easter eggs, but I had to work for them. They were starting to come in, but it's almost the end of the month. Pretty soon my work schedule will start picking up and I won't have time to fish. The clock is ticking.

Back on the road very early and I'm going back to Conneaut. The creek received rain to blow it out and I hoped it got a push of fish. I got it right as the creek indeed got a run of fish. I see a guide with three clients on a gravel bed. I look over and I see about 12 fish moving about in the fast water. I have a disdain for people fishing gravel. I view it as "canned" fishing. The fish are packed tight into a small area. Their urge for spawning is so strong, they're unwilling to leave it. I don't bother exchanging greetings and I mutter "dirtbags" under my breath. I see the pool above and I hope for some drop backs. I wade out to the head of the pool and start to work the bubble line. The float chugs along and gets sucked under. I feel a surge and watch a large fish launch itself from the water. The fight is furious enough that the anglers downstream stop to watch. Since the water is stained and warm, I'm using a 10 pound tippet. I muscle the fish in quickly and it's a massive spawned out hen. With a full load of eggs, she's pushing over 15 pounds. No time for pictures as I quickly release her. The pool is chock full of drop backs as I catch ten fish. All of them except for three are spawned out hens. These fish must of spawned in a matter of days as the creek was a torrent just six days ago.

I go further downstream and I catch a couple of fresh hens, but the fish are scattered. Fresh hens and were three days away from May - unbelievable. I have enough time to go to the Grand and I want to get some time on it before the season is over. I stop at the dam and head down to the first pool. The surrounding woods are a mess. The banks are littered with trees and branches. There are piles of sand scattered about. It looks like a bomb went off. The water is too stained to see if any fish are on gravel, but I know there has to be some. The two past trips out to the upper Grand this past year were awful. Both times, the river bottom was choked in anchor ice and went home skunked. Nobody was on the river and I stood on the bank and drift along a seam. The first fish was a beautiful spawned out hen. She put up a magnificent fight as she tore through the fast water. She wasn't terribly beaten up as most hens I've caught had numerous sores and cuts on their bodies. The pool gave up five more fish and they were all old dark fish. It didn't seem that any fresh fish made it up - yet. The day ended on a good note. There are fish, but it's anybody guess if more will come in. I'm leaning more to the side that more fish have yet to come in. The lake is still cold and temperatures for most of the spring have been below average.

The worst is behind is us, but are we going to run out of time?

Is The End Final Here?

This winter has been relentless. So relentless, that at the end of February, I was placed on part-time at work. That's how slow it's been. All winter, I either sat around drinking cup after cup of coffee and staring blankly at the clock - I hated it. I would beg to the ladies up front to give me something to do. Once in a while, they would throw a bone my way. I was informed of the news on Friday and I found it welcoming. I masked my enthusiasm with a look of concern.

"Oh, what days will I work and when will I go back to full time?"

My boss tells me I working from Monday to Wednesday and I'm back to full time on April 1st. As he walks out of the lunch room and turns back and said

"At least you get two more days to go fishing"

He leaves the lunch room and I have a big shit eating grin. Most people would of been pissed, but I'm ecstatic. During the busy season, I hustle and work hard. I've stuffed a lot of cash into my savings account, just in case something like this happened. I have no car payment, no debt and my rent is dirt cheap. I could use the time off and rest for the busy season. I prayed that this god awful winter would be over when March came around.

I get home and watch the news. The weather segment comes on and perky Betsy Kling, Cleveland's most hated person this winter breaks the bad news that everybody doesn't want to hear

"More cold on the way" and she said it with such smugness.

I want to fire a brick at the bitch's head. Great, everything was falling into place for the weekend. In a matter of days, the rivers started slushing up. By the time Thursday came around most of the rivers had frozen over. My first Thursday off and the weather is awful. One of those days that you bury yourself under the blankets. There were squalls coming off the lake and the wind is gushing out the north. I look to the ceiling as I have nothing to do. I muster enough energy to get up and head over to the Y for some exercise. The following day would be just as cold and I knew the power plant would be discharging warm water all day.

Friday the wind has died down and I head to the plant. I'm starting to loath the place. It's so sterile and noisy. I miss the river and long for it. I miss walking down the trails and along the river. The cliffs, the stands of hemlock, the deep green pools and the silence. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get back on the them. Then there was light at the end of the tunnel as warmer weather would free some of the rivers. Two of them were the Grand and the Rocky. The Rocky is in my backyard, but my playground is on the Grand. Thursday the temperature would creep into the upper 30s and Friday it would go higher into the low 50s with nothing but sun.

The lower part of the Grand was a wreck.  Massive chunks of ice scattered along the banks, in the woods and in the river. The river has been repeatedly bulldozed. The jam went on for miles all the way from Fairport Harbor to the old Painesville dam. I pull off onto a street nearby the river, I look over and the pool towards the cliffs is wide open - sweet. I head to the pool and carefully climb over the chunks of ice on top of the bank, one slip and I'm falling 15' down onto rocks. Despite wearing those big clunky Korkers, I move with relative ease. Up and over, I gradually make to the end of the bank. The river was as prime as you can get. The Grand is notorious for running stained, but since the sediment was frozen, the river has slight tea colored stain. I begin to work the pool and for the first hour, I don't even get a take. The sky is cloudy and the water is very cold, probably a couple degrees above freezing. I continue to work the pool concentrating at the tail end. I work and work and work - nothing. My gut tells me that there has to be some fish in there. Tomorrow the sun will be out and the temperature will be in the mid 50s. I leave with nothing but at least I know there's open water.

The warmer weather today brings out what I dub the "spring peepers". The peepers are what I refer to as the spring steelheader. Hibernating for the winter, they emerge once there is signs of warm weather. But I can't blame them, a warm winter day this season has been few and far between. I see several anglers near the parking lot but nobody is at the pool. Judging by the looks of them, their obesity and age would prevent them from successfully negotiating the obstacle course of ice chucks. The sun is creeping higher above and the snow is glistening. I hear the melting water drip off the chunks of ice and the side ice is getting dirty. It will be a matter of days before everything becomes high and dirty. I immediately work the tail end and try to squeeze the float as close as possible to the shelf ice. The sun is now beating down on me and feel uncomfortably warm. I mend the line and slow the float a tad - nothing. I'm a 100% positive that there are fish holding in this pool. I make some slight adjustments and cast back out. I move off the shelf ice and work more towards the slack water. The float chugs along and it goes under hard. I yank the line and I feel a head shake. Despite the water being cold, the fish has its way. I have to bust out some side ice in order to beach the fish. I catch a glimpse and it's a large fresh hen. I pull her up against the rocks and take the hook out. I lift her out of the water and feel her belly - it's pretty tight. I've caught hens in early March and watched them spill eggs. This fish was a recent arrival, that somehow made its way through the ice jams downstream. I release her and she quickly darts back into the murky depths.

The sun is doing its magic. As morning yields to afternoon, the water temp is gradually bumping up. The fish start turning on. The pool produces four more fish and all of them with the exception of one male are very bright in color. After that the pool doesn't yield anymore fish. I walk further up and the river is low enough that I can cross over the boundary. The boundary I refer to is the lair of the spey fishermen. During the spring, they flock to this section, because of the river flows faster and bottom is mostly gravel and small rocks. Where I was fishing, the river flows more slowly and the bait anglers love it here. Both sides rarely intermingle and for some they prefer it that way.

The past flooding this winter has alter the one hole above where I crossed. There was a sweet spot right below the pile of lumber and today it's about 3' deep all the way down. I'm bummed, because it was a killer spot in the winter. That's live on the streams here in the Alley. The rivers are constantly changing. The ice and high water carve out new holes and fill in old ones. I make some mental notes of the section and return back downstream. I work the tailout one more time to see if there was a fish I missed, I get nothing. There probably wasn't that many to begin with. Throughout the day the water starts to cloud up as sediment from the banks spills into the water. If the melt continues, the river will eventually become too muddy.

I'll be off the river for the weekend, the temperature is suppose to drop back in the 30s and the 20s at night. At the beginning of the week, we get a taste of what's to come. The temperature on Tuesday soars into the 60s and the rapid snowmelt on the Rocky turns the water to a bright yellow stain. The month of March on the Alley can exhibit monumental swings in the weather. A massive storm from the west is bearing down. They are calling for 5 to 9 inches of snow across Northern Ohio. Wednesday morning it's raining lightly and the Rock has blown out. As the day progresses the cold front moves in and rain changes to snow. The wind is gusting from the north and on the way back to the office, the wind is so strong that I'm driving in whiteout conditions. I beat the rush hour and make it home. Thursday morning it's only 20 degrees and cold. Many here are beaten and battered by the winter. You can see in the faces of people as they wish it would end. Unfortunately, the long term for the month is going to be more fickled weather.

Sooner or later, winter will end............we hope.

Absolute Domination

This time there was no overtime, no drama and no golden goal. Instead of high scoring prima donnas, it was a gang of grinders that wore down the competition. This team was head and shoulders better than the ones that won gold in Salt Lake and Vancouver. This gold medal was won the old fashion way - defense and hard work. They were a well oiled machine and there wasn't a single flaw to them. They played as unit, they played as one. Head coach Mike Babcock is a genius. Him and his coaching staff got the players to buy into defense first and score later. The foundation was set early and the rest fell into place. The other teams in the tournament didn't stand a chance. 

They took care of the lightweights fairly easily in Norway and Austria. Latvia gave them a game and but Canada was never in any serious trouble. The Finns always played Canada tough and it took overtime to seal the win. Their next opponent were the Americans. They were firing on all cylinders. They took the Russians into a shoot out and ripped their hearts out in front of their countrymen. The Americans looked unbeatable as they scored at will against their past opponents. Canada on the other struggled to score and many back home were full of angst. The Americans were the road block to the gold medal game. Team Canada didn't seem to worry, they had plan.

All of that worry was put aside as I watched one of the most lopsided 1-0 games, if there is such a thing. The Americans hit a brick wall. It was total domination as they put on a clinic in puck possession, cycling the puck and removing time and space. Most of the time, I'm a basketcase when it comes to one goal games in a round robin tournament. However, this game I just sat back and watched an almost perfect game. I knew this team was going to win the gold. They were unstoppable.

Sunday morning the game started very early and for many in Western Canada even earlier. Several provincial governments made a one time exception in liquor laws and allowed bars to open early. The entire country would be watching. Just like with the Americans, the Canadians shut down the high powered Swedes. It was an identical effort and the Swedes had no answers. Unlike the last game, Canada scored three goals and they came from three players who faced scrutiny - Crosby, Toews and Kunitz. Unlike Vancouver, this game lacked so much suspense that when it ended NBC's Mike Emrick calmly said  

" It's a team sport and this was the best team, gold medal.......Canada". 

I could of swore I heard a yawn. 

For the entire tournament, Canada gave up three goals. They put to rest that they couldn't play on big ice. They never trailed in a single game. The defense was so deep that last year's Norris trophy winner P.K Subban was a healthy scratch most of the games. That alone is mind boggling. They were truly hockey gods.

The Mother of All Winters

The mother off all winters. That's what I've been hearing. The older folks of Cleveland telling the youngsters that this was a typical Northeastern Ohio winter of old - snow and cold. The youth today could never hack what the old timers went through. Trudging through the deep snow on the way to school. As a kid I walked to school whether it was -5 or -30, there was no such thing as a "snow" day. If the principal made it to school, your ass better be in the seat after the first bell rung. Kids today have it so easy with global warming and all. I've been here for 16 years and the Alley would get a small dose of a cold winter. It nothing more than a day or two of bitterly cold. Within a week, that cold was a distant memory as most or all of the snow that had fallen was melted. Old man winter over the past few years has lost a lot of his punch. 

Then came the polar vortex. Polar vortex? I'm thinking of some massive white tornado roaring down from the deepest darkest regions of the high Arctic, freezing anything in its path. I googled the term and its indeed a weather phenomenon. Back in my native Canada, I've never heard of the term. We called it a cold snap and went about our business. The vortex did come and it plunged the Alley into sub zero temperatures that hadn't been seen since the great blizzard of 1977. I got a dose of what a real Canadian winter was like. The temperature dropped all the way to -13F and the wind chill topped out at -45F. The sound of crunching snow under my feet, the stinging sensation in my lungs and nipping cold on my cheeks. It brought back memories of winter back in Northern Ontario and Alberta. Cold like this lasted for a week or more back home. In Northeastern Ohio, cold like this might happen every decade or so.  

The Alley is cloaked in snow and ice. Lake Erie is covered in ice as far as the eye can see in every direction. The forests are silent as are the streams. All of the riffles are locked up as I walked along the trail. Somewhere under the ice, steelhead wait in the deeper pools. We didn't had to wait that long. Monday night it was -13F and Friday morning it was 50F. Instead of wind chill alerts, flood warnings were issued across the region. The rivers shed themselves of the snow and ice. A window of opportunity for me and my steelheading brothers. The window would be brief as more cold weather is heading our way for the weekend. The only chance I get is Friday afternoon and I make the most of it. The river is still stained from the chunks of ice gouging out the clay and mud banks. I head to the "bunker hole" a winter pool that me and select few know about. The bunker hole to the untrained eye is nothing more than a shallow shale bottom pool. But at certain flows, a lot of fish often rest here. The river takes a sharp turn before spilling into a series of riffles. The tail end of the pool is where the fish are. I use a large pink sac and run it about 3'. The large sycamore that fell into the water has been pushed aside so mending the line is easier. Working the tail end, I make adjustments until I catch the first of five fish from here. It's a skipper and despite the water being a couple degrees above freezing, leaps from the water. All of the fish caught are small in size and being on a clock, I head to the next spot farther downstream. I'm less than half a mile from the lake and fish stage here before heading upstream. The day before I got reports that fish were caught in good numbers. There isn't anybody here which is either a good or bad sign. The morning crowd might of pounded these fish or the bite was off for most of the day. The sun is starting go under the cliffs and I have an hour to fish, so I waste no time. I work the tailout and immediately hook into a small dark male. After that a couple more skippers and the encroaching dark forced me off the river. The weather for the weekend was calling for temperature in the teens and daytime highs in the 20s. By the end of the weekend, the window would be more than likely slammed shut. 

Sunday morning I head out to the upper Grand. It's a shot in the dark, because I have no idea what the river will be like. On the way out, I cross over the Chagrin River and it's completely locked up in ice. Just three days ago, it was free flowing. I pull into Fairport Harbor and drive over the Grand, there is side ice but no slush. I continue north and turn to head east. I past the first parking lot and there isn't a car. The wind is whipping the reeds all over the place and I don't bother stopping. I pass the next lot and no cars. I'm curious to see what the river looks like over the bridge. I drive over and it's locked up in ice. The decision is made to head to the dam. On the way, I cross the river twice and the open water is clogged with slush. I head onto the interstate and I hope there is open water with no slush. I get off the exit and head south to the dam. Driving down the steep hill, I look over and the river is completely open - no side ice or slush. There are no people as I pull in. I gear up and walk to the first spot. In the distance, I see the rock in the middle of the river halfway out. I often use it was a guide when it comes to crossing over. The halfway mark is considered safe to cross over farther down. But when I step in the water, I'm stepping into anchor ice. The bottom of the river is a carpet of ice. My heart sinks as I know anchor ice means poor fishing. I don't even bother to fish this spot and head down river. I walk along the trail and the banks are littered with chunks of ice. I cross over before the cliffs hoping the deeper water doesn't have any anchor ice. There is slush but it's very manageable. The deck is stacked against me - frigid water , slush, and no sun. The sky is dull and grey with a strong wind from the west. Within a few days this section will gradually ice over. I work the entire section along the cliffs until I reach the bend. The river makes a hairpin turn before spilling into a long series of rapids. I don't even get so much as a hit. I'm stepping in anchor ice and watching it come up. I accept that I'll go home with a skunk and the window has shut once again. 

Another round of the bitterly cold comes and the Rocky is once again iced over. I've never seen the river freeze over three times in one winter. But, instead hanging my head, there is another option - the power plant. The power plant is the last option for the steelheader. There is the Cuyahoga and Black rivers, but neither are stocked by the state. I've the Cuyahoga a couple times and I've never fished the Black. But with the plant, my chances of getting fish are very high. Work this winter has been very slow and I've been going home in the early afternoon. I head out one afternoon and the temperature is 10F. I pick up about 3 dozen emerald shiners from the bait shop. I pull into the lot and there isn't a car. I'll have the entire place to myself. The stacks are blowing and I can see steam coming off the water. As far as the eye can see, there is ice. It looks like a lunar landscape devoid of life. In this frozen wasteland, there is an oasis. The open water is full of birds. Hundreds of gulls, ducks and geese. I walk along the beach and I hear the cries and calls. The news reported that over 95% of Lake Erie is frozen over. This is probably the only open water for many miles. I walk along the beach and the gulls scatter. I see the bodies of several mergansers and ducks, victims of avian botulism. I walk around into the plant and I see a couple of mergansers huddled on a rock, weaken by the botulism. They make no attempt to fly away. I eventually make it to the discharge. Steam is rising from the water and I stick my hand into the water, it's very warm. Mergansers, bluebills and scoters are diving into the water seeking food. The warm water attracts large numbers of gizzard shad and emerald shiners. The shad themselves are too big for the birds to eat. I must be mindful not to cast near the birds as they're fast enough to dive after the minnow. I place a couple of egg sinkers and cast out into the current. The sinkers drop fast and I can feel them bounce along the sand bottom. The line is tight against my index finger and I feel slight taps as sinkers roll. I pull off the bottom slightly watching the tip of the rod. Then I feel the line tighten and the rod slams. It's a violent take and the fish charges. The current from the discharge is strong enough that a small fish can feel like a monster. The drag starts to scream and I gain the upper hand getting it out of the current. I watch in amusement as several mergansers dive after the steelhead only to realize that it's too large for them. The number of fish caught made up for the dreary winter that most steelheaders are sick and tired of. 

I lose track of time, but the elements are starting to take a toll on me. My fingers become numb from constantly getting shiners from the bucket. The air is dense and I start to shiver. I look in the bucket and there's probably five shiners left. I've lost count of how many fish I caught and lost. It's starting to get late and I feel the pangs of hunger. I dump the remaining shiners into the water. The shock of being dumped into warm water momentarily stuns and they slowly swim. One of the mergansers nearby sticks its head in the water and quickly darts after one of the shiners and swallows it. Walking back large numbers of gulls take to the sky and I as I turn the corner I feel the full effect of the wind. Nobody is fishing off the point, not when the wind is gusting. My face starts to numb and my waders stiffen from the cold. By the time I reach the Jeep, my waders are completely frozen. I sit the Jeep and wait for them to unthaw. I'm sure I would get funny looks from people at the restaurant when I walk in fully dressed in fishing gear to pick up take out. The waders finally thaw out and I undress. I'm looking forward to eating some of Joe's Deli chicken matzo ball soup and a hot sandwich. The deli is located up the street from where I live so it's a quick drive home. I sit on the couch and put a blanket over me. The soup and sandwich hits the spot. I watch the local news and there is more cold weather on the way. This winter is testing the patience of even the hardest of Clevelanders. Many will stay inside and wait for spring. For others like me, I take winter in stride. I've learned to deal with it and I've said it many times there is always somewhere to fish along the Alley. 

The Urge

The weather honks weren't joking around. I thought they were messing with me. Last month, they called for a colder than usual December here on the Alley. I scoffed and called bullshit. In past years, they never got it right. The last couple of years, we were spoiled with warm winters. There was never the thought of having to wait weeks for a thaw. But, the cold snap did arrive and streams started to lock up in ice. They were extremely low and their feeble flows would easily fall victim to old man winter's deadly grip. A sense of gloom fell upon my fellow steelheaders.

I managed to get out the week before. I struggled on one stream and found redemption on another. I took full advantage of the day. I was on the water at first light and I was driving home in the dark. Because who knew how long the streams would be locked up. The window was closing quickly. Monday morning as I take the trash out, I look down at the Rock and see side ice and slush. The inevitable was going to happen.

The weekend finally arrives and the Rock is locked up tight. Driving along the metro park and there are narrow channels of open water. The entire drive through, there are little pockets of water. It's not even enough to get off a meaningful drift. My gut tells me that the Grand might be fishable, but that's a big but. I arrive home, kick back and watch a movie. I get up to go to the freezer for dinner. Looking inside for the burgers, there's the eggs. I stare at them and I'm tempted to pull a pack out and thaw it. The freezer is loaded with eggs as I splurged this season. Suddenly, there's an urge to pull a pack out. I resist and instead grab the burgers. Through out the night I have this nagging feeling. The urge is driving me crazy.

Saturday is devoted to Christmas shopping as the Grand is still too high to fish. Through out the day I check the flow data. It's coming down nicely. The mall is a zoo and I go from store to store. I weave around a mass of humanity. I dodge small children and inattentive shoppers. Eventually everything is checked off the list and I can relax. I seek refuge in the liquor store and I go through the massive selection of Christmas beers and ales - it's a beer snob's paradise. On the way home, I thought to myself "why didn't I drive out to Lake County and go shopping?" I could of stopped by the Grand right? I never really though of it. I guess it's because I loath shopping and I wanted to stay close to home, in case I had a meltdown in Macy's or something. The urge is really getting to me.

Sunday morning and the windows rattle from the wind. I peek outside and there are some flakes starting to fall. The sky is gray and dull. The temperature outside is 22F. Not my favorite fishing weather. Lying in bed, the urge starts. Get up, roll the dice and go. What's there to lose? Scenarios play out in my head. Drop a lot of money for gas, drive 60 miles, only to see the Grand choked in slush and side ice. But, it might be opened below the dam. Open water all the way downstream. There isn't a soul on the water and the fish are in a playful mood. I hate fighting the urge. Happens every year, especially in the winter. In past years, I driven out only to see a sliver of open water and nothing else. Other times, I thought the stream would be iced over only to find it wide open. The urge starts to go away as I look at the weather forecast for next week. There is a warming trend right before Christmas and that will free the rivers of ice.

That's enough for me to go back to sleep, the urge is finally gone.