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.