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, 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?