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.
"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 low hole him and growl.
"We can play this game all morning long asshole"
He sees that I'm serious. Maybe it's my scruffy appearance and bloodshot eyes that gives him the impression that I might be packing heat. 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 the pool. 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.