Give me a piece of fishing equipment and I'll find a way to destroy or render it useless. Some of it can be caused by my indifference to money and other times I'm a clumsy oaf. When I started fishing, I was a cheapskate and that was more by design. I bought the cheapest equipment money could buy. As a college student, I valued beer and women more than fishing. Once I started earning more money, I started buying better equipment and I was always on top on the latest trends. But even expensive stuff still hasn't been able to withstand the rigors of my abuse. It seems every time I write about equipment, I've had to replace something and here's the latest installment.
Simms RiverTek BOA boots
Add another pair of boots that couldn't withstand my torture. The Korkers were the latest victim as they literally fell apart. It was near the end of the season and my boots were close to being done. On one boot, the sole was literally being held by a thread. Walking back to my car, the sole tore off and the other was ready to come off. I shrugged, picked it up and continue to walk. Not wanting to call it a day, I did what any diehard steelheader would do, head to the hardware store for duct tape. I taped the soles back and resumed fishing. I got two years out of them which is a remarkable feat. Here the list so far
Cabelas - trashed
Chotas - toast
Korkers - fubar
This pass summer I bought a pair of Simms RiverTek BOA boots. The boots had the same lacing system as my Korkers. The wire lacing makes it easier to take off the boots and adjust them. They were lighter and the synthetic materials allowed them to dry faster. The only negatives I had were the cleats as they didn't grip very well. I ended up taking them out and replacing them with my Korker cleats. Halfway through the season, one of the laces started to fray and the fly shop where I bought didn't have the wire lace as they were a discontinued model. I was a little miffed that the sales clerk at the fly shop didn't tell me that when I bought them. However, the clerk told me to try a ski shop. I called one and lucky for me he had the lacing that I needed.
Simms Guide Jacket
The next purchase was a new jacket. My Wright McGill jacket was finally done. I had it for five years and it looked downright disgusting. The side pockets and front were stained from egg spooge and slime. The jacket also absorbed water like a sponge. I went with Simms again as I bought the Guide Jacket. The jacket wasn't cheap costing $300.00 and I vowed I would take better care of it. No more wiping my hands on it covered in slime and egg spooge. The jacket is very light and almost feel like a windbreaker. It came with 3 layers of Gore Tex and the first time fishing, it rained and repelled water like off of duck's back. It had two large front pockets, a back pocket and one inner pocket. In the front it a had couple pair of zingers for tools. Even several times out in the bitter cold, the jacket kept me warm and dry.
G Loomis GLX float rod
If there's a piece of equipment that has taken the brunt of my abuse, it's my float rod. The rod has the proof, grooves in the guides caused by the line, sliding rings cracked, and cork and the finish is filthy. The only problem I had with the rod was the cork handle as it started wearing out. Whenever it was cold, the sliding rings didn't grip very well and the reel would slide up and down the handle. A couple of times, the reel fell out into the water and nothing is more worse then a frozen reel. A couple years ago, I broke the tip when I was trying to whack ice off the guides. I sent it out and they replaced the top section for $40.00. Then disaster struck one day last fall when I stumbled down a hill. As I fell forward, my rod and right hand slammed hard onto a rock. Pain shot through my hand and I thought I broke my pinky finger. I looked at my rod and some of the finish had scuffs on it. The pain was so severe that I didn't fish for the rest of the day. I drove home with my hand in a bag of ice. The following week, I'm on the Grand. For the first 45 minutes I didn't get a bite and I head downstream. I start working the pool and I get snagged. I yanked and CRAAACK, the bottom section of the rod broke. It broke right where the rod the hit the rock last week. The blank must of cracked. I was a hot under the collar as my morning was done. There was no spare rod and I wasn't in the mood to drive 50 miles home and drive back out. Disgusted, I stormed off the river and called it a day.
The following day I shipped it out to Shimano in Washington and waited to hear from them. The following week, I get a call from customer service informing me that it will cost $120.00 to replace the rod. I promptly give out my credit card number and they ship it that day. I was hoping I get it before the weekend. I hated using my back up rod as it feels like a pole vault. Friday I see the tube in the apartment lobby and there's a huge smile on my face. I open it and out slides the rod. I unravel the cloth and it's brand new. I couldn't be more happy - new cork, new sliding rings and new guides. I figure in matter of a couple of years, the rod will look like shit.
Simms G3 Guide Waders
I'm fishing the lower Conneaut and the weather is bitterly cold for mid November. I wade into the water and about 30 minutes later my feet are getting colder and colder. I can feel moisture and I know where it's coming from. The neoprene feet must have a leak - crap. I also have some leaks in the knee section of the wader but they're so small that I don't feel it. Fortunately there are some spots where I don't stand in the water and it gives my feet some reprieve. For years, I sprung leaks in my older waders and I finally got fed up with cold feet and soaked pants. Tired of dealing with cheap Chinese shit, I shelled out almost $500.00 for a pair of Simms waders. Even the most expensive waders will eventually spring leaks. After the second season, I started to get leaks and sent them back to Simms for repairs. I ended up getting a free pair, because they couldn't repair them properly. But, even with a second pair of new waders, the inevitable happens - more leaks.
I have both the first and second generation of the reel. The second generation is much lighter and thinner in profile. I've had the reel for a little over three years and its performed flawlessly. Other than chipping off a small piece of the handle, I haven't had any other complaints. Every once in a while, I'll add a couple drops of sewing machine oil to help lubricate the bearings.
Fishpond Dragonfly Guide Lumbar Pack
I hate carrying a lot of stuff. Whenever I'm fishing, I'll see anglers wearing these massive vests. That's a little too much for me. I pack smart because at the end of the day, your shoulders and back will thank you. The Dragonfly is the perfect size as I only carry a small tackle box, tube for the floats and container of eggs. It has the one compartment, so I don't go digging around. The drop down fly table is just big enough to hold jigs. The front pouch has enough room to hold a couple spools of line. On either side, I can carry a couple small bottles of water. I generally wear on the side and its so light I barely notice it.
That's life for a hardcore angler, always upgrading and sending out equipment for repairs. I couldn't imagine if I owned a boat.
There are three certainties in life - death, taxes and rivers changing on the Alley. Just when you think you know the rivers like the back of your hand, your favorite holes and pools are gone after the latest flood. It's just not your favorite stream, but nearly every stream from Ohio to New York. I have photos from ten years ago of the Chagrin, Vermilion, and Rocky rivers and you wouldn't be able the recognize those areas today. Banks get carved out, gravel gets moved, and trees fall in. I can't count how many times, I've seen my honey holes reduced to a section of dead water. The fish just blow through these areas and on some rivers, dead water can go quite a distance. Time to rewrite the book, maps and screw in some new cleats.
This past Wednesday, I'm fishing the upper Chagrin. This section is one of my favorites as it nestled in the sleepy village of Gates Mills. It's a section that runs through a series of metro parks and it has some of the best areas for spawning. In between the spawning areas were some nice pools. I haven't fished it since last year and I wondered what it looked like after the severe winter of this past year. That winter was one of the harshest on record. The rivers were locked in ice for months and when they thawed, massive chunks of ice bulldozed the rivers from top to bottom. Once the ice was gone, nobody knew what the river would be like.
Coming off the trail, the river has a different look. The first thing I noticed is the large gravel bar. Several years ago, there was a nice pool that had a hole about 30' in length. The water is on the verge of clearing and I can't help but notice all of the gravel. The pool was good for a couple of fish, but I rarely fished it. I didn't even bother to toss a float out because I felt it was far too shallow and there wasn't any structure on the bottom. I crossed over and I immediately sunk into the sand and gravel. I walked along the river and I kept sinking into it. It was like a giant dump truck dumped its load there. But I noticed that little hole next to the rock pile. It managed to survive the onslaught of ice. It was one of money holes always good for a couple of fish. Sure enough, I caught a couple of males from the tail end.
The pool above was probably the most productive spot on this stretch of river. The "yapping dog" hole as I affectionally called it. A pair of Weimaraners would always greet anglers and would bark the entire time. At times, it would test the most patient anglers. But today the dogs barely muster a bark, looking at me briefly and ran back to the house on the hill. The pool had drastically change. The hook and fly eating tree in the pool was gone. It had narrowed and towards the tail end the pool widen. Because of the sand bottom it was difficult to gauge the depth of pool. Stacking the shots towards the bottom, it was determined that pool had a depth of six feet. That's considered an abyss for a stream on the Alley. The pool only yielded three fish and one was massive feisty hen that give me a handful full. I worked the pool from top to bottom and didn't so much sniff a take. I was puzzled as to way there wasn't anymore fish.
I continued to walk up and the river was clear enough that I could see bottom. It was scoured cleaned, nothing but gravel. The small run above - reduced to a babbling riffle. My heart sunk as it was a killer run that produced a lot of fish for me. I crossed over and I remember another nice hole that cut along the bank. It was deep enough to hold fish and I vividly remember the monster male that I pulled out of there four years ago. Today, it's barely 2' deep and the fish would blow right through it. As looked upstream, I could see a large gravel island. Under the power lines, this spot was a prime spawning area. Because of the island, the river cut hard against the bank and gouged out a run. However the water flowed really fast. I scanned to see if there were any dug out redds from Pennsylvania steelhead that might of ventured this far upriver - I found none. I walked past another dead section of the river and next pool above was always a producer. I looked at and I knew it was a goner. More gravel and sand. It was far too shallow and no bottom structure. I muttered that all of my honey holes were gone. This turned out to be a trip down memory lane. An entire 2 mile section reduced to marginal water. The only thing I could hope for is the forces of nature to change it again, but that could take years.
Back in the car, I'm writing in my journal
"Nearly every hole is gone except for the dog hole. Marginal water at best. This section is official off the map for the time being"
Back at home, I have 15 years worth of information and from time to time, I'll review them. Some spots never seem to change as they seemly can withstand the force of nature and others are gone for good. Good water on some streams is few and far between. For people saying steelheading on the Alley is easy, I beg to differ. It's a challenge. It seems every year, I fish a different river. Five years ago, I was primarily fishing the upper Grand. Last year, I was spending most of time on the Conneaut. This season, I'm on the lower Grand. But, I will go back to an old spot out of curiosity.
The Rock and most of the other rivers are frozen over. It will eventually melt and start the process of altering the rivers once again. Many of us will wait to see whether our favorite pools and holes will still be there or gone. For some of us, change isn't a bad thing and should be embraced.
OH-IO! The team of destiny finally finished off a fairy tale of a season. It was something right out of Hollywood. A young team that dealt with adversity from day one and was never given a chance of winning it all. They proved their critics wrong and put together one of the greatest stories in college football. It was a bittersweet victory as they brought home their first national title since 2002. Head coach Urban Meyer, a native of Ashtabula, Ohio was hired back in 2012 and many felt he would be the coach to bring another title to Ohio State. In his third year, he delivered the goods with probably the best coaching job in college history.
Unlike the Sugar Bowl game, I was fairly confident that Ohio State could beat the Ducks for two reasons. Ohio State's record against Oregon is 8 and 0. The second reason is Oregon has never been able to win against teams that play smash mouth football. For years, their rival Stanford was able to beat them because they were a big physical team. I remember watching the 2010 Rose Bowl against Oregon and Ohio State neutered Oregon's high-octane offense by controlling the line of scrimmage, pounding the rock and wearing out the Ducks defense. Ohio State had a stable of stud running backs, a monstrous quarterback in Terrelle Pryor and a punishing offensive line that turned the Quack Attack into foie gras. It was old fashion Big Ten football and Ohio State set a Rose Bowl record for time of possession, controlling the ball for over 40 minutes. It was an epic ass kicking.
This time Ohio State would be facing the Heisman winner in Marcus Mariota. Last week, his team blew out last season's national champs Florida State and many had them winning their first title. The Buckeyes had beaten the two other finalists in Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper. Both of them were held in check and never factored in their games. Could Ohio State pull off the trifecta?
The Buckeyes didn't make it easy for themselves as they turned the ball over four times. But the defense held the high-speed Duck offense to 10 points from those turnovers and only allowed them to score 20 points. Oregon could sneeze and score 20 points. The closest Oregon got was when the score was 21-20. Ohio State hunkered down and put together two long drives. They were up by two touchdowns and the Ducks couldn't stop the run. Oregon made a last stand deep in their zone. Mariota threw an incomplete pass and the Ducks turned the ball over on downs. I whooped and hollered as I knew the game was over. Ohio State tried to use as much time as possible, but Oregon still has two timeouts. The Buckeyes were short on 3rd down, but the Ducks were called for offsides. Ohio State was 1st and goal with less than a minute and everybody thought - take a knee and celebrate. Not Urban, he had Ducks by the throat and finished them off by snapping their neck. Elliot barreled in and the final score was 42-20. Another Heisman bites the dust.
The true unsung heroes were the Slobs - the Buckeyes offensive line. Four of them were first-time starters and during the Virginia Tech game, they were clearly overmatched. But as the season progressed, they got better as a unit. The Slobs mauled the Ducks defense and cleared holes for Ezekiel Elliot who went into full beast mode shredding them for a national championship record for 246 yards of rushing and scoring 4 touchdowns. This was Elliot's third consecutive game with more than 200 yards of rushing. As for the defense, both coaches Fickell and Ash called a brilliant game. They rotated players and they held their own against the up-tempo pace of the Ducks. I take back every bad thing I said about Fickell, because last year, I wanted his head on a platter.
As the clock hit zero, the Buckeyes stormed the field. While this game didn't have the drama and suspense of the 2002 game, it was a game for the ages. If you asked me back in August after Miller was lost for the season, if Ohio State would have won the national championship, I would say you're full of it. They were never respected, never given a chance and always viewed as inferior. But they sneered and played with a chip on their shoulders. Urban Meyer made them believe that they were the best and all he wanted was for them to give their best effort. The new playoff system worked because if it was the old BCS system, it would have been Alabama and Florida State. The Buckeyes peaked at the right time and no pun intended took the ball and ran, never looking back. Somewhere Mark May one of the ESPN college football commentators and resident Ohio State hater was served a huge helping of crow as many others were.
Cardale Jones will be forever in Buckeye lore. A troubled youth from one of the poorest neighborhoods in Cleveland, he came off the bench with no starts or experience and won the Big Ten title, the Sugar Bowl, and the National title. He beat three of the Heisman finalists. On Thursday, Jones announced he would be coming back to Ohio State, instead of entering the NFL draft. Only a handful of starters will be graduating and none of the underclassmen declared for the draft. That means the majority of impact players will be returning. This team will be stacked and Meyer won't let them become complacent. The future looks really bright. Can't wait for the beginning of the upcoming season when they play Virginia Tech.
The Buckeyes slayed the giant of college football, the Crimson Tide of Alabama. It was an inspiring and nerve-racking win as the young Buckeyes dealt with adversity and overcame challenges even before the season started. Here's a timeline of what happened
- Two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year and starting quarterback Braxton Miller blows out his shoulder 12 days before the season starts. They were ranked #5
- Redshirt freshman quarterback J.T Barrett wins the starting job even though he hasn't played football in two years
- They get pummeled by Virginia Tech and drop in the rankings all the way to #22
- Penn State takes them to double overtime and they pull out the win
- They beat #8 Michigan State and take over the Big Ten East
- They beat Indiana and win the Big Ten East division
- Player Kosta Karageorge commits suicide before the Michigan game
- The last game of the season, they beat Michigan. The win is costly as J.T Barrett, now a Heisman candidate breaks his ankle. Before his injury, Barrett breaks Drew Brees Big Ten record for most touchdowns in one season with 45 and passes for over 2800 yards
- They end the regular season 11-1, and 8-0 in the Big Ten
- They go into the Big Ten Championship game with their 3rd quarterback Cardale Jones, who's never started a game.
- They annihilate Wisconsin to the score of 59-0 after many (including me) thought they wouldn't win. Jones passes for 257 yards and 3 touchdowns.
- They held Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon - the top running back in the nation and Heisman finalist to under 100 yards
- They make it into the playoffs as the playoff committee votes them in as the 4th seed
Despite hammering Wisconsin with their third quarterback, the national media still had reservations about having the Buckeyes in the playoffs. The 800-pound gorilla was the loss to Virginia Tech. That loss was the second game of the season, with a new quarterback and four new starters on the offensive line. That loss happened so long ago, that it becomes irrelevant. I couldn't name one team that could put out their third quarterback and win in a pressure cooker like a championship game. For weeks the talking heads debated furiously who should be in and should be out.
The day after the win, the committee made their decision. Ohio State was ranked 5th, Baylor was 6th and TCU was 3rd. The playoff committee came out the four seeds - Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State. There were howls of protest
"The Big Ten is the weakest of the five power conferences"
"They only got in because they're Ohio State, it's all about the money"
"TCU drops from 3rd to 6th, how's that possible, they blew out Iowa State?"
"The Buckeyes will be humiliated once again"
The haters couldn't hide their disdain for the Buckeyes as many said Alabama would destroy and humiliate them on the national stage. Alabama was the number one seed and they won the SEC title. I thought the Buckeyes would lose a close game. Some people would call me out for not being a true fan, but I see games in black and white. Saban was the best coach in college football and the Tide crushed Missouri in the SEC championship. But a friend of mine told me Ohio State was a team of destiny. It made me pause for a second - team of destiny, interesting. The media and other fans also gave the Buckeyes a snowball chance in hell of beating Alabama. After all, they've won three national titles in a five-year period. Most predicted a massacre and the game would be over quickly.
It had all the makings of a massacre early on as the Buckeyes turned the ball over twice and Alabama scored on those turnovers. The score was 21-6 and Ohio State seemed lost. Jones seemed to struggle and I wondered when he would succumb to the pressure. I chugged a beer and muttered
"C'mon, guys you have nothing to lose"
Eventually, they settled down and started fighting back, showing that resolve they've displayed all season long. I started to get back into the game with more interest. Near the end of the 1st half, they pulled a play out of the bag of tricks. Both quarterback and the running back did a double reverse and then wideout Evan Spencer throws a beautiful pass into the end zone. Wideout Mike Thomas makes a highlight catch as he leaps in the air and snags the ball. He lands on one foot with an inch to spare on the line. The score was 21-20, it's a game again and the momentum has swung. I remember what my friend said about a team of destiny. Maybe the football gods have decided that Ohio State is the chosen ones, but they must finish the game.
In the second half, they scored again taking advantage of Alabama's only weakness - their secondary. Jones throws a 55-yard bomb to Devin Smith and Ohio State is up 27-21. I crack open another beer and start thinking
"Shit, they might pull this off"
Alabama quarterback Blake Sims throws an interception and defensive end Steve Miller rumbles in for the score 34-21. The breaks are going Ohio State's way, but anybody who follows football knows that momentum can shift quickly. Alabama scores late in the third and score is 34-28 with the fourth quarter starting. I'm starting to sweat, my heart is racing a little faster and the beer goes down faster - 15 minutes until the game is over. The Buckeyes offense stalls and they couldn't move the ball. They go three and out and they're pinned deep. Then a couple of penalties are called against them, making it even worse them. Are the gods going to deny them or are they going to hand them another break? They punted deep in their end zone with barely any field to work with. The punter gets it off fast and it's a terrible punt. The ball barely gets out and it takes a Bama bounce - all the way back to their 23-yard line. It's a gift-wrapped touchdown for the Tide. I'm stunned and blurt out
"We're so fucked"
Only a fumble or an interception would save them. Sims throws an interception on the first attempt at the 1-yard line. The team of destiny dodges a bullet. I'm texting back and forth with friends and none of them can believe what's happening. Neither team can muster any offense. I look at the clock, under four minute which in football feels like an hour. Ohio State starts to move the ball and the momentum swings big time. Ohio State's running back Zeke Elliot blows through a hole and runs 85 yards for the touchdown. The Buckeyes fans in the Superdome go crazy and the Tide fans are stunned. Ohio State goes for the two-point conversion and gets it. The score 42-28 with less than three minutes. Most people think the game is in the bag right? I've watched enough football that I know the game is over when the clock shows zero. Alabama is one of those team that scores very fast and I'm sweating a little harder. The Tide marches down the field and Ohio State gives up a huge play as one of the Tide wide receivers blows by two Ohio State defenders.
It sets up a touchdown and score is 42-35 and it becomes a one-possession game with less than 2 minutes. Alabama attempts an onside kick and it's a textbook kick. The ball bounces high and Even Spencer leaps high and with the tips of his fingers grabbed the ball. All Ohio State has to do is move the chains and run the clock out. That seems logical right? Urban Meyer then picks the worse time to have a massive brain cramp - he throws on first down and Jones goes deep. I'm stunned
"What the hell is he doing?"
The pass is incomplete and they barely used any of the clock. I screaming
"Pound the rock!"
Alabama is too good of a team to give them another chance. That cute play might come back to bite Meyer in the ass. Ohio State goes three and out. I'm getting sweaty palms as Alabama once again starts marching down the field and clock is moving far too slow. Ohio State's defense makes a couple key stops, but there's less than 30 seconds left on the clock, plenty of time to score and tie the game. Alabama moves the chains and they're at midfield. Sims throws a deep pass to the end zone and two Buckeyes deflect the ball. I look at the TV and there are 8 seconds left and Alabama has no timeouts, everybody knows what's coming - the Hail Mary. Sims moves out of the pocket and chucks the ball with all his might. I watch it sail high, making its way to the end zone. The entire stadium is standing and Buckeyes fans across the country are at the edge of their seats. There's a group of players waiting to jump. I'm at the edge of the couch choking the beer bottle. The ball continues on its downward arch and I hear Brad Nessler's play-by-play
"Deep - Hail Mary! Not answered! Intercepted"
The ball goes right into the hands of Ohio State's Tyvis Powell. He grabs it and runs out the end zone, I see the clock - 0:00
I erupt with cheers and a volley of f-bombs. Buckeye fans are in delirium. They pulled off the upset, they beat the supposed giant of college football. Ohio State punched their ticket to the national championship to play against the Oregon Ducks. The team that a lot of people counted out at the beginning of the season, overcame the odds. I really believe this is a team of destiny, we'll see what happens next Monday in Dallas.