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.