There's something odd fishing for steelhead when it's almost 80 degrees. I get this feeling that something isn't quiet right. I've always thought of steelheading as a cold weather fishery. Instead of being in layers of clothing, I'm wearing a tee shirt and shorts inside my waders. Instead of a grey lifeless landscape, the surrounding forest is covered in green. I don't have to worry about succumbing to the cold but I might keel over from thirst and cramps.
I left my apartment in the wee hours and the robins are in full chorus. The temperature is already in the 60s and the high today is suppose to be in the 80s. That's great weather for walleye or bass fishing, but not the best for steelhead. It seems the last trip of the season, always ends on the Grand. I arrive at the lower section of the river when most of Painesville's residents are either sleeping or just getting home from the bar. I'm on the hunt for drop backs and I shouldn't have a problem finding spots as everybody else will be ripping up the redds. I walk up along the trail and see nobody by the cliffs - sweet. The river is low, but has enough color in it to give fish cover and sense of security. It doesn't take long to hit the first fish of the morning. All of the them are spawned out hens and they put a hard fight. Instead of using 6# test, I'm using 8# and I muscle the fish in quickly. Most fight are very brief and I act like one those pro bass tournament anglers who fling the fish out of the water and into the boat as fast as they hooked them. The fish is beached quickly, but I forgot my pliers - shit. I jam my thumb into the fish's mouth and wrestle the hook out. The fish bolts quickly and there's blood all over my thumb. I wash it off and resume fishing. My thumb can't stop bleeding and my fingers are going to take a beating today. Luckily for some of the fish, they pop the hook out while I'm fighting them. I'm perfectly fine with that, ride them until they buck you is my motto.
I clean the pool out and cross over. Up stream, I see a group of anglers piled into an area below the feeder creek. The river here is clearer due to the creek and fish spawning are easier to see. Even though, natural reproduction in Ohio is extremely low, I frown upon the practice of fishing redds. I view it as nothing more than an aquatic canned hunt. The fish are clustered in a small area and are easily foul hooked. For some anglers, the sight of many fish is too hard to pass up. I'm content fishing below and catching fish that are willing to take the bait. I watch several angler's hook up and one them fighting a fish. Early on it's obvious that the fish is fouled hooked because he can't control it. Other anglers take their lines and say nothing. He continued walk downstream, trying to haul in the fish. He's determined to get in because it's large and probably wants a picture of it. I see the fish floundering about and with one surge the fish finally breaks off. The angler spews off a volley of f-bombs for everybody to hear. As he's throwing his hissy fit, I watch the fish go downstream belly up. I try to grab it but it's too far out and it drifts by. Every spring, I see the bodies of dead fish that died because they got over played or were not properly revived. These fish died needlessly and there's times, I've questioned should I be out fishing when the water temperature is over 60F, which is the upper threshold for these fish. That's why I go heavy and I set a time. It shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes to get a fish in. I continue to fish and the action is fast and furious. As the morning progresses more and more people are showing up. By now, I've cleaned out this spot. I check the time and it's not even 11:00A.M, I have plenty of time. I make the decision to head far up stream as I haven't been there in years.
I make the long walk and I'm breaking into a heavy sweat. I get into the car and crank the A/C. By the time I get the upper section of the Grand, the inside of the car is as cold as a freezer. It's almost noon and the sun is high and the wind is hot. I crack open another bottle of cold water and guzzle it down. From above I watch a guide and his client fishing a redd above the bridge. I shake my head and it's another example why I have a problem with certain guides that insist fishing redds. I make the long walk along the river and the peace and quiet is interrupted by the sounds of quads barreling down the hill. I watch three kids plow them into the river and do donuts in the water. They spray mud and gravel all over the place as they whoop and holler. They see me in the distance and immediately leave the river and head back up hill. There's massive blob of stirred mud drifting downstream. Scratch off one pool that I wanted to fish.
I finally I see the stands of sycamores and there's the infamous "sucker hole". I remember six years ago pulling over 20 fish out that spot. Today the spot is a shell of its former self. The entire hole has filled in by half. I managed to catch three fish and the heat was taking a toll on me. I decide to relax under a tree and watch about six males gather behind a hen. I was surprised to see fish this far up river considering it was the 2nd week of May. They seem content and almost cordial to one another or maybe they're all too exhausted to scrap it out. I finish off my last bottle of water and head back where I pick off some more spawned out hen. My last container of eggs is almost empty and I officially end the season by dump the last remaining sacs into the water. Once again, I'm drenched in sweat and fire up the A/C. I stop at a small cafe and order a sandwich and cold beer. I sit in the patio and write in my journal
"Decent number of fish still spawning through out the Grand. Plenty of drop backs and I wouldn't be surprised to see fish still spawning into next week. Worried about the water temperature because it's getting higher and there's no rain in the forecast for the rest of the week"
This season is a carbon copy of the last one - lousy fall, bitterly cold winter and a late spring run. The waders will have to be shipped out for repairs and the summer will be devoted to honing my fly fishing skills for carp. Summer will go by quickly and the cool winds will come across Lake Erie ushering in another season.