Today, the surly sage of the Alley was going to share his deepest knowledge and secrets. My lucky student was none other than my girlfriend. Being from New England, she had no idea what a steelhead was. But she was intrigued and fascinated when I told her tales of my adventures.
Of course, I picked the worst possible day for a beginner - Thanksgiving Day. The streams would resemble a mall on Black Friday. But, I knew the river well enough that I could find at least one fish. I told her we would be waking around 5:30 in the morning. For most women, that strictly interferes with their beauty sleep. Maybe it's a good thing because if some schmuck decides to low holes us, he would have to deal with the wrath of sleep-deprived woman. But she woke up without a fuss and we had a hearty breakfast and off we went.
We made the drive up to the Grand and it was a quarter to seven when we drove by the lower section. I strained to see up the road and there were about 15 cars parked along the road.
Lesson #1 - if the lot is full, don't stop.
I seriously doubt the guys down at the pool believe in chivalry. Some would probably low hole their wives if they started banging fish. I continued down the road and it was the same - cars everywhere.
"good lord, this is ridiculous"
Finally, I found a place with two cars. We walked along the river to the cliffs and I can see a headlamp in the distance, it's one guy fishing. There's plenty of room, but will there be any fish? So far, this has been the season of no rain. A deluge would be considered 20 drops on the windshield. We arrive at the pool and I set up her rod and start showing her how to cast. I'm concerned because of the lumber and gusting winds. It wasn't the ideal place for a beginner to learn and she watched as I taught her the basics of float fishing. After 30 minutes, it was evident that the pool didn't have any fish.
Lesson #2 - Don't beat a hole to death.
We move to another spot and the river is a crowded place. I guess everybody is squeezing in fishing time before the wives start calling. Luckily, I'm off the upcoming week and moving from spot to spot will pay off. It's a short drive, basically over the bridge to another metro park. It's another long sweeping pool and the river is very low. With the whacky weather, many of the fish should be in their traditional winter holding spots, but I suspect they're in the spring and fall spots.
I give her the pole and she starts to cast. Several times, the float falls short of its target. I tell her timing is key. The long noodle rod helps and gradually, she starts getting the hang of it. We shuffle down and I grab the pole to adjust the shots. I cast out as I'm showing her, how to fish near pocket water. I watched the float go pass the rock and it taps and goes under - fish on. I set the hook and to her surprise, I give her the pole. I tell her to keep the rod tip high and let the fish do the work. I have the drag set very loose, probably too loose. I gradually tighten it and tell her to start moving towards shore. It turns out to be a decent size hen, but I feel tinge of guilt because I set the hook. I take a picture of my student beaming and it turns out to be the only fish caught.
Lesson #3 - when the teacher is hungry, it's time to call it a day.
We head back home and prepare a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. During the weekend, I prepare a game plan for Monday and at least I know there won't be as many people.
Lesson #4 - Dress warmly because you never know if you have a leak in your waders.
Monday morning is cold as the temperature is slightly below freezing, I tell my student this is real steelheading weather. Today, we're fishing low at the place I wanted to fish on Thanksgiving. We arrive at the same time and there are about 5 cars. The air is crisp and my student is all bundled up from head to toe. She looks like she's ready to build an igloo. We walk down the trail and from high atop the bank, I look downstream and there are three bank billies and two guys at the top of the pool and one way downstream. With the colder weather, I tell her the fish will at the tail end of the pool. We cross over and head downstream. As we stand in the water, I start to feel water seep into my waders - crap. Once again, I fail to send them out for repairs. I sigh and hang my head.
Lesson #5 - Procrastination is a steelheader's worse enemy
My student was still having a difficult time casting as the river here is wide. The ice on the guides didn't help either. Most of the time, I had to cast out for her and give her the rod. We start to get into some fish, but it turns out to be a grind. I feel bad because she hasn't hooked into a fish on her own. Eventually, my student succumbs to the cold and my left foot feels like a brick, we move to another spot where she doesn't have to stand in the water.
We go back to the same spot where she landed her first fish and because of the cold, I suspect the fish might have pulled back into the deeper holes. Here the hole isn't that far out and my student is able to cast out without much difficulty. She starts working the pool and I'm paying attention to my reel when I hear her say "I think I have a fish" Sure enough the pole is bent over. I tell her to keep the line tight and I start tightening the drag gradually. She slowly brings in the fish and I see a huge grin on her face and it's a nice size female. She picks it up and I take a picture when I'm taking the picture I'm thinking she looks like a model because of designer sunglasses, toque, puffy jacket and long hair. She gently puts the fish back in the water and we watch it slowly swim off. That concludes today's lesson and we go for a nice hot lunch nearby.
Still, the Grand isn't the best river to learn how to fish for steelhead as I was hoping we could fish on a smaller stream. My student is very excited as she's officially caught her first steelhead. I tell her the best is yet to come, but we have to wait for a big blowout. That blowout wouldn't come until the New Year.
It's New Year's day and we stayed out late as we attended a party at a local nightclub. We didn't get to bed until the wee hours of the morning.
Lesson #6 - Get wasted the night before and you missed out on a banner day.
I get the news that the guys were tearing them up - shit. But I was too tired and I wanted to watch the Ohio State vs Notre Dame game. Too bad, I could have used my student to flirt with other anglers and steal their spots. I tell her we'll head out tomorrow morning. The next morning, we're a little tardy and I'm concerned because most of the spots will be taken up. We pull into the lot and I see people under the bridges, below it and above it. I look upstream and there are two guys fishing the bend. I know the bend well enough and I hope the two of them are newbies. Sure enough, they're newbies because they don't have a clue on what they were doing. We patiently wait as we work the water above. Finally, both of them give up and walk away. We move into the spot and the river here is narrow enough that she can hit her target. She starts working the water and I tell her to move the float into the bubble line, where the fish like to hold. For about ten minutes we hit nothing and I adjust the shots and change the sac. I'm confident that she can handle it and I walk up on the bank to look upriver and there are guys everywhere. I look back, I see my student fighting a fish. I walk down and she battling hard. I see the flash and it's a decent size fish. She hauls it and I pull the hook out. I ask her to hold it and we take a picture. She puts the fish near her mouth and pretends to kiss it - nice. I give her a ten for creativity.
My student did well this morning as she caught five and I caught six. We ended up going for lunch nearby and she had to go get her daughter. I drove back and slaughtered them for the rest of the day. It's a shame because I wanted her to tangle with a hog. But, there's plenty of time for that.
My student posted her catch on Facebook and she got a lot of oohhs and aahhs. It was fun watching her set the hook and battling the fish. Other anglers nearby watched and probably muttered under their breath, that they wished they had a hot looking fishing partner. The guys I fish with would never bring their wives because it would never cross their minds. As as a matter of fact, I rarely see a female angler on the river. It's a shame because it's a fun fish to catch. Can't wait to get her kids on the water and watch Mom school them.
Lesson #7 - Take your girl fishing, because she'll love you for it