I could hear the robins singing in the dark. I glance over at the clock and it's 5:30 in the morning. It's Sunday and I should be leaping out of bed and firing up the stove for some eggs and bacon. The phone should be ringing on where we're going to meet and after wolfing down breakfast, I should be on the road. It's the last outing of the season, I should be pumped. Instead, I have no intentions of getting out of bed. I roll over and go back to sleep. My season ended nearly a week ago.
The last trip of the season was on the Grand after work on Monday. The day before I fished the Vermilion and it was a disaster as we struggled to get any decent number of fish. That's been the theme all spring long - a lack of fish. I wasn't going to end the year with a resounding thud. The Grand was dropping nicely and I wanted to get into some drop backs before the river dropped even further before the following weekend. I finished work early and beat the traffic coming out of Cleveland. It was a beautiful evening to go fishing as the temperatures were in the upper 60s. It was a far cry from a week ago when it was in the 30s and blowing snow. You have to love the weather in Northeastern Ohio during the month of April.
I pull into the lot and wasted no time. My destination is a pool upstream just below a prime spawning section of the river. This pool is usually packed with spawned out fish resting. I walked along the upper bank and scanned the riffle for spawning fish. I couldn't see anything because the river was still murky. I continued upstream and there was the pool. In the distance, I could see a fish rising near the downed tree. I had this feeling that I was going to do well here.
I start at the "meat" of the pool, where I know the fish are holding. With the warmer water temperatures, I have an 8# tippet so I can quickly muscle in the fish. It doesn't take long to get into the first fish - a small spawned out hen. It's the same cookie cutter type of fish, I've been catching all season long - 24" and 5 pounds. Years ago, I remember battling some titans that pushed over 10 pounds spawned out. Those were some epic battles as fish leaped and thrashed about and ran me downstream. But with these smaller ones, I easily haul them in. I beached the fish, I noticed the red blisters on the tail as this little hen tirelessly dug out one redd after another to the point that her bottom tail fin was worn down flat. I quickly release her and she bolts back to her resting spot.
The action was fast as I would watch the float chug along and then suddenly go under quick. There was no light takes as several times I was late on setting the hook. But, I didn't care if I lost fish. I enjoyed the fight and waited for the next opponent. There were no large fish, but the ones I fought with, but up great battles as they leaped and took long runs. That's how the last trip of the season should be - a memorable one.
The action at the pool eventually stops and I head to another section of the river. I don't have a lot of time so I pick a place closer by. I get to the spot and the shadows are starting to creep over the cliffs as the sun gradually starts to set. I start working the run drifting off the main current hoping that some fish are resting. I spend almost an hour working the entire run and all I have is one brief hook up before losing the fish. It's evident that the run doesn't have any fish or they got beat up earlier. I make the long walk back to the car and my stomach is grumbling.
As I'm driving home, I look at the weather for the upcoming week. There's no rain in the forecast but the temperatures will be holding steady. The Grand will be low by the time the weekend arrives and the other ones will be even lower and clear. My weekend is booked with events, so getting out is going to be difficult. But quite honestly, I really have no desire to go out as I've been chasing steel since last September. Nearly all of my fishing buddies have traded in steelhead for walleye and bass.
I look back at the season, and there were plenty of firsts and all of them negative. No fish for the months of September and October, no trips to Pennsylvania, no fish over 30", and the numbers were low again. The fall was dry, early winter was very mild, late winter was very cold and this spring was cold and wet. That's life on the Alley, you have to adapt to the conditions.
I get home and open the freezer to pull out some chicken and there in the corner are the rest of my eggs. There are about eight packs of them. With the awful salmon run of last year, I sweated as the weeks went on in the fall as the tackle shop owner would tell me the grim news every week that he had no eggs. Finally, I was able to secure some, but I was careful not to overextend myself for this year. As for more eggs next season? Who knows? I got news that Michigan's salmon population has crashed to the point of no return. New York's run wasn't that great either, but their population hasn't seen the sudden crash of both Michigan and Huron. Will this be the end of getting a good supply of eggs? I hope not because I don't want to resort to keeping a couple hens for eggs.
I unpack the gear in the basement and hang up the waders. My Simms waders are practically worn out as I had to patch three tears. I've had them since 2012 and I can't really complain about the wear and tear, they stood up to my abuse. I look at the boots and they're tearing at the seams. I'll probably have to replace both waders and boots. I place the rod in the corner and I close the door. There they'll remain until the cool winds come across Lake Erie in the fall.