Fishing and Secrecy

"Where did you go fishing today?"

"Far away"

"Did you fish high or low?"

"I was all over the place"

"How many fish did you catch?"

"Enough to keep me happy"

Fishing and secrecy, some of the best steelheaders I know are infamous for keeping others in the dark. Some of it is deliberate and other times they get great joy of hearing the discomfort on the other line as their buddy is struggling to catch fish.

I tend to fall into the tight lipped category. Whenever someone asked if I having any luck, I give out the most vague response

"I just got here" or "nope"

The person asking the question often continues walking and when they're out of sight, I look over and chuckle. Because, I was banging a ton of fish out of that spot. Why ruin it?

The same can be said about secret spots. Every angler I know has their secret spots. Now many people will often say

"There's no such thing as a secret spot on Steelhead Alley! Everybody knows your favorite spots!"

While that might be true in the urban areas where the majority of anglers fish elbow to elbow. Everybody knows the names of the most popular holes and pools. Those spots are often great and can hold a lot of fish. But you'll have to deal with a ton of people. I leave those places to the hordes.

I usually go off the beaten path, deep in the darkest reaches of the Alley. I'll fish waters that have rarely see a line. I'm willing to go the extra distance. That's where I find my secret spots. The places that many are not willing to go. The long hikes through the woods and crossing over numerous times to get my spots. There I find solitude. I guard these places unwilling to share the locations. I worked hard to find them. I know for a fact that a couple of diehards I've fished with would never disclosed their secret spots. I liken it a strict code among the best of the steelheaders.

It's not that I'm selfish, but I've learned that over time shooting your mouth off can have dire consequences. That's why I rarely post anything on social media. I live by the motto

"You're on a need to know basis and you don't need to know".

I remember when going on other either steelheadsite or ohiogamefishing and shaking my head when I read reports. The person posting the report gave out the name of the river and location. I couldn't believe that some people were stupid enough to give out that much information. I chalked it up to someone being naive and feeding their ego. However, I know some individuals that deliberately posted a bogus report to deflect pressure on their home waters. Quite honestly nobody knew if the report was real or not. Just like fishing and secrecy go hand in hand. So does bullshitting and lying. That can be an entire other story, which I plan on writing about.

Sites like those created friction because there was a group of people that believed the internet was the sole reason for the increase in crowds. That's debatable today, because steelheadsite no longer exists and reports on ohiogamefishing are few and far between. Facebook is the place now where everybody shares their outings. If the internet disappeared tomorrow, the number of people fishing would be the same.

There's a very small and I mean a very small circle of people, that I feel comfortable enough that I'll give out information. I liken it to a brotherhood. I know who to trust and not to trust. The people that I trust the most are the ones that I developed a deep relationship with. We often help one another out and there's been times when I was one river and they were on another, we would call to see what the action was like. Sometimes they thought a certain river was too high and I rolled the dice and made the drive out and it turned out to be the right call. They would call and say the fishing was awful and I would tell them that the action was hot. But when it came to those secret spots, I would rather have ice picks stuck in my balls than give out the exact location.

Unfortunately Mother Nature has played a role in our secret spots. She has the power to make them disappear. High water and ice are the culprits as they move gravel and mud from one spot to another. Banks get chewed out by ice and alter the flow. I've lost count of how many spots I lost over the years. It's a trip down memory lane as I tick off another spot that filled in. At times, it's heartbreaking as I walk and piss and moan that another spot is gone. But I have stumbled onto new spots and on my maps, I'll mark an X on it.

Some people will view my comments as anti-camaraderie or being selfish. The way I see it, there are no set of rules as everybody follows there own. Put in the work and find those places where you can enjoy the solitude and reap the awards.

The Climb Up Mount Washington

I peek out from our room's window and the skies have cleared from yesterday's rains. Stepping outside onto the balcony, I watch the shadows of several clouds roll over the surrounding mountains. We only have one day in New Hampshire as the majority of our vacation will be spent in Maine. On the agenda is the drive to the top of Mt Washington, the highest point in New England. It was something that we really didn't talk about prior to the trip. The fall foliage season was still weeks away. We didn't want to do a hike or shop. We to wanted to do something fun. After researching about the area, the Mt Washington auto road came up in several articles on the Internet. Many people raved about it

Awe inspiring drive

Nerve wrecking! Not for the faint of heart

The views from the top were breath taking

Checked another one off the bucket list

We were intrigued and I figured it was something that we do and brag about it to our friends and co-workers.

We head out of North Conway, up highway 16 north. I noticed the winds are still strong from yesterday. It was an ominous sign as we fought gusting winds from Pennsylvania well into New York Friday evening on our way to New England. We can see Mt Washington and from a distance it doesn't look all that sinister. It almost looks inviting. There's no craggy top or steep rock cliffs. It looks wide and weathered, more like a gigantic hill than a mountain. But there's one thing that the mountain is notorious for and that's erratic weather. It holds the record for the highest recorded wind speed at 231mph and wind gusts exceeding 75mph happen over a 100 times in the year. If you're lucky you get the average wind speed of 35mph. You never know what you'll get in a given day. It can be sunny, raining, or foggy or all three in the same day.  

We see the sign for the Mt Washington auto road and turn in. As we approach the gate, we see a sign

“If you have a fear of heights, you may not appreciate this driving experience”. People not wanting to drive themselves can take a guided tour"

Fear of heights, that's something I have. But, I'm too curious not to do it. We drive up to the gate, I see the trees moving about from the wind. I figure the winds around 20 to 30mph. The person at the gate comes out and informed us that

"Winds at the top are gusting over 70mph and visibility is currently poor near the summit."

I don't bother to ask when will the clouds will go away, because he probably has no idea. I look up and I can't see the top of the mountain. Prior to going we thought about taking the cog train. But it was more expensive and took much longer. I wanted to experience first hand driving up one of the most unique roads in North America. We paid the $40.00 admission fee and got a CD and the famous "This car climbed Mt Washington" bumper sticker.

We were in my girlfriend's Hyundai Sante Fe and she just had brand new tires put on before the trip. As for the brakes? They were still the original ones and she had 60,000 miles on the car. I couldn't imagine anyone being stupid enough to take their beater up this road, but I'm sure some people where dumb enough to do it and lived to tell about it. 

The road climbs 4,618 ft from an altitude of 1,527 ft at the bottom to 6,145 ft at the top. The average gradient of 11.6%. The road is about 7.6 miles long. It was completed and opened to the public in 1861. Heading up the road, the car whines as it starts its ascend. My girlfriend's car has about 190hp. I think about the cars back in the early 20th century when they had the fraction of power of today's cars. Just the thought of a Model T and it's 20hp engine chugging up the road would make me chuckle. Before that teams of horses routinely took tourists up and down the road. 

The first part of the ascend is uneventful as the trees provide a sense of security. The maples and oaks grew close to the road on both sides and it feel almost like a Sunday morning drive. I look at my girlfriend and she has that look of disbelief that we're actually doing. Ascending Mt. Washington you will pass through several distinct ecological zones. At the base is a forest of northern hardwoods, followed a bit higher by a forest of spruce and fir. As more elevation is gained, trees become small and stunted. These dwarf and gnarled trees of the sub-alpine zone are called krummholtz. Tree line, the elevation above which trees do not grow, is about 4,400 feet , nearly 2,000 feet below the summit of Mt. Washington.

By the time we're over 3000' the winds are gusting hard and I can feel the car getting pushed around. I look at the scrawny fir and spruces getting whipped around. I start to get a feeling of uneasiness as we have to contend with the clouds. At 4000' were at the tree line and wind becomes more furious. Visibility starts to rapidly deteriorate and I see the look of fear on my girlfriend's face. The car is barely moving along as I struggle to keep it as far away from the edge as possible, as there are no guard rails along the entire length of the road. We get on the gravel section of the road and it's extremely narrow and steep. I hear the rocks pop under the tires as we crawl along. I strain to see and hope that nobody is coming down. Now I starting sweat and I have a death grip on the steering wheel. I finally crack when I can't see anything. My girlfriend points out a pull off and pull in. I shut the car off and the wind outside is howling. The clouds are racing by at an incredible speed. We sit for a few minutes to collect ourselves. I open the door and I'm blasted by the wind and the air is cold. When we entered the road at the bottom it was the low 60s. I feel the wind rip through my fleece jacket. We manage to take some pictures, but the clouds obscure the view. We quickly get in the car and I look at the road. I see a mini van go by and disappear into the clouds. I ask my girlfriend if we should continue because the conditions are so bad. She tells me we're so close and going back isn't an option. I begrudgingly agree because I would have to return the bumper stick in disgrace. After 20 minutes we get a break in the clouds and quickly get back on the road. Sensing the window could close quickly, I speed up the hill. We see the 6 mile marker and we have another mile to go. I quicken the pace as the road is a little wider and flat. Before you know it, there's the parking lot and the clouds quickly move in. We made it to the top. 

I take my hands of the wheel and let out a sigh of relief. We get out and walk to the stairs. The wind is strong enough that climbing it is difficult. I noticed my lungs started to sting whenever I breath. We're over 6000' and the air is thinner. We huff and puff up the steps and we reach the top. We see several people, mostly hikers that made the climb up and they looked dressed for winter. 

We start to get cold and take refuge in the gift shop. I crack the door open and we quickly enter. Once the door is close it's very quiet. You can't even hear the wind outside. I see a elderly gentleman behind the counter reading a book. He asked how was a our morning and I reply 

"nerve wrecking"

I asked him how does he deal with ride up and down the mountain and he dryly replies

"You get use to it"

He goes back to reading his book. We walk around and there's nothing that interests me. I open the door and wind blast us. Mt Washington state park is fairly small as it's about 60 acres in size. The park has a gift shop, cafeteria, museum, and the famous weather observatory. Despite the awful weather, the park this morning is a bustling place when we enter the main building. At the front desk, I look at the weather report

Winds gusting between 50 to 70mph
Temperature 34F with wind chills of 20F

I ask the person behind the desk how long will the clouds last and he replies

"It depends, because of the storms yesterday, but they should clear out..........hopefully" 

He didn't sound so confident. Asking for a future weather report on top of Mt Washington is pretty well pointless. Why does Mt Washington get such lousy weather? It's partly due to the convergence of several storm tracks, mainly from the Atlantic to the south, the Gulf region and the Pacific Northwest. All three of them routinely hit the White Mountains. The mountains act like funnel and that's the reason for the constant strong winds. Even though Mt Washington is only 6200' it's weather on the summit especially during winter can rival the highest Himalayan peaks. For the time being we just have to be patient and hope for clearer conditions. 

Since we got free admission to the museum, we go there to kill time. The museum is small, but there plenty of information and displays about the weather, the people who study it, and the unique flora and fauna found on the summit. After 30 minutes we head back up to the cafeteria and outside you can't see a thing. The clouds race by and just like at the gift shop  you can't hear anything outside. The buildings on the mountain are well built to withstand the elements. We get a couple cups of coffee and I see the groups of hikers filing in. Their faces are red from the cold. It's been an hour and there's been no let up with the clouds. I'm concerned that we could waste a lot of time sitting here. I can't imagine the disappointment from the people who came up the mountain on the cog train. The train takes over an hour and half to get to the top. We hear the call that the train will be departing soon. I'm sure the majority of people that came up were hoping to see the surrounding scenery. Once in a while there's a break in the clouds and people rush towards the windows to get a glimpse. I finished my coffee and I look at the time it's almost noon. I'm getting antsy as I want to start heading down. 

Finally we get a break in the weather. The clouds gradually disappear and there's nothing but blue skies. The majority of people start to file out. We exit the center and walk towards the cog rail broad walk. I can see as far as the eye can see. I've heard in the mornings if the conditions are clear that you can see the Atlantic Ocean. I see the smaller row of mountains and the clouds far off in the distance. My girlfriend points out Lake Winnipesaukee where she stayed last month. I taking as many pictures as possible and the view is indeed breath taking. 

Finally it's time to start heading down. We get the car and I remember from the CD that the car should be in 1st gear for the descent. Because of the clear conditions, there's plenty of cars making their way up. The engine whines as I slowly head down. We reach the dreaded gravel section and according the CD that cars on the way up have right of way. But I have no interest in waiting as I don't want to stop precariously to the edge of the road. I creep along and there's inches to spare as I pass a large pickup. Around the hairpin and down the road we stop at an outlook. We're around 5000' and we get out. The wind isn't as strong and we take in the scenery. I could be standing on a summit somewhere in Rockies or Asia. There's a sign asking people not to walk off the trial as the surrounding vegetation is fragile. I take several pictures of Tuckermen's ravine a popular spot for downhill skiers. It's the last stop on the mountain as we wind down the road and we see the enterance to the auto road. It's another check on the bucket list as I drove up to one of the highest point on the eastern seaboard of North America. We have lunch at a restaurant at the base of the mountain. Sitting out on the patio, I look up and I catch the glimpse of the sun's rays bouncing off the windows of the cars going up the road. They look like tiny specks of light. 

The Mt Washington auto road is a one of a kind road and unlike any other that I've driven. It's both awe inspiring and terrifying. 

Last Trip To My Home Town

Written in my journal a few years ago

There's something about growing up in a small town. It's the innocence, being isolated and making the most of what you have. My hometown of Chelmsford, Ontario was nestled in the middle of the Sudbury basin. Chemmy as some the locals called it, was 12 miles northwest from the city of Sudbury. While 12 miles doesn't seem a lot. It felt like I was in another world when I was a kid.

It was a bedroom community mostly comprised of blue collared workers that worked in the outlying mines. It was your typical two light town. The Canadian Pacific railway ran along the northside of the town. There wasn't a mall or theater. Just a few restaurants and stores. The arena was the only place that served to fill our entertainment needs as many of us learned to skate and play hockey. 

Back in the 70s, we didn't have cable and there were two channels, one in English and other in French. You had to use your creativity to fend off boredom. Some kids played sports and others found some type of hobby. I could be found in the bush exploring or at one of the streams or lakes fishing. During the winter, I would often be in my bedroom reading books. But as with most kids from small towns, they out grow their childhood homes and move to bigger and better places. Mine was to Southern Ontario, then to Alberta and eventually the United States. I moved to the Cleveland area in 1998 and I've been there ever since. 

Last week I made the journey to meet my family to spread my father's ashes. My father passed away last December after complications from his surgery. My father was never a religious person. In his will, he didn't want a funeral and his wishes were to have his ashes spread at the golf course where he played. 

Sunday morning, I leave Cleveland blurry eyed and tired. The night before I was at the U2 concert and I was lucky to get any sleep. The last time I was back home was 2009. A week after visiting, my grandmother had a stroke. Due to her age and the severity of it, my father and uncle made the decision to move her closer to my uncle in Ottawa. Years before that my parents moved to British Columbia to be closer to their grandchildren. In 2012, I got news that my aunt Lillian and uncle Robert had sold their home and moved to Ottawa as my aunt was the early stages of dementia. They were the last of my extended family in the area. That's when I wondered if I would ever return.

Eight years later, I'm driving up north. The sprawling urban jungle of Toronto gradually gives way to the rolling hills and then the rocks and lakes of the Canadian Shield. It's a quiet trip as my girlfriend is sleeping. I use the time to reflect. My father was in poor health for several years. My father and I had a strained relationship. We were never close and our personalities often clashed. I hadn't seen my sister and her family for a very long time as she lived in British Columbia. My younger brother's life was a mess and he was slowly putting the pieces of it back together. Earlier in the year, my grandmother passed away. It was a stark reminder that I'm getting older. I get a text message from my sister and I tell her I'm almost near the city limits. In the distance I see the superstack, the iconic symbol of the city. We check into the hotel and head over to the restaurant where they were eating. 

As we walk in, there's my sister and her husband and their youngest son. My mother hugs me and cries as it has been some time since I've seen her. Also in attendance is my uncle and one of his sons. I go over and hug my brother. I introduce my girlfriend to everyone and settle down to eat. It's a little overwhelming because we're so spread out across the country. It's a time of catching up and I'm mostly listening as I'm stuffing my face with food. The next morning, we're all meeting at the golf course. We get back to the hotel and I'm out before my head hits the pillow. 

The next morning, we meet at the Lively Golf Course, where one of my father's friend has planted a tree in his honor. It's a small blue spruce planted near the 18th hole. We all gather around and my mother breaks down as she spreads his ashes around it. My brother, I, and my sister gather to support her. My uncle says goodbye to his brother and tells him that both Lillian and Robert wished they could be there. As we start to leave I look back at the tree and wonder how big it will be when I'm 72 as that was the age of my father when he died. 

After the ceremony, I take my girlfriend and mother to Chelmsford. We drive on the Northwest bypass and in the distance I can see the town down in the valley. The town has grown as there's several new developments off the highway. We come up to the traffic light and there's the old grocery store where I worked as a teen as did my mother. We turn onto highway 144 and there's the Canadian Tire, KFC, Belanger Ford, and Northland Hotel. The four places I remember from my youth. I see my old high school that is slated to close due to low enrollment. My father was a teacher there his entire 30-year career. We drive down Edward Street and see the house that I grew up in. As it was in 2009, the house is for sale again. I tell my girlfriend all of the names of the people that lived on that section of the street. Not surprisingly, nearly all of them are gone except for the Daiglemen's.

We start our tour and I point out houses of people that I knew and asked my mother if they were still around. Most of the answers were no. We turn onto Main Street and nearly all of the stores that I remember are gone. The sporting goods store, the steak house, and the Sears store where my mother use to pick up her parcels when she ordered from the catalog. There is a sense of sadness because it's not the place that I remember. Everything on the street looks old and tired. I point out the Algoma Hotel and the French church as they are the two oldest buildings in the town. 

We cross over the Whitson River into Whitson's Gardens. This the section of Chelmsford where I grew up as a young kid. It was the place where a lot of the younger families lived in the 70s. Back in the day, we would be playing out in the bush or riding our bikes throughout the neighborhood. Today, it's eerily quiet. Not one kid was out. The neighborhood has seen better days. We drive onto Goldie Street and I stare at the townhouse where we lived in. My brother was borned shortly after we moved in. It was small but cozy. Eventually we out grew it and moved to the house on Edward Street. On top the hill was the water tower and the jack pines scattered along the rock outcrops. During the summer, I would be in the bush either catching garter snakes or picking blueberries. As with every other place, I would tell my mother about remember that family or that kid I went to school with. We drive up Errington Street and there's the post office and one of the grocery stores. Not to my surprise the Chinese restaurant Chew's is still open. The hardware another fixture of the town is still there. We get to highway 144 and head north to see the High Falls in Onaping.

Back in the 70s and 80s, there were still a lot of people working in the mining industry. But as time went on, the mines didn't need as many people working there. As people retired, some stayed and others left. As teenager I felt like living in Chelmsford was too isolated. I was confined to the valley. When I got my driver's licence it became more bearable as I was able to venture to Sudbury. But, I wanted to remove my shackles. When we went to Toronto, I was at awe of the size of the city. The different types of people and cultures. When I graduated from high school I went to college in southern Ontario. I had big dreams. Some of classmates went out of town and others went to either Cambrain College or Laurentian University. A few returned, but the majority of us never looked back. But I'll never forget my roots. After seeing the falls, we drive through Chelmsford and I wonder if the citizens of the town will try to save the school. The Northland Hotel, Canadian Tire, and Tim Horton's will be there long after I'm gone. 

Tuesday morning, we leave the hotel and I stop to fill up at the gas station. The clerk notices my U.S credit card and asks what brings me to Sudbury. I tell him I was here to spread my father's ashes and I brought my American girlfriend to show where I grew up. We talked for a little a bit and he asked if I would come back and I shrugged and replied "Not sure." When I got back in the car, my girlfriend asked what I was saying to the clerk. I told her we talked about spreading my Dad's ashes and if I would come back. She said it would be nice to check up on the tree. I glanced over and smiled, but I didn't respond. 

For some us we never go back to the place were we grew up. For others, it's the nostalgia. If my father didn't want his ashes to be spread back home, then 2009 probably would have been my last trip back home. However, I do have a lot of fond memories of my home town. It was an important part of my life. It shaped me for who I am. The surrounding bush and lakes is why I went to a natural resources school. I had a love for the natural environment and if I grew up in a city I would most likely be doing something else. 

As for coming back? I have no idea. My brother is the closest living 4 hours away. My mother still has friends back in Sudbury and Chelmsford. But she getting older and eventually one day she won't be able to do it. Will the tree be there in ten, twenty, or fifty years? I still remember receiving the call from my mother when she told that my father was being taken off life support. I was stunned but I felt emotionless. Ever since they moved out west, I rarely talked to my father. If I did it was brief. His death didn't leave me any closure. There were still questions that needed to be answered.

We turned onto the highway 69 and head south. I looked in the rearview mirror and see the last views of the Sudbury. Inside my head, I said farewell to home. 

The Ethical Angler

I've always considered myself to be an ethical angler. During my time in boy scouts, I first learned about appreciating and respecting the natural environment. That we were to be the stewards of the land and water for future generations to enjoy and preserve. I applied that philosophy when it came to fishing. I was taught early on about the old saying "catch your limit, but limit your catch". That was more evident when I would fish the small brook trout streams where I grew up outside of Sudbury, Ontario. The streams were small and the number of trout in them was few and far between, due to the easy access of old logging roads. It was hard to fathom it considering the number of lakes, rivers, and creeks found around my home town. But many of those of the places suffered from the decades of overfishing and degradation of the surrounding environment. As I grew older, I became a catch and release angler. I would try to do the little things such as pick up litter or volunteer with annual clean ups. Anything to help make the environment a better place for everyone whether they fished or not. 

I would describe myself as an angler that follows a strict moral code. The code I follow is basically like the ten commandments 

Thou shalt not fish redds
Thou shalt not litter
Thou shalt give my fellow anglers space
Thou shalt respect landowner's property
Thou shalt respect the rules and regulations set by the state I'm fishing in
Thou shalt respect the environment
Thou shalt practice catch and release
Thou shalt respect the steelhead
Thou shalt fish responsibly
Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain whenever I get skunked or lose the state record steelhead

Being ethical goes deeper than the rules and regulations. It comes from the heart and soul and who you are as a person. Either you have ir or you don't, that's how I view it. Because, nearly every outing I see some type of unethical behavior. People not picking up their litter or not respecting an angler's space. Then there's the behavior that I find really disturbing. Seeing the bodies of fish thrown away just for the eggs or snagging fish off the redds. I've also seen a parent fishing in a unethical way with a child next to them. In my head, I want to lecture those anglers that it's wrong. But the rational side of me, knows that I'll be either engaged in a war of words or even worse fists. What can I do? That's the dilemma that I have to deal with whenever I see something that I view as morally wrong. 

So how does the ethical angler makes his fishing community better? By setting an example to others. Ask if you can fish below another angler. That person might appreciate that gesture. Every angler wants to be treated with respect. Pick up litter in front of other anglers.  Volunteer to help with annual river clean ups. The Cleveland metro parks does a fantastic job as they have their annual clean ups on the Rocky River. The Ohio Central Basin Steelheaders is another local club that has river clean ups. Both also have events to introduce potential anglers to the fishery and they stress education and conservation.

If there's one group that I try to target that is the younger generation. I try to teach them ethical sportsmenship and respecting the environment. They'll be the ones asked to preserve and protect it once I hang up the pole. The environment they'll be inheriting is going through changes as we speak. Invasive species, loss of habitat, and pollution are threatening Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes. Algae blooms are occurring more, weather patterns are more erratic, and some fish populations are declining. 

As an angler it does worry me that the younger generation is losing it's connection with the outdoors. When I was a youngster, I didn't have a computer or a smartphone. During the 70s before cable, we had two channels in Ontario, one in English and the other in French. To stay active, I spent a lot of time in the bush or on the water. During that time, I started to appreciate this wonderful resource that I had. As I gotten older and wiser, I learned that any resource shouldn't be taken for granted. Steelhead Alley's unique fishery is dependent on the number of licenses purchased as the streams can't support a sustainable fishery. How the fishery will survive and continue to grow is educating the next generation, teaching them ten commandants I that follow. It's that simple. 

Angling ethics is not a problem belonging to another person; it's a problem that belongs to all of us.

The Steelhead


The steelhead is sleek and silver. Much like the contours of an exotic sport car that was painstakingly created. The body is sturdy, the upper back is a gun metal grey and pure silver along the sides. The tail, is oversized and powerful, as exaggeratedly proportioned to its size as are the fish's speed and power. 

Out in the vast expanses of Lake Erie, the steelhead searches for food. Gaining the weight necessary for the long duration in streams found along the lake. Some enter the river in early fall and others in the spring. During that time, they under go changes. The females darken and their bellies get bigger as the eggs inside develop. The males also darken, their cheeks turn red, their bellies turn charcoal, and their jaws elongate. During that time they patiently wait in the depth of the pools. They endure the frigrid temperatures of winter. There they wait for the longer days when the waters warm enough for the females to move onto the gravel and spawn. 

When I first moved to Ohio in 1998, I didn't even know the state stocked them. Back in my native Canada, I never really fished for them as the closest steelhead streams were the ones that flowed into Lake Superior. That was a little too far for a college student that had a less than reliable car and the lack of funds to make the journey. I watched several anglers on the Chagrin River and they either employed a fly rod or used a spinning reel. I opted for the fly rod because that's what I used for brook trout back home. It took a lot of trail and error and picking the brains of the more seasoned anglers. I still remember the first steelhead I caught, which happened to be a small skipper. There was this great sense of pride that this little fish took my feeble looking zonker. That planted the seed and overtime grew into a life time of passion.

A steelhead fights with a ferocity that other fish can't rival. The walleye is a slug and the smallmouth bass is more a scrapper. With sizzling runs, steelhead will often wreck themselves jumping from the water. But others are more methodical. They'll stubbornly stay on the bottom, refusing to yield. When we bring them in close, they unleash a powerful surge back into the river. It becomes a battle of attrition. Sometimes the battle is won by a simple head shake or a in your face leap and we just stand there either miffed at loss of focus or we tip our cap.

The steelhead can be a puzzling creature. Despite our decades of knowledge, these fish can be maddening. Conditions can be perfect and we didn't even get a bump. We tirelessly work the water. Going from pool to pool, we change colors and patterns and still nothing. The day ends with one or two fish and we head home scratching our heads at what did we do wrong. Then there's the times when aggressively strike at anything you offer. It doesn't matter what you offer them, they'll eagerly take it. The numbers start to pile up and you're in disbelief at the number of them landed. There seems to be no middle ground with them. 

It's been nearly 20 years here on the Alley. I was the green steelheader that no experience. During that time, I've logged countless of hours on the rivers. There was a lot of frustration but I was determined. I studied the rivers with great attention. Lost count of the miles I walked through the woods or along the streams. It didn't matter if it was freezing cold, lake effect snows, or blistering heat. I was always somewhere starting from September until May. I've develop a great respect for the steelhead. It's a worthy opponent that has humbled me numerous times. The steelhead is truly a magnificent fish.

A Break From Steelheading

"Is that a friggin gar??"

I curse under my breath as I watch a couple of them cruise by me. Just the sight of them is a pretty good excuse to call it a season. A few days before a little birdie told me that a couple of guys were catching some walleyes on the lower end of the Rocky. Eager at the chance of getting some, I was a couple of days too late. By now the river was clearing and there was practically no flow. Before the arrival of the gars, the month of May was one of the wettest since 1953 and it was cool enough that late arrivals found perfect conditions and lingered after spawning. Ever since I lived here, it was one of the best late season steelheading I've ever had. I took full advantage of the fishing as many of my fellow steel headers decided to call it quits weeks ago. It was more than I needed to get it out of my system because more than often, I go into fasting mode once I toss the gear in the corner.

Summer is when I take a break from fishing. I know that sounds crazy. Nearly every person I know waits with great anticipation to head out onto the big pond for walleye, bass, or perch. Others make their annual pilgrim to Canada for lakers or pike. It's a combination of being burned out chasing steelhead since last September and I need to make up for all times that I conked out on my girlfriend after a long day on the river. 

So what do I do during the off season?

If I'm in the mood, I'll head over to the Vermilion to fish for channel cats in late May or early June. The lower Vermilion has plenty of deep holes and pools for cats to spawn in. Before making the trip, I'll go to the grocery store and haggle with one of the clerks working the seafood department asking what's the oldest shrimp on display. I often get a bewildered look when I ask and then that blank stare is gone when I tell them it's bait for catfish. With shrimp in hand, I let it stew on the counter for hours, the funkier, the better. Cats love the smell of rotting shrimp. The other available big quarry is carp. I've been dabbling in fly fishing for them, but ever since that virus swept through Lake Erie, the carp population got hit hard and there isn't as many as before. I've been spoiled by the hard-charging and violent fights of the steelhead that catfish and carp aren't quite up to the task. Call me a snob or an elitist, but my heart lies with the steelhead and I'm quite content to wait out the summer. 

Summer is when I'm the busiest with work. The last thing I want to do is be out on the water after a day being out in the field when the sun is scorching and the humidity is stifling. Most of the time I just don't have the time because I pursue my other passion which happens to be running and once steelheading season starts, I toss the sneakers into the closest. I love to run through the metropark in the evening. It releases a lot of the stress of dealing with a busy schedule. It refreshes the mind and cleanses the soul. The weekends are devoted to spending time with my significant other. She's a saint that puts up with my passion and I try to make up the time, by taking her out for dinner on a patio somewhere in Cleveland or lying on the hammock in the evening and listen to the chorus of tree frogs.

Whenever I enter my office, there's all of my gear is scattered about. The waders and jacket are hanging up. The waders need a patching job as there are several leaks that need attention. The jacket needs a wash and coating of water repellant and the cleats on my boots are worn to a nub. But, I'm procrastinating. I always do it every year. I could devote an evening to do it, but I keep telling myself that I have all summer. You would think it would be so easy, but it's not. More than often I just forget or I don't pay attention until something like my feet are freezing because that little leak has finally turned into a bigger one.

We all need a break from our passions and pursues. As much as I love steelheading, I start to get burned out and in some cases jaded from catching so many. I know my wallet takes a beating and I fret that I'm going over my mileage limit on my car's lease. Then there's the times when I loathe sitting at the table and tying sac after sac. I look at the time and it's almost midnight and I'll be on the road in five hours driving almost a 100 miles. Over the season it starts to add up.

After the 3rd week of May, I start my fasting from steelheading and when the cool winds come across Lake Erie in the fall, I start to feel that hunger come back.

Spring Steelhead

fishing Rocky River

The lifeless landscape starts to slowly awaken after a long winter. The trilliums, skunk cabbage, and bluebells are the first to poke through the forest floor. As the days get longer and warmer, the entire forest floor is a carpet of green. The willows and dogwoods are usually the first trees to sprout their leaves. Long gone is the bitter cold and waiting for the rivers to unthaw. I rejoice that the days are getting longer. But, it also signs that the season will eventually come to an end.

Spring is a time when I'm starting to get burned out by chasing steelhead. Getting up early, making the long drives out, and walking the endless miles to sate my appetite for them. My SUV reeks of musty waders and boots. The floor is littered with wrappers from the endless supply of protein bars I've eaten. It needs a good cleaning and detox when I finally call it quits which honestly I can never give an answer. Trips are often close to home as I really don't have the energy to make the drive to Conneaut or Ashtabula. I'm content fishing the Rock after work. There's always plenty of room because the majority of anglers are raking the redds. Yes, I hate the practice of flossing fish. But, it certainly frees up a lot of spots.

Dropbacks are my primary target. After spawning, they're lean and mean. They'll aggressively hit any offering you throw out at them. Despite looking famished and beaten up, they fight incredibly hard. They'll rip off line with relative ease. Many times I have had drop backs launch themselves out of the water and recklessly charge downstream.

With the days getting longer, I can now make the trips out east after work. But spring brings unpredictable weather along Steelhead Alley. Temperatures one day can be in the 40s and a couple of days later rocket into the 70s or even the 80s. With wild fluctuations, that usually means thunderstorms. Severe storms can quickly turn a lazy flowing river into a torrent of raging muddy waters. One river that is susceptible to unpredictable weather is the Grand. I've seen in past years, the Grand going the entire spring unfished because the river could never make down to fishable levels. It would tease us as the level would gradually go down. At times it was so slow, it was maddening

"She might fish in a couple of days.............I hope"

I would be frothing at the mouth at the number of fish to be had. But, then a storm would dump rain and she would go out of her banks and another week was shot.

Knowing that my window of fishing would be closing for the Grand, I made the trip out after work. My home river was low and the resident fish were beyond beaten up either by spawning or repeatedly being caught. With my unpredictable work schedule, I was hoping to finish at three so I could beat the traffic heading out of Cleveland. It turned out I left work at four, but the flow of traffic heading to Lake County was steady without any delays. The weather report was calling for rain later tonight and there was enough that it probably blow the Grand out for the rest of the season.

Rocky River metropark

When it comes to fishing dropbacks, I'll head to sections that have gravel. They tend to linger off the beds and recuperate. I arrive at one of the metro parks and as I head down to the river I see a couple of fish in the feeder creek. The creek is barely six feet wide and gin clear. They bolt for cover under a downed tree. It's not a far walk and I see the mud littered with footprints. The feeder creek barely makes to the river. The water here is cleaner as the two bodies of water meet. The Grand with its clay-based stain meeting the clear waters of the two feeder creeks. The two mix the water into a light tea colored stain. The bottom of the river is mostly rocks mixed with gravel. It's a prime spawning spot and a magnet for spey fishermen as the river is wide enough and fast flowing for them to swing their streamers.

I see a cluster of anglers fishing the shallows, there's plenty of open water downstream. I walk past a couple of them and wade halfway out. The river is flowing at a good rate as the water here is well oxygenated. Dropbacks prefer slower deeper water, but there's isn't any here. From knowledge, I know that dropbacks will hang near the high bank. The speed of the bubbles is a dead giveaway. I adjust the float and pull out a pink uncured salmon egg. They've been tearing up salmon eggs for the past few weeks and it doesn't take long to hook into the first fish. The float gets ripped under fast and I set the hook. The fish surges and the fight is over quickly as the fish tosses the hook. I make some more adjustments and I feather the float back to have the sac is in front. Another lighting fast take and the fish tosses the hook. The flow is strong enough that it often tears the hook out. I continue to lose fish as I'm either too fast or too slow setting the hook. But I really don't care, because I don't want to stress the fish and secondly I lost my hemostats.

I continue to shuffle down working the lumber and I have another take and this time I have a solid hook up. The fish launches itself out of the water numerous times. With 8 pound test, I quickly muscle it in. The fish turns out to be small spawned out hen. She has all the signs of spawning. Worn out tail, scars on her belly and of course a couple flies stuck on her. I pull the flies out and quickly let her go. I make my way farther down and pick off some fish. It doesn't seem there's a lot of fish here. It's been a major complaint this season that the numbers are off and the size of the fish have been small. There's been plenty of bitching about this latest strain of steelhead that Ohio has been stocking. We all fell in love with the large brutish Manistees for several years. But then the state switched to the Chambers Creek and Ganaraska strains. The newest strain was generally 22" to 26" in length and anything over 30" was extremely rare. I can't remember the last time I caught a fish over 30". We have our theories and I suspect that the numbers are low and the size of the fish smaller is the result of a lack of forage out in the lake. This season, I haven't seen one emerald shiner in the streams. Usually, in the fall or the spring, massive schools of them head into the lower sections. You can blame the gazillion zebra mussels that compete with the shiners for food. Also there's a record number of walleye in the lake now. That 1-2 combination is enough to knockout the current shiner population. Those record numbers of walleye also have a hankering for smolts.

I continue to plug away as I pick off some fish until I finally reach the end of the line. The river here is too shallow to hold fish. I cross over and fish another section below the cliffs. I bemoan this spot because, in past years, it held a lot of dropbacks because it was deeper. Today, debris has filled it in and altered the flow. This is life along Steelhead Alley. Mud banks get dug out and gravel and sand move about. It's a constant relearning the rivers. We all share stories of about our favorite holes and pools. But over time we find new ones. Last month I stumbled onto it and found it held a lot of fish. Due to the gravel and rocks above, the river turned slightly and dug out a channel along the bank. The flow was ideal and the depth was enough to conceal fish.

There were plenty of dropbacks here and it was a mix of acrobatics leaps and sizzling runs. I check the time and it's past 6:30, I have about another hour, but there's rain heading my way. I cross over and fish another spot. This is also new as when they rebuilt the train trestle and removed all of the lumber and the support stands. Now the river has flattened out. I cast into sections that flow around the numerous rocks in the water. I have two more fish fall for pink sacs and I catch the first male. Just like the females, they show the rigors of spawning. In the past, I've caught some large males sporting nasty wounds from fighting with other males of equal size. This smaller male had some sores but not from fighting as he would be severely wounded if he did get caught in the jaws of the dominant male.

Rocky River metropark

As expected there's no fresh fish caught, probably because I'm farther upriver. Late arrivals often spawn at the first gravel they find. The fish I caught last fall, probably spawned weeks or even last year. Whatever the case, they're long gone. When the rivers swell, they lazily ride back to the lake. But it's still late April and there's always the last minute spawners that sneak into the rivers. I wouldn't be shocked if there were still fish in the rivers well into May. As long as the weather stays cool and the waters don't warm up too fast. By now most of the steelheaders I know, have stowed the gear away for the season. Only the diehards remain out, fishing until the very last days. For me, the true sign that the steelhead season is over is when the gars start showing up on the lower sections. By then the waters are too warm and the steelhead will retreat the depths of Lake Erie. There they eventually return to their silver color and roam the vast distances in the lake seeking food to replenish the lost weight. Only until the days start getting shorter do they start to come back to the rivers.

The skies are getting dark and the wind is whipping around. I check the weather and I can see the rain just west of me. The entire western part of the state is covered in dark green and yellows on the rain band. I have a feeling that it enough to blow the river out and who knows when I'll get another chance to fish the Grand. There was another spot that I wanted to fish, but there isn't enough time, it will be dark soon. As I walk back, I see that everyone is gone. The rain starts to pelt me as I walk up the feeder creek. I undress quickly and the rain falling harder. It's almost dark when I get on I-90 and head back to Rocky River. The ride is quiet as the only sound is the wipers and the rain. It's a time to unwind. This will be most likely to be my last trip to the Grand.

In another week it will be May and I'm sure there will be fish. My supply of eggs is getting low as I have just enough to get me through until the bait shop gets salmon eggs in October. There have been times when I can't resist and I'll break out a pack of eggs.

"Just one more trip"

Famous last words from a diehard

As I said, the weather is so unpredictable. Next month can be cool and the conditions might be enough to keep some of the fish in the rivers. But that also means the state will be stocking smolts and I'm very reluctant to fish because I don't want to harm the next generation.

But my passion is too strong and I'll fish to the bitter end and curse the sight of the gars.

Weather Junkie

Weather and fishing go hand in hand. As a youngster, I remember hearing the old sayings when comes about fishing and weather patterns

Wind out the east the fish bite the least

Wind out the west, fish bite best

Wind out of the north, don't venture forth

Wind of the south, blows the bait into the fishes mouth

But for some of us it becomes an obsession especially during the steelhead season. I fall into the compulsive weather junkie category. During the season especially days before the weekend or my vacation, I constantly check the weather much to the amusement of my girlfriend. But she doesn't understand and I'm not the only one afflicted with it, far from it.

I break into a sweat when I see there's rain coming for the upcoming weekend. I pull the phone out and check the report 

Showers this evening, becoming a steady rain overnight. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall near a half an inch

I'll play the radar and click on the future tracking. There's a path of yellow and dark green that will pass right over us. Every few hours, I'll update the report in the hope that the chance of rain diminishes. This will play out over the next day as I try to predict to where I should fish. The smaller streams tend to blow out quickly, while the Grand might a day to blow out. I fret about whether should I pull some eggs out because every junkie knows that the weather reporting is as accurate as me filling out my NCAA men's basketball bracket.

Periods of rain throughout the day. Chance of rain 80%. Rainfall near a quarter inch 

A little better, but I continue to analyze the path of the rain. I check the hourly totals to see how much will fall. Of course it doesn't help that I have a couple weather apps on my phone and most of the time, the two of them have conflicting reports adding to the stress. Christ, I'm so fucking pathetic.

But there's a reason behind why I do it, because I consider myself the savvy steelheader
( even though my girlfriend thinks I'm neurotic ) because I diligently monitor both real time and projected weather patterns. It all boils down that I want the best chance of hooking into fish. Because the weather along the Alley can be chaotic whether it's October, January, or April. I've witness wild swings in temperatures going from the 60s and a few days later dropping into the 30s. I've seen 2' of snow only to be completely gone in a matter of a week. Streams freezing over, thawing, and refreezing in a month.

The junkie knows that frigid overnight temperatures usually spells slush in the morning. Why bother getting up at the crack of dawn only see a river clogged with it. I'll sleep in and wait for the afternoon. The same can be said in late fall when there's a front coming through gusting winds will litter the stream with leaves. Or if the temperatures for the upcoming weekend are be sunny and in the upper 60s, I'll head upstream and fish the remote sections because I don't want to deal with the army of fair weather fishermen. Back when I had my Jeep I often made the drive out east when lake effect snow were in forecast because I knew a lot of anglers wouldn't even dare make the drive out. Sadly my Jeep succumbed to father rust and today I have a crossover that isn't quite up to the task of tearing through a foot of snow.

Every stream along the Alley has their "sweet spot" some clear within a matter of days and others take a week. When everything blows out after a rainfall, I have a good idea where to go. There's been times albeit rare that I had to resort to ditch fishing. But I tell anglers new to steelheading that there's always somewhere to fish along the Alley.

But we all know that predicting the weather isn't an exact science. I don't know how many times I got burned because I thought everything would be blown out for the weekend only to see the storms shifted south or north or not enough rain fell. So I'll have to wake up at four in the morning and hastily tie eggs. Other times I take a day off in advance and I'm driving a 100 miles into Pennsylvania because everything in Ohio is blown out and I also have to shell out money for a fishing license, because the storm that was supposed to miss us decided to park itself over Northeastern Ohio and dump a ton of rain. 

The things we'll do just catch some fish.

Fishing Gear

Kingpin Imperial 475 model

An angler's gear defines him. I see guys on the rivers sporting the most expensive set up running over a $1000.00 in some cases. Others have equipment that looks like it was abandon at the river's edge. But, there's a collection of stories or memories attached to every single of them. It could be that trip to Northern Canada, Florida, or one of the local streams. It could be that fish of a lifetime caught 20 years ago, or the one that got away. I have plenty stories and memories with my gear going back over 15 years. Some of my reels and rods have been replaced and others are tucked away in a closest.

I have a collection of old rods and reels in my place. Some have been in there for years. I could sell them, but I have a special attachment to them. One of them is a John Milner Kingfisher that I purchased from Ebay along with a Raven float rod and collection of floats. I got a great deal as I paid $220.00 for the entire setup. That was close to 15 years ago when centerpinning started taking off along the Alley. The reel was a bushing model that I eventually found out wasn't ideal for the lazy flowing rivers found in Ohio. It was trail and error and a lot of bird's nests as I tried to master the casting it. But eventually I got the hang of it, but I what I needed was a bearing type reel.

I ended up purchasing a Bob James and it was a impulse buy because it was on sale for $250.00. It was beautifully crafted with the nickel silver spokes and the ingenious reel tension screw. However, it did have one major flaw which I overlooked, it was the placement of the handles. They were at the edge of the reel. With a centerpin there's no drag and in my case, I use my fingers to slow it down. What happened was the handles would bang into my fingers. I tried using my palm, but I never liked it. Also the clicker was at a odd position and many times I would accidentally engage it while fighting a fish. After a season, I ended up selling it to some naive kid, but I took a lost selling it for $100.00

John Milner Kingfisher bushing reel

This time I did my homework and I bought a reel specifically made for the Great Lakes steelheader. This one was Kingpin Series II and it was my first big time purchase as I shelled out over $500.00 for the best British engineered reel at the time. It was main reel for many years until the next generation of the Kingpin came out and the lighter and thinner 475 model. The weight difference was noticeable compared to the old one. To this date it's been my primary reel and I haven't even thought of getting another one. It's performed flawlessly and withstood my punishment.

As for my rods, I had some pretty useless ones at first. They were cheap and often broke because they could handle my abuse. The Raven rod I got from Ebay was a IM8 model and it was too stiff and heavy. I often joked that I could us it for pole vaulting. After a long day my shoulder paid the price. I sold that to another naive newbie. Being done with inferior quality, I laid out the cash and got the Excalibur of float rods, the G Loomis GLX. For $580.00, it was worth every penny. It was so light that I never had issues with my shoulder anymore.

As legend has it, King Arthur broke his Excalibur. Today I'm on my third one. The first one I broke the tip as I whacked it too hard on the water trying to get the ice off the top guides. They sent me a replacement section for $40.00. The second one was when I fell down a bank and the rod hit a rock. Little I did I know at the time I cracked the blank and eventually one outing I caught a snag and the rod snap right above the handle. G Loomis shipped me a brand rod for $120.00 and in the four years I've caught a ton of fish with it. The other rod is my Raven IM6 model which is my backup rod and I've had nothing but problems with it. I've had it break 5 times mostly at the top because the rod can't handle heavy loads and I've noticed it breaks when the temperature is really cold. Right now it's in the closest as I broke the mid section when I tried to beach a large fish. I haven't decided if I want to spend the money to fix again or just chuck it. My only other back up rod is a $40.00 one I bought for my girlfriend's son. He's only used it once and that was over 3 years ago.

Kingpin Series 2 reel

Buried deep in the recesses of my closest are my fly rods and reels. I have a Redington 7W and a Teton reel. I also have a Redington reel that I used in Michigan over 10 years ago and after a week of epic fights with some surly Kings, the drag got fried. Other than making a great paperweight, it's pretty well useless. The Okuma 10W I bought for $50.00 got blown up on the second last day when I got freight trained by a huge fish. I can't remember when I last used the fly rod as I was swayed to the darkside of float fishing and never looked back. I have been dabbling fly fishing for carp, but I really never have or wanted to make time fishing in the summer as the Rock can be a grotesque mess of algae and smelly mud. Will I sell my fly rod and reel? Probably not as you never know I might eventually get bored of float fishing, but that's a big maybe.

You think I would be happy and proud of my gear, but I have this indifference to them. I toss them in the back of my SUV. I don't gasp whenever I drop my reel on the rocks. I basically treat my gear like that because I can afford it. If you looked at my gear, you would thought I found it in a dumpster. All of my centerpin reels are covered with nicks and scratches. That's a testament of how much I fish for steelhead. The same can be said about my Loomis rod. The cork is filthy, the guides have grooves in them, and blank is coated with whatever it came in contact with. Personally I don't think gear should be all nice and shiny. That's for the vain crowd. By the time the last steelhead have left the rivers, I'll start the long process of scrubbing off all that crap that has accumulated since last September.

Everybody's fishing gear will eventually wear out. Some of us don't hesitate and go out and buy more. But guys like me, don't like to part with a faithful old friend. I can see myself on the river when I'm in my 80s fishing with my Kingpin as the newest generation of steelheaders will see the old man fishing with a relic from the early part of the 21st century.