Fishing Low and Clear


Low and clear. That's how it usually is on the Alley during the fall. Quite honestly, the Alley's streams generally run low and clear most of the time, because all of them are not spring fed and rely on runoff. On average the larger streams get low and clear a week after runoff. For some of the smaller streams, the window for perfect conditions is so brief it might last less than 48 hours. From muddy waters to crystal clear with the snap of a finger, that's what makes them so unique and also maddening. 

For the record, I'm not thrilled at the prospect of fishing low and clear conditions. When the streams take on the clarity of vodka and I've always wondered where the hell do these fish hide? The larger rivers have enough deep water that fish can find security. In the smaller streams they don't have that luxury and they're completely exposed. A single brightly colored fish might be able to blend into the grooves of the shale bedrock as there's a mixture of light and dark rocks. However, if there's a school of them, they don't make an effort to conceal themselves. They just sit there intently eyeing any possible threat. 

I remember one year on the Elk, a stream infamous for running low and clear. The Elk is also known for having ridiculous numbers of fish. Early on when I was still on the learning curve, I was completely naive that I was going to catch fish. It turned out to be an excerise in futility. I could see bottom and the water was barely a foot deep. But, I kept walking and walking in the hopes I could find a deep hole. During the entire time I didn't see one fish. Then I see in the distance several anglers standing along the river. As I got closer it was a large pool. The water so clear that I could see right to the bottom despite the fact the pool was 5' deep. There had to be almost 100 fish in it. It was like one of those pools loaded with fish at a sportsmen's show. You paid a fee and once you dropped your bait usually a single egg probably from an old jar of Uncle Josh's eggs. You had a better chance of getting struck by lighting then catching a fish. I watched several anglers throw everything but the kitchen sink at them. As soon as whatever they casted out, the fish would casually swim away, almost in a bored fashion. The fish obviously had no interest, but that didn't deter the anglers from trying. I turned and walked away muttering  

"Idiots"

That turned out to be the last time I would venture into Pennsylvania when the streams were that low. 

In Ohio, the streams are much larger than Pennsylvania's. But when levels drop, our streams take on that same crystal clear clarity. When everywhere else is too low, I'll venture out to one river, the Grand which is the largest steelhead river in Ohio. Even when it's low, it still holds onto its murkiness that it's known for. 

When fishing low and clear conditions, I will scale back the size of everything from sacs to jigs. I use what I've always used and that's salmon eggs. The only difference is I'll downscale the size of them. I'll tied up the smallest sacs possible, about 5 eggs per sac. I'll use the lightest colors such as peach, salmon, or white. They look microscopic compared to the sacs I tie when the rivers are higher. I know some guys that use a single egg or a bead. I've never been a big fan of single eggs because you have a use a tiny hook. The thought of using a hook the same size as a salmon egg is ridiculous. As for beads, I've tried them but I've never took a liking to them. Others swear that using shiners is deadly in clear conditions, but I don't want to lug around a bucket of them. 

Before I go to bed, I check the flow data and the Grand is running at an anemic 75cfs. That's a far cry from the 700 to 1000cfs that I usually like fishing at. But it's better than Conneaut or Ashtabula as they were running in the low teens. I arrive at the section of the Grand that flows through the seedy section of Painesville. Today there's no homeless people sleeping in the park. No being harassed for smokes or money. I gear up and walk down to the river. I climb down the bank and the water is barely flowing over the rocks. It's so low that the water doesn't go over the top of my boots when I cross over. I could practically sprint across. During typical conditions, the water would be over my knees. I can see the strings of algae clinging onto the rocks reminding me that cold weather is still a long way off. Some of the leaves on the trees are starting to turn color. I can see the yellows, oranges, and reds on the maples and hickories. But there isn't the crispness in the air that harkens another steelhead season. It still feels like summer as I'm only wearing a long sleeved shirt. 

I don't bother fishing the pool below where I crossed. During the summer the Grand had an epic flood, but not like the one in 2007. But it enough that it caused some changes. The first thing I noticed was the amount of sediment along the bank. Last year, I would have been over my waist today it's a little over my ankles. Even at first light, I can make out the shale ledges. If there's nobody fishing it when I come back I might give it a shot. I wade across the tailout and over the riffle. Above the cliff I hear that annoying rooster crowing. For the past 4 years, every time I'm fishing the pool below I hear that annoying little prick crow all morning long. I'm surprised that someone in the neighborhood hasn't killed him yet. I walk along the cliff and there's the huge pool. The locals call it the powder hole. Don't ask me where the name came from. 

Standing along the river's edge, I can see the shale bedrock without the aid of polarizing glasses jutting out into the river. I wade out and I see can see the edge of it. From there I can't see bottom. The water is darker because the bottom is clay mud. That gives the fish a sense of security. The pool is barely flowing as I watch the water move at a glacial pace. Farther out and downstream is slack water and what my fellow steelheaders affectionally call "frog water". I sigh and know it's going to be tough fishing. The wind starts to gust and I noticed leaves are getting blown about. In a few weeks, the streams will be littered in them. 

As with presentations, I go as small as possible with terminal tackle. I'll use the smallest float possible like a Raven SS 2.2 gram and the lightest line about 6 pound test. I tie on a #8 hook and I'm only using 3 split shots to balance the float. I cast out into the current and watch the float creep along. I see it tilt forward, pop several times, move, and slowly go under. I have too much line out and reel in. I adjust it to about 4' deep which would be considered fishing the abyss. I cast back out and watch the float slowly move along. I watch for any takes that can range from a violent dunking to the slightest taps. I continue to make adjustments and I know there's fish in here. About 20' downstream, I see the float starting to do that tap-tap-tap and I immediately start thinking of my nemesis - the creek chub. At first I resist the urge to yank hard and usually I'll flick the float as if I'm swatting them away. After a few more taps, I set the hook and right off the bat I know it's not a chub. Out of the water jumps a small steelhead. I see it zig zag across the bedrock and as soon as it sees me immediately bolts for deeper water. Because it's so small I stop it in its track and quickly horse it in. The fish is probably no more than 16" long and six months ago it was a 8" smolt. The fertile waters of Lake Erie fueled its growth as it almost doubled in size during that brief time period. Because it's so small, I handle it like a bass and place my thumb in its mouth. I popped the hook out and softly toss it out over the shale ledge.

For about 45 minutes, I tangled with several more skippers. Much to my dismay I didn't catch one adult. The adults can be a fickled bunch. Some are very eager to make their way into the rivers and try to cover as much water as possible. Others are content to wait it out in the lake or the lower sections of a river, waiting for the next high water. But it really boils down to genetics. Fish found in the streams in early fall are usually fish stocked by Pennsylvania. That state stocks a fall run fish and just like Ohio, the fishery department will dump them off at the closest boat ramp to the lake. The smolts generally don't imprint well on their streams where they were released. Depending where they are in the lake, they run up what river is the closest. Ohio on the other hand stocks a winter run fish and they tend to run later in the fall or early winter. 

So far I've caught 8 fish and then all is quiet. My options are limited at this spot, so I start to head downstream and I use the time to study the bottom. When rivers run low and clear, that's the perfect time to make mental notes of pools and runs. I can see the where the river runs the deepest or any structure that gives fish a break from the current. I arrive at another pool and as expected is barely flowing. I look downstream and there isn't a person out fishing. Most anglers I I know would rather sit on the sidelines and wait for rain. In past years, it took weeks before any sufficient rainfall raises the streams. The pool is low that 2' is just enough to get my sac at the bottom. It feels like an eternity to see it go more than 20'. The flow is so slow that my centerpin reel barely even moves. I just stare at the float as it makes it voyage out towards the middle section of the pool. I see it bounce a couple times and I almost pull the trigger, but it's the bottom. I reel in and continue to tinker with the depth. Out goes the float and it chugs along. Then I see the tell tale tap - tap - tap of a fish picking up the sac and I set the hook. Another skipper leaps from the water and it's a fairly quick fight. It turns out to be the only fish I caught from the pool. By now the temperature is soaring and I walk further down. I stand on the rocks and I can see right to the bottom. I scan along the shale ledges to see if I can spot any fish. I look at the time and it's early afternoon. My gut tells me to pack in and head back to the car. I can't complain as I caught a decent number of fish considering conditions weren't ideal. 

I head back to the parking lot and before I cross over, I'm standing high on top of the bank. I look down and by now the sun is out and I see everything. I see the shale bedrock goes about halfway out and from the edge of it, I see a long snaking trench. It follows the bedrock and eventually ends near the tailout. When the river is higher, I can pretty well know where that trench is as I watch the speed of the bubbles. If the bubbles are going fast, that means the water is flowing over the bedrock. I don't bother fishing it as I can see numerous footprints in the mud. I'm sure over the past few weeks this spot has been pounded pretty hard. 

Fishing low and clear isn't for everyone. It requires a lot of patience and persistence. Depending on what stream you fish, holes will be few and far between. If that's the case, it's better to fish down low. Fish tend to stage in the deeper waters. The problem is the lower ends are often inaccessible for the wading angler. The water is either too deep or the flow is virtually non existent. You're probably better off using a small boat and trolling. The other problem is fishing pressure. When fish have to pile into whatever deep water they can find, they'll be targeted unmercifully. When that happens they can very difficult to coax a bite from them. Best thing to do is get to the spot early, because it will become very crowded as soon as the sun comes up. 

Or do a rain dance and hope something happens.

Coronavirus 6 months later


Six months later

Well, at least I can get toilet paper, hand santizer, and a hair cut. It's become a different world for many the country's citizens. Social distancing, no mass gatherings, and I can't enter a place of business without a mask. But it's better than it was at the beginning as I remember seeing store after store closed up and I wondered to myself 

"what if I need underwear?"

"what if I need new shoes?"

"what if I have a major problem with my health?"

That's what it was like for a couple months. The mall parking lots were empty. I couldn't get a cup of coffee. My favorite restaurants were all closed and a few did take out only. I would look in the mirror and my hair was shaggy as shit. The last time I had hair like that was in the 70s. My girlfriend was in extreme lockdown because of her autoimmune disorder. With me being in the service industry, she was worried that I would come in contact with people. Coming in contact with others as it turned out didn't become a major problem. I would walk up to an account and there would be sign on the door that non essential people wouldn't be premitted into the building. If I was permitted, it was a checking of my temperature and signing a waiver. I would wear my mask and walk into a barely functioning workplace. We weren't happy being apart, but back then so little was know about the novel coronavirus and there was the constant conflicting reports from the media. 

"wearing a mask isn't necessary"

"wearing a mask might help"

It became so annoying, because the CDC constantly contradicted itself. I didn't know anyone that got the virus but I know several that later said they had the worst flu or had a nagging cough that didn't go away for weeks. All of this happened to them before March. Back then we knew so little about this novel virus. All I remember is secretly hiding my bottle of Purcell santizer in my work truck and wondering how much longer will it last. I would try to use as little as possible, because you had a better chance of winning Powerball than scoring a bottle of it. 

Then there was the time I ran into the girl who cuts my hair at Target and her telling me in March that there were rumors of her salon getting shut down. My appointment was the following week. As we talked, we looked at two people walk by with masks and gloves on. She looked at me and rolled her eyes and I snickered. As it turns out they were on to something. Because the following week on everything got shut down and masks would became the norm. 

Slowly things started get back to normal in May. My girlfriend and I were finally able to see one another. The state gradually allowed businesses to open. Many were under huge pressure, especially small businesses. But it was different. I had to text both the salon and dentist when I arrived. I sat my car and waited as they disinfected my chair. When I entered it felt like entering some high tech lab as there was a sign at the door 

You must wear a mask upon entering 

If you feel sick please don't enter 

I finally got my mop chopped as I listened to the trimmer struggling to cut and seeing the clumps of hair dropping to the floor. Trying to have a conversation which the hairdresser was a chore as our masks muffled our voices. The middle seat was empty as it would have violated the 6' space rule. I was just happy to get my hair cut. I asked the girl who's been cutting my hair for the past 4 years what she did during her time off and her reply was 

"Drinking a lot of wine and gaining weight"

I was able to see the dentist to get my teeth cleaned and the hygienist came in practically wearing a bio-hazard suit. But, more importantly I was able to buy underwear.  

We're heading into an election year and the country is sitting on a huge powder keg. Riots over black people being killed by the police, dissatisfication with Trump, and people fed up that this virus refuses to go away. I still have my three tickets for the Stones in my phone. We were supposed to go back in June as it was a gift for my girlfriends son's 16th birthday. When will it happen? I have no clue? Knowing our luck, either Keith, Charlie, or Mick could kick the bucket next year. But if heavy drug usage didn't kill them, I had my doubts that Covid-19 would do them in. It sucks, because I enjoy going out to concerts during the summer. I have a feeling concerts won't happen for a very long time. 

The only thing that had kept me going was fishing. The spring steelhead season was great, but I wrapped it up earlier than usual, because I started to get busy with work. That was a blessing because unlike many Americans, I was rolling in cash. With all of the hard work, I was rewarded with a chance to go walleye fishing. One of the guys I fish with offered me a seat on a boat as his brother and family couldn't make it because of travel restrictions since he was from Texas. The trip would take place over the July 4th weekend. 

I woke up at 3:30 in the morning which took a monumental effort to get out of bed. With no time to even get coffee or eat, I drive from girlfriend's place to my friend's place in Bay Village which is a 35 minute drive. I meet him and his son-in-law and we get another person. It's still dark when we're on the highway heading to Port Clinton which dubs itself "Walleye Capital of the World". That might be true as of now, because Lake Erie is bursting at the seams full of walleye. Numbers are at historic highs as I've heard reports from numerous people of limiting out in under an hour. Even the land lubbers in spring and early summer were scoring big numbers of fish from the local breakwalls.

We arrive in Port Clinton and pull into a private marina. There we see Bubba's friend Dick and the captain prepping the boat. We get out and mingle as we're waiting for a couple more guys that I fish with for steelhead. Earlier in the year, charter fishing trips were banned. They also closed a lot of parks on the Maumee River which attracts a lot of anglers as walleye head upstream to spawn. I remember seeing guys literally shoulder to shoulder in some places. Under state rules, that was a no-no, Also anglers from out of state had to self quarantine for 2 weeks and a lot of them ended up cancelling trips all together. That meant a lot of walleye ended up spawning and heading back to the lake without ever seeing a hook or landing in a frying pan. But for charters, it meant no income. The spring was usually a busy time for them and with the restrictions many thought the whole season would be a bust. Many worried as they wouldn't be able to make their boat payments as the boat we would be on was over $100,000. But in June the state lifted the ban and allowed trips to resume under certains requirements. The boat was big enough to accommodate all of us and we could be at least 6' apart. 

Prior to heading out I popped a Dramamine because I'm susceptible to sea sickness and Western Lake Erie is notorious for choppy water. However, the boat taking us out is fairly large. It's a 30' Sportscraft and they're the boat of choice for charters on Lake Erie. We exit the marina and slowly head out into the lake. Once we're pass the no wake zone the captain opens the boat up and the engine roars to life. To the east, the sun is rising and it's a fiery red ball. As we head out, I can see South Bass and Kelley's island. South Bass island is home to Put-In-Bay which is a hugely popular place in the summer. It's more noted for its large number of bars. Just this past week, over 30 people contracted the virus at one bar as it was later reported the bar failed to have proper social distancing requirements. I've never been to Put-In-Bay because it caters more to the younger crowds and party animals. Plus I couldn't bear the thought of standing in a pool bar with over 100 people drinking heavily and we all know none of them are leaving to go use the bathroom. The breeze felt refreshing as the weather all week has been hot and humid. In the distance, I can see the pack of boats already getting a start on fishing. 

We make it to the reefs and I asked how are we going to troll considering all of the boats are confined in one area. Dick, one of the old timers I fish with laughed and said on this side of lake, trollers wear skirts. On the western part of the lake it's strictly casting. I was perfectly fine with that as I usually find trolling boring. We take our spots on the boat and we grab a nightcrawler from the box. The rods are very short, no longer than 6' and spooled with dacron. The gear is basically a worm harness with a gold spinner blade and sinker about a foot above. The key to finding fish is using a countdown method of either 5, 7, 10, or 12 seconds. Then retrieving slowly and swinging it across as the boat drifted along the reef. There were plenty of boats scattered about, but there was enough room for everybody. I casted out and counted to 7 and started reeling in slowly. At first, my harness would tangle as I failed to pull the line taut once it hit the water. This wasn't the method of walleye fishing that I was use to. In my native Canada as it was simply anchoring over a shoal and dropping a jig tipped with a minnow. I cast back out at a 45 degree angle and count to 7 and slowly reel in. As I reeled I felt the rod bounce a couple times and I quickly set the hook. It felt decent and surprisely it fought well. As it got closer to the boat, I caught as glimpse of a walleye fighting to get back into the depths. The captain netted it and was a typical Lake Erie walleye about 4 pounds. He removed the hook and dumped it into the live well. 

The action was fast and furious as we got into fish. I was the multi species specialist as I caught several channel cats, sheepsheads, and white perch. The sheepshead were a blast as some were fairly large. While I was fishing I could hear the chatter over the radio of several captains getting the pulse of the morning bite. Some were doing well and others were grinding it out. The numbers continued to pile up and the limit on Lake Erie is 6 walleye per person. The captain had the counter in his hand and we were at 40. We needed 2 more and the bite was getting tougher. I was getting a little fatigued as my legs had to counter the waves as I tried to stay balanced. We finally get our limit and it's not even late morning. We could have fished more as the captain can technically have his limit even though he wasn't fishing. But everyone is satisfied with the results and we back to the marina. 

We take the fish out and place them a stand for a photo shoot. All of the fish are lined up and we gather behind. The captain takes several pictures with phones and after that we wait for the fish cleaner to pick them up. We all headed to Dick's duck hunting club and had lunch. It felt like the pandemic never existed as we talked about the past steelheading season. We get the call that the fish were ready and headed over. The cleaner had 15 pounds of fillets for everyone. On the way back, I conked out and slept half of the way. That evening, I cooked up some walleye tacos. Butter, chili powder, salt, and pepper. I made some salsa and wolfed down at least 2 pounds of fish. Sadly, I would consume all of my walleye in a couple of weeks.  

While the fishing trip was fun, it turned out to be the only positive event. The rest of the year turned to shit. Later in the month my girlfriend lost her father to cancer. Several months ago he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. The prognosis wasn't good as the cancer was spreading and the radiation had weaken him. He became so ill that he was admitted to hospital and he never left. He was on a ventilator and sedated. During his time in the hospital he contracted pneumonia and sepsis. What should have been a quick death, he actually fought off the both of them. But it took a toll on him and the doctors said that there wasn't much they could do and suggested that he be placed in hospice. She flew back and forth from Florida and wasn't thrilled being packed into a plane full of people. Her dad was placed in hospice and it didn't take long. Later that day, I get a call from her that he passed away, he was only 75 years old. She was devastated. 

Then in August, I got attacked by a dog at a person's house while doing a job. I was lucky considering it was a pit bull. My left index finger was badly mangled and I also got chomped on my leg. I call the office and tell them what happened and I was heading back and going straight to the hospital. The dog's owner was freaking out and asking if there was anything she could do. I told her to get me a bag of ice. I didn't even give her the bill and quickly left. With adrenaline pumping I wasn't in much pain. I walk into ER and my white work shirt is covered in blood and the bag of ice with my hand in it is red. I sat in the ER waiting room, filling out forms and listening to other misberable people upset having to wait so long. After filling out my forms, I'm googling what is the typical payout for a dog bite and the average settlement from a claim was over $43,000. The wheels in my head start turning, but luckily worker's comp will be paying for all of medical bills.

I get called in, but it's only for an X-ray. It takes only a few minutes and I go back to my chair. I feel bad for the elderly man in the wheelchair who's complained non stop about his back pain. The nurse is empathetic, but there's nothing she can do. My name gets called again and I go into a room and nurse comes in takes some vitals and asks what happened. She gets all of the information and tells me a doctor will eventually see me. I sit and wait and wait. Finally a young girl enters and she introduces herself as one of the physican's assistants. She looks like she came straight out of med school, but I don't care, I want the pain to go away. She examines my wound and said I was lucky when I told her it was a pit bull. She injects a numbing agent into my finger and when she removes the gauzing all I see is a bloody mess. I get all squeamish and she on the other hand closely exams my finger. There's a large gaping cut and my fingernail is missing. I ask if the wound will be stitched and she tells me unless my finger was dangling they generally don't stitch wounds from dog bites because of the risk from bacteria getting caught inside. She flushes all of the debris out and after that she examines my leg. I can see several teeth marks, but nothing penetrated the skin. I see some bruising and she tells me it will get worse. She prescribes antibotics and painkillers and a note saying that I'm not able to work for the rest of the week. She also gives me the number for the plastic surgeon who is more of the expert when dealing with dog bites. The X-ray comes back and I have a fractured finger tip. For 51 years I had a streak of never breaking a bone in my body, considering I lost count of all the falls I had as a kid playing sports. The ER doctor comes in and looks at my finger. I give him the same story and he also recommends that I see the plastic surgeon. He tells me that I will be discharged shortly. When it's all said and done I was at the ER for almost four hours. I call my girlfriend that I'm heading over to the drugstore and I would head over to her place. Once the percocet took effect, I was lights out when I got to bed. 

Wednesday, I see the plastic surgeon. He enters, sits down, and promptly tears off my bandage which almost made me want to smack him. 

"The nail will grow back in 3 months and there's no need to stitch the wound. I'll see you in two weeks"

He puts on some antibotic cream and new bandage. The fractured fingertip would take about a month to heal and he recommends that I wear a splint when sleeping. He said I was lucky to only lose a fingernail and tells me several stories of repairing nasty wounds from dog bites. For the rest of the week I'm on the couch and my leg has a huge bruise. I fucking hate irresponsible dog owners.

If things couldn't get more worse, we have a "training seminar" at the end of September. The owner announces that he sold his company. You could have heard a pin drop in the room. In my mind I was ready to hear him say that because of the pandemic he had no choice but to sell and that he wished everyone goo luck and we would get no severance package. But to everyone's relief, he goes on to say that the company will still remain and that him and his son will continue to run it. It turns out he sold it to a national company and I found out what company it was, I wasn't terribly thrilled. I use to work to for a national company and I hated it. Too many cogs in the machine and no direction from management. 

The company I worked for was family owned for 84 years. It survived the second world war when his father served overseas and his mother ran it during that time. It survived the economic upheaval when Cleveland's manufacturing base collapsed in the late 70s. But all of that paled in comparsion to the effect of a virus. The pandemic has been very hard on small businesses. So far the company had lost over $220,000 in revenue. The no end in sight and the slow season approaching he had no choice. If a lifeline wasn't thrown, me and all of my fellow employees would have been unemployed and worrying about how we would pay the bills. 

There will be changes, mostly with pay and how I'm paid. I was salary and commission and I loved the hustling. During the busy months, I made some huge commissions. However, during the winter I wasn't as busy and I had to budget accordingly, but money was never an issue. Now I'm hourly and my concern is this upcoming winter. Will I be guaranteed 40 hours a week? I calculated overtime and I could make more in the long term. But now the owner doesn't call the shots and he has to answer to corporate. I guess I'll have to wait and see what happens and go accordingly. But I'm grateful that I still have a job.

What I mention above will pale in comparison when the upcoming elections are over. Either way, we as a country are going to pay for it. If Trump wins, I'll guarantee my left nut that there will be rioting and looting in the streets. If Biden wins, Trump's legal team will tie it up in for months with litigation making Bush vs Gore looking like a walk in a park. Even though I can't vote, I'm hoping that most Americans vote Trump out, because of his handling of the pandemic and his boorish behavior. 

All I know is once the colder weather hits, experts are predicting another possible spike in cases as people start moving indoors. I really believe this pandemic will go well into the next year and six months later, I'll be writing another entry. Hopefully by then a vaccine will be out and cases start to drop and eventually we get start getting back to normal. All I want is my concerts, trips, and going out to my favorite restaurants. 

2020 will be a year that historians will write about. When I'm old and grey, I'll be telling the younger generation about the pandemic and what it was like to live through it. I can see myself ending the story by saying 

"It all started because some dude in China, insisted he had to have bat meat in his soup.

The Smolt



The float pops and goes under. When I jerk the rod, I immediately know it's a smolt. It breaks the surface and tries to imitate the leaps that the adults are famous for. Despite its small size, it fights tenaciously. I calmly pull it in and gently grab it. In my hand is a 10 inch steelhead. It has all the features of the adult except for the cartoonish like eyes that are huge compared to its head. Not wanting to cause any injury, I pull the hook out delicately. They're the future of our fishery. I quickly release it and watch it dart back into the depths. 

What will become of that smolt? According to the state's fishery biologist, the odds of them reaching adulthood are not great. Lake Erie is the not the best nursery for them, considering over 40 million walleye and other gamefish generally don't pass up one of these juicy little smolts. The state releases over 400,000 of them into seven streams along the coast of Ohio. All of them are unceremoniously dumped into the river at the nearest boat ramp to the lake. There's no fanfare or press release. The truck is backed up and the hose is attached and out they go. It's a big change from the hatchery where they were nutured and feed with the greatest care. Now they're on their own. They will have the run the guantlet of predators and feed themselves. The fertile waters of Lake Erie will fuel their growth and the following year, they'll come back as a feisty 20" skipper. If they buck the odds even more, one of them might be that trophy steelhead that we dream about. 

I've always wonder what does the smolt do once they're dumped into the river? Will they linger? Or immediately head into the lake? Most of the smolts are content to hang out at the lower sections of the rivers, but some are more adventurous. I remember one year I was fishing the midsection of the Rocky River for carp in late June. I was standing on a gravel bar waiting for a carp to take my bait. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched a small fish herd a small school of minnows. At first I thought it was a young smallmouth bass. Then I noticed it was a smolt. I watched it methodically cut off any path of escape as it slowly moved the tight ball of minnows towards the shallow water. Despite its young age, it acted like a wily adult. The smolt slowly got into position and with lightening speed rushed the ball and grabbed one of the minnows. Instead of darting back into deeper water, it proudly swam off with its prize. That day the temperature was almost 80F and I'm sure the river was close to 70F. In their native habitat, they'll stay in their river of birth for a couple years before heading out the ocean. Ohio streams are not spring fed so they can't regulate their flow or temperature. If the summer is too dry, the river gradually slows to crawl and the water stagnates. The water temperature will go into the upper 70s which is pass their threshold. Was this smolt foolish to head too far upstream? Probably, but it has no clue. All it knows it needs to eat and grow. I eventually leave and wonder if that little fella will make it. 

I've often have this love/hate relationship with the smolt. They're crucial for the survival of the fishery as Steelhead Alley's streams can't sustain a natural reproducing fishery. But there's been times when I've cursed under my breath as I caught one smolt after another. I've liken them to a school of voracious piranhas. They will recklessly hit anything that resembles food. In most cases, I'll go upstream to get away from the aggravation. But most of the time, I'm usually done with steelhead as many of the smolts are released in late April. 

Without smolts I would most likely be stuck at home during the winter months growing fat and longing for the days of spring when I can go out and fish for bass or walleye or carp. That's why I take great care whenever I caught one. I whinch when I take the hook out. The odds of them reaching to adulthood are stacked against them.

Diehard Steelheader's Day


5:00A.M

The alarm goes off and I reach around in the dark for my glasses and the phone. I fumble in the dark looking for the lamp switch and suddenly the room is flooded with light. I gather myself and sit at the edge of the bed. Blurry eyed, I put on my glasses and take a deep breath. But before I get up, I do what any diehard steelheader does, I check the weather and flow data 

Partly cloudy and the current temperature is 29F with a high of 34F and sunny conditions later
Flow data, the river is currently running at 300cfs

In my book, it's a perfect day for fishing. I don't linger in bed or try to sneak in another 15 minutes of sleep, as a diehard steelheader never does that. When I was younger, I never thought of myself as a diehard angler. I was very fickled when it came to the weather. During my college years, I would never imagine myself getting up so early as I was just getting to bed after a long night of clubbing and playing euchre until the wee hours of morning. Other times, I was still shit faced or too hungover to wet a line. Only until when I moved to Ohio, I caught the steelhead bug. I spent countless of hours on the water honing my skills. I never spared any expense when it came to equipment. I dedicated myself to becoming the best steelheader that I could be.

I dress and head downstairs. Still groggy, I manage to count out 6 scoops for the coffee maker. While the coffee is brewing, I fire up the stove and prepare to make an omelette. I chop up some onions and red peppers and saute them in the pan. I mix the 3 eggs in the bowl and I add some Frank's red hot sauce and salt and pepper. Then I add all of the ingredients into the pan. Most of the guys I know wouldn't even bother and skip breakfast all together. For them that's a waste of time as they need to hit the road. Once the eggs are almost cooked, I add some shredded cheese and fold the omelette over. For me breakfast is important because I'll be on the move and it will be cold out. I need a hearty breakfast to fuel me for the morning hours. My girlfriend is in Washington DC at a conference and I'm watching the dogs. I feed them and let them out. I enjoy my cup of Joe and wolf down the omelette. While I'm eating I and read the news on my computer. The cornavirus is making a mess of things.

6:00A.M

I'm on the road heading up I-271 and in the dark as I sip my coffee and listen to music. I never blast the stereo. The sound is halfway and I'm not listening to any upbeat music to get me pumped up. I always seem to listen to music that slow and somber. One of my favorites is listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan. His slow melodic riffs and voice gets me. The sound of his guitar isn't harsh but it's powerful. I tap the wheel as I listen to Cold Shot. The river is about 90 miles, so it's a little over an hour away. I can see the faint glimpse of first light on the horizon. The highway is a desolate place. I past a few trucks and cars as I-271 merges into I-90. The music is interrupted as phone rings. One the display screen, it one of my fellow diehards and I answer it. He's calling to see where I'm going. I say I'm heading east today to get away from the circus on my home river, but I'm not confident that this particular river will be less crowded. The funny thing is we're always vague on where we're going, but we always have a good idea what stream we'll be at. During the past couple of years I've been fishing mostly solo. Several guys I've fished with have been plagued with injuries or old age has finally caught up with them. None of them could hack an outing with me. I could never sit on a hole for the entire morning or fish the first spot from the lot. Word is getting around that fish are pushing into all of the rivers. We talk for about 30 minutes about various things and he has to take another call. Early mornings for the diehards can be busy and there's times I wished cell phones were never invented. I resume to going back to finishing off my coffee and Voodoo Child comes on. It's first light and I'm 20 miles from the exit. I haven't fished this river since January and that day I crushed them despite the number of people out.

7:20A.M

I pull off the exit and head north. As I look at up the road, I see a SUV starting to slow down near the bridge. He's not sure as I see the brakes lights tap and he pulls off. I sense he's going to turn left and he does. He goes across the highway and then turns right. He's the first car in, which is surprising because there's times when I've seen 4 or 5 cars there. I pull in and noticed he has California plates. That seems to be a far drive to get a steelhead fix. As I pull in, I call my friend who's 20 minutes behind and let him know that's it's me and another angler. I guzzle my remaining coffee and pop the hatch. I have dressing down to a science. Less than 2 minutes I'm geared up and I exchanged pleasantries with other angler, who's stunned that I dressed so fast. I don't shoot the shit as the diehard steelheader doesn't dick around. I wish the other angler good luck and immediately head upstream. I know some guys that actually dress before leaving home, that's dedication.

7:30A.M

As I walk along the bank, I can see river is slightly off color. It was high earlier in the week and yesterday's weather was downright awful. Somewhere in the murky depths are steelhead hanging off the ledges or at the tailout. Nearly every diehard steelhead has their perfect flow or conditions. Since I primarily fish with eggs, I tend to like off colored conditions. Nearly every streams has their "sweet spot" and in most cases that window can be brief as the next day it can be gin clear. I reach the pool and it runs along a shale cliff. Like most Steelhead Alley's pools, it's no more than a couple feet deep. On the bottom are scatter rocks mixed in with shale ledges. The visiblity is probably a foot and a half.

I pull out my huge jar of eggs. Inside there's a variety of colors to choose from. From experience, the four go to colors for me when the water is stained are pink, chartruese, white, and red. I shake the jar and out comes a pink sac. On the first drift and boom, fish on. That's how it usually goes on certain days on the Alley. Back in my native Ontario it would be rare to hook up that fast. The water boils and the fish races upstream. The fight is fairly quick as I beach a bright silver hen. Probably a week ago she was at the lower end patiently waiting for higher waters. I release her and wonder how much further will she go? A couple drifts later and I hook into a large male. But I eye the other pool upstream as it's bigger.  My gut tells me to go and after releasing the fish, I head up. My friend calls and I tell him I already have 2 fish but I'm moving upstream. He says the other guy is under the bridge. I tell him I left the spot for him and he says thanks. The diehard always looks out for their buddies.

7:45A.M

It's a fairly quick walk to the next pool. Over the years, I've honed my ability to read water. I watch the bubbles and I see where they're moving slower. I'm fishing a river that is fairly shallow. The fish tend to utilize any cover they can find whether it's submerged trees, rocks, or shale ledges. Along the bank there's a large tree in the water. I watch the bubbles race along the tree. A little farther out, they move considerably slower. I can see the current swirl around the submerged rocks. I pick my spot and  cast out. I feather the reel with my finger and the float starts to trot. It will give the fish just enough time to take it. The float pops and goes under. Despite it being cold and the fish gives a nice run, pulling out into the current. I land it and it's another of those "cookie cutter" Lake Erie steelhead about 24" and 4 pounds. I beach a hen that has some color and her belly is still tight full of eggs. This is the time of year when I catch fish that are dropping back or heading upstream. It seems the fish are holding in the middle which is unsual considering it's cold. The pool continues to give up fish and I call my friend downstream to see how's he doing. We tend to do that, getting a pulse on where the fish are or what color they prefer. Other times, we often save a wasted morning on certain stream that isn't giving up fish. He tells me they're tearing into them. I'm content to stay put for the time being.

8:00A.M to 11:30A.M

The pool is giving up a lot of fish, so far I've hooked into 15 fish. As I fish I continue to look over my shoulder to see if any people are coming up or down stream. It's something that I always hated, because I crave having solitude. Diehard steelheaders rarely have to content with crowds because they know the rivers like the back of their hand. During spring, they'll be miles upstream from everyone. But, today I'm happy with fishing low and near easy access. I look downstream and see one of the guys fishing. Satisfied that I caught my fill, because I never liked beating a hole to death. I walk down and see the guys. They've been picking away at them. We're surpised at the lack of people. It's almost like there's something wrong, but we're not complaining about it. We fish the run and catch a few more fish. We decide to head downstream to another spot and as expected there's nobody there. Before crossing over, I head to my car and grab a turkey sandwich and wolf it down. The diehard steelheader rarely has time to eat, because they usually have their hands full with fish. I cross over, cast out and boom, fish on. I have a feeling we're going to lay into some serious numbers of fish.

11:30A.M to 3:00P.M

The two other guys I'm fishing with are considered diehards. Both share the same passion as I do. We fish below the bridge and spread out. The number of fish continues to pile up. The river got an incredible push of fish. Between the three of us, we've caught close 80 fish. There's been times when I've caught epic numbers of fish. That's why the Alley get the reputation as one of the finest steelhead fishery's in the lower 48 states. Yeah, it might be an artifical fishery and the streams are far too small to support that many fish. But, Lake Erie is fertile enough to support the millions of steelhead stocked. We continue to work our downstream and I have a hankering to head to another spot. I leave the guys and head downstream. It's not a far drive and I see the bridge and there's five cars parked along the road. Most of the early morning crowd is long gone. There's only a few stragglers farther upstream at the most popular spots. For the diehard steelheader it doesn't matter if the spot was worked over. He's skilled enough and know his quarry's habits. He knows that fish move from one spot to another. He knows that sometimes the bite could have been off earlier in the morning when it was colder. Or he knows that spot was fished by anglers that lacked the skills he possesses. 

I look downstream and there's nobody fishing. I walk down and the first thing I notice is how high the water is. Lake Erie's water level has been at a record high this season as the lower sections are deep enough that some anglers can take their boats upstream. I look for the chunks of concrete as that's where the currunt flows to the left and the fish like to hold off the shale ledges. The boulder downstream that I often use to guage the flow is underwater. For the entire time there I never see it. Unlike the other spots I fished earlier, the flow here is pedestrian. This spot is popular in the early fall as fish stage and wait for higher waters. The float chugs along as I watch for any signs of abnormal movement. The floats starts to pop and I wait for it to get completely go under. It finally goes under and I set the hook. I feel the rod throb as the fish moves upstream. The jumps a couple time and I steer it towards the bank. It's another bright silver fish. The flow ebbs and falls as I fish and I pick away at them. I've lost count of how many fish I caught, but I always do. One of the guys call to see what's going on and I say there's enough fish here to spark my interest. I tell them the most popular spots are probably occupied or been worked over by the morning crowd. They decide to head upstream and I tell I'll have to leave around three. 

3:00P.M

The diehard in me would want to fish until dark. They never really think about time. The only thing getting them off the river is either running out of bait or darkness. There's been times when I've fished from first light until sunset. Walking back as the light starts to fade and the shadows creep in closer. In the distance I only see my car and no other. The ride home allows me to rest my back and knees. When I get home, I know I'll sleep good. But today I have the task of getting back to my girlfirend's house and feeding the dogs. I leave the river around 3:00P.M and head to McDonalds for dinner. Lunch felt like it was ages ago and my stomach is growling for something big and hearty. I get a quarter pounder, large fries, and a large hot chocolate to warm me up. Before I head out, I go through my Spotify library and select ZZ Top. The music is a little more upbeat maybe to help fight off tiredness as it will be a long drive back. The hot chocolate hits the spot and I'm grooving to Gimme All Your Lovin'. Once I get back, the dogs greet me and I inspect for any accidents. I feed them and let them out. I could kick back and relax, but I know that would be a mistake as I would most likely crash there for the night. I set the newspaper out and get the eggs from the fridge. In an hour I have the eggs all tied. I make something light for dinner and after eating, I head upstairs to read and eventually fall asleep. The clocks go forward and I'll have an extra hour to fish in the evening just what the diehard wants. I set the alarm and tomorrow I'll have to figure out where else to go.

My Other Hobby

For years, people told me that I have an eye for photography. What amazed them was that I took pictures with my iPhone. Cameras on phones are limited and I wanted to see what I could do with a camera. Last fall, I purchased a Sony A6000 which was a great camera for a beginner. I researched and read the basics of photography. But, I usually learn from trial and error.

Last week, I went into Cleveland. The city was virtually a ghost town. I parked my car and walked the city, randomly taking pictures. I did all of them in black and white to get the sense of how the pandemic has affect the city.

























Coronavirus


Life as we know it in America has changed and many of us have never witnessed something of this magnitude. I remember the day of 9/11 and seeing the World Trade centers collasping. But that was mild compared to this. Schools are closed, sporting venues suspended, entertainment venues cancelled, and travel overseas banned. Nearly every aspect of our lives has been affected as more and more restrictions are put in place to control the spread of the virus. Now I can't see a dentist, I can't get my haircut, and I can't go to the gym. Yesterday, the governor issued a stay at home order for every person. It's not martial law, but it means he wants every citizen to stay inside. You can go to the grocery store or go for a walk, but the governor's message is "flatten is the curve". From what I read on the internet, there's a movement dubbed "Stay the fuck home". I can find some humor in that because I'm an introvert. Other than going to work, fishing, or getting food, I consider myself to be a homebody. However, for those that lost their jobs, it's scary because they have no idea how long this is going to continue or if they'll have a job to return to. 

Many Americans a month ago were mingling about and watching what was unfolding in Asia and Europe. But this world is so interconnected it was a matter of time that the virus made it in. Cases started popping up in Washington State and California. The President had his "hunches" about the virus and took the wait and see approach. As days went on, the numbers of cases started to rise and some medical experts used mathematical models to see how fast it would spread. Still the federal government dragged its feet, thinking it would be isolated cases. That ended up being the worse thing as the virus started to spread like a wildfire. 

In my home state of Ohio, governor Mike DeWine leaned heavily on the advice of medical experts and the news was grim. More than 117,000 Ohioans could be carrying the virus and spreading amongst us. Not wanting the situation that was gripping Italy, DeWine was the first governor the close all schools. Then he expanded it bars, restaurants, and casinos. Anything to stop the spread and overwhelming the hospitals.

That in turn, caused panic as people started heading to the grocery stores in mass numbers. I went to the local store and looked at the aisle of empty shelves. Some people were shocked and others find some humor in it. There was no toilet paper, bread, cleaners, soap, and no hand santizers. Nearly all of the meats were gone except for the most expensive cuts. I grab frozen chicken wings and breasts. I grab the last packages of ground beef. I buy pasta and pasta sauce. Almost of the frozen foods were gone. I pick up some produce and try to get out as fast as I can. I make due with what I have and I'm confident that the grocery stores will implement a plan to curb the hoarding. What I find perplexing is why people insisting on hoarding toilet paper? I'm lucky to go through 8 rolls in a couple of months. Want to save on toilet paper? Here's a clue? Eat a lot of processed food and you'll be lucky to take a dump a couple times in a month. I should know as I grew up in the 70s and my mom feed us that crap well into the 80s.

Because of the closures across the country, many people especially those working in the hospitality, travel and service industries have lost their jobs. I work in the service industry and I've noticed a slowdown. Some customers have called suspending accounts and others have turned us away, fearful of infecting their employees. Hours have been cut back for those that are hourly. I'm salaried and I worry about my fellow employees who some of them live paycheck to paycheck. They fear of falling behind on rent or mortgages, the car payment, or putting food on the table. I have plenty of cash in savings to weather this event if it happens to go on for a couple months, which I think it will. But, I'm one of the lucky ones. Many Americans don't have a safety net. I can't imagine a person who's lost their job and has no savings. Do they qualify for unemployment? Will their job be there after this is all done? Nobody will know that answer. I work for a small family owned business and I'm sure every night the owner wonders if he can stay afloat if goes too long or if one of us gets the virus. Will it mean laying off some of the employees?  You can only cut hours for so long before people start balking. That's why it's critical the federal and state governments throw out a lifeline to help those small businesses get over the hump. 

As expected when the governor issued the stay at home order, he had the list of essential businesses that could be open. I read it and it was so vague that any company could find a loophole and make them essential. My work is considered essential, but does a factory making granite countertops or cabinets think they're essential?? 

Every day I put myself at risk when I'm out in public. Because I have no idea if I'll have mild symptoms or I'll be hospitalized. But I excerise common sense and I use the "stay the fuck away from me" philosophy. Customers stay at least 6' away from me, I wear latex gloves, I keep conservations brief and I immediately leave after the job is done. If the customer is sick, I don't go in. They can piss and moan, but I tell them it's company policy. Personal hygiene is something I religiously adhere to. I probably wash my hands 10 times a day. I consider myself to be a healthy person and the last time I got the flu was back in 1988. According to CDC, the majority of people that get the virus will have mild to moderate symptoms. Those with underlying conditions are at risk, like my girlfriend's father who has stage 4 lung cancer and she cancelled her trip last week because she couldn't risk getting him infected.

The government has been asking citizens to socially distance themselves during this crisis. The less people interacting the less chances people get sick. Both me and my girlfriend have self isolated because her autoimmune disorder. Because I'm at greater risk of contracting the virus. I can't risk getting her infected. Her immune system is so sensitive that it could kill her. That's the most heart breaking thing about this situation because we have no idea how long this going to be. As for my family in Canada? I can't see them unless it's an emergency because the border has been shutdown. It could weeks or even months before the government is confident that we can go back to normal. 

The only refuge I have are the rivers as it keeps my mind free of what's going on. Fishing relieves the stress and worry. A couple of us will meet up and during that time we crack jokes and bust each others chops. It feels like the pandemic never existed. Since I've been self isolating, I've been reading and writing short stories. I've used the time to reflect and journal about what's happening. Several times I've gone downtown and done some photography. If there's one thing that I haven't done is watch the news. If I constantly did, I would sink into deeper depression. 

The worse is still to come as more and more cases show up. We're still functioning as a society albeit a cautious one. Hopefully once summer comes, this will slow down and give scientists time to develop a vaccine or better treatment of it. I think this will peak in late April or early May. Once this over, the country will never be the same again. Hopefully we'll become more empathetic and demand more transparency from our leaders. All I know is China is going to suffer and I've wondered if other countries are going to reconsidered doing business with them. They dropped the ball big time by not being transparent. But, I'm grateful we have a governor that has the guts to make tough decisions unlike the one in the White House who still has his head up his ass.