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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.