Today was Groundhog Day. I left the house early this morning and much like Wiarton Willie and Punxsutawney Phil, I came out of the house bleary eyed and tired. Regardless of seeing my shadow or not, fishing would good for the next six weeks.
Instead of fishing around town, I made the drive far out east in search of some winter steel. For the past couple of weeks, most of the streams were locked up in ice. But we recieved a couple of days of spring-like weather and that got the water levels up. Due to more snow out east, the eastern tribs were able to shed their ice. As I drove over the bridge, I could see the river below was wide open. I walked down to the first spot and there was plenty of ice piled up on the banks. It was a nice relief not having to stand in the water. The only problem was trying to unhook fish as I wasn't able to beach them. It was a chore trying to yank hooks out with a cheap hemostat. The fish caught this morning were old, banged up and dark. Most of the hens I caught were post spawn and very lean. The fishing was decent all morning and it was nice to be fishing on this trib after a three year absence.
Later in the day, I stopped at the Grand to see what was shaking. Before I left this morning the Grand was running at 1600cfs. The majority of steelheaders I know would pass it up. But during cold conditions, the Grand can be fishable at 1600cfs - if you know the river very well. When I drove over the bridge, I noticed the flow wasn't that hard. I still had my waders on as I was going to stop at the Chagrin on my way home. I grabbed the rod and made the short walk down. The visibility wasn't that bad around 6" and I had goober sized sacs. There was plenty of ice piled up on the banks and I was limited to fishing a small section as the current was somewhat stronger than what I'm use to fishing.
Whenever the water is this high, steelhead will usually hold close to shore as the murky conditions give them cover and relief from the current. I stood on top of some shelf ice and let the float drift towards the tailout. The fish were holding right where I knew they would, about 20' off the bank and off the main current. To a trained eye, the texture of the water surface was the dead giveaway. For an hour I was popping fish in water that most anglers woud look at and walk away. The fish caught were in better condition and in the stronger current it felt like fighing 10 pounders. The majority of fish caught were skippers and I able to flip them onto the ice and easily remove the hooks. The fishing was good through out the afternoon and it was nice to have the river all to myself.
I'm a pretty confident steelheader and I know my rivers very well. All of them run over shale bedrock, have those high shale cliffs and same flows. But, they have different characteristics and understanding them is the key to staying on the fish. I could of blown the Grand off in favor for the Chagrin, but I knew the fish were unpressured and willing to play. Today was an important lesson in never doubting yourself.