I always get mixed emotions when it comes to the last trip of the year. After a season of stumbling out of bed early, driving to the far ends of the Alley, pounding the trails, and dealing with the extreme elements. Both my body and mind needs a break, but I feel a sense of sadness whenever I make the last trip of the season. Blurry eyed, I make the trip, usually by myself. I want it to go on my own terms. I'm not going for a couple hours or sitting at one spot. I'm hitting one pool after another. Kicking over every stone and working as much water as possible. The only thing that will stop is the sun setting. By the end of the day, I'll be wiped out. My back and shoulders will ache. The walk back will be slow and deliberate. I have no hurry to get home. What I know is that the last walk from the river, I'll look back with fondness even if the day doesn't go according. That's how I view every last outing, it's bittersweet, but I know eventually the rivers will be calling in the autumn.
The last trip today is out east. The weather today more like June as the temperatures are to be in the upper 70s. The sights and sounds of spring along the Alley are everywhere. The willows and Manitoba maples are sprouting leaves, robins singing in the dark and chorus of frogs and toads are heard in the woods. For the first time, I won't be alone as my girlfriend is making the trip. It's a later than usual start as I'm on the water at first light. That's another thing I'll miss are those early morning starts. Walking along the river in the dark and all I hear is the running water and the rocks under my boots.
I have no idea how many people will be out. Over the week as I drive through the Rocky River metro park on my way home, nearly every parking spot is taken and I can see anglers everywhere. During the week, I've wetted a line before heading into work. That's benefit of living five minutes away from the river. Even though I have an hour to squeeze in, the morning outings have been nothing short of fun as I've hooked into handful of feisty skippers that fight with reckless abandon. There were plenty of times I was tempted to call in and I would an hour late or blowing off the day completely.
As we drive along the road, I strain to see how many cars in the lot ahead. I see four cars and I figure there should be plenty of room to fish. With the Easter weekend, many probably elected to take the time off. The one section I want to fish is a long pool below an area where the fish spawn. After a week of high water, I wondered if most of the fish dropped all the way back to the lake. I felt the water and it's cool, hopefully there's some in here. It turns into a grind as we start the long drawn out process of working the pool. With the exception of the two elderly anglers downstream, we have the entire pool to ourselves. I've learned from experience, that when these areas are empty by mid morning, the earlier anglers either did well or struck out. As we finished with the lower of the pool and didn't even get a hit. The pool is eerily quiet as we see nor hear the sounds of fish. We move up to the section of the pool where the current is a little faster. The warm south wind starts whipping up as the temperature starts creeping up. My girlfriend takes a break and I continue to hammer away. I finally get a take and I feel the surge from the fish as it heads upstream. Usually with drop backs, they'll fight with reckless abandon leaping and thrashing about. The fish charges upstream and gets close me as it swims quickly by me. But with the snap of the line, my fish is gone as I inspect what happened. The knot failed and I'm left with a disgusted feeling, because it was 8 pound test. It turns out to be the only fish from that spot. But that's late spring fishing as it can be a case of hit or miss. In past years, I had a banner days and others only one or two fish.
It almost noon as I watch angler after angler slowly walk away. With their heads slung low, they have nothing to show for. We both decide to head to another spot. Driving over the bridge I see no anglers fishing the pool below. We make our way down the hill and I hope that this spot will pay off. Again we grind it out and there's nothing. I'm left scratching my head as to why there isn't any fish. It turns out to be a bust. I see another angler above throwing lures and he catches a decent sized smallmouth, another sign that the run is almost over. Further up, I watch a guide with clients working the faster water and they don't even register a hookup. My gut tells me that this day is not going to work out.
After a brief downpour, the clouds part and the sun comes out. I make the call and we leave. The last spot is even further down and and we pull in there isn't a car. In the morning before sunrise, its always packed. We make the long walk down and I watch the turkey vultures soaring above. I'm sweating, becoming thirsty and hungry. We work the stretch and it's the same thing - nothing. My girlfriend decides to get a early start on her tan and lies on the rocks. I continue to grind away, determined to get at least a hit. Downstream, I watch another angler flaying his spey rod in vain. The sun is high and I know what the outcome will be. After an hour, I throw in the towel.
I feel a sense of disappoint because I had high hopes that we would get into some fish. But, that what happens when there's an early spring. During the last week of March, I was catching post spawn fish. The also didn't help as it rained nearly every week. By Easter weekend, I knew the window would be rapidly closing.
I pull the rods apart and look back. I still have plenty of bait and it won't get dark until at least another five hours. But I know that girlfriend couldn't do it and I would never subject her to never ending searching of fish. I feel a pang in my stomach as we walk back and I look back for the last time. It will be another six months before I'm back here. Once we get to the car, I pull my waders off and I see all of the water marks on my pants. My patching job wasn't enough and I know it's time to replace them. I tried to squeeze another season out of them, but I know I must replace them. My boots look even worse, as they frayed and cracking. More money to shell out this summer I suppose.
I check the temperature and it's almost 80F and the wind feels hot, the weather for the rest of the week to suppose to be in the upper 60s and lower 70s. The water temperature by then will be dangerously high. Hopefully, by then most if not all will be gone, retreating to cold dark depths of Lake Erie.
I'm parched and dying for a cold beer. I know of a small tavern tucked away in Lake County, that serves some of the best wings in the area. I take a long satisfying sip of beer and glance over at the TV to watch the Cavs game. I know that the summer will go by pretty fast and eventually those cool winds of September will blow across the lake, summoning another season.