February 23, 2008

Fishing for Fatties



Winter has the Alley deep within its grasp. The land is covered in snow and ice. The rivers are silent, locked up in ice. Most of the steelheaders are in their warm and cozy man caves. There they'll stay until the warm days of spring arrive. But there's me, the steelheader that doesn't wait. Despite the frigid weather, I have one place in mind - the power plant. 

I walk out of the apartment building and I greeted a jolt of cold. The sky is dark blue and I can still see the stars. As I wait for the Jeep to warm up, I call the brothers and I tell I'm leaving. It's a short 20 minute drive to the lake and I guzzle my scalding hot coffee. I pick up some shiners and it's a short drive down to the plant. I see the brothers pulling in and I notice both stacks are pumping, it brings a smile to my face. Whenever it's cold, the nearby Ford plant and the surrounding communities have an insatiable appetite for energy. 

The lake is covered in a massive sheet of ice as far as the eye can see. Within that sea of ice was a small oasis for waterfowl. As we walked along the shoreline, we could hear the calls and cries of gulls, swans, geese, and diving ducks. There were hundreds of them and during the winter months, the fishing pier is a popular spot for bird watchers and photographers. 

We enter the water and it's crystal clear. The water is so warm that one could go for a swim. The water coming from the plant is often 30 degrees warmer than the lake. That difference is what attracts the massive schools of shad and shiners. Not to far behind are the steelhead and they feast on the plentiful bounty. We stop at the drop off as the water goes from clear to an ominous dark green. Over the decades, the discharge has carved out a long trench that starts at the plant and goes along the breakwall and out into the lake. We picked the right time because the plant is discharging water. The steam rises from the surface and dances along the surface. 

Due to the depth, I use a slip float. The depth is over 10' and the fish generally hug the sandy bottom waiting to ambush bait fish. I'm using shiners and the others tube jigs. The fish here are more aggressive due the abundant food and most of them are juvenile steelhead. We all cast towards the breakwall and watch the floats head out into the lake. Due to the steam it's difficult to see the floats. Not much is going on as we make adjustments to get the correct depth. 

I move the slip farther up the line and cast out. I watch the float and I strain to see it. I can't see it and I stop it. For a brief second, I let stop and then I feel a jolt - a take. I set the hook and I feel the fish surge. I get behind the others and start hauling it in. I catch a glimpse of the fish and it's a skipper. I grab it and it's resemble a football. These fish gorge themselves and pack on the weight. Just as soon as I release my fish, I hear a cry of "FISH ON!"

The bite is on as we start getting into fish. The action is fast and furious as we watch some go airborne. For an hour we've landed well over 20 fish and just like that the bite shuts off. During the morning we watched several anglers go into the plant. Space is limited and during the weekend it can be a crowded place. Out of the three coal fired plants in the area, this is the best one for fishing. 

For the record, I'll only fish the plant when all other options have been exhausted. Cold spells here often brief and we've have experienced several winters were it hasn't been cold enough to ice over the rivers. In some years, I never fish the plant because there was no need to go. Due to the growing number of anglers, the plant I fished at started enforcing security measures. Years ago, they tolerated people wandering into the discharge pool, but from what I've heard that area is now off limits. Whenever homeland security issues a yellow alert, power plants set up enforcement. I remember one cold day in December standing out in the lake with a friend listening to a security official constantly barking over the loudspeaker that the current was strong and we needed to stand back. Then he informed us that the road conditions were getting worse. We looked at each other and started to laugh. After a while he relented we knew we weren't breaking any laws. 

The plant can be a fun place when the conditions are right. At times it can be either feast or famine, but it beats sitting at home waiting for the thaw. 

February 16, 2008

Slurpy Steelheading


The wacky weather continues here in Steelhead Alley. Last week, it poured liked a mother and blew several rivers above flood stage. But the cold weather returned and the rivers once again started to freeze over. There was a small window of opportunity to fish the Grand as more rain was in the forecast for Sunday.

I called a friend on Friday for an update of the Grand and he told me there wasn't that much ice. I made plans to fish the upper section and slept in as the overnight temperature was to be in the teens. I arrived at the river around 11:00A.M and noticed it was a tad dirty and there was some slush coming down the river. Usually above the dam the river is completely frozen over and slush isn't an issue. Luckily, it was sunny and it was only a matter of time before the sun burned it off. The Harpersfield bridge was covered in snow and with the bright skies it made for a beautiful picture. Harpersfield bridge is one of the many covered bridges found in Ashtabula County. I got dressed and started to walk to the river. There were a couple of guys who arrived at first light and told me of the horrible conditions as their line, guides and floats froze over, not to mention the slush.


I knew from experience it never made sense to go fishing at first light when it's 12F, your better off catching a few more hours of sleep. It was still cold and the dirty water would make it a challenge. I could of opted for the Rocky, but I knew fishable water was far and few between. I scouted it the day before and decided there wasn't enough real estate to fish. The slush was still problem as it moved along the shelf ice and right down the main current.

Whenever it's cold, I usually fish tailouts or off the main current. Steelhead prefer to hold in these places as they don't have to expend energy and fight the current. The problem is when its that cold, they won't expend the energy to grab a presentation. I don't blame them, if was stuck in water about 33F, I wouldn't move for shit.

The slush was a pain in the ass as it constantly grabbed my line and banged the float around. It was about 12:30PM and slush was still coming down river. I knew in about an hour or so, the slush was be a non factor. Sure enough the sun eventually burned off the slush and I headed downstream. As I walked through the woods, I noticed the sun had barely crept above the cliffs. Without the sun's rays, the fish would be lethargic at best. I started to work the tailout and the float popped. I set the hook and watched a steelhead leap from the water! I knew the Manistee strain was hardcore in regards to cold water, but leaping 2' out was amazing. I managed to get the fish to the bank and noticed why the fish bolted so hard - it got hooked right above its eye. Luckily, I debarb my hooks and quickly popped it out. I continued fish and couldn't get anybody to play. Be then it was almost 2:30PM and I started to head back.

I fished another spot and I stood on top of a section of shelf ice. The ice was thick enough to support me and water below was no more than 3' deep. But, I stood back enough that I didn't really want to take a bath. The fishing was slow as I managed to catch a couple, but I couldn't haul them up onto the ice. Several times the line would get caught in the ice and I had to yank the line really hard. The 8# leader I was using really held up well. Both fish eventually spit the hook. The only fish I was able to flip onto the ice was this little skipper. It's hard to believe that this little squirt was only a 10" smolt released last April. This little guy ran the gauntlet of predators in the lake and feed well on the vast schools of emerald shiners and mayfly hatches. By the looks of him and fed well in the big lake. I gently slipped him back into the water and decided to call it a day.

Tomorrow's temperature is to be in the upper 40s with rain and that usually means the rivers will get blown out. The city of North Olmsted dropped off the pumps just in case if the sewers get overwhelmed and with my luck they'll fire them up around 1:00AM and of course I have to start work at 5:30AM.

February 10, 2008

Donnie Beaver - Joe Angler's Worst Nightmare


Donny Beaver, the monster douchebag decided to drop his court case against state of Pennsylvania after the state won its case that the Little Juniata was in fact deemed a navigable river, therefore allowing public to access. His legal team informed him discontinuing the appeal keeps Judge Kurtz's decision legally binding only on the Little Juniata. It's one small victory, but a victory nonetheless for Joe Angler. 

Beaver now has his sights on the Lake Erie tribs and their world renown steelhead runs.   I was informed from a friend that Beaver's club was shopping the Conneaut to secure waters for their members and it lit a fire under the local steelheaders. The ODNR is opposed to private waters that denies access to the public. There are ways the state could counter act those moves but they're waiting to see to see the outcome.

Personally, I think Beaver is a scumbag and he tries to come off as some noble conservationist. He's nothing more than a slimy businessman going around flashing wads of money to landowners in the hopes of securing private access for his club members. Since he's charging thousands of dollars for membership, he's flushed with cash. Here's a quote from him about preserving streams "The highest valued properties are along trout streams, and they're not being bought by guys who want to conserve it," Beaver said. "They're guys who want to make money from changing it. ... We're trying to protect these fish. That's what started all this." This guy is so full of shit and he's standing knee deep in it. He locks up the property and stocks with trout as fat as soccer balls. He has plenty of losers willing to line up and fork over thousands of dollars to fish for these "wild fish", who's he fucking kidding! If he's such a steward of the streams and a staunch conservationist, then he would grant the general public access.

Beaver couldn't give two shits about you and me. He's in it for the money and a lot of these idiots are willing to pay through the nose to join his stupid club. His club members are benefiting from me and the others who shell out money for licences. That licence money is what keeps the Castalia hatchery operating and producing steelhead. As long as people like Donny Beaver throw money at landowners, the ODNR is hamstrung. The only thing the ODNR could do is stop stocking the Conneaut all together or start purchasing property. But until the state figures out what to do with this, we'll be on the outside looking in.

The next time you see one of Beaver's guides on the Elk or Conneaut go over and kick them in the balls.

February 2, 2008

Never Doubt Yourself


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.