December 26, 2011

Ho Ho Ho!

Christmas Day Hog
Merry Christmas from the Alley. We were very thankful for the warmer than usual weather as this time last year, all of the streams were locked up tighter than a nun's asshole. We were house bound and cranky as fishing opportunities were very limited and in those places the fishing was terrible. Many are hoping that the warmer weather extends well into the new year. But, I would rather have rain than looking at a stream covered in ice and waiting months for the thaw.

Before the next outing, the first thing I did was purchased a pair of new waders. My Orvis waders were finally kaput. Tube after tube after tube of aquaseal couldn't stop the deluge that plagued me this season. Once the water dipped into the 30s and using grocery bags to cover my feet, I knew I couldn't wait anymore. The Simms G3s were the most expensive waders I've purchased and I had to shell out the big bucks because the hardcore steelheader demands the best. No more cheap made in China crap. The clerk handed me the large sized ones and they were very light. Everybody I know that has the G3s raved about their durability and comfort. After walking around the store in them, I was sold and walked out the door and thankfully my Christmas bonus paid for them.

Another trip to the Grand was thwarted by guess what? More rain. It rained pretty hard late Wednesday and many feared that the streams would be unfishable during the holiday weekend. On Christmas Eve, I watched the flow gauges like a kid looking out of the window for Santa. The only rivers that might fish would be the Chagrin and the "gulp" Rocky. The flows were still a tad high and that meant dirty water.

Thumbs up from the shadowy steelheader because nobody is here
Christmas morning, I drove down to the Rock in the dark and looked at the water. It was running dirty and the visibility was barely a foot. I rolled the dice and drove out east to a smaller stream and it turned out to be snake eyes. If there were any fish, they were the ultimate grinches as I couldn't buy a hit. After a couple of hours, I knew I would be wasting time here so I headed back west to fish the Rock. During the morning, Bubba called on his way back from Dayton, curious to see what the fishing was like. I groused about the lousy fishing and was getting ready to head back. Since it was Christmas, the number of people would be almost nil, which is unheard of for a Sunday. I arrived at the lower section and the water was still dirty. There wasn't a soul in sight and I could pick and choose where to fish without somebody irritating me. I fished a popular spot and the first fish of the day was a decent sized hen. Usually this time of the year, I like to keep a couple of hens for eggs. Unfortunately I have a bad habit of throwing back hens in the hopes I catch a bigger and fatter one. I decided to throw it back knowing I might screw myself. But that was the only fish and knew of a better spot upstream.

During the past couple of outings we landed some big fish in this spot. It was the typical winter holding spot - wide and flat and the fish parked themselves right near where the river bends. The first fish out of this spot was chrome skipper that despised the cold water, leaped out of the water and fought furiously. The next fish was another hen and she shredded my tippet on the rocks. I continued to work the bend and the float shot under and it felt like a big fish. Whenever the rod "thuds" I know it's a biggie. I watched it come to the surface it was a huge male. Over the past couple of weeks, the Rock has been coughing up some large fish. It was battle of tug of war and I desperately tried to keep it from running into the jagged pieces of shale. Finally, I beached it and the first thing I noticed was it's large head. It almost looked like a gator as its lower jaw was very kyped. At the time I was still waiting for Bubba to show up and I wanted a money shot of this beastie, so I put him on the stringer and waited. 

When he showed up he was impressed with the size of it and took a couple of shots. I released him back into the murky depths and wondered how far he would journey upstream. For once it was nice to stand in the water and not have to worry about my feet getting wet. We pulled some nice fish out that spot and we ventured back to the place I first fished. It was late afternoon and the wind was blowing hard out of the west as it made fishing difficult. The uncured eggs I had were not up to par and started using my purple nurple and orange eggs cured in BorXofire. These sacs were tied a lot bigger and gave off a wicked scent. Well, the fish enjoyed the festive colored sacs as I started tearing them up in the last hour. We enjoyed having the river to ourselves as we knew tomorrow it would be the opposite. 

Monday morning the herd migrated to the Rock. I arrived tardy around 8 and I shuffled in where the guys were fishing. Once again the uncured eggs were suspect and the fish were begging for the cured eggs ( note to newbies carry both cured and uncured ). Unlike yesterday, the majority of fish caught were skippers, but there was a lot of fish to be had. After cleaning out a couple of holes, I drove along the metropark and every lot was packed. I'm sure the joggers, elderly, people walking the dog cursed under their breath as the anglers took up all of the spots. I kept driving and I could see people at every popular spot. This is the Rock that I've grown to hate over the years - wasting time looking for a spot. It almost noon and my stomach talked me into heading home for lunch. After a hearty meal and a long snooze, I figured the crowds would be gone home - wrong. There were plenty of people out but I had the ace in the hole and the brief time fishing I landed two large fish. The Rock is having an outstanding season so far, a lot better than the streams farther east. Unfortunately we might have to wait again as there is a 100% chance of rain tomorrow. As I remarked last time fishing all I want for Christmas is the Grand to fish for one week. 

December 18, 2011

Snow?


The Alley got its first significant snowfall of the year. For many, the snow was actually a welcome relief from the rain. Personally, I'm sick and tired of it as another float trip on the Grand has been put on the back burner. Fishing the ole river this season has been a distant memory. After the latest bout of rain the rivers were coming down and I wanted to get away from the weekend warriors. That meant a long drive out east and I didn't mind shelling out the money for gas. Since the river was slightly higher on the gauge, lack of chatter on the internet, and another kick at the can for the deer hunters - I wasn't in a hurry. I drove at an unheard of 65mph the entire way out. When I pulled in and chuckled "first" and started to get dressed when the first flakes started dropping. I felt the wind and it was coming out the west and that usually means lake effect. As walked towards the river it gradually snowed harder and progressed into a virtual whiteout. I couldn't even see the float and had to stop fishing. But lake effect squalls come and go quickly and it was back to a morning of solitude and beautiful water.

As it was last week, I couldn't find the pods of fish. I banged every pool, hole, pocket water and nook and cranny. It was one or two here and there which was odd because all of the spots were near prime spawning areas. It has been a puzzling season on this particular river, as fish were had in big numbers early in the fall but as the season progressed the fish spread out. I drove farther down river and was surprised to see only one car - one car! As expected the two guys were parked at the popular hole and strolled upstream. Only one spot produced fish in decent numbers and every where else it was the standard one or two.


Later in the morning I received a call that the Rock was fishing awesome in the morning. Of course I follow my decree religiously but there was a slight taste of bitterness and regret in my mouth. I had to swallow my pride as it was early afternoon when I made the decision to head back home and give the Rock a shot. The Clowns were playing a late afternoon game and by then the morning shift had gone home. Even though I rarely fish the Rock, I still have a lot of aces in the hole. It was getting late in the afternoon so I fished one of those aces and it paid off in spades.

It turned out a smart move as yet again another leak sprung somewhere in my waders. At least I was close to home if my feet and legs became to cold. I'm going to have to bite the bullet and buy a new pair of waders. No mid price ones as I'm going to break the bank. Can't wait for the fat guy and I don't think he would drop the $400 for a pair of Simms G3.

December 15, 2011

What's For Dessert?


The Brits love giving hilarious names to their foods. My mother is British and I remember as a teen visiting my grandparents in England. One time we were at the grocery store and there was a package of faggots ( pork meatballs ) and I started snickering. Luckily, neither of my grandparents forced us to eat them as I've always thought British cuisine with the exception of fish and chips was absolutely horrible. But it would of been great to hear my grandfather say at the supper table "I've got nothing against faggots, I just don't fancy them."  

Tonight, I was at World Market browsing the food section and came across cans of spotted dick. Spotted dick of course is a British sponge pudding. If I had a Christmas party next week at work, I would of bought it and baked the boys a lovely cake.

Photo Credit - yourfoodchoices.com

December 11, 2011

Winter Is Coming


Winter can be the most difficult season for the steelheader. Cold winds, snow, slush, ice and freezing water - all play against the angler seeking fish. It's these factors that separates the men from the boys. The 1%ers versus the 99%ers. We still haven't receive the notorious lake effect snows, but the weather over the weekend was an early sign that winter steelheading is around the corner. During the weekend the nighttime temps dipped into the 20s, but the streams were still warm enough that slush and ice wouldn't be a problem.

Sunday was to be a sunny day, but the overnight low was to be in the 20s again. I left early Sunday morning and the air was very cold and crisp. The sky was lit up with stars and I could see the faint light in the distance. It was the first signs that winter is coming. Winter is the time of the hardcore steelheader. He is dedicated and doesn't care about the elements. He sneers at squalls and drives through them. He's confident that fish will be caught no matter what the conditions are like. I arrived after first light and if it was spring, there would be plenty of cars parked as anglers would staked out their spots in the dark. But, not today, as I was the first to roll in. There was a dusting of snow on the ground and any standing water was frozen. I dressed for the weather wearing fleece long underwear and a thermal shirt. The cap was replaced by the toque.

The stream was clearing and the flow was just right. The water on the other hand was cold as I felt the sharp sting of it. It was probably in the 30s and that meant fishing the tail ends and off the seams. The sun slowly crept above the ridge when I hooked into the first fish of the day - a dark hen. She was in her prime winter colors - charcoal bottom mixed with reds, purple and silver. She had been the river for some time carrying her precious cargo of eggs. Spring for her seemed a long way off. I quickly released her and resumed fishing. After that another fish fell for a white sacs. Unlike the last fish, he was fresh out of the lake. His body was bright silver with a slight hint of red. Only four days ago, the river was high and muddy ushering in the next run of fish.

After that the bite shut off as I scoured the run for any others. Despise the cold water, both fish fought very hard. They made hard blistering runs and quickly bolted back into the dark water after being released. By now the sun's rays were getting stronger as I didn't have to stop as much to remove the ice from the rod's guides. This section wasn't producing so I walked to another spot I knew. This spot was at the bottom of a small island. It spilled into a long pool and eventually flatten out. On the opposite side, it ran along a shale cliff. With the aid of glasses, I could see the ledge and that's where fish primarily hold. It took some time but I hooked into a fish. Once hooked I knew it was a large fish. It stuck to the bottom and eventually I finally got it to surface. It was a very thick male, probably one of the thickest fish I caught. His tail was so thick I couldn't get a decent grip so I had to use my glove. As I lifted him, I knew he was over ten pounds and readied the camera for a shot. He was an impressive specimen and the only blemish was the healed over lamprey scar behind the pelvic fin.

The fishing, however was slow. I could of stuck close to home as I heard the fishing was better. But I can't and absolutely will not fish the Rock on the weekend. I have a no fish the Rock Saturday and Sunday in my decree. I don't care if people are hooking fish left, right and center. I hate crowds and annoying people and both are present in big numbers on the Rock. I rather shell out the money and drive farther east. Numbers are not important, but enjoying the peace and quiet. It's not like I hate people, but I'm around a lot of them during the week and the last thing I need is somebody talking my ear off early Sunday morning.  

The number of fish wasn't a lot and involved driving from one section to another. There wasn't a lot of people and I didn't have to stray from the road. Today, I couldn't find the pods of fish. You chalk up a bunch of theories, but that does happen from time to time. You think the water looks great, the flow is prefect and the number of people is low. That pretty well sums up winter fishing as it's either feast or famine.  

Hoping I don't see rain until next spring because this constant rain every week has thrown a monkey wrench in the plans for floating the Grand for over a month.

December 1, 2011

400 Miles


Another vacation and another bout of rain. That's how it usually happens, because I have to book my vacation time well in advance. In some years, its been bone dry and others the rivers get blown out. There is no in between. I sigh usually with a feeling of frustration, but I have to make best with what I have. That was evident as the Alley got walloped with rain. Some are so fed up with the rain that they're praying for snow. So far to date Northeastern Ohio has blown away the most precipitation in one year record. 

Sunday, I snuck out to beat the rain. It was a decent day, but I knew the fishing gods would try to ruin my vacation. As expected the streams blew out, but I hoped that PA got spared. Sure enough that evening the flow went up but none of their streams blew out. For the remainder of the week, Pennsylvania was the only destination as all of Ohio's streams were out of the question for the entire week. On the upside, the river would be high and it was the beginning of deer hunting season. With high conditions and the hunting season, I wasn't in a hurry to lock up the best spot. The downside was it was 100 mile drive one way and my lead foot doesn't help with the fuel economy.

It was this time back in 2007 when I smashed them on this section. I never had a day like that and may never again. I know it was well over 50 fish and if I kept count it might of been close to 70, because I usually carry about 3 dozen sacs per container and I had 3 of them on me. That year, we had the mother load of fish both in PA and Ohio - it was the dream season. We were all spoiled by the bounty and hoped it would never end. Then the reality check smack us upside the head last year. It was horrible as some of us thought we lost our mojo. We got teased a couple of times, but most of the time we struggled to find fish. If you didn't put in the effort, then your season was filled with frustration and sorrow. Even here in Steelhead Shangri -La hasn't been the same either as the locals have been complaining about the lack of fish and you know it's been a bad year when PA steelheaders are whining.


I arrived around 10:00A.M to see the stream dirty and flowing good. The added bonus was seeing a couple of anglers looking glum walking back to the car. The majority of PA's anglers hate and I mean hate fishing dirty water. They look at the dirty water with a panic expression on their face. You can see beads of sweat forming on their foreheads. In their heads, they're trying to figure out where the fish are, but they can't put 1+1 together. After a few minutes they decided it's not worth the effort and drive home. I'm pretty well use to it and I'm the opposite as I hate fishing low and clear.

Even though the weather was miserable, I could hear in the distance cracks of gun shots and I made an effort to make sure I was seen and heard as I started to head downstream. By late November, most of PA's steelhead are spawning. Because the creek has a limited amount of good gravel beds, the fish will take advantage of any. In several places, I could make out the dark shapes of fish clustered near a hen. That's usually a good place to start as I started to fishing below them. I hit fish, but not in big numbers. It seem that a lot of them were spread out but that's expected when conditions are higher as the fish can seek out more spots. Every spot produced fish and the majority of them were dark and some males sported some bite marks, ragged fins and their bodies thin. Not a lot of fresh fish which means that PA's run is starting to wind down and hopefully Ohio's Manistees are starting to show up.

On the way home the report was calling for more rain and a cold front pushing from the west. The creek was precariously close to blowing out again. It would be a night of waiting and seeing whether I would make the drive out. It didn't take much but the stream blew out again. Tuesday would be a day to chill at home and rest my back. It was late evening and the creek peaked. As with a lot of PA's streams they drop like a rock over night. I woke early to take a peek and as expected it dropped a foot or so. Filled the Jeep up and it was another 200 mile round trip. 


The weather was nasty coming out of Cleveland as I hit rush hour. It was blowing snow and the wind whipped all over the place. As I drove farther east, it was coming off the lake. It was a day for the hardcore steelheader, not for the faint of heart. It was 9:30 when I pulled in and the creek looked the same as it did Monday. With the weather colder, the fish would be holding at the tail end. Today not a soul was out even the hunters as I didn't hear any gun shots. There was fish to be had but again not in big numbers. It was 2 or 3 here and there. Covering water was the key as several anglers I pasted later in the day stood at one hole and only caught a couple of fish. Once again my troublesome back started acting up and it was long drive home as I had to stop several times to loosen the knot in my back. By evening it was killing me and I needed to take several days off to rest it. I couldn't imagine the pain if I had the Molson muscle, as I use to weight 220lbs several years. It would be tough sitting on the sidelines. Ohio' streams were still too high and PA's would eventually become low and clear.

Finally our streams started to come down. I had a hankering for big water. Sunday for a change I didn't have to drive and we headed to an old favorite. We were all curious to see how many fish moved in after the rain. We decided to fish low away from the rural areas as it was the last day of deer season. We pulled into one favorite place and I moved farther upstream to a spot to see if any fish where in the hole. The wind was gusting as I heard leaves rustling behind me. It was first light and I looked behind me to see a hunter sitting on a picnic table. This section is heavily wooded for some distance on one side of the river. I watched him sitting patiently, looking across the field hoping his trophy buck would emerge from the woods. I got back to fishing and hooked into the first fish of the morning - a bright hen. It's nice to see some of the Manistees coming in instead of fishing for the stale PA mutts. The last time I fished this river, it was a skipper fest. Today, some titans moved in and the pole strained and groaned as I fought some tough fish. Too bad the flow wasn't stronger as I love the battle of attrition with these larger fish. We enjoyed it while it last, because more rain is on the way. I can't wait for the snow and cold........

November 24, 2011

Calm Before The Storm


Steelhead Alley has its own version of Black Friday. Just like shoppers that cringe at the thought of hundreds of people beating one another just to get the 3 laptop computers listed at $299.00 even though the smart shopper on Cyber Monday can buy online without freezing their ass off waiting in line for hours. The same can be said about the streams the day after when everybody needs to escape from the mother-in-law. The streams are often packed and this is the reason why I often skip Black Friday and sleep well into the morning.


Lucky for me, I have no family commitments, so I can stay out as long as I desire on Thanksgiving. During past turkey day outings, I've often thought about my fellow steelheaders trapped at home with their mother-in-law, going to different grocery stores looking for cranberry sauce or entertaining 10 kids. I'm sure all of them were wishing they were on the river. It was refreshing to have an entire river to myself and after a long day I was the only car left in the lot.

A couple days ago we received rain that bumped the streams up. I was more than happy because I'm off all of next week and the other bonus is both Ohio and Pennsylvania's deer hunting season start Monday. Wednesday night I watched the flow gauge on the Elk start to slip into the "kiss your wife's ass to get out" zone. All of Ohio's streams were still too high to fish, so it was across the border we go. Since the others could only fish the morning, we drove separately as I wanted to stay longer. We pulled in at first light and nobody was there. We walked down and the creek was dirty and somewhere in that murkiness were a lot of fish. The guys fished near the first access and I wandered a bit downstream. The spot I fished cut hard into the shale wall that ran about 50 yards. Off of the main current is where the fish usually hold. Sure enough, that's where they were. It wasn't deep, maybe 3' but deep enough to hide them. It was a mixed bag of fresh and older fish. Once in a while I would look upstream to get the others attention to see if they wanted to move to new water. We gradually moved downstream and started hitting fish in every spot.


As I've said in the past, nothing beats a uncured egg. There is something about an all natural egg. Cured eggs will work but I liken them to somebody seasoning a steak with BBQ sauce or lacing it with secret spices - some people will like it and others not. I tend to use uncured eggs, but I'll carry cured ones just in case the fishes palette changes. Today, I called out my fish when I using uncured eggs. This can be done on the Elk when it's dirty and unpressured. It was a hoot when I placed a fresh sac on the hook, cast out and watch the float go under. Bubba demanded that I stop hoarding my eggs as it was the day of giving. I begrudgingly gave in and tossed him one egg. Sure enough he hooked into a fish and I just chuckled as I handed him another. 

Eventually the others had to leave and I wished them a Happy Thanksgiving and wonder how many dishes they would have to wash after dinner. At least they would have some decent football games to watch especially the Packers and Loins. I wondered upstream and it had been some time since I fished it. I passed a couple of people that lucky for them lived in the Erie area so they were in no rush to get home. I picked up some fish in deeper pools and tailouts along the cliffs and walls. These were definitely places to come back to next week. 

As for Friday, I'll bet the farm that the Elk will be packed as out streams will still be too high. Every person I talked to said the same thing and they too were taking a pass tomorrow. I was happy that I got first dibs on fish and tomorrow I'll be snoring as others will be racing to the best spots.


November 19, 2011

Tale of Three Rivers


All of Steelhead Alley's streams are generally the same. All of them run over shale bedrock, have little to no groundwater sources, and most of them with the exception of the Grand become fishable within 3 to 4 days after rain. But, that where the similarities stop. One river might get a monster run and others might get a wee one. As a rule of thumb, I generally fish farther east and as the season progresses, I start to make my way back west. Even though, I live in the western Cleveland suburb of Rocky River, I prefer the eastern rivers because they're scenic, more rural and tend to get more PA steelhead.


Friday, I fished solo as I decided to take a well deserved day off. Work has been slowing down and this is the time of the year when I start cashing in personal days. The plan was to fish far out east as I was scouting for others for the upcoming weekend. Arriving at first light, there were two cars and every time I've been there, I know where the people are going. Then another car with Ontario plates pulled in across the road and it was packed with guys. Lately, I've seen a lot of Canadians on the Alley and I hoped they were as green as I was 12 years ago. But, I noticed a person jumping out of the car, fully dressed in gear walking briskly to the river. When I got down to the river, as expected he locked up the spot for them. Maybe he was a guide or something, but who cares, because I knew of spot that probably would fish better.

The river was slightly stained and had a nice flow. It was cold with the temperature in the 30s and that meant - tailouts. I could see everybody at the spot downstream. From past recon trips during the summer months, I knew there was a shale ledge towards the tailout. The recon paid off as I started yanking fish out of that spot. During my time fishing, I would look downstream and see the group of anglers not doing a lot. Sooner or later they start getting antsy and start heading up or down. I was hoping to they would head down. Then  one by one they started to come up. I tried to be coy as we exchanged greetings and watched them walk up and around the corner. It was back to fishing and I did very well catching a lot of fresh fish. The bottom of the pool was littered with a lot of sore jaws, so it was off to another spot. This section was a long sweeping pool. Farther down it was nothing but what I dubbed shit water as it holds nothing but shit. There were plenty of fish from top to bottom and like the last spot, it was polluted with skippers. Satisfied with the results, I gave two thumbs to the working stiffs that were anxiously waiting for Saturday morning.


The plan for Saturday was the same place. One person that tagged along was Michael from Germany who comes to Ohio on business twice a year. Micheal is an avid angler in his home country and when he was in the Cleveland area several years ago, he stumbled onto Erie Outfitters. He was interested about fishing the alley and the owner of the shop - Craig helped him out. Saturday morning we drove east and the game plan was to lock up one pool near a popular spot. Locking up a pool involved getting up fairly early. On the drive out, I called a local bait shop that leaves a recording of lake and stream conditions. I got a chuckled when I heard that the fishing was tough on Friday and they were puzzled at the lack of fish caught. When we arrived there were several anglers gearing up and once again, I knew where they were going. I got dressed quicker when other cars started rolling in and told them I would grab the spot. Sure enough, everybody was clustered in that one spot - ha! The water had cleared considerably from yesterday. The fishing was slower then yesterday, but we all caught fish. I suggested that we head to the other spot I fished yesterday. As we walked out, there was about 20 cars scattered along the road. We pulled into the next spot and it wasn't hard to figure out what type of angler was fishing. When we arrived at the next spot, there was a Prius, Subaru, and a Toyota Highlander. All of them were plastered with Patagonia and Trout Unlimited stickers. Foreign cars and uber high priced outfitting manufacturers logos = yuppie, green weenie, fair weather fly fishermen. I figured when they walked back and looked at my piece of shit Jeep, they thought meat hunting, pool hogging, smelly spawn sacing dirtbag. We did well in that spot and I had another one another farther up. As we walked across to the other spot, all of the other cars were gone except for one truck. 

We hit some fish out of one hole and I could see two people fishing upstream. This was a spot I didn't have to fish the day before. The one angler greeted us and we started fishing, only hear the other angler start complaining about us fishing between them. We looked at each other like is he kidding? Ask anglers their definition of low holing and you'll get answers ranging from 10' to the entire length of a football field. This curmudgeonly loser was 50 yards upstream and he thought we were too close, I say Mr. Magoo needs to get his eyes checked. Of course, we could of been assholes and walked up started fishing in his hip pocket. His pissing and moaning session, thankfully was short lived. The morning crowd probably worked the hole over and we the left the miserable crank alone.  



Sunday we fished a river that often ranks at the bottom of my list - the Vermilion. I wasn't thrilled, but two days in a row driving out east was putting a hurting on my sleep and wallet. The Vermilion has one major problem - it constantly runs dirty. Years ago it never had that problem and nobody knows why. The only thing that the V has going for it is a lot of gravel and the majority of people I know have giving it up for dead. The fishing was terrible as I was the only one to hook into fish - 3 in total and the others were ready to throw in the towel. When we returned to the cars, I was waffling on whether to go home or continue fishing. Mike on the other hand wanted to cram in as much fishing as possible since we was to return to Germany on Wednesday. I don't blame him and I told him we could fish the Chagrin. On the way back I had second thoughts about fishing the Chag, it was almost noon and I didn't want to make the long drive out there or take Mike on one of my death marches. I elected to fish the Rock and I wasn't thrilled at the prospect of driving to see every lot full of cars. But I still had some cards in my hand and knew where to find fish. It was well past noon and I figured the early birds were long gone and the second shift were at the fords. I took Mike to several spots and we caught some fish. The only excitement was when we watched 4 does running across the rivers and then a large buck following briskly. Another buck wanting to cashing in tried to head off the other by crossing further down. I gave Mike some pointers for tomorrow and wished him luck and safe trip back home.


Three more days until vacation time...........



November 13, 2011

Cat's Meow

Working the pool in the Zoar Valley
Every angler has a dream destination to catch their favorite fish. For me it's British Columbia's Skeena River and it's magnificent wild steelhead. I've often dreamed of fishing either the Kispiox, Babine or Buckley rivers, standing in the cold pristine waters looking up at the mountains cloaked in mist. Both my parents and sister live in that province, unfortunately it's a 700 mile drive from Vernon to the Skeena. So I had to settle for something a little closer to home and that was the Cattargarus or known by local steelheaders as the "Catt". Many years ago, I was suppose to go there, but high water made fishing all but impossible. For years, it sat on the back burner and I could never get anybody to go for a variety of reasons - work, rather fish the Rock or being denied by the warden errrrr wife.

Lower section of the Catt
This past weekend I finally made it there and it's another notch on the rod. The Catt is considered the jewel of Steelhead Alley as it's the largest steelhead tributary that runs into Lake Erie on the American side. Steelhead can run as far as Springville Dam, which is 34 miles from the lake. The lower end of the river is flat and wide and loaded with gravel. There are many deep pools and holes that will hold fish. This is the most popular section of the river and is considered a pinner's dream. But, nearly all of it runs through the Seneca Indian reservation and you need to purchase a special licence. The middle section runs through the Zoar Valley one of the deepest gorges in New York. It's a wild, scenic place full of wildlife, numerous waterfalls and old growth forests. If you want seclusion and are anti-social, then the Zoar's your place.

High cliffs - Zoar Valley
Several buddies went up several weeks ago as all of Ohio's streams were running low and clear. I received the call that the four of them nearly landed 30 fish. I course, I love to bust their chops and called bullshit. Kidding aside, I knew it was possible as the Catt was nearly unfishable this fall due to rain. Finally a break in the rain and it was enough time for the river to finally come down. Timing is the key, because when it blows out, it can take weeks for it come down. That's because it drains a huge area, a lot more than the Grand River. I've heard that some springs the river goes unfished because of the snow melt and rain. 

Catt Steelhead
Earlier in the week, I talked with a friend about going. I was game and nothing was going to stop me from getting there. The river was at a perfect flow and I wanted to get away from Ohio as the fishing here has been pathetic. Hoping to get to bed early turned out to be another late night as I had a lot of things to do - tie sacs, watch the football game, and trying to purchase a licence online. I didn't hit the sack until almost midnight. With a little over three hours of sleep, I knew I was going to have my hands full with the drive out to New York and back. We left at 4:00A.M and it would be about a 3 hour drive. We finally got off the turnpike and the tripometer was over 170 miles if we drove another 40 miles we would be at the border. Not wanting to spend over $40.00 for a licence, we opted to fish outside of the reservation. The first place we stop was in the town of Gowanda. We parked practically next to the river and fished one spot the guys did well a couple weeks ago. The river had a chalky color and the visibility wasn't that great. Farther up there was a mix of bait and fly fishermen working one pool. I was pumped to hook into my first New York steelhead. The fishing was very slow as only one fish was caught. We fished several spots downstream and nothing was happening. This theme would be replayed over the day.........ugh

Angler dwarfed by the cliffs
Due to limited time and not wanting to make the 3 hour drive back in the dark, we made the decision to fish the Zoar Valley. The Zoar wasn't very far from town, about 10 minutes south. We turned onto the road and the first thing I noticed a large sign greeting people by stating that nobody and I mean nobody will get any permission to hunt my property. To make his point clearer, nearly every tree along the road had a posted sign. We continued down the road and there were more signs and I wondered how much money this person spent on signs, probably thousands of dollars. I figure he would be the type of person to greet you with a shotgun pointed in your direction when knocking on the door. We dressed and started the descent down into the Zoar. When we finally made it down, I was awestruck at the height of the cliffs. These cliffs were 4 times the height of the ones on the upper Grand. The river itself was a mixture of blue and green colors. It mainly ran over shale as I could make out the ledges and cuts. It reminded me of a giant Ashtabula river with a lot of flow. Because there are limited gravel areas in the gorge streambed, fish push through it rather quickly. As a general rule, steelhead prefer to hold and rest over gravel, but there is fishable pocketwater and many shale ledges in the valley where fish pause temporarily on their upstream journey. The river was low enough that we figured some fish stopped to rest and waited for the next high water. 
  

Right off the trail, there was a pool that held a lot of promise. It was fairly long with large rocks. Along the river, it was littered with rocks and at times it made walking difficult. As I walked I knew both boots were spitting cleats. Upstream I could see the typical V shape of the cliff that announced where the main and south branch of river meet. Even though on the flow gauge the Catt was slightly under 300, it had a pretty good flow. For the insane whitewater kayaker, this section would be a blast at higher flows. As for a drift boat, I would be hesitant to use it through here, because the shale bottom and ledges and many large rocks were barely underwater. One wrong move and the boat would suffer a lot of damage. As for a pontoon boat, I wouldn't even dare use it. I could see the breaks and seams were fish could be holding. We started working the pool and nothing was happening. I moved downstream working the tailouts and still nothing. I surprised with the sheer number of rocks in the water, that I didn't snag bottom. The only action was when Dave hooked into a large fish only to have his  leader break due to a large rock. Dave mentioned that yesterday, a local angler told him the fishing was better downstream. We heeded the advice and started to walk down to the cliffs. 

Main and South branch of the Catt
We made it down and I looked up, the cliffs were incredibly high and steep. Several trees were precariously hanging on the edge. The cliffs themselves were chiseled and scarred by thousands of years of rain and runoff. The entire section along the cliffs were a pinner's delight - a long slow moving pool that eventually tailed out about 200 yards down. But before we fished the cliffs, we worked a pool below a large set of rapids. I finally hit my first fish of the day as I watched the float popped twice and go under. I set the hook and felt the rod throb hard. The fish hit at the tail end and then I noticed the leader was wrapped around it. The fish started to drift into the rapids that spilled into another large pool. As the fish tried to fight, I had to hold the rod high to prevent the leader from fraying on the rocks. By then the fish had unwrapped itself and was trying head back into deeper water. I guided the fish between two large rocks and managed to beach it. It was nice large hen and her bottom caudal was worn - a sign of a repeat spawner.

Looking downstream from the south branch
After that there wasn't a lot of action. Maybe there wasn't that many fish here. As we walked down, we could see two anglers fishing the lower end of the pool. Both were using spey rods. If there was a place to swing flies then they were in the right place. The river here wasn't that deep, maybe three feet deep, but it had a lot of places for fish to hold. We shuffled down stream, pulling off some Olympic distance drifts. But we had no takers and I was puzzled at the lack of action. The two people fishing told us they only caught one fish. It was a little after 12:00P.M and we had about a couple more hours before heading back. We tried another spot had promise - a long deep pool below the island. It was fairly deep over 6 feet deep, but nothing was biting. Due to high winds, there was a lot of leaves in the water and it made drifting at times difficult as the float would get lost in all of the litter. We had one more spot below the two branches of the river. We passed 3 other anglers and they had no luck either. We made it to the spot below the branches and it was a large shale ledge. The water here had a nice green tint and the low water above probably prevented any fish from making it over the series of stair cases. As with every other spot we didn't get a hit. I walked up to the south branch and it was barely flowing over the shale bedrock. It was almost 1:30 and we decided to call it a day.

The drive was brutal as I fought to stay awake. Only after filling up in Erie did the cold wind knock some sense into me and the steaming mug of coffee saved me from dozing off. Even though we didn't have the number of fish we hoped, I was very impressed with the Catt. It's a beautiful river and very challenging for either the pinner or fly fishermen. It's a long haul from Cleveland and if I was going to fish it again. I would purchase a reservation licence and spend a night at a hotel. If you have the time and money, I would add this place to your list.

November 8, 2011

Has The Internet Ruined Steelhead Alley?


A subject that is guaranteed to rile up debate here in Steelhead Alley - has the internet ruined the fishery? I say no. Any resourceful angler will find the necessary information, whether the internet existed or not. If it were to shut down tomorrow, I'll bet that most of the streams along the Alley would be full of anglers. If you asked them where they got their information from it would be from a bait shop, a buddy or they lived 10 minutes from the stream. The haters scoffed at that and this is what I would hear or read.

"I'm sick and tired of these assholes asking to be spoon fed, get off your lazy ass and do your own leg work"

"I can't find solitude anymore"

"More and more property will get posted"

"I hate people that give out specific locations, because that's where I like to fish"

"Our fishery will be ruined by out of towners"

The internet has made fishing a lot easier for today's angler. All the information is available with the click of the mouse - state fishery departments, USGS flow data, weather channel, blogs, e-magazines, websites dedicated to steelhead and even Uncle John's webcams at his camp on the lower Elk. The majority of anglers still use fishing websites to find out what the pulse of the alley is like. I never post a report on the two most popular sites for Lake Erie steelheaders - steelheadsite.com and ohiogamefishing.com, because I've been banned from both. I'll admit for shits and giggles, I loved to stir the pot and rattle the moderator's cages. Both have declined in membership over the years because of the constant bickering and accusations. That biggest complaints are spoon feeding and naming locations on the rivers. The haters will attempt chase off any newbie or out of towner that dares to ask the question "Are there any fish in the river?" or "Where can I go to catch them?"

The internet has created a certain angler, the lazy inept steelheader. Instead of going out and learning from trail and error, they'll post question like "Are there any fish in the rivers?  or "Where are the best locations?" They'll start breaking out in a cold sweat Friday night and go into full panic mode when they get up Saturday morning and there are no reports. They come up with all of the excuses - can't risk wasting gas because they live a couple hours away and there isn't enough time to figure out where the fish are. I call bullshit because I go through a lot of gas in pursuit of steel. That's part of the game and I'm willing to shell out the dough.

I pretty well use the phone and the USGS flow data - that's all I need. I have the flow data down pat and know what's fishable. I've told people there always somewhere to fish on the alley any given day. Over the years I made a lot of contacts and those contacts are on speed dial. Every week we're on the phone with the latest information and in a lot of cases it's saved a day that could of been terrible.

The internet hasn't ruined the fishery because that cat was let out of the bag a long time ago. The main purpose of state agencies that stocks fish is to generate revenue for the state. Revenue from licences, lodging, food and gas all go into the state's coffer. Steelhead Alley has more steelhead per mile than any other streams in the lower 48 states, so word is bound to get out. Big numbers of fish equals big numbers of people. So don't panic when the latest person posts his latest outing and notice that 100 people viewed it because more than likely it's a bogus report to deflect pressure off his river ;^ )

Bluebird Day


When rivers are low and clear, I often dread "bluebird days". Bluebird day is defined as clear blue skies, bright sun and warm temperatures. I on the other hand prefer low grey skies, zero sun and temperatures hovering in the 40s. Today, it was a bluebird day and I wasn't going to stand on the sidelines. Fishing time is precious and I'll try to deal with the conditions the best I can.

Daylight savings couldn't come at a better time. No more stumbling around in the dark and it's only 7:00A.M and for this hopeless sleeper, an extra hour is what I need. I really didn't feel the need to get up early because the word out was the fishing has been terrible ever since the rivers came down. Not a lot of fish made it in and they're spread out. Many steelheaders used the beautiful weather to score points with the wife in regards to raking leaves and tossing the patio furniture in the shed.

It was first light when I was halfway out to the Grand, driving at a leisurely pace as I listened Rush's Exit Stage Left. This would be the second trip out to the upper stretches and I hoped it would be better than the previous one, but I wasn't holding my breath. I crossed over the covered bridge below the dam, the final stop for steelhead about 20 miles from the lake. I could see several anglers clustered around the bridge. I knew from past experience that the fish will move downstream whenever the water the gets lower.

When ever the rivers are low and clear, I'll fish the Grand. The Grand was one of those rivers that never runs clear. It always has that murkiness to it. A cloak that hides fish very well and makes it very challenging. I know the Grand very well, but there are times that she doesn't want to reveal her secrets or her fish. The upper stretches is where I'm at home - the long shale cliffs, lazy flats, and the remoteness. As I pulled in to the back lot, there wasn't anybody fishing downstream. The large rock that I use as a gauge was halfway out of the water. That meant the river was low but perfect for wading as I had plan to fish the 2 miles downstream. Unfortunately, I looked across to see a large drift boat being loaded. I wasn't in the mood to out run a boat. With the lower water that meant the boat would spook a lot of fish. Even though the Grand is the largest stocked steelhead river in Ohio, it's a very shallow in nature.

I immediately walked down to one of my money pools and quickly hooked into a male - bright in his fall colors. I kept looking up stream and I could see the boat making its way down. In this section it was wide enough that the boat could drift on the opposite side without disturbing any fish. As the boat drifted by I noticed they all had fly gear. That meant they probably wouldn't fishing the lazy pools but I was concerned because most of those pools and flats are shallow and the hulking shadow of a boat is enough to scattered and shut down fish. I figured since I was halfway down I stop at the first mile and give it a shot. I managed one more fish and that was it.

Walking back it was evident that a lot of people took the weekend off as nobody was fishing upstream. It was very odd not seeing people fishing during the first week of November - the prime month of steelheading on the Alley. I drove downstream to another spot where the high cliffs would provide fish with cover. It was the same result - not a lot of action. A couple of anglers walked passed both with grim looks on their faces. One them asked if I fished upstream and said yes but it was slow. Both were not from here and I was hard pressed to give them any info that would help them.

I hope that this November doesn't turn into the one we experienced last year - very low numbers of fish. I believe there are more fish, but they are very spread out. You will need a lot persistence and willing to walk the extra mile. Parking at the closest hole and repeatedly casting over and over won't yield a lot of fish. Time to look ahead for the next adventure.


November 2, 2011

Fishing Solo


When I moved here 12 years ago from Alberta, both me and my wife at the time, didn't know a soul. It took time to meet and gradually built friendships. My first years on the alley was mostly spent fishing alone. But over time, I meet people and started some great relationships. Many of them shared my passion for chasing steel. But there are times when I enjoy going solo. I can fish at my own pace, explore new water, going the extra mile and leaving whenever I feel the need to.

Today I would be fishing solo and it was a good thing because I kept waffling on where to fish. Both streams were not too far from one another. But one was fishable albeit a little low and the other was still considered too high from other sources. The plan was to fish the lower river and if the fishing was slow, I would head over the other. Knowing me, if the fishing doesn't pan out in a couple of hours, I'll be bombing down the interstate to the next river.

It was a fairly chilly morning out as the temperature was hovering a few degrees above freezing. I wasn't in a hurry today as I arrived at first light. Walking down to the ravine I could see the signs of the first frost of the season. It was eerily quiet as there were no sounds of insects or the rustling of leaves. I could see the my breath as I looked to the horizon waiting for the first rays of sunlight. Looking down the water had that dark tea color and I wasn't terribly thrilled by it.


As with every fall the trees litter the streams with leaves and in some spots the piles in the water can be measured in feet. As the leaves start to decompose, they release tannins and the water starts to get that dark tea color. Some steelheaders believe that tannic conditions can affect fish as it effects the PH level in the water. I started believing that as I fished several spots that hold a lot of fish when the water is lower. I plugged away working the deeper cuts and ledges. A few hours into the morning, I managed one small hen. The day before I got a report that the fishing was outstanding but that window of prime conditions closed Sunday morning. As the morning progress, I could see bottom in a lot of spots and that same spot we fished the week before and caught over 10 fish when the river was higher was visible right down to the bottom. I checked the time and it was almost ten and I knew I needed to make a move.

I drove over to the next river and it was in much better condition color wise but the flow was still strong. Usually when flows are strong, steelhead generally don't tend to hole up. Even though there was a lot of leaves in the water, it had more of a clay based stain, but the visibility was good. The first spot didn't produce and usually when nobody is there at eleven - the fishing sucked. I knew it was going to be one of those days of banging spots all the way up river. That was the case as I worked seams and tailouts and it was one or two fish here and there. I guess I was one of the lucky ones because a lot of people I talked to got shut out. As I drove back back home I stopped at Harpersfield dam to see what the Grand looked like. As expected it was high and unfishable, but I wondered how many fish made it up as last year it was dismal. Last season was the first time I didn't fish that section of the river because of very low numbers of fish. With no rain for the rest of the week, it looks like I might make a visit there this weekend.


October 28, 2011

Pennsylvania Steelheading and the search for ID


Pennsylvania's steelhead fishery is one of a kind. I liken it to some mad fishery biologist's experiment gone bad. Take over 1 million steelhead and dump them into small streams and ditches. The state stocks the lion share of steelhead into Lake Erie, while Ohio, Michigan, New York and Ontario throw in a few. In 2008, the Pennsylvania fish and boat commission stock over 1.1 million steelhead into 11 tributaries. During that same year, Ohio stocked a little over 465,000 steelhead into 5 rivers. If you want big numbers of fish then Pennsylvania is your destination. If you absolutely hate crowds, I would give you about 30 minutes before you lose it.

Nearly all of Pennsylvania's streams are very small and all of them run over freestone shale. When ever there is rain or snow melt, the streams can blow out very quickly going from low and clear to a raging torrent. As with all flash floods, the water level can drop very quickly. The window for prime fishing conditions can be brief as within a couple of days, the streams will return to low and clear. Since the shale is light in appearance, darker fish stick out like a sore thumb and some of those fish have no choice but to seek out shelter. Some on the other hand are forced to stick it out and dodge the endless numbers of flies and bait drifted by them.


I had a full slate of work on Saturday because I lost 3 days to rain. I wasn't complaining since I was going to make a boat load of money. Later that day, I heard the Elk was on fire because of the stained conditions. When ever their creeks have a hint of mud in it, you be surprised at the low the number of people. Anglers in Pennsylvania love to sight fish. Personally, I can't stand it as I don't find it challenging. Saturday night the plan of action was to fish the Elk. The only concern I had was the river was dropping big time as the flow was at 7 on the gauge. That meant it was running gin clear, but nearly all of Ohio's streams were still too high to fish and I wasn't going to waste a day.


I heard that there were hardly any people out Saturday. Sunday it was the opposite as we rolled into the lot before first light. There were about 8 cars ahead of us and I knew it would be a busy day as the weather was beautiful, the creek was lower, and the Steelers were playing a late afternoon game - a perfect recipe for elbows and assholes. I noticed a lot of fellow Buckeyes were here because they had no where else to fish. As we crossed, I looked down and the water was very clear. We continued downstream to one spot that I knew would hold a lot of fish because it was the only deep hole in the entire section. It was first light and we started banging them on small sacs. Unfortunately the ruckus attracted a lot of attention as the scavengers started to make their way to the pool. One guy fly fishing below started to inch over as he asked what they were hitting on, I told him small peach sacs. The hole wasn't that big but it was dark and somewhere in that darkness, fish huddled tight against the shale ledge. The fish were on the large size and most looked like they've been in the creek for some time. Dave had his hands full with a large fish, after hauling it in he held it up and it was a dark male with broad shoulders - a beautiful specimen. We worked the pool some more but by then they shut down and we left the others to fight over the scraps. As we walked I found the water too clear for my liking as I'm not terribly keen on fishing water that resembles the clarity of a bottle of vodka. We decided to go upstream and we could see about 10 anglers clustered around the pool. I can imagine what the fish would be seeing - flies, boots, and hearing a lot of swearing.

As expected I started getting crabby because I can't stand crowded conditions. I watched people fishing water a foot deep and it was obvious there wasn't anything there. It just boggles my mind why people do that. I looked upstream and there were people everywhere and I couldn't take it anymore. I had to leave and we decided to jump back across to our yard. We drove farther downstream to see how many people were fishing. Nearly every available parking spot was taken and of course some of the dolts ignored the no parking signs on private property. Some people just love to learn the hard way.


As we drove over to Ohio, we stopped at one river and it was still too high. We continued on to the next stream and it was as a perfect as it gets - a nice tea stain with a mellow flow. Even though the small lot was full and a couple of cars parked off the road. We didn't see anybody and one of my favorite spots was vacant. This river has the same characteristics as a Pennsylvania stream - shale bottom with a lot of ledges and cuts. All we did was drift over the dark cuts and that's where the fish were holding. Over the years, I've seen plenty of anglers simply walk by these cuts and chutes because they believe the majority of fish are holding in deeper slowing moving pools. That might be true, but during the warmer months those spots are often pounded mercilessly by the morning crowd. Just in one large cut we managed to hook into over 10 fish. For us, Ohio saved the day and we wondered how our fellow Buckeyes were faring across the border. Satisfied with the results, we drove home and listened to the Browns laying a beating on the Seabags, the score late in the 3rd quarter was 3-0.

What should of been a relaxing evening was cut short when I received a phone call as I was watching the Sunday night game. I answered to hear a women on the other end telling me that she found my wallet. I was caught off guard and had to ask twice. I checked my fleece jacket and there was no wallet. I groaned and it was almost 9:30 but I had to get my wallet as it had all of my important ID including my green card. To make matters worse the lady lived in North Kingsville which is outside of Conneaut. I wasn't in any condition to make the long drive there and back. I filled the coffee mug and drove as fast as I could. I arrived and my wallet was handed over. The first thing I noticed was both my driver licence and green card were missing. She told this was all she found as it was lying on the road near the top of the hill. I thanked her for finding it and making an effort to track me down. It started making sense as I drove out. When I placed my jacket on the roof and removed it, my wallet fell out. When I drove out it flew off and everything fell out. I arrived and it was pitch dark as I parked off the road on top of the hill. It was chilly enough that the crickets could barely chirp. I took out my headlamp and started to scour the side of the road and ditch. I couldn't believe how the  lady could of seen it on the road as most people fly up and down it. I gradually walked down the hill painstakingly looking for a small black folder. I continued to look and then off to the side I found it - thank God! Because it would of been a major headache contacting the INS and going through the endless bureaucratic hassle of getting a new card. I also found my Ohio fishing licence and my state applicators licence. I mutter to myself how stupid I was to leave the zipper open, but I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I dodged a bullet. I got back into the Jeep and it was almost 11:30 and it would be another hour before I got home. I was beat and I had to refill the mug at a truck stop. Nothing like industrial strength truck stop coffee and I kept the window open as not to nod off. The last 20 miles were hard as I fought to stay awake, sticking my head out of the window as the blast of cold air reinvigorated my senses. I made it home and basically fell on the bed and I didn't move until the alarm when off at 7:00 starting yet another day.

October 20, 2011

Run for the Border


Last season nearly every steelheader did some type of rain dance, prayed at church, or secretly performed some type of sacrifice behind the woodshed. Unfortunately the fish gods would have none of it. Once in a while we got a sprinkle and we were thankful for that. This season, the opposite has happened -  rainfall by the buckets. So far to date, we've nearly broken the record for most precipitation in one year here in Northeastern Ohio. Since September, we've received rain nearly every week. The majority of steelheaders are not complaining and many will say bring more rain.


With heavy rainfall also meant a lot of days lost to rivers blowing out. That's where a PA license comes in handy. So far, my license has been paying dividends especially during the first time out. When Friday rolled around I could see another large green blob invading Ohio on the weather channel and the weather honks were calling for 80% chance of rain. The honks got it right as it started raining late Friday, as I watched the flow gauges creep up and finally spike into the "your fishing for the weekend is toast" category. I clicked on the Elk's flow and it was in the "go fish" zone.

Amish Farmhouse - Middlefield
Saturday morning I woke to see that almost all of the Ohio tribs out east had blown out. The only rivers that escaped the rain were the Rock and Vermilion. During the early fall, I'll avoid the Rock like the plague as it attracts some of the dumbest anglers in the area and the Vermilion is off my radar during the month of October. But when I checked the weather for Erie, I could see a large green blob parked over the lake. I hoped it would be light rain and the flow gauge was starting to crept up. That afternoon, I decided to go for a road trip out east. I often like to drive the rural roads where ever I go. One of my favorite drives are the country roads of Geauga and Ashtabula counties. The drive was much better as I replaced the shocks on the Jeep. Prior to that it had the handling characteristics of a boat riding on choppy water.

The fall colors were bright against the dull grey skies, the weather on the other hand was down right nasty - gusting cold winds and low clouds. I brought the camera along and snapped some pictures of old barns and farm houses around Amish country in Middlefield. Whenever, I'm there I'll stop at Middlefield cheese for their great Swiss cheeses. I drove north towards to the sleepy hamlet of Thompson as many wineries that found in that area. I crossed one feeder creek that ran into the Grand and it was ripping pretty good. After several hours of driving the roads, my stomach started talking and I stopped in Willoughby's historic downtown and eat at one of the many restaurants found along that section of the street. Dinner was bummer as I had a pulled chicken pizza. It should of been called the tossed lettuce pizza because chicken was far and few between.

Geauga County Farm
 When I arrived home, I checked the flow for the Elk and as I expected it shot up to nearly 140 on the gauge. I wasn't too worried even though the Elk was a raging torrent it can drop 2 feet overnight so I was confident enough to tie some sacs for tomorrow's trip. I called Dave and he agreed that the Elk would fish and if it didn't we had other options to go to.

I woke at 4:30 and the Elk as I predicted dropped back down to respectable 30 on the gauge - a tad high, but great for goober size sacs. We made the drive out and arrived at first light. As expected there wasn't anybody around and we walked down to the creek. It was high and the visibility wasn't great, but it was fishable in my books. The only thing that concern me was the flow as I thought it was a little too strong for my liking, as the bottom here lacked a lot of structure. We fished breaks in the current and nothing was hitting. I walked down to fish some pocket water and stirred up a fish resting at a tailout. I watched four anglers walk down and mill about debating whether to stay or go. I could see the looks on their faces that drove a far distance and conditions were not what they expected. It probably didn't help that they had spinners and flatfish. We planned a move and I planted a stick in the water to see how far down it would drop if decided to come back later.

Winery off the Grand River
We drove farther down and the number of people was a lot lower than the previous time out. We were practically at the lake's doorstep and the water here was even more dirtier. Most of the angler were using lures and all of them were a little cranky that nothing was hitting. I could barely see pass my knees, however in Ohio, I fish this type of water all the time. We banged away and nothing was hitting. We figured maybe the lake was rough that the fish didn't push in as the crashing surf would of pounded them into patties. It was two hours in and no fish so I made the call to head up river, figuring the creek was a little cleaner. We pulled in the lot was almost empty, about 2 cars which for a Sunday is unheard of. The creek here was a lot cleaner, but had a slight stain to it.

Even though Pennsylvania stocks a gazillion fish, the fishing can be either boom or bust. As I mention before, many locals feel a 10 fish day is lousy, even pathetic. Today was a tough day in steelhead Shangri-La as we had to work for them. All of the fish we caught had been in the river for several weeks and I figured most of the fish were in the mid and high sections. Nothing was crammed like sardines in the pools and runs. We was two or three fish here and there and you had to pound the pavement so to speak if you wanted good numbers. We returned to the same spot that we fished at first light and the creek dropped about 4" in a period of 7 hours. Just shows you how fast Pennsylvania's streams can drop and in a couple of days all of them will be low and clear.

October 19, 2011

The Skunk

 

Every angler experiences it from time to time, the dreaded skunk. In my case, it was literal as I came upon a dead one lying in the water on the lower Conneaut. It was waterlogged and ripening, and the smell was overwhelming. Which made me think, was he responsible for the all of the non-action downstream. It was morning and early in the steelhead season. I had pounded several holes and pools downstream without much success. The dead skunk should have been taken as an ominous sign that things might not be fine and dandy today. But, I'm a half glass full kind of angler. I looked at him one last time and wondered if any of the critters in the woods or water would have to the courage to feast on his filthy rotting corpse. 

It was unseasonably warm and the creek was running low and clear. Deep water was few and far between. The only action I was getting was fighting off the repeated hit and run attacks of the resident creek chubs. I would watch with great disdain as the float popped up and down. It was wasn't that violent take that is often associated with steelhead. I would flick the float as if they were that annoying fly bothering me. When I reeled in the line, I would see the sac nibbled down to the last few eggs. By now that glass that was starting to get a little more empty. 


But that's early fall on the Alley as fishing can be either hit or miss. In Ohio, it's more of a case of misses and frustration. I finish up at the last spot and the riffle above is barely registering a gurgle. I stand on one of the train trestle supports and look over at the shale ledge. It relatively dark and could possibly hide a pod of fish. I work the spot and my gut tells me there probably isn't any fish. I half ass it and I quickly start to get bored. I use my growling stomach as an excuse to call it a day.

We've all had our fair share of the skunk. Lucky for me, my skunks are few and far between. On the way back, I see my old friend baking in the sun and not a single fly is hovering around, go figure.