September 27, 2011

The Skunk Got Handed To Me


Yesterday ushered in the first day of autumn, but summer didn't want to relinquish its time here in Steelhead Alley. For many that was perfectly fine as the temperature was to be in the mid 70s. With the beautiful weather on Sunday that meant most anglers in the area were out on the lake fishing for perch. For the steelheaders, the diehards were scattered across the alley. During the week we received more rain. Unfortunately the far east got nothing but a tinkle. As expected there the fish were parked in the lower reaches waiting impatiently as they've endured a barrage of spoons, flies and goober sized sacs over the past couple of weeks. Early season steelheading in Pennsylvania can be described in one word - clusterfuck. I've seen pictures of people surrounding one hole about the size of a kiddie pool with a dozen fish in it. The water is as clear as a fish bowl and all of the anglers are determined to get one of them to bite. I've often said that for punishment such as poaching or fishing without a license, that person should be forced to fish the Project Waters on the Walnut for the entire season.

For once it was nice not having to drive. I sat back and enjoyed a coffee as I was offered a breakfast burrito. Just what I need to go with a stomach full eggs and bacon. We arrived at first light and there were a couple of cars in the lot. In the coming weeks, the number of people will increase, but by then the all of the rivers will have fish and their will be plenty of room to fish. 


During the past week I've cured several jars of fresh coho eggs. Generally during the early part of the season, I'm reluctant to use them. Instead, I use eggs from last season and sometimes it's a flip of a coin whether there good or not. The night before I thawed a pack out dated 12/4/10, the eggs looked firm and bright. The skein I used last week worked great as it was juicy and left a nice slick on the water. I ended up with one jar of skein and loose eggs.

We went back to the same river and fished the same section. It started off like last week - uneventful. For the first couple of hours two skippers were caught at the head of the run in faster broken water. Boredom started to settle in and I felt the urge to move. We walked upstream to the faster pocket water where I caught my first fish of the season. Once again, I couldn't find any takers, not even a chub. Dave and Bubba were fishing the tailout when I heard Dave yell out. I turned to see he had a large fish that was running wild. Bubba tried to get line out of the way. I watched a large bright fish explode from the water and it quickly broke the line. That's why early fall is so fun as the fish are fresh and the warmer water gives them energy to wreak havoc.

As the morning progress I my left foot starting to get wet and I sighed. Earlier in the week, I saturated the insides of my waders trying to see any dark spots that would reveal the source of my leaks. Unfortunately, isopropyl alcohol can only reveal so much. I hoped the patch job would slow the deluge to a trickle. Instead my foot got wetter and wetter and it started to make that annoying sloshing sound. Luckily the water was still in the 60s and it was nothing more than a slight annoyance. If it was December more than likely I would probably suffer extreme discomfort and depending on the fishing, I would either toughed it out or bale and head to the nearest store for new waders.


With the super soaker, I struggled to walk in my boots as they spit out some of the cleats I screwed in last night. I really regret buying those Chotas Rock Loc as they have an insatiable appetite for cleats. On Chotas website they state that the boots have great traction. I call bullshit as it feels like I'm wearing skates. As I walked, I slipped and slided on the bottom as everybody here knows how slick shale rocks can be.

Last time out both me and Dave caught our first fish of the season. Bubba on the other hand posted a shutout. It was mid morning when Bubba finally shook the skunk off and I was left holding it. It was a nice fish unfortunately due to Bubba's massive girth the fish looked like a wee minnow as I took the money shot. For me it was a fruitless morning as I worked and reworked the spots trying to get a hit. It was one of those days we all experience - nothing goes right. The leaking waders, line issues and not getting any action. We got back to the truck, I pulled my waders off and you could hear the water splash out. My socks were completely soaked as were the bottoms of my fleece pants. Both of my feet were pasty white and terribly pruned. 

It was in most part a slow day as one fish was caught here and there. With latest high water, we thought more would push in but as I said before you have to be in the right place at the right time. Tomorrow will another day painstakingly looking for those troublesome leaks. Hopefully next week I'll be tossing the skunk around somebody else's neck

September 18, 2011

The Skunk Is Off


Cool weather over the past week has stirred many diehard steelheaders out of hibernation. Old friends are starting to call one another for the latest happenings and any shred of information. Over the past week, I've started stocking missing floats, hooks, and sinkers. Replaced the line, cleaned the reel, and inspected the boots for missing cleats. For this diehard, the past spring was a distant memory albeit a bad one. I was so disappointed with the spring run that I stopped fishing in the middle of April. Many were hoping that this season would be much better than the previous one.

During the past week, we had scattered storms come off the lake and from the south. The end result was some streams rose and others were bone dry. The streams way out east didn't receive any so that crossed off several from the list. Several streams close by were running slightly lower but I didn't want to deal with elbows and assholes. We decided to head to one our favorite river and turned out to be a great decision.

The alarm buzzed acting like a starter's gun, telling me the marathon has begun. It was still dark out as I stumbled down to the hallway to the kitchen. Filling the coffee pot and cooking bacon and eggs in the frying pan. I thought about last season and how terrible it was. A couple weeks ago me and several friends talked about what the upcoming season would be like. Some thought it would be a repeat as these types of things usually don't turn around in one year and others hoped it was a fluke. Me being the eternal optimist, hoped the fish would return in bigger numbers. Walking out the door, I was greeted with the crisp, cool air and I could see the faint light on the horizon. I checked the tote box to make sure that I had everything. The forecast for the day was calling for sunny skies and summer like 72F. I arrived at the river at first light as a couple of friends pulled in. The last time we fished here was in late March and we crushed them that day. 

We walked down the trail and could see the river was low, but had a good flow and color. Upstream we could see 4 anglers fishing one popular spot. The day before I picked up some fresh salmon skein and tied some sacs. In the other jar was sacs I froze in April. In the past, I've had issues with old sacs that spent the entire summer hidden deep in the freezer under massive piles of chicken, pork chops and steaks. I thawed them out and they looked and smelled all right, but then again I'm not a steelhead. 


With it being so early in the season, we knew the number of fish would be low. In Ohio, the number of fish tend to be in the low numbers, as some of them start to trickle into the lower reaches of the rivers. It's usually the most experienced and dedicated steelheaders that find them. The water still felt warm to the touch and September is a month where you have to be at the right place at the right time. We started off at the long pool, working in tandem looking for that certain holding spot. Another angler was fishing and told us nothing was caught and didn't see or hear any fish rolling. I still find it odd fishing for steelhead when the trees are green with leaves and reeds tall. 

The first fish of the year was Dave's - a typical Steelhead Alley steelhead about 24" and 4 pounds. He was the first to get the skunk off and we had our work cut out for us. We gradually shuffled down the pool hoping for that tell tale hit of a steelhead. But there was none and we walked downstream to fish a large deep sweeping pool that is usually better when the water is colder and lower. But in early fall it provides the wary steelhead the shelter and safety they seek when conditions are bright. But turned out to a productive spot for catfish as another angler farther down was drifting sacs along some downed trees. We chuckled as we thought he might be drifting chicken liver flavor sacs but both fish were fairly fat and full of spunk.


I was still wearing the skunk and to make matters worse, both of my feet were starting to get wet because of leaks in my waders. I had all summer to make repairs and I kept procrastinating. I have come to terms that no matter what brand of waders I have, I'll eventually spring leaks. With the water being warm, it was bearable but there is no way I'll stand for that in the frigid months to come. So wader repair is a top priority this week.

The same spot farther up that we fished in the morning, still failed to produce me the first elusive fish of the new season. I had to start thinking like a fish. Where would I be when the water is warm and low and the skies bright? The first thing that popped in my head was pocket water. There were a series of cuts and pocket water that rushed around several large rocks. I took a sac that contained fresh salmon skein and drifted along one seam and the float shot under and I felt that tell tale throbbing and explosive run of a steelhead. The fished charged out into the middle of the river and raced up and down. Being mindfully that warmer water can stress fish, I quickly brought it in. It was bright and shiny as a newly minted coin. The skunk was off my neck and I took a quick shot and released it. The same spot produced two more fish, both were juveniles as one leaped from the water and fought like a 10 pounder. The other was a little more than 12" and it's hard to believe that 6 months ago it was a 8" smolt. In that span the fish almost doubled in size and is testament of the productive waters of Lake Erie.

It was late morning when we returned downstream to the same spot and the 2 anglers that fished with had caught 6 fish, most of them skippers. By then it the sun was high in the sky and the fish had shut down. I couldn't complain as it only September 18th and better days are ahead.