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........