November 10, 2012

Sandy Blows


Hurricane Sandy was heading for the Alley and I was lucky to get my fishing in before she unleashed her wrath. It was a night of rolling the dice as the Elk blew out the day before during the afternoon. The chance of rain for Sunday was 90% with most of it starting in the early afternoon. I tied some sacs early on and sat back to watched the Buckeyes beat down Penn State as they continued their quest for a perfect season. During the game, I would check the weather report, because we know how unpredictable hurricanes can be. 

I woke up early, I checked the weather. There was a large green band of rain creeping northwest into Pennsylvania. I quickly checked the flow data for the Elk and it dropped down to 14 on the gauge. I knew a lot of people wouldn't make the drive out because of the threat of rain. Like I said before, I'll roll the dice when it comes to weather. Most of the time I win big, but there has been a couple of times where I see the stream is a little too high and dirty. I quickly loaded the Jeep and hit the road. It was still dark when I left but the roads were dry as I drove through Lake County. When I passed Ashtabula, it started to rain and it progressively got harder as I made my way east. It poured and the wipers struggled to wipe the water away. The window was going to shut quickly if the rain didn't stop. I got off the exit and headed south as I was fishing higher up as the creek generally runs cleaner here. It was first light when I pulled in and there wasn't a car. The creek was running a little higher and stained, but this is typical Ohio water that I'm used to fishing.

By now the rain has lessened and I would keep an eye on the flow gauge all morning. With the stronger current, I fished along the seams. The fish were not in a playful mood as I poked and probed the pools and holes. So far for the morning, I had 2 creek chubs which I never caught from the Elk before. I walked farther upstream to another spot and fished along the ledge. Even with stained conditions, finding ledges is easy because the shale bottom creates waves. Off the waves is where I fish and the first fish of the morning was a bright silver hen. I struggled to get into fish but the creek held steady so I knew I had all morning to fish. It continued to be a tough morning and I figured the approaching storm was throwing off the fish. I banged away and for the morning I had 6 fish. By now the rain had picked up and I was getting drenched. I looked at the gauge and the flow was starting to creep up. I checked the weather app and the radar showed a large dark green blob over western Pennsylvania. Being wet, cold, the bite was off and hunger were good enough reasons for me to bail. On the way, I ran into a couple of hardy souls braving the conditions. I got back to the Jeep there was a truck behind me. Usually on a Sunday there are cars and trucks parked all the way up the hill. I didn't linger and after getting lunch and a coffee, I headed home. On the way home the wind pushed the Jeep around and I knew we were in for one hell of a storm. When I arrived home, I checked the gauge and the Elk was blown out.

When I left for work on Monday, the wind was howling and I got pelted with rain. The rain never once let up and as the day progressed the wind got stronger and angrier. Sandy was at the doorstep and she was ready to huff and puff and blow the house down. I finished work around 4:00 and decided to drive to the lake. By then the Rock was blown out and I could see massive waves crashing over the breakwall down by the yacht club. I knew of a little park on the edge of the bluffs near the mouth of the river. I drove around the corner, I could see several cars parked. I was the only person to get out and the gusting wind pushed me around. It was probably gusting over 60mph and Lake Erie was rolling and raging as massive waves crashed into the shore. The wind was straight out of the north and there was nothing to stop it. I've never seen the lake so rough as many people stopped by to sate their curiosity. I started the video recorder on my phone and started filming. I had a difficult time holding the phone steady and several other people joined me to take pictures or film the action.

The weather honks said that the worse would happen around midnight. I sat back and watched the Monday night game as the wind roared outside and the trees swayed back and forth. Once in a while the lights would dim and flicker. While watching the game, I would change stations to see what the storm was doing. On the local station, they had a video of the waves crashing over I-90 near the E.55th power station. The waves and spray from the winds were too much for officials and they shut down westbound lanes. Many people drove down to the lake, to witness the wrath of the storm. Several times, I would see flashes of lighting through the curtains. I opened them and it wasn't lighting, but transformers arcing. The wind's intensity got stronger and stronger as I was waiting to hear one of the trees to snap and fall into the ravine. The ground was so saturated from all of the rain during the weekend that a night of gusting winds was enough to tear the roots out of the ground. The game turned out to be a blowout ( how ironic? ) and I looked out of the window to see the large oak by the carport being whipped into a frenzy by a tempest. I mutter to myself that it would be a matter of time before the lights went out. Once again, the lights started to flicker and I could hear the fridge's motor began to struggle. I was still looking outside when I watched a transformer in the distance explode. Orange sparks littered the sky and the lights went out. I was standing in total darkness. I was prepared as I had my headlamp close by and began to light candles in all of the rooms. It was 11:20 and I took a shower because I knew by morning, there would be no hot water. As for the power coming back on, who knew?  I got into bed and listened to wind gust with ferocity, I set the alarm on the phone and drifted off to sleep.

The next morning I looked out of the window. It was first light and it raining and windy. The intensity of the wind had died down, but there was still gusts. I drove to work and there was hardly any cars on the road. All of the schools were canceled and I'm sure some businesses in the affected areas were closed as well. With the winds blowing over 40mph, there was no way for power crews to do any work. They had to wait it out. I was concerned because I was running on empty as I forgot to fill up the yesterday. On the way in, the radio reports confirmed that the west side and along the lakeshore got hammered. In total, over 140,000 homes and businesses were in the dark. I was lucky to see to the gas station off the exit to work was open and I promptly pulled in to fill up. I arrived at work and noticed the ladies up front calling customers to see if they had any power. About half of them had to canceled appointments. It was a light day as I toured along the east side. Many streets were littered with branches and the occasional downed tree with a police officer blocking the street. I drove by the Chagrin and it was above its banks and with the rain still coming down, it was more than likely it would go beyond flood stage. 

After a short day on the job, I stopped by to pick up some dinner. Finding food was a difficult task as both grocery stores were closed and I eventually settled for fast food. I returned to my apartment and walked into a darkened building. It was eerie as everybody else left to stay friends or family who had power. My footsteps echoed along the hallway. I lighted several candles and sat at the table. I watched the candles flicker and I listen to rain pelting the window. This would the first night with no power. All day I didn't see one crew on the road. There was no heat and the apartment was at 55F. The only thing link I had with the outside world was my iPhone. I emailed my parents back in Western Canada and told them everything was all right and I lost power. That evening was spent reading a book in bed. I checked the flow gauge and both the Grand and Chagrin were above flood stage and the Rock wasn't too far behind. The pelting rain eventually put me to sleep as I slept comfortably under layers of blankets.

It was Wednesday and the 2nd day without power and I started to wonder how long I would be. Inside my freezer were my season supply of salmon eggs and when the power went out, I had about 48 hours before I had to do something like get dry ice or move to them to a working freezer. It was another slow day and the news reported that power companies from surrounding states were heading to Cleveland to help assist restoring power. I finished work early and as I drove down my street I noticed some lights were on. In the distance, I could see Joe's Deli was open and it brought a smile to my face. I walk in the apartment building and the hallway light. I opened the door and the furnace was roaring, the TV was on and I checked the freezer. All of the food and eggs were fine, but I had to toss the eggs, bacon, milk and lunch meat out. I headed down to Joe's to get dinner and the lobby was full. From what I heard the power was restored in the morning and fortunately I was one of the lucky ones. Many people in the lobby were there because they still had no power and they had no idea when it would come back. Communities such as Bay Village, Rocky River, Lakewood, Fairview Park and Westlake were hit the hardest. According to reports most of the power would be back by the end of the weekend.

As for the streams, they got blown out big time. In a way, it was a much needed as all of the leaves and summer silt were flushed out. Many on the Alley were chomping at the bit because many felt that was the blowout to bring in the motherload of fish. I was one of those curious to see but I knew I wouldn't be the only one. With all of Ohio's streams high and muddy, the only option was Pennsylvania. Saturday was still slightly high but I heard the Elk was a bustling place. Sunday would probably worse as the water levels would be lower and the Steelers were playing a late afternoon game. If the Elk was too crowded, I had the option to skip over to the Ashtabula. When I arrived around 6:45 there were cars parked halfway up the hill. I shrugged it off, dressed and made my way down the hill. The creek was primed as I could make out shale ledges and holes. Upstream the most popular spots were occupied and I kept walking.

The previous week I noticed a tree had fallen over and across a nice hole. The high water had pushed the tree over and opened the hole. As I walked up I watched 3 anglers pass it up because they probably felt the tree was a barrier. I crossed over and it was a typical Elk creek hole - no more than 20' long and a couple feet deep. But that was even to hide a lot of fish and it was off to the races. The first drift and I hooked into a chrome hen. Then it was fish after fish after. But it caught a lot of attention from anglers wandering upstream. I often dub these anglers as vultures. They slowly scan the creek looking for action. They can be either an experienced or a novice. They often across as friendly but I know what they're looking for - fish and to squeeze me out. Three guys watched me hooked into seven fish quickly I knew their intentions. They fished the opposite side and it was futile as the tree on my side as the top branches blocked their casts. It was a difficult spot to fly fish because of that and the trees above. I continue to hook into fish after fish considering I was fishing a spot no larger than 20'. They looked frustrated because they weren't hooking into fish. Eventually, I cleaned out the spot and moved upstream. As I walked upstream the flock of vultures quickly occupied the spot I was fishing.

The next spot I could see several anglers packing up and leaving. This section is considered one of the largest pools on the Elk. It runs 100' along with a large shale cliff and fish hold along the ledge. I didn't have my glasses with me and I really didn't need them. It's a difficult spot to fly fish because anglers would be waist deep and try to fire line 40' across with the current running amok makes mending the line a chore. I started at the head of the pool and noticed a large piece of shale sticking out the water. Picked off 2 fish from that spot. Despite the crowded conditions I never once seen a person fishing where I was. Several anglers walked by without even considering fishing it. I gradually shuffled down and the bite turned off. The weather for the day was cold, overcast and at times snow flakes appeared. The water was chilly and I had this feeling the fish might be down at the tailout. A fish rolled downstream and that was enough to get me there. I walked above the riffle and farther out from the rocks, the water gradually became murkier. From memory, this was a go to spot in the winter as fish will cram into that hole. In total, I caught eight fish all bright silver.

After cleaning that hole out it was only 11:00 A.M and I wanted to fish farther downstream. Around the corner, I could see a line of anglers and all of them were properly spaced out. Not a lot of action and another crew was fishing the hole I did well in the morning. I picked off a couple of fish in the skinny water as I gunned and runned downstream. As I continued to walk I could see 10 anglers all clustered in one spot. All of them had sour looks on their faces. That's typical on the Elk as a few do very well and a lot go home skunked. I reached the fly shop and the number of cars on the hill didn't change and some anglers at the campsite were preparing lunch. In the five hours of fishing, the creek dropped and it became clearer. By tomorrow it would go back to low and clear. The number of anglers dropped considerably as I didn't see a lot of people. The number was low enough that I passed up a couple of spots to get down to the bigger holes. There were a father and son fishing and way downstream three other anglers were fishing a pool. I slide down below and patiently waited for them to leave. Luckily they gave up and I watched them walk up and around the bend. Fish can be had on the Elk, even in the afternoon when many believe the fish were hammered all morning. I picked off 6 fish from that hole and I looked at the time, it was almost 1:00 and I were down to a dozen sacs. On the way down there was a small run that I knew held fish and it was a spot I passed over. The father and son were fishing the small shale cliff. Once again I slipped below and on the first drift it was fish on. It turned out to be a decent spot as I caught four more fish. The father yelled out what colors I was using and I told him pink and chartreuse. By then I was down to two sacs, my back was sore and stomach grumbling. The father and son were using trout beads and told me they didn't get so much a nibble. I felt bad for them as they made the drive from Pittsburgh. But, I've had those days too when nothing goes my way. I was fortunate to have a banner day I was over 20 fish for the day. The eggs and my knowledge of the creek made it possible. 

As for Ohio, were still a long time before anything becomes fishable. I'm sure both the Grand and Chagrin will look different due to the extremely high water. It looks like they fish for the upcoming weekend and all of us will be ready to get our fish on.

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