November 29, 2013

The Push



The push that many were eagerly awaiting finally happened. I never doubted that they would come. They always do. Waiting patiently for the right conditions. As expected they come in unannounced under the cover of darkness or murky water. What made this push special was it happened before my vacation week. With colder weather for the following week, meant I could get away with sleeping in. In my youth, I would have been on the water in the dark, waiting for the faint signs of first light. I still love to hit the river at first light, but there are times when hitting it later in the morning can still pay off.

After 15 years of living in the states, I have lost my Canadian hardiness. I squeal at the thought of fishing in 20-degree weather. As a teenager, I would go cross country skiing when it was -20C and doing the 10-mile loop with no complaints. Sunday morning, I fished for only an hour because of the cold. I bitched the entire time, complained about the wind, ice on the guides and the fish being jerks. That was enough, looking to seek refuge under a blanket and guzzled a bowl of Joe's Deli chicken matzo ball soup. The day would be spent watching football. 



Monday morning,  the wind is moaning and groaning. I peek out under the flannel sheets and look at the time. I bury my head into the pillow and muttered I'm too old for this shit. The warm embrace of the sheets refuse to let me go and I go back to sleep. Eventually, I gather enough energy to pull myself out of the bed. My feet touch the hardwood floors and it sends chills up my spine. I gingerly tip toe to the kitchen and fire up the stove. I dunk eggs, bacon and hash browns into the pan. The coffee maker is gurgling away. I peek out the window and the large oak next to the carport is being whipped around. The temperature outside is 28F with a wind chill of 12F. I wolf down the food and fill up the mug. I dress and it's nothing but fleece. Long underwear, shirt, pants, and jacket. Instead on my Toronto Maple Leafs cap, it's a black toque. I'm completely dressed in black from head to toe and with my scruffy appearance, I could be mistaken for a burglar.

Walking outside the wind is blustery. I barely notice it as I load everything into the Jeep. Rush hour is long gone and I'm making a good time driving out east. The hot topic on the sports radio is another weekly bitching about the latest Browns loss. They rant and rave. I can take about 10 minutes of it and turn off the radio. Crossing over one river, I glance over to see it clogged in slush. No concern, resuming my journey east. 



Arriving at the Grand and there isn't a car at the first spot. It's mid morning and I hit a faithful old spot. The high cliffs and bend give me relief from the wind. The water is a light tea stain, the flow perfect and there's no slush. Bends, slicks and tailouts are on the menu. I fish the bend and work the inner edge. Watching the float chug along and it stops dead in its tracks and slowly goes under - a cold water take. After setting the hook, the fish starts bulldog along the bottom. The surface boils and it's a typical Lake Erie steelhead - 25" and four pounds. A male in his winter colors. Rosy red cheeks, charcoal on his belly and kyped jaw. A few shots from the camera and I gently release him. Working the pool, I pick off several more fish until reaching the end of it. I'm satisfied with the results. Looking at the time, I want to hit another productive spot.



Just like the last spot, there isn't a soul. It's another long sweeping pool that eventually flattens out all the way to another deep hole. It's a pinner's wet dream. The time of the year doesn't matter, it's always loaded with fish. I cross over and start shuffling downstream. Because the pool is so long, I'll often walk the float down until I start hooking into fish. The depth is uniform about 3' deep with rocks scattered along the bottom. Because of the current and the colder water, my gut tells me to fish further down. I continue to walk with the float until I see it pop and go under. I set the hook and I feel a frenzied run - a skipper. Then I start working the tail end and I have my hands full with fresh fish. The majority of them were skippers, but I battled several large adults. It was fast and furious as most of these fish probably haven't seen a sac or fly. If this pool had fish, I was frothing at the mouth thinking about the one further downstream. I start to walk and once I make it around the bend, I'm blasted by the wind. It's roaring upstream and I see waves. I give it the old college try and turns out to be a clusterfuck of epic proportions. The wind the line off the reel and I can't mend the line. The float resembles one of those marine buoys you see in the North Atlantic going up and down. The wind chill is frigid as my fingers go numb. I bail after 30 minutes and decide that tomorrow will be better as the wind is to die down. I head back up and spank some more fish. 

Eventually, I run out of bait and daylight. It's starting to get dark once I'm off the river. It turns out to be a monster push on this particular river. I want to make the most of this, because eventually these fish will get pounded on. I'll be here early tomorrow as the temperatures are to be in the mid-30s. Then it will get cold again for Wednesday and Turkey Day. As for Black Friday, I'll be buried under the sheets as the rivers will be a zoo. It's been like that for years. Besides me getting a workout so is my wallet as I fill up the Jeep and I'll be piling on the mileage this week.

November 26, 2013

My Backyard


For the record - I have a love/hate relationship when it comes to fishing the Rocky River. I live right next to the Rocky River Metro park and whenever I take the garbage out, I can see the river below. It takes all but 5 minutes to get there. But most of the time especially on weekends, I avoid like the plague. Due to the close proximity to Greater Cleveland area, 13 miles of public water and parking lots galore, it's a favorite destination for many and unfortunately many of them are the bucket brigade, the Russian dimwits, hillbillies and the Orvis snobs, it's too much. I guess I don't play well with others as I've been told. But then again who likes having Joe Bunghole waddling in 20' below you, greeting you thinking you have no problem sharing the hole. Screw that - I would rather drop $50 into the Jeep and drive 80 miles east.

But during the winter months, my work slows down and some days I'm done around two in the afternoon, then I'll give the Rock a shot. Generally the morning crowd is long gone and the river can be a desolate place. Case in point this week, when a little birdie told me the Rock got a good push of fish. I got off early and I had all of the gear in the Jeep. Lucky for me, I work 10 minutes from the river. I start off low right near the lake. I wonder where the old farts are, must be bingo this afternoon or nappy time. The water is perfect as I can see those micro holes. Small depressions in the shale bottom, that have enough haze to hide a fish. Takes all but two minutes to hook into a feisty skipper. Then I hook another one and I try to yank the hook out as the fish dangles halfway out of the water. The fish twists and the line snaps. I watch him dart back into the hole with a large pink sac in his mouth. I sigh and tie on another hook. The phone rings and it's work. I don't have to come in tomorrow until noon - sweet. I cast out and the float goes under. To my surprise it's that little skipper again. I see the pink sac and I laugh out loud. Greedy little bastard. I've had it happen over the years of catching the same fish out of the same spot, but not this quickly. I yank both hooks out and he darts right back into the same spot. Obviously this little fella has some memory problems and it won't be long before he ends up somebody's stringer.

I manage a couple more fish, but the number of people coming and going gives me a reason to move. I drive a little way up the road to another pool. I peek over from the lot and I see an angler below. He has the best spot locked up. I move above and fish the faster water. On the first drift, I hook into a fish. The other angler barely acknowledges my presence. I watch him cast over and over and over. I pull my phone out to check the time and it was four o clock. I wasn't sure what he was using, but I was getting impatient. Hole beaters can test even the most patient of anglers. I was getting ready to low hole him if continued to linger. Thankfully he finally gave up and the old goat had a look of disdain as he walked out. I shuffled down and threw out the float. Halfway down it went under and I set the hook. The water surface boiled and the fight was on. Oh those magic eggs of mine. Nothing is more demoralizing then pounding a hole for hours and watching somebody quickly hook into fish. The pool had a nice of fish as I continued to hook into fish. By now it was almost dark and I wasn't going to leave.

I had my hands full until it was too dark to fish anymore. Funny thing because I almost called off work today to go to Conneaut. But I decided against it because next week was vacation week. Instead of driving 80 miles, I drove 5 miles from work and caught 15 fish. Maybe the lousy fishing over the month finally chased everybody off of it, but after this week, I'm sure a lot of people are going blabber about all of the fish. Is it great to have a river in your backyard? Yes but I still rather drive far away to get away from everybody.

November 23, 2013

Kicking Over Every Stone


I keep hearing the old saying goes that 10% of anglers catch 90% of the fish has never rung so true this season. The diehards have scoured the far ends of the Alley found some success in a otherwise dismal season for most. Without a doubt the toughest fall I can remember. In Ohio we've become accustomed to the bust and boom cycles of fish. But in Pennsylvania, they've acted like the sky has fallen and the world as they know it is coming to an end.  Steelhead Shangri la as I like to refer to it, has been pitiful. I've been Pennsylvania four times and I've struggled to catch fish. In past years, I would be yanking them left, right and center. I pounded away, working every slot, cut, run, pocket water, seam, pile of lumber and exposed rock. I would try different color combinations and presentations only to be denied. I would just stand there, lost for words. I'm thinking it's early November and there should be a ton of fish here, but there isn't. I manage to catch one or two from a hole. I consider myself lucky as others haven't whiffed a hit all morning. After plugging away and I return to the Jeep and the total is seven - seven fish for the entire day. During prime conditions, I can catch seven fish from one hole. Something isn't right for sure. 



Back in Ohio its been just as bad. We've received plenty of rain to bump up the water, but only a trickle of fish have come in. Plenty of theories being tossed around. I think the lake is still too warm because of the warmer than usual October. The colder streams have kept the fish in the lake and they're waiting for the right conditions. Last week, I fished the Chagrin and I managed one fish for the entire day. Fishing after work on the Rock was a exercise of futility. After an hour, I'll come up an excuse to go home. It was the same story every week, a couple of fish caught here and there. Fall fishing in Ohio is generally bust or boom, so I shrugged it off and waited for the next weekend. I know they'll eventually come in - unannounced. 

Sunday I headed east and the wind was howling. Overnight we were expecting a lot of rain, but nothing eventful happened. The temperature was to be in the 60s and then free fall into the low 40s. Pulling into the lower section of the river, I see about four cars and two of them are from Pennsylvania. Desperate times call for desperate measures as I chuckled to myself. I walk towards the river and I see all of them at the most popular hole. Miles of open water and everybody piles into the first hole - I love it. The strong wind has blown a lot of leaves into the water, but it's manageable. I ignore the lazy pools and fish the faster water. I start plugging away and I pick off a skipper from a run. I work the entire the section and nothing. I'm thinking, speed fishing. I'm off to the next spot and it coughs up two more skippers. I head further up and I see another angler fishing the opposite side of the pool. He's at the tail end and because he's fly fishing, he can't fish the head of the pool because the trees. Good for me, bad for him, because the first drift I hit a nice male. Then I hook into the another. I found a pod of fish parked behind the rock. I end up with five decent sized fish. During the entire time, the poor guy downstream snags bottom nearly every drift and gets tied up in the tree behind.....poor bastard. The pool doesn't produce anymore fish and I'm off.



No time to linger as I head back downstream. I pass the Jeep and noticed all but two cars are gone. I head to another spot and the current is flowing nice due to the strong south wind. Being so close to the lake, the flow often goes up and down. One minute the riffle goes quiet and within ten minutes, the riffle starts babbling. It's a killer spot in the spring as it's polluted with skippers. I managed one small male and that's all. The fish are scattered so beating a hole would be a waste of time. I'm getting a good workout as I've covered over 2 miles of stream. I get in the Jeep and I'm off to the mid section. 



I drive down the hill and I see six cars, no big deal because I have an idea where everybody is. Sure enough, they are at the one pool and I look upstream to see nobody at the cliffs. Instead of crossing over, I elect to walk along the cliffs. The water level is low enough that I can walk with ease. The stream cuts hard along the cliff and runs over the shale. The shale drops off and there is a ledge that is about 60' long. The bottom is dark and fish usually hold tight along it. I inch over to see where the drop off is and I plop the float in and guide as close as I can get it. The current runs haphazardly as I watch the float swirl around and I watch it eventually hit the ledge - fail. I reel in and cast farther out as it's a cloudy day and I figure the fish might be hanging off the ledge. I watch it go under and I set the hook. In the murky haze I see a flash of silver. The fish charges upstream and leaps from the water. It's a fresh hen. 


When its all said and done, I manage to land 12 fish, not bad for six hours of fishing. Chalk it up to 14 years of hard work and dogged determination. A little help from some friends who started back when Ohio barely stocked fish and catching one or two was a major accomplishment. I have to keep telling myself that better days will come and I won't have to trek as far or work the water a little harder. 

October 2, 2013

Tug Is The Drug


Last week, I got my first taste of steel fishing off the breakwall, unfortunately it lasted all but five seconds. Due to the lack of rain, conditions were less than ideal on the streams. But, scouting paid off as I found fish in one stream. All we needed was rain and that happened just in time for the weekend. I looked out of the window Saturday morning and it brought a smile to my face - it was pouring. Throughout the day, I watched the flow gauge creep higher and higher and eventually everything blew out. I knew a couple of streams that would more than likely fish tomorrow. That morning, I dug deep into the bowels of the freezer and found my box of salmon eggs that I froze from last October. Despite being frozen for nearly a year, there wasn't any signs of freezer burn. I left them the fridge for thaw for the day. Today, was park my ass on the couch and watch football.

Today, I tuned into one of the biggest mismatches in sports. Ohio State was playing Florida A&M Rattlers. It would be the equivalent of a NFL team playing a Pop Warner team. Before the season started both Vanderbilt and Cincinnati had second thoughts of playing of the Buckeyes and quickly dropped out. Ohio State had to scramble looking for an opponent. Florida boldly accepted the challenge and many thought it would be a slaughter. The Buckeyes were 50 plus point favorites and right from the start the Buckeyes put the petal to the metal and immediately scored. They ran and passed at will, ran plays on 4th down with ease and deflated the entire Florida team by the beginning of the 2nd quarter. Starting quarterback Braxton Miller was injured and back up quarterback Kenny Guiton put on a clinic and he sliced and diced the Rattlers. By halftime it was 55-0 and second and third stringers came in. I just sat on the couch and laughed. The Buckeyes never threw a pass in the 2nd half and ran the ball. They blew through holes and racked up the yardage. Urban Meyer wasn't going to let the foot off the gas and they were going to run up the score. They could of had the cheerleaders come in and still won. When it was all said and done, the final score was 76-0, an Ohio State record. It was an epic ass kicking, a rout, and complete annihilation. For their troubles, Florida A&M were handed a $900,000 check for being jolly good sports - thanks for coming out and getting spanked. Lucky for Florida the game wasn't televised nationally. The critics love to point out that scheduling these inferior opponents aka cupcakes does nothing for the game. But for the elite programs, cupcakes are just to addictive and delicious to pass up. Most of the time it's nothing more than a scrimmage or practice. Thankfully after this season, the Big Ten will not schedule FCS schools anymore.

Sunday morning I woke very early, unfortunately I also went to bed very late. I was lucky to get three hours of sleep. I wolfed down breakfast, called a friend and headed down to the metro park to meet him. I sat in the dark, slurped coffee and wanted to go back to sleep. I knew I would be a wreck driving back home later. Dave showed up and we head out east. We arrived at the lower section of the stream at first light and to our surprise there was only one car. We walked down to the stream and it was running slightly dirty. How many fish came in would be evident once we dropped our bait in the water. It turned out to be slow as Dave hooked into a measly skipper. I started working the pool and pocket water. I started to wonder if my eggs were in fact green eggs and stinky ham as I was posting a shut out. I worked the bubble line and watched the float go under. I set the hook and felt a surge and then it was gone. I guess you can chalk it up to rust. Rusty on hook sets and I was more rusty when it came to walking in the river. I tripped, slipped and did the splits. Eventually, I'll get back my river legs.

Finally I hooked into the first fish of the season. The float popped and I felt that sharp tug. The fish surged and the rod bent. I gingerly applied pressure as I didn't want to force the issue. I'll never get tired of the tug whether it's a skipper or a 15 pounder. The fish turned out to be your typical PA cookie cutter mutt - 24" and four pounds. It fought like a mother and I was reminded why I love steelhead so much. It turned out to be quiet morning as we seen 7 other fish caught. Not your typical PA outing but it's still September. We drove to the access and there wasn't that many people out. There was plenty of room of fish without worrying tangling lines or getting a face full of rod. The water was dirty and on the opposite side where we fished it was sesspool of mud and leaves. The stream needs a serious flushing. It was a snorefest as I only seen one fish caught. We became restless and decided to head to another stream. We arrived to see it boiling in mud and that was a good enough reason to start heading back. The both of us knew better days were ahead.

September 21, 2013

The Journey Begins


The alarm blares and my eyes barely open. I slowly move my head and look over at the clock, it's five in the morning. I struggle to whether to hit the snooze button or get out of bed. I stare at the ceiling for a couple of minutes and I finally leave the warm confines of the bed. This past summer, I worked long hours and the weekends were for sleeping in. I couldn't remember the last time I got up at four or five in the morning. I debated because it was so early in the season. Not too many people would be out. All of the rivers were barely flowing and a couple days ago we had strong winds from the north, so I didn't know if the lake shore was trashed. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

I decided that I needed to get back into "steelhead" mode. Going to bed early and getting up even earlier. The problem is it's college football season. Even though I'm a huge Ohio State fan, I often watch other games and some of those games finish late. When it's all said and done, I'm hitting the sack around midnight. I slowly walk down to the kitchen and prepare breakfast and coffee.

Last week we were soaking up the last days of summer as the temperatures soared into the mid 90s for a couple of days. Steelhead season seemed so far away. Then a cold front from Canada made its way down and the temperature plummeted - all the way down into the upper 50s. The wind roared across the lake and cold rain made it feel like October. Steelhead season is around the corner.

It's a crisp cool morning as I hit the road. The highway is a lonely place as I pass a few trucks and cars. Towards the east, I see the first signs of light. The weather today is suppose to be warmer and the wind is out of the south - perfect for lake fishing. I pull into town and head north to the lake. I see the breakwall and there a couple of people fishing. The wind is chilly and I see a number of boats heading out into the lake from the nearby marina. For a lot of these guys the window is closing as we're at the middle of September, about a couple miles off I see the perch pack.

The high winds of Friday really didn't affect the lake and the water looked perfect. There was a nice breeze from the southwest and the water had a nice chop. I opened the tackle box and rummaged through the various spoons I had mostly Cleos and K.O Wobblers. With my 13'6" rod I fire off the first shot of the season. I watch the spoon  fly far off into the lake - time to fish. For a couple of hours, I go through a variety of spoons and vary the speed of retrieval. That's breakwall fishing in a nutshell. It's a waiting game of seeing if a steelhead is in the vicinity of your spoon. I crank in a silver spoon and then I feel a hard tug - a strike. The rod bends and I catch a glimpse of silver. That's all it would end of being, nothing more than a glimpse. The fish threw the spoon. I looked to the sky and muttered. It could be hours before I get another chance, plus my wrist was killing me.



I decided to make another move, but before I went I had to check out the stream. It was a short drive and I pulled over on the side of the road. The stream was barely flowing and crystal clear. I stood on top of the bridge and looked down to see one lone steelhead mixed in a school of carpsuckers. The fish lazily rode the current, content on waiting for the next high water. I walk upstream to check out a popular hole. I stood where during the season, the water would been knee high. No signs of fish, I figure all of them are down in the deeper channel. I didn't linger long and I was off on the road again.

I arrived at another stream and I could see the parking lot was half full. Several people were sitting on the rocks and some in the water. It was a beautiful day to wet a line whether fish would be biting or not. I had no desire to fish the stream, it would be pointless. I dressed into my gear and started to walk towards the lake. The stream was low and clear and I could see numerous steelhead cruising up and down the pool. There was probably at least 50 fish and all of them had something in common, they had no interest in what the anglers were offering them. I watched several guys flip shiners in their direction, only to see the fish swim away. Others would cast out their float and hoped a fish would take their single egg dangling above the bottom. I could of called them fools, but I was taking the same chance as I was going to try my luck off the mouth.

The waves on the lake were not very high except for the odd roller. It was far more shallow, no more than 3' deep. I waded into the lake and I could see the water was clear. I kept wading and it was still shallow. I fired off a long cast and it didn't take long for the spoon to hit bottom. I wasn't comfortable wading farther out as several rollers almost knocked me over. I worked my way towards the mouth the water was deeper and had enough color to give fish cover. I worked the entire section and ended up with nothing. In fact the people fishing the mouth never got a single take all morning.

I had to remind myself that it's only mid September, still early yet, but I never pass up the opportunity to get in some time on the water after a long summer. 

August 11, 2013

Hiatus

Relaxing at the lake
Wetting a line this summer has been practically non existent. Since the end of the steelhead season, I've been out twice and the last time was early June. Ever since, I have't had any desire or urgency. Some people I know are wondering how can a fishing junkie can go cold turkey. They liken it to a shopaholic giving up going to the mall. I tell them I perfectly fine and I actually have other interests and most of those I don't do during the season. Summer is a time to recharge the batteries. Going at it for almost eight months straight does take its toll on the body, mind and wallet. By the end of April, I'm a mess and even the hardcore angler needs a break.


But during my evening runs through the Rocky River Metropark, I often glance over or stop at some of the holes. For some reason, this year I've hardly seen any carp. The numbers have been down over the past couple of years. The other problem this summer has been the rain and there has been a lot of it. At one point we had 16 straight days of rain. The rivers were a boiling mess of mud and debris. Even when the waters receded I would rather hit the road, discovering those little hidden gems scattered throughout the Midwest. Whether it's small town USA or a big city. The busier the better I say, it makes the summer go by that much faster. 

Grilled Walleye at the Welshfield Inn - Burton, Ohio
Several times I would wander into the basement and see my gear in the corner. It looked neglected as I wiped away some webs and dust. I made a mental note to write down what needs to be replaced, but I'm in no hurry. There is another 3 weeks until September and then I start paying attention on what's happening in Pennsylvania. 

Zingerman's Deli - Ann Arbor, Michigan
There are signs that season is getting closer. At night I hear the katydids and during the day the sounds of the "dog day" cicadas. The farmer's markets are a bustling place and the high school boys are practicing for the upcoming season. Pretty soon, those cool winds will usher their way across the big pond and I will start stirring. 

July 7, 2013

More Useless Gear Reviews

Simms G3 Waders

Due to my nature of walking through the woods like a deranged sasquatch, sliding down banks and busting out ice, I knew it would be a matter of time before I sprung my first leak. Sure enough it happened, but it was the only one. Overall, they've held up well to my abuse. No fraying of the suspenders, no broken zippers, and no tears. Other than some egg spooge, they look great. The Chinese will never understand the concept of quality. Fork over the money and support American made products. They'll be shipped off to Montana for repairs.

Korkers Chrome Fishing Boots

After giving my shitty Chotas the boot, I bought a pair of Korkers from Erie Outfitters. Years ago, I had a pair of them with the interchangable soles. The soles were tough, but the boots were far too heavy. I felt like Frankenstein as I plodded down the trails. My legs did get a great workout though. Then I started having problems with the soles popping out. Not wanting to go through that again, I decided to get the ones with flexible soles. The owner Craig drilled in the cleats and told me I would never lose a single one. He was right, I never lost one. The boot is extremely light and comfortable. Towards the end of the season, the wire for the lacing system on one boot started to fray and needs to be replaced.

Kingpin Imperial

An impressive reel just as good as my old Kingpin. If there was one problem that would be the nut holding the reel. Several times, I'd removed it to clean out debris and I didn't tighten it enough. One day I was fishing and I heard a plop. I looked down and there was the nut lying on the bottom. Lucky for me the water wasn't deep. I screwed it back and tighten with my pliers. I've heard this happening to others. But overall, the reel is amazing. 

Wright McGill Wading Jacket

After four years, the jacket is finally being retired. I've used several cans of water proofing but it never seem to last more than a couple of outings. When it rained, the jacket pretty well soaked up water like a sponge. Half of the zippers are broken and the left side pocket is caked with egg spooge. Along the bottom and front is also plastered in it, as I often wiped my hands with it. It made me look like a homeless steelheader. But, I loved the jacket for the large front pockets, large rear pocket along the bottom section and the comfort factor. Time to upgrade to something lighter and more durable.

G Loomis GLX float rod

This is main rod and I've had it for 6 years. I abuse the living shit of it out considering I paid $500.00 for it. I broke the tip due to whacking ice off it. The upper reel seat cracked and a small section came off. Whenever it was cold the seats didn't grip well and at times the reel would slide up and down. I suspect the cork overtime started to wear off or shrunk in the cold. The bottom guides have developed grooves, but that's expected because I caught hundreds of fish. I could never part with it.....ever

June 16, 2013

Dear ODNR


Once again, some steelheaders in Ohio are complaining about the state's steelhead program (imagine that). This usually happens whenever Ohio gets a bad run and the finger gets pointed at the ODNR. Ever since the switch was made from the London to the Manistee strain, most of the reaction has been positive, but there is a small camp of discontentment. After the dismal experiment of stocking Londons - which was a lousy strain to begin with. The state looked to Michigan and their Manistee strain. After much consideration, they felt the Manistee would give them most bang for the buck. Unlike the London, the Manistee was a spring run fish. As it was later determined, the Manistee had a better return rate and was well suited for Ohio streams. But that didn't stop the grousing as I hear the same complaints all the time and here are some of them

"Our spring run is too short"

"Whenever it rains, the streams blow out for weeks and most of the fish will be gone"


"Fishing Ohio in the fall sucks"


"We don't stock enough fish"


"Bring back the Londons"


"Why can't we stock both a fall and spring run fish?"


For some people they are valid questions. For me, I find them puzzling because there isn't a lack of fish. We live in the most productive steelhead fishery in the lower 48 states. Name me one place near a major metropolitan area of nearly 2.5 million people where you can catch close to 40 to 50 fish? Every year, over 2 million smolts are stocked into the Lake Erie's streams. Nearly everybody knows that Lake Erie steelhead don't imprint very well on their streams of stocking and they stray a lot. In one sample study done in the fall and spring in various New York Lake Erie streams, found that 75% of returning fish were from either Ohio and Pennsylvania. We get plenty of leftovers and then some. 

The whining is generally done by people who are lucky to get out a couple times of the year or are deathly afraid of cold weather. If want fish in the fall, your going to have pull out the wallet and fork out the money for the far drive east. Ohio does get fish in early fall, but the eastern streams tend to be better. As for spring, Ohio is the place to be. The biggest complaint I here about the spring fishery is the run is too short. I find it odd, because I've caught Manistees in late winter all the way into late May. If my math is correct that's almost 4 months. Again, it's the guys that fish when the weather is in the upper 60s, gin clear water and fish stacked on the gravel that complain the most. It's like the old saying if you snooze, you lose. 

I have news for the whiners, the Londons are never coming back and Pennsylvania won't give up their precious mutt quota. With state's budgets being slashed to the bone, we're lucky that the state spent the money upgrading the hatchery or even getting the eggs to begin with. We've been spoiled and I can have my brother-in-law in British Columbia tell you how tough it is just hook into two or three fish in one year.

May 12, 2013

See You In September


I'm showing signs of wearing out. I look haggard, I've lost a step and I would rather sleep in. All signs that another long season is coming to an end. There will be no more slaving away into the wee hours tying eggs, getting three to four hours of sleep, fishing in freezing weather and making the drive to the far ends of the Alley. Even though it's almost the end of April, I always get that nagging feeling of should I go just one more time? After all I have all summer to rest right?

The freezer looks more empty as I've used up all of my eggs. There's my "break glass in case of emergency" supply of eggs. These are for the early fall, just in case we get an early run in Pennsylvania. I dare not touch them. I have no desire to tie anymore eggs and I'm out of spawn sac netting. During the week, I've heard reports of fish far up the Grand, but the clock is ticking.  

Warmer temperatures have finally arrived and spring has exploded along the Alley. Most of the trees have sprouted their leaves. The forest floor is a blanket of green and flowers. As for the streams, most of them have become low, clear and very warm. The water temperature has crept into the 60s and that's the upper threshold for these fish. There are still fish left but a lot of them are long gone far from the reach of me and land locked brothers. 

For the past couple of weeks, its been mostly dropbacks and I've had to deal with the plague of smolts. Despite their cartoon like appearance of huge eyes, round heads and small fins, they are cold blooded killers. They will attack anything that swims or move. That was evident as I watched schools of shiners skirt along the shoreline, trying to avoid detection. All morning I could hear them smacking the surface. I try to avoid them as I don't want to harm them. Ohio only stocks 400,000 of them into the Rocky, Vermilion, Chagrin, Grand and Conneaut. Out of the 400,000 of them, I would be surprised if 5% of them make through their first year. The lake is an unforgiving place for them.

The last two trips were very different. Conneaut Creek had a decent number of fish. The runs and riffles had plenty of skippers willing to scrap it out. Even though the river was clear, they were perfectly hidden among the rocks. When they struck, a quick flash of silver revealed their presence. In most cases, they immediately leapt from the water. Leaping and thrashing about, I have a smile on my face. It makes those nights working at the table, tying sacs well after midnight and getting up at four in the morning worth it. I'll never get tired of it. I don't linger for very long, I have many spots to fish. I battled with several large spawned out hens. Looking to pack on the weight after a hard spawn, they are extremely aggressive. A heavier tippet insured the fight would be brief. The larger fish had to be revived and I felt confident that they would be fine. They slowly swim back to their lairs and by tomorrow they would more likely be gone. As the morning progressed and the sun bearing down, I started to feel parched as I covered a lot of water. Several holes and runs coughed up some fish. Once the sun was high, the bite shut off. I was working up a good sweat as I walked back. If this was March, the river would be a busy place. Today, I was the only person on this section. I finally reached the Jeep and quickly pulled out an ice cold beer. I was no hurry to get home as I sat on log and enjoyed my beverage and lunch. I sit back and soak up the sun. The rays feel refreshing and I want to nod off. I finish lunch and guzzle the rest of the beer. I undress and put on a pair of shorts. I chuckle as my legs are pasty white. The temperature is now in the 60s.  I make my down several rural dirt roads with the windows rolled down. I drive by a couple of anglers and they wave. I give them a smile and wave back. I drive on to I-90 west. I looked in the rear view mirror and I won't return to Conneaut until September, I felt depressed. 


The Grand would be my final trip, it seems to be that way year after year. I arrived at the river and it was moving at a pedestrian flow. I greeted by numerous bank swallows catching insects emerging from the water. High above several turkey vultures soared taking in the warm early morning breeze. The surrounding woods were full of bird songs. I walked along the river and came upon a dead steelhead. It was a fairly large hen and its rotting corpse had attracted flies. The body looked robust and there was no wearing on the fins. The fish was fairly large probably over 30" and about 12 pounds. Spring is the time of birth for many and sadly the death for others. The rigors of spawning is a very stressful event. For the females, the constant excavation of gravel, releasing eggs and fighting the current. For the males, expending energy in fighting for the sole right of inseminating the female's eggs. I suspected the fish was overplayed and not properly revived. The smell was overwhelming and I continued to the head of the pool. I fished a favorite spot for spawned out fish not far from a prime spawning area. Farther up on the other side, there was a scattering of anglers looking to see if there are any last minute spawners. I was pretty well out of eggs so I had to resort to minnows. 

The sun slowly crept above the trees and a warm wind blew from the south. The high for the day would be in the 70s with winds gusting by late morning. The window was shutting quickly. It was a far cry from a month ago when the trees were grey and lifeless. We were still dressed for winter and dreaming of warmer weather. I started to work the bubble line and it was an uneventful hour as I worked the entire pool. The odd slap of water from either a bass or steelhead, broke the monotony. I watched the float move along and it dipped slightly. Nothing hard and it almost seemed liked I bottomed out. I yanked and felt the rod throb. The fish darted about but it was very quick battle. It was a spawned out male and he sported numerous wounds through out his body. Bite marks, ragged fins and his colors were fading. I grabbed his tail and moved him back and forth. At first he didn't flinch or react. The stress of spawning and warm water also didn't help. Gradually the fish reacted and I gently released it. The male slowly swan off into the murky depths. It ended up being the last fish of the season.

I drove to another spot further down river. Driving along I looked down at the river and didn't see one angler fishing several popular spots. I parked along the road beside another car. The wind was gusting harder and the sun was creeping higher. I get to the river and I see two anglers above looked in vain for any fish on gravel. I watch them move up and down, scanning the water for any signs of activity. I fish the head of a long sweeping pool. I look down and I see a large number of emerald shiners swimming along. They swim close to me, thinking I might offer them protection. There is a sense of purpose in their movement. Because of the sheer number of shiners, I was hoping some fish would be lying in wait for one to stray from the school. I worked the pool for about an hour and nothing.

It was almost noon. I knew it was time to throw in the towel. I started my way back, closing the chapter on another season. I placed my gear into the tote box and cracked opened an ice cold beer. I open my fishing journal and write in the date - May 5th, 2013. I wrote in the details and it was same as the last trips of the season - it was hot, the river was low, hardly anybody out and not a lot of fish caught. I finish writing and place the journal in the center console of the Jeep. I've been at it hard for over eight months and even the hardcore steelheader needs a break. Time off to charge the batteries and do other things. I finish my beer and drive off - See you in September

April 27, 2013

Ugh It's Almost Over


You know when the season is coming to an end. The Indians are back in town, the robins are singing at 4:30 in the morning, my rod and reel are caked in egg spooge and my supply of salmon eggs is dwindling. The marathon started on September 9th and I see the finish line in the distance. I get a sick feeling in my stomach. 

I'm generally the last one to throw in the towel. Several steelheading brothers are in full walleye mode and others are just burned out from getting up early, tying an endless supply of sacs, driving hundreds of miles and their wives have reached their limit. I agree that tying sacs starts to get old and tired. Sitting at the kitchen table working on pile of eggs and looking at the clock as midnight gets closer. I finish the last of the eggs and I look at the clock - 12:30 and I'm too wound up. This is common for me whether it's fall, winter or spring. I past the time watching TV and I start to get sleepy. I look at the clock and it's 1:30 - fuck. I stagger off to bed and the set the alarm. Within minutes, I'm out for the count or I thought.



Just as I feel I'm sinking into a deep restful sleep, the alarm blares. I squint in the dark and the clock reads 4:30. If it was the work week, I would slam the snooze button. But not when it comes to fishing. I crawl out of bed and shuffle my way down to the kitchen. I follow a procedure of brew coffee, cook eggs and bacon, toast muffins, eat food, fill mug and hit the road. All of it done in 20 minutes. It's been like that for years and I could probably do it in my sleep.

I lug everything into the Jeep. My Jeep stinks, the inside smells of wet waders. There is trash and spilled coffee on the floor mats. I don't want to even think what's under the seats. I bought it used 3 years ago after my divorce. It's been reliable but age is starting to show as there is rust on the rocker panels and doors. It looks like a meat hunter's ride and maybe this summer, I'll start shopping for a new vehicle, but that's a long way off. 



With it being almost the end, I'll be out all day. No six hour trips as that would be fine back in September. I hit I-90 and it's a lonely place. With the exception of a few trucks, there is little traffic. To the east, the sky gets brighter. The clouds are a mixture of black, white and crimson. It's a little after six in the morning when I get to the river. The temperature this morning is 28F and that's a far cry from this past Thursday when the mercury hit 80F. I fished the Rock the day after it and I liken it to fishing in a bucket of piss - warm and uncomfortable. The water today was cool and inviting. 

I was in the transition zone of fresh fish and ones spawned out. The fresh ones were without a blemish. They were in full spawning color and full of eggs. Their eggs were so tight when I lifted them from the water, they didn't drop one egg. As for the dropbacks, their bodies were a tale of how hard and stressful spawning is. The females bodies were ravaged and they looked so emaciated. It's a wonder how these fish can even muster the energy to fight so hard. But fight they did, with such ferocity. 



Oh and I could I forget those smolts. I often have to remind myself they are the future of our fishery. Since I was fishing the lower section, I knew it would be thick with them. The ODNR generally stock smolts at the closest boat ramp. I was about a quarter mile up and I knew I would have to weed through a lot of them. All morning, I watch the float tap and tap, go under and tap several more times. Once in a while, a skipper or a dropback would hit, but the smolts were overwhelming. Enough of them that a couple of Caspian terns had a field day with them. I watched them hover over and suddenly plunge into the river. In total, I watched the pair take about 6 of them. My patience had all but worn out and I needed to make the move far, far away.

By now the sun was high and bright. If it was a month earlier, the river would be a bustling place. Not today, anglers were few and far between. It could of been the higher price of gas or the lack of fish. Whatever the reasons, it didn't matter to me. A quiet day on the Alley in April is a blessing. As expected farther up river, the number of fish dropped. I picked off stragglers in the various pools but I was spent. The few hours of sleep, the sun and hunger had sap what little energy I had left in me. A quick lunch and I was off for home. The end of the season has little fanfare. I rarely tell anybody about it. Probably because it will depress me. In a few weeks, I'll be jogging through the metro park and I'll go along the Rock. It will be an empty place. The waters quiet and still, waiting for the cool winds of fall. 

I think I'm up for one more road trip.

April 4, 2013

Global Warming Took The Winter Off


Global warming, global swarming. Today is April 1st and the temperature is 34F with a stiff wind from the west. The rest of week is to be below normal and then by the weekend it will a balmy 50F. Last March, I could of fished in shorts and nothing else as records were smashed along the Alley. We even had three days in row of temperatures in the 80s. Every thing was thrown out of whack from trees budding to fish finishing spawning before April. 

This March we've had one day in the 60s and the rest of the month its felt more like February - snow and cold. The lion had the lamb for dinner and even the old salts are starting to bitch about the lousy weather. It's a mix blessing as the cold has kept the fair weather steelheaders deep in their man caves. I've gone to both sides of the Alley for fish and shared highs and lows with my brothers. Welcome to spring on the Alley as the weather can be as fickled as a high school girl.  

This will be my fifteenth year here on the Alley and for this Canuck the brutal winters of Northern Ontario and Alberta feel like a distant memory. The last time it was -45F, I was living in Grande Prairie, Alberta trying to start my fiancee's car. Her car was originally from California and didn't have a block heater. It was so cold that my lungs could of used a block heater. I got in the car and the seat was as hard as a rock. I connected the jumper cables and put the key in the ignition. I knew it was pissing in the wind, but why not. The engine never turned over, the starter was frozen. I had it towed to a garage to thaw out and a heater was installed. It was all for nothing as two months later we were heading for Ohio. Ohio's winters are much like Southern Ontario - can be cold but bearable. With the odd Alberta clipper, the Alley's winters are tropical compared to Northern Canada. So I shouldn't complain right?



St Paddy's day was a cold and miserable day. I expected nobody to show up at the V, but I watched six cars pull in before the crew showed up. It was odd because the temperature was 30F but the air was so cold and dense. It went deep into your bones. Even with Under Armour gear on, I started to shiver. I should of brought along a bottle of whisky and a propane heater. We stood in the water, chattering and complaining. Ohio's winters have turned me into a pussy. I've lost all of my Canadian cred, I was once hardy and could fish in sub zero weather. Today, I race to the nearest Starbucks for a caramel macchiato to warm up. What happened to me?



The fish were in a fickle mood as one minute they turned on and just as quickly they turned off. My fingers were numbed and I prayed every time I had a fish on the line wouldn't break because my fingers were basically non functional. Walking to the next hole got my frozen blood flowing. We picked off some more fish and I decided to head back home. The scalding hot coffee did wonders and by the time I reached the Rock I was functional. The cold must of chased everybody off the river because the only people left were an Asian couple huddled on their buckets. I worked the lower section and didn't get a bump. I'm sure the morning crowd worked them over. That's why I hate the Rock on the weekends and once the weather turns nice, everyday will be like a Saturday - elbows and assholes. Once home, I curl up in a blanket and take a snooze.

We're still waiting for April showers and May flowers. We gotten teased once in a while but as soon as we say finally, we wake up to 6" of snow on the ground and that's seems to happen every week. Punxsutawny Phil messed up with his bogus prediction and the little prick is too scared to emerge from his flea ridden hole. Fish are still parked in their winter holes and are in no hurry to hit the gravel. I look at the calender and I'm not happy.



Yesterday, I fished out east and it was a pleasant day. I didn't have to wear my grungy spooge covered jacket. Even though it was cloudy, the south wind felt inviting and warm. I fished a section rich in gravel and found very little evidence of spawning activity. The water temperature over the past few days was in the 40s and I was lucky to see one or two dug out redds. All I caught were spawn out PA hens and some older males. That's how its usually is in the spring as the Manistees wait for a warm rain to usher them in. That is one of the reasons why people continue to bitch about the ODNR's steelhead program. They want a fall run that stays in all winter. They always point out that April's weather is fickle. The season is too short and a week of rain can keep some the rivers unfishable for weeks. I can assure you that will never see the inferior London strain making a comeback. Personally, we get enough PA's leftovers so I don't what the fuss is all about. 

In way, I want the colder weather to stay a little longer, as it extends the season a little longer. But the clock has officially started to tick towards the inevitable. 

March 25, 2013

Confessions of a Guide


From time to time, I like to read fishing articles from magazines at the library. One particular article caught my attention was from the latest issue of Fly Fishermen. The article's title was Confessions of a Guide and it was written by Karl Weixlmann. It's a cautionary tale about greed, big money, and throwing your ethics aside. For those who don't know, Pennsylvania's steehead fishery is under siege. The state stocks an obscene number of fish and their small creeks are clogged with them. The huge number of fish attract hundreds upon hundreds of anglers and they descend on the creeks during the season. Some acted like a herd of unruly cattle as they trample through people's properties with no regards. Over the past decade posted signs start popping up. Looking to seize on this golden opportunity are the guides and fishing clubs. It's tough enough to get clients on fish and it's worse when every piece of water is occupied. One club started leasing property and it was no other than Darth Vader - Donny Beaver. Beaver's club lured Karl to the dark side with the promise of steady gigs, good money and personal use of the playground. At the time, it sounded like a sweet deal.

Karl was once the president of Pennsylvania Steelheader Association and board member of the Erie Advisory Committee. He was considered one of the top guides in Erie. He did a lot of good work in promoting and developing the fishery. Beaver's club started to expand and they viewed Erie's streams as another playground for the corporate fat cats. Streams filled with massive numbers of steelhead - all paid for by Joe Steelheader. He used Weixlmann's connections with landowners to secure leases on the Elk and Twenty Mile creeks. Club members would never have to worry about rubbing elbows with the neanderthals. He was warned that going over to the dark side would do away all of the good he did and he would never been seen in the same light again. But over he went and the entire Erie steelheading brotherhood turned on him. He was called a sell out, a scumbag, a corporate weasel and some dubbed him as Karl Waxworm. His other title was club enforcer as he had to boot out fishermen and some of them were friends. But the money was far too good to pass up or so he says. Times were good in Beaverville.

But eventually in the corporate world, everybody becomes expendable. Weixlmann lost his gig to another guide (which he failed to mention) and got the boot from the playground. Now Karl was one of us, looking in from the outside. Many felt he deserved what he got and quickly became a pariah. In the article he mentions that money had bought him and now the money shoved him out. Karl learned the hard way and wanted to share his experience and the plight of the fishery with others. 

After reading the article, I'm glad that Joe Steelheader's dilemma is getting exposure, especially from someone who's been of both sides of it. Do I feel sorry for Karl? Hell no, he knew of the consequences and it was all about the money. On FishErie's website, he disputes that charge and a lot of the members called bullshit. His tone through out the article reeked of "poor me". 

But if I'm going to point the finger it's at the PFBC for creating an amusement park by stocking far too many fish into streams that really can't support their numbers and nearly all of the streams run through private property. Build it and the hordes will come. They also failed to secure enough land to ensure that everybody could enjoy the resource. Instead more and more people are crammed into what little sections are left. I've witnessed the circus on the Lower Elk and Walnut during the fall. It's a clusterfuck of epic proportions. Now add Beaver into the mix and he's locking up more water by throwing money at landowners who are more than happy to take it. This makes a lot of people resentful as they feel they're getting the shaft because they pay for the stocking by purchasing the stamps. The PFBC is finally trying to get public easements and they have secured some sections but it's a long way to go.

It's a shame we don't have the same laws like Michigan has, where anybody can wade the streams without worrying about some landowner calling the cops or even worse getting shot.  I can't see that ever happening here in Ohio or Pennsylvania as politicians will kick the can down the road. The only solutions are offering property tax incentives for public access or purchasing the land outright. It's a proven fact that less and less Americans are fishing and it's even worse with the younger generation. That means less revenue for the stocking of fish and securing access. I don't want to become like some European countries where only the rich can afford to pay for the right to fish on some of the best lakes and rivers. Because if that happens I'll turn in my pole.

March 12, 2013

Banner Days


What I love about banner days is you never know when they'll happen. I've fished when conditions were absolutely perfect. I was pumped and hit the water hard. At the end of the day, I was lucky to catch one or two fish. My back and feet were sore after banging away hole after hole. I drove home pissed wondering what the hell happened. Then there's been times when I woke up and the weather was awful. I debated whether to dive back in bed. I sucked it up and made the drive out. I get the to river and it's a little high. I sigh and try to make the best of a possible bad situation. I couldn't keep fish off the hook. I'm like a kid in a candy store - whooping and hollering. I have a shit eating grin on my face when I tell the others what they missed. I've poured through almost 14 years of entries in my journals to see if there was a pattern. Unfortunately, there wasn't really one. I did well whether the river was high, prime or low. I checked to see if temperature played a role. The best range was between 36F to 45F, but I've done well when the water was barely above freezing. The time of year also didn't matter because, I'll fish out east in the fall and in the spring I'm primarily in Ohio. I guess it's one of those when the moon and stars align and having a little luck. Just like reporting the weather, trying to figure out a banner day is still an educated guess.



To have a banner day you need factors that go in your favor. The weather is the biggest of them all. A lot of people here on the Alley don't like the cold and snow. Only the diehards will go out and some will venture to far ends of the Alley. For the upcoming weekend, the price of gas is at an all time high for the winter. Lake effect warnings were issued for the snow belt and there was always the threat of slush. It was no brainer and I had one stream in mind. Sure it's a gamble and luckily I have deep pockets and a Jeep to boot.



I load up the Jeep and head east. I punch through a series of squalls coming off the lake. Not for the faint of heart as the truck in front of me is swallowed by the squall. I sip my coffee and the stereo is playing Kenny Wayne Shepherd - no problem. As I pass one exit I noticed the price of gas at Travel America is going for $3.75. I have a feeling that the stream is going to be a lonely place. I pull into the sleepy town and drive down what's left of main street. A lot of empty store fronts and the street is deserted. As I head down the hill there isn't a car in sight. To my relief there is no slush and the water is slightly off color. The banks are littered with massive chunks of ice in both directions.



It's a grey morning and it starts to snow. I reach the first pool and fish the tailout. It takes all but two minutes to hook into the first fish - a bright silver hen. Then its another and another and another. I shuffle farther upstream and its the same as I quickly get into fish. I have a feeling I'm onto something. I check the weather and it's 28F, light wind from the west and cloudy with snow. For many, it's not the most favorable conditions, but in my book it's just fine. I cross over to another pool and the snow starts to fall heavier, to the point that I have strain to see the float. The first fish of the pool produces a large robust male. The fish are parked under a tree along the seam that spills into a long sweeping pool. Despite the water temperature being 34F, the fish rip off line and have their way. It's a little after 9:30 and I'm already well into double digits. I could of been a douchebag and call the guys telling them I'm hammering the snot out of them. I could imagine the response and I have no time to call because all of the fish I'm catching.



I release another hen from the tailout and I've worked the entire pool. I look downstream and there isn't a person out. I start to head for a spot that usually on a Saturday has people fishing it. The snow has tapered off when I reach the run. The current flows hard along the opposite bank and there is nice hole that runs about 40' and the fish hold in there. It's late morning and the sun starts to peek out. As it was upstream I immediately get into fish and all of them are fresh. No stinking skippers as some of them are pushing over 8 pounds and full of piss and vinegar. The numbers are piling up and I can't contain my glee. Then there is one take. It wasn't a hard one but a lackadaisical one. The fish basically stuck itself on the bottom. No hard run or anything. I started to horse it in and then I watched its back come out of the water - my heart stop as it was massive. The fish started to head out into the current and I was mindful that I had a 4X tippet on and I hadn't check the line for over an hour. Numerous fish were caught previously so I had no idea if the knot would hold up. The water temperature was my friend and foe. The frigid water didn't drain the fish of energy but also prevented it from blasting downstream and possibly shredding the line. The battle wore on as the fish stubbornly refused to come in. I gradually gained control and I move it in slack water. It was a massive hen as I slid her onto the gravel. I could barely get my hand around her tail. Her was stomach was bulging from the large number of eggs inside of her. I moved the rod along her as there is a small gold ring on the blank. From the ring to the bottom of the handle is about 33" and she was a little over an inch. I figured she was about 34.5" and probably pushing over 15 pounds - a trophy Steelhead Alley specimen. I gently released her and watched her slowly swim off. She was at the lower reaches of the river and there was long distance for her to cover. Where she would spawn? Who knows I was lucky that I chance to catch her.



It's a little after twelve o clock and I can't imagine anybody making the drive from Cleveland. I looked back at the pool and the bottom is littered with sore jaws. But even on banner days there are times when the fish turn off. I struggled for an hour to get a bite. Wading was difficult as the huge chunks of ice had buried the trail. Boredom quickly settles in and I get that nagging feeling of heading back to the previous spot. In the distance, I see another car parked behind me and I doesn't take much to figure out where they are. Sure enough two of them are at the hole where I caught the huge hen. They look at me with puzzled looks and continue to fish. I could of told them but why bother? They struck me as the types that fish the most popular spots and never venture further. I was out of sight when I started fishing and the mid of the section started coughing up some more fish. I had finally ran out of bait and that was a good enough reason to head home. On the drive home, I thought about my day. Why did I have such a great day? Was my experience? My knowledge of the river? Or was it just my lucky day? I may never find a truthful answer. 

February 24, 2013

Slush


The only time I ever want to see slush is in my drink when its a hot and humid day in July. Other than that I can't stand slush. Slush is a major pain in the ass. I don't like fish in or even try working around it. If the night time temperatures are in the teens, I won't even bother setting the alarm. I'll bury my mug in the pillows and sleep the morning away. During cold periods, I've driven through the metro park in the morning and the river is a conveyor belt of slush working its way down. Like a snake, it weaves around banks, rocks and trees. It will engulf entire pools and holes. I've seen poor souls try in vain to fish in it. It's an exercise in futility. They'll patiently wait for any opening, no matter how small and try to dunk the float through. Before the float has a chance to settle, its immediately swallowed. The angler frustrated pulls the line out and tries again. The process is repeated over and over and over until they finally give up. Others became more creative and pack a bunch of larger shots together and put on a 8 gram float. They dub their creation the "slush buster" and it does get it through only to be foiled as the slush steamrolls the hapless float. In some cases, the slush is so thick that fishing is all but impossible. For the savvy steelheader, they'll sit at home and wait for the sun to burn it off. That might work for the steelheader who lives 10 minutes from the river but not for the guy who lives in Columbus and has to be home by five.

There's been times when I thought the chance of slush was low, only to see the river choked in it and the bottom of the riffles a carpet of anchor ice. It turns into a waiting game as I'll spend time at the local coffee shop or diner. I don't see the point of standing in frigid water and trying to pull off a 4' drift in the hopes that a fish will snatch my brief offering. It feels like an eternity as I'm on my second cup and I check the time. Should I stay another hour or take a drive. Angry birds keeps me occupy for another hour. The coffee tastes great and the fireplace makes feel like I'm at some remote cabin. It takes a great deal to get me out of the chair, maybe its old age setting in. As I step out the sun is starting to peek and it's a quick drive to the river. Down the hill, I glance over the slush is almost gone. 


By the time I get off the trail, it's gone. By now it's almost noon and most of the inexperience steelheaders have gone home. They given up in disgust and its another week of until they can get back on the water. The sun light sparkles off the water and somewhere in the murkiness are steelhead. It's not hard to figure out where they are - the tailout. I watch current start to speed up towards the riffle. I position the float and my thumb on the reel begins to slow it down. It's just enough to give a steelhead a few extra second to detect and locate the sac. The float starts to tap several times and I set the hook. The fish comes to the surface and the water boils. The fish slowly goes back down and runs upstream. No hard charges, but a slow deliberate show of defiance. I gradually get the fish in the shallows and there lies a bright silver hen. Her stomach bulges slightly as her eggs are just shy of being fully developed. I gently push her back in and she slowly swims back to her spot. 


As the day progresses, I feel the warmth of sun's ray. It's late winter here in the Alley and in another month, most of these fish will be spawning. A couple of winter holes fail to yield any fish. As I walk along the river, my boots break up the thin crust of side ice. I remember in past years I busting out huge section of ice. I would stand on top of it and move up and down. The ice would heave and bow and finally a loud crack. The ice would splinter and I would shove a large piece out into the current. I would repeat the process until the entire pool or hole was open. For the past couple of years, I haven't had to break out much ice. That's probably why my waders haven't leaked.

The next spot was similar to last place I fished. The current ran along the far bank and it spilled into a pool. In front was slack water and I watched the current gradually slowed at the tail end. I worked the tail end and I watched the float stop dead in its track and go under. I set the hook and felt the rod throb. It was a small dirty male, scruffy looking and full of piss and vinegar. I popped the hook and he quickly darted back into his hole. This pool is a tricky one to fish as there is a lot of slack water in front of me. This prevents me from getting a nice drift and I have to high stick it. I guide the float along the seam and it popped under - another fish. The fish surfaced and it was a long slender male in his full spawning colors. It was one of most colorful steelhead I've seen in a while. Bright rosy cheeks and long red stripe that ran along the length of it's body. Against the rocks and ice and the sun light, its body shimmered. 

So take note newbies, slush for is dummies. There is no need to race down the river at first light, or stack about a pound of sinkers and most importantly not to stand in the water and wait for the slush to burn off. Because some times, it may never burn off. Catch up on sleep or have a couple of late morning beers  or call your buddy who's standing in the river and tell him he's an idiot.