January 25, 2013

Another Botched Weather Report


I've come to the conclusion that reporting the weather is either done by throwing darts at a board or spinning the wheel. With all of the latest technology such as Doppler radar, anonometers, barometers, and computer modeling programs, you would think the accuracy would be much better. But reporting the weather today, is still an educated guess. 

Over the years, I've watched storms slowly make their way to the Alley, only to see it veer at the last minute. Instead of a half an inch, a couple of drops fall. It was like that for the weekend as the Alley got a brief taste of spring. Just as fast as the first significant snowfall of the new year came, it was gone within a week. The streams were a boiling mess of brown and debris. None of Ohio's streams were going to fish for the weekend. The only option was Pennsylvania, but there was the threat of more rain and supposedly a lot of it. It was a massive wave of rain stretching all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. It didn't look great - 90% of rain and predicting a half inch of it. So what does the hardcore steelheader do - he'll roll the dice.

On the computer, I played the future storm tracking feature. It showed the rain going over and east of Cleveland. If the streams got blown out, all I had to do was cure the sacs I tied the night before and wait for the water to drop. Before I went to bed I looked outside and the parking lot was dry. I didn't bother to set the alarm for the standard 5:30 in the morning, instead I set for an unheard of 8:00 because I wanted to get some extra sleep.

The alarm buzzed and I peeked out the window - no rain. I checked the flow gauge and the Elk dropped to 15. That meant it was probably dirty water and I was fine with that. I bombed along I-90 with the stereo cranking out ironically Stevie Ray Vaughan's Couldn't Stand the Weather. I arrived to see eight cars ahead of me and for me it was no big deal. Half of them were vehicles from Ohio. As I mentioned before I can tell who a bait and fly fishermen by the vehicles they drive. There were several pickups, a Cadillac SUV, a couple of European sedans, Honda Civic and my piece of shit Cherokee. It wasn't hard to figure out who was who. The Elk was on the high side and dirty. As expected the first spot is where the anglers piled into. I never understood why people insist fishing together at the first spot.  They were the LL Bean hole beaters and I smirked as I walked by. It was a bee line for the monster pool upstream.



I finely made it to see one angler vacating. He shrugged with a look of bewilderment and defeat. He slowly shuffled upstream in the hopes of better luck. The current cut along the shale ledges and rocks. I watched the speed of the bubbles and there was a spot where the current slowed down. I put a big juicy pink sac on a number 8 Kamasan hook. I love Kamasan hooks because they extremely sharp and tough enough I could pull a V8 block off the bottom. I positioned the float along the seam and it got sucked under. No tap-tappy-tap-tap bullshit take down. I watched the fish launch itself out of the water. It charged clear across the pool and down towards the tailout. It was a beautiful fresh hen that probably came in several days ago. I banged away and picked off nothing but fresh hens. If it was November, I would be smashing them. But January the fishing is usually tougher as most of Pennsylvania's steelhead have wrapped up spawning. The only threat of rain was when the wind whipped up and a series of dark black clouds moved in quickly. It was all for not as just as quick it came it left without even spitting a drop. 

The bite at the pool eventually shut off and I started to head back downstream and in the faster water, I could make the shape and silhouette of fish on the gravel. The water was warm enough to trigger them to hit it. I stood there and watched the hen flash and a couple of males moved in. Below was a tree in the water and the faster water cut along the main trunk. There was a nice pod of fish holding in the faster water. Unlike the fish above, these fish caught were spawned out. Due to my late start, I wanted to head downstream. As expected when I headed upstream, I could see 6 guys all crammed into another spot. The one guy I passed 4 hours ago managed to move an incredible 20' from his previous spot. He mumbled that the fishing sucked. I wanted to say no shit sherlock and I gave him that "oh well" expression. Another guy asked if the fishing was better where I came from and I replied "it sucked" the reason I said that was because he was of Eastern European descent. There are three types of anglers that annoy me - hillbillies, speytards, and Eastern Europeans. I merrily moved along and picked off some fish downstream. 

I got back on the highway and it was a quick 15 minute drive to the next spot. I drove down a series of rural roads and I could see one car at a popular spot. I was somewhat surprised. I continued to drive and when I pulled in to see not one car. That's either a good or bad sign. The last time I fished this spot, it was early October and I was forced to park in the second lot. Then it was excuse me, pardon me, excuse me, pardon me as I squeezed me way into my spot. For a couple of hours, I was forced to work a section not bigger than my bathroom. This afternoon, the playground was all mine. As I fished along the wall it was obvious why nobody was here - the fishing was terrible. This section was altered by the hurricane. It was much more shallow and wider. I managed to catch a couple of skippers. There was a family visiting from out of state and they wanted to see the lake. As we talked, one of the kids told me my bobber was gone. I looked to see it gone and I pulled back. The rod bend and I felt the fish go upstream. They oh'ed and ah'ed when the fish jumped. They were surprised to hear that I thought steelhead tasted awful considering it was a trout. They left and wished me luck. I finished up with a drop back hen and I was satisfied with the results of the day. 

It was getting dark when I hit the highway and it was dark when the shining skyline of Cleveland appeared in the distance. I'm sure a lot of my fellow steelheaders were kicking themselves in the ass for not going out. Next week, the Alberta clipper will be making its arrival in town - oh joy!

January 15, 2013

Bliss


It was the perfect day for a hardcore Ohio steelheader. Almost 2' of snow on the ground and rotten weather on the way. The Alley was cloaked in a fresh blanket of snow. I trudged thorough it as I made my to the river. The snow was so light, that it made walking effortless. The hemlocks, maples and oaks were covered in a fresh coat of powder. There was a crispness in the air that was inviting. It wasn't very cold, maybe in the low 30s. The trail gradually took me along the river and it was running clear over the shale bedrock. The cliffs showcased a magnificent display of icicles. The trail ended and I walked along the river. The deeper pool and runs had a deep dark emerald green. It's only during the winter when the water is that intense. Somewhere deep in the green were steelhead. 


The fresh snow concealed any evidence of the anglers from the previous days. This morning there wasn't a soul on the river. The only sound I could hear were the nuthatches, chickadees, geese and the babbling riffles. The pool looked inviting as the current swirled around the logs and submerged rocks. I stood on a sandbar and casted out towards the bank. To the north, the sky had darken and flakes started to fall. Gradually it started to intensify. Through the flakes, I watched the float slowly move towards the tailout. It hesitated and slowly went under. I slight jerk of the rod and I feel it throb. Not much of fight but that's expected when the water is barely above freezing. The surface boiled as I watched a small male surface. He was in full winter colors. Bright red cheeks and charcoal along the underbelly. But what stood out was the series of scars along his face. Not sure what caused them, but it gave the fish a rugged look. I released him and watched quickly dart back into the depths. 


I worked another pool and I watched a male cardinal dart from bush to bush. His bright red plumage stood out against the white. I was somewhat mesmerized by the bird and had to focus my attention back to fishing. This was a favorite pool of mine. It was a classic Steelhead Alley pool - narrow, full of lumber and gradually flattens out. Over the season, I have pulled out some impressive specimens from this particular spot. It has rarely failed me over the years. With some adjustments I got the float as close as possible to the lumber. I gingerly guided it along the branches and got it right in the middle of the bubble line. I watched the float tap once and it was taken under with authority. This wasn't a small fish, but a large predator waiting in his lair. The rod slammed in an instant. The surface boil and the fish quickly charged downstream. It was a battle of wits as I had to keep it from running into the submerged trees. I took charge and the battle was quickly over. I grabbed the hen's tail and she didn't have a blemish on her body. Silver along the sides, ivory white belly and a darkish gun metal blue on her back.


I ventured further south into another metro park. With a fair amount of snow, the trails in the park were a busy place today. People walking dogs, families taking a walk and some skiing. I was the only angler to make an appearance. Time unfortunately wasn't on my side today and I had to make a decision whether to go up or down stream. Down stream meant blazing a trial through the snow, buckthorns and downed trees. Upstream, it was a brief walk along the trail and down towards the river. The latter made sense as crossed over the riffle. It was a medium size pool that spilled along the bank and tailout hard. The current was probably too hard and shallow to hold fish. Off the current, the water flowed much slower and there was a sand bar. It take much thought where the fish would be. It turned out to be the right call as I caught five fresh fish out that spot. A couple of hikers watched from the bank and gave a thumbs up as I held up the fish I just caught. Both of them were unaware that trout that big could be caught that far up river. 

Turned out be a great day despite the weather. That's why I love winter steelheading. The challenges and the fruition of hard work can make putting up with the frozen fingers and feet all worth it. Sadly, just as fast as the snow fell. It will be probably all be gone next week as we'll get a brief taste of spring. It's a shame, because I wanted more snow. 

January 9, 2013

Christmas Outing


Christmas for me during the years I can't make the trip to British Columbia to see family can be a difficult one. Most of my friends have family over and are enjoying a hearty meal or going to mass. Christmas Eve at my place consists of talking to everybody on Skype. Some times it turns into a technological headache because somebody's webcam stops working or has a crappy modem. The screen becomes full of talking heads in bubbles. Because of the time difference, my family usually calls early in the evening. All eyes on the computer turned to me as I opened all of my presents. After that I sit back and drink some Great Lakes Christmas ale. I'll look at my pathetic tree and give a toast to another lame holiday. Usually there will be some irrelevant football bowl game on and I barely get pass the 2nd quarter. This year it was the Hawaii Bowl and I'm sure both Fresno and SMU players weren't bummed because nothing beats the holidays like sitting on the beach ogling scantily clad women or playing football in 80s with sunshine. It turned out to be a snorefest and I went to bed early. 



Christmas morning came and instead of tearing through presents, I tore open the packet of bacon. Eggs, bacon, muffins and coffee - all wolfed down in record time because it was the Christmas outing and I was running behind. Luckily it was a quick five minute drive into the metro park where I meet up with the guys. Because all of them have adult children, they can get the precious morning pass that most steelheaders are hoping for. Those with younger kids, might have to settle for the afternoon pass. For the ones who have the grinch-in-law, they're SOL and might have to wait until the weekend.

We started off at the infamous "bunker hole". The bunker hole is the go to place for us. It a classic winter holding spot. The hole is located at the bend of the river and it tails out. This is where the fish park themselves. It's not very deep and only fishes at a certain flow. When conditions are perfect, the fishing can be fast and furious. The action was like that yesterday and of course the scrooge I work for decided to have us came in for a half a day. Five hours of bullshitting in the back, figuring out the who the Browns will hire as the next coach and picking straws to see who goes out for a pizza run. Seriously, what a waste of time. I could of been fishing. When we finally went home, I wet a line for a couple of hours, but I missed most of the action.



This morning the action was slower as we picked off fish. It seemed a lot of skippers made the trip in. The bunker hole didn't pan out so we headed downstream. The same results as we picked off fish. By then it was late morning and more people started coming out. Even though it was Christmas, some decided to leave their goodwill and common sense at home. One hillbilly decided to low hole us and crowed that they "caught them by the boatload" yesterday. From the looks of him, he couldn't catch a cold in room full of sick people. He was the typical Rocky River hillbilly - neoprene waders, 6'6" bass rod, spinning reel, monster float and a green mister twister. God, I absolute hate them because of their stupidity and poor hygiene. I sniffed bullshit and we chuckled at one another. We could throw some coal his way, but the fish had turned off. The guys morning pass had expired and we went our separate ways. I moved further down to the lake and there were people scattered about. I fished another spot that people I know did well yesterday. Just like the other spots, it didn't a lot of fish. As I was getting ready to leave, there was one guy fishing from the shore. Poor bastard, on his first drift he snagged line. It turned out to be at least 60 yards of line that he pulled out. When I left he quickly moved to my spot. Unfortunately Santa didn't bring him waders or boots. I watched him jump from rock to rock and then the inevitable happened - he slipped. Ass first into 36 degree water and chorus of curses followed. He cursed so loud that the guys down at the marina looked upstream. That was the end of his fishing outing as he huffed and puffed back to the parking lot. Nikes and wet rocks = epic dunking. It was early afternoon and more people started to show up. Screaming kids and the thought of kitchen duty was refuge for of them. Others probably were trying out their latest gifts. For me, I had enough. I was satisfied with the results and I was looking forward to the soup I had in the slow cooker. Tomorrow its back to work albeit a very short one.