February 24, 2013
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.