September 23, 2014

Low Holing


Many steelheaders have seen this scenario play out. The river has come down to a fishable level after a warm rainfall. There should be a good push of fish. You arrive at the pool at first light and it's ripe for the pickings. Here's to a banner day as you get ready for the first cast. Then you hear the sounds of voices and snapping branches. Before you can say shit, four guys emerge from the woods and enter the water below you. You've been low holed.

Low holers can't be defined. They can be young or old. Rich or poor. Bait or fly fishermen. Experienced or inexperienced. Nothing gets my blood boiling then a moron fishing 30' below me and thinking it's perfectly acceptable. I read and hear the complaints all the time. I've seen some anglers almost come to blows over it. Some of it's unintentional and for others deliberate. All I know they're a pain in the ass.


If you're going to be a dick, watch out. Case in point, I'm fishing the Chagrin and I was the first person on this section of the river. I hit one of my honey holes and start catching fish. Then I look downstream and I see a guy heading upstream. There's three miles of open water upstream and I figure he'll head to the next pool - wrong. The guy sets up shop 30' below me. He never acknowledges me and acts that I don't even exist. It's one of those you got to be kidding moments. I generally don't like to start conflict, but this morning I'm tired, crabby and in no mood for bullshit. I clear my throat and say

"Excuse me, do you mind fishing above or moving to another spot?"

The dope ignores me and I reply in a more forceful tone. I ask him again to move. He's turns to me and calls me a hole hogging prick. Hole hogging prick? Dude has some balls. I reel in my line and I walk around him and low hole him. I glare at him and growl

"We can play this game all morning long"

He sees that I'm serious. Maybe it's my scruffy appearance and bloodshot eyes that gives him the impression that I might be packing heat. He mutters and walks upstream. I'm more pissed that he could of walked to the next pool and had it to himself. It was one of the rare times that I had to stand my ground. I didn't like it and the last thing I want to do is drop the rods. Should I just yield the pool and go somewhere else? Maybe, but I wasn't finish working the pool. It wasn't a long pool, just enough room for one angler. I've always respected an angler's space, even if its my favorite hole. If the pool is large, I always ask if I can fish below and I give the other angler plenty of room. It's common sense, but common sense gets thrown out in the pursuit of fish.

The Alley basically covers the southern shore of Lake Erie. There are plenty of rivers, creeks and ditches for the steelheader too choose from. Unfortunately, the best places are in the heart of urban areas. These highly populated areas have easy access that attract anglers especially during the height of the spawning run. It can be elbows and assholes in the most popular spots. But you would think there's plenty of water to fish right? That depends on where you fish.


Plenty of water is starting to get harder to find, especially in Pennsylvania. Almost all of Pennsylvania's steelhead streams run through private property. Over the years, the state has stocked millions of fish and those large numbers of fish have attracted a lot of anglers. Landowners fed up with unruly anglers started posting their properties and some leased their sections to clubs and guides.  Because of that, anglers have be herded into the last remaining public waters. I've seen the circus on the lower Elk and Walnut. The parking lot at the Elk Creek access would rival a Walmart during the Christmas shopping season. I remember going to the Walnut for the first time and number of people took my breath away. It was a line of people all the way from the bridge to the lake.

"Holy shit, look at the people"

I didn't want to take any part in that and promptly turned around. I found refuge on the upper Elk, but I still had to look over my shoulder.

The crowds have been getting worse and worse over the years. Solitude was once taken for granted. Today, I'm driving to the deepest darkest regions of the Alley. It's not that I'm anti social, but after a long week at work, I need time to unwind and recharge the batteries. The last thing I need is some guy fishing next to me and pissing and moaning about the Browns or sounding off about politics - save that for the bar.

Over the years, I've become more savvy when it comes to dealing with crowds. I've noticed three key observations - most steelheaders hate to walk, hate to fish in the cold and hate fishing dirty water.

The diehards are the ones that blaze the trail in search of fish. They slip silently by the crowds and disappear into the woods. There's been times when I'm walking in the pitch dark and by the time it's first light, I've covered a couple of miles. By the time somebody gets to where I'm fishing and it rarely happens, I've already caught plenty of fish. It's not for everybody, a lot of my fishing buddies would probably succumb to my "death hikes".

Winter is the time I relish the most. The fish are spread out in the rivers and gives me plenty of options where to go. The fair weather fishermen retreat deep into their man caves and will not be seen until spring. Winters here are not as severe as the ones in Michigan or Ontario. But, we do get a ton of snow. Squalls off of Lake Erie can be treacherous especially for anglers making the long drive. Then there's slush and ice that can ruined an outing. Many people don't want to chance wasting gas and time, to only see a river choked in slush. If the night time temps are in the teens, I don't bother setting the alarm as the rivers will be loaded in slush. The best thing to do is wait until afternoon and hope that it will have burned off. By then most anglers who tried in vain to fish in the morning have given up. Some of best days came when most people preferred to buried under the cover of their blankets.

Then there's dirty water. Some anglers still believe that steelhead will only bite when the water is clear. That's completely false. I've caught steelhead in water that resembles my coffee - loaded with cream. Steelhead have a very acute sense of smell and have no problem finding a sac in stained water.  Many people prefer to wait for prime conditions such as water that is green. I don't have the luxury of fishing everyday unlike some of my retired fishing friends. I make due on what's given to me. Most Ohio steelheaders are use to fishing dirty water. The Grand and Black Rivers run stained whether it's high or low. That's why I primarily fish with sacs because I prefer to fish dirty water over clear water.

The things I mentioned above have cut down on the aggravation. I still from time to time will get low holed. But that's usually happens when I'm fishing on the lower Rocky in the spring. By then, I'm burned out and I don't give a shit.