November 15, 2015

The Wait


The wait was finally over during the past weekend when I caught the first steelhead of the season. It came on November 7th just before first light and it was one of those "it's about friggin time" moments. The wait was more about the lack of rain and warmer than usual weather than anything. The rivers blew out way back in early September which felt more like a distant memory. Back then I wasn't concerned because I figured ( how naive ) that we would get more rain. It turned out that we waited for weeks and weeks and weeks.

To make matters worse, the salmon runs in both Michigan and New York were absolutely dismal. In my freezer I had about two pounds of eggs left. It was a case of break only in emergency. I called the bait shop and the owner would give the grim news.

"Sorry dude no eggs"

Shit, shit, shit. In past years, he would have buckets full of eggs and my freezer would be crammed full of them. Finally, I cracked in late October and pulled out some eggs. I had to get out before I went insane. I carefully thawed them out and I actually counted out every single eggs putting exactly six per netting. I gingerly handled them like if they were made of nitro glycerin. I broke out in a sweat as I gently wound the netting and tied on the thread. I winced if pulled too hard and breathed a sigh of relief when the thread broke. I placed one precious spawn sac after another on the newspaper. It was so pathetic.



I drove out east and it was Conneaut or bust. I knew the crick was barely flowing and probably had the clarity of a bottle of gin. I had to get out as no fish in October was unacceptable. Last year it was the first time I didn't catch a fish in the month of September. Now I was under incredible pressure not to post a goose egg for this month. I arrived at the creek at first light and there was seven cars parked along the road. I dressed and started to walk upstream where I could see everybody piled into the two favorite spots. I crossed over and the riffle was reduced to a barely audible babble. The deeper water had a nice dark tea color so I had at least a fighting chance.

I started to work the holes and lumber and didn't so much get a nibble even from my biggest nemesis - the creek chub. I started to head upstream and I continued to grind away and I watched another angler head up. I ignored him as he passed by I carefully watched him out the corner of my eye. I had a couple more spots to hit upstream. I quickly reeled in and started to skirt along the trees. But the fat bastard spotted me and started to head upstream. He had a large start and I watched him huff and puff. I knew where he was heading. Thoughts start going through my head

Launch a rock at his head and hopefully it knocks him out

Just start running and maybe he'll keel over from a heart attack


Wishful thinking and then I him see stop at the spot

Damn!

That's what I get for dicking around in that one spot. But at least there's another larger pool above ripe for the picking. I start working the pool and it becomes obvious that there's isn't any fish in it. Upstream I see a clan of anglers at the train tressel bridge. They probably banged the hole since first light. Then I see them pack up and head downstream. They pass by and I start to head up. It's worth a shot as I'm thinking maybe they're green at fishing for steelhead. The water is so low that I can walk across and stand on the bridge support. I can see the shale ledge and I beat the hole like it owes me money. Nothing absolutely nothing. I'm convinced there's at least one fish in there. To add insult to injury, I see the other angler downstream land a fish in the spot I wanted to fish - shit.



I eventually give up and I'm resigned that I'm going to have my first fishless October. As I walk back, I see one of the clan's member fighting a fish in one of my favorite spots - assholes. The drive home felt longer than usual.

October turns to November and I'm heading out to the Grand with the gang. We're all pumped because we all share something in common - no fish for the new season. I haven't heard anything about the Grand but it's worth a shot because everything else is barely trickling. The wind is cold and the sky is a dark gray. It's first light and we take position at the head of the run. The river is slightly off color and I work my section. It doesn't take long to shake off the rust as I watch the float go under hard. I set the hook and a skipper flies out of the water - finally! It almost six months since I last felt the rod tug. For the next few hours we start getting into fish and some of the large and full of piss and vinegar. The action is furious as the others farther downstream were probably kicking themselves in the ass for not fishing further upstream. The stragglers start walking in but by then its too late - the bite shut off and all three of us end up landing close to 30 fish.

We end the morning eating lunch at some Painesville dive not too far up the road. My stomach doesn't give a damn, it wants food. I wolf down a monster club sandwich and wash it down with some of the most god awful coffee. The wait was well worth it and I can laugh about after the fact of how I worried over nothing. Was November too long? Yes for a hardcore junkie like me. But there's times where certain factors are out of our control. We just have to wait it out.

August 23, 2015

Fishing Redds


It's dreary and rainy here today and the rivers will blow out once again. I'm sitting at Starbucks drinking my over priced cup of coffee as my modem at home took a dump. While I wait for the tech who will most likely be 3 hours late, what a perfect time to get on the soap box and talk about a subject that is guaranteed to ruffle some feathers - fishing redds. It's a subject that has been furiously debated on social media and on the rivers.

Every spring, we witness the practice or depending on others opinions, the massacre of fishing redds. I've seen the circus on the rivers where people camp out in the wee hours of the morning to secure the prime spawning beds. It's elbows and assholes. Here in Ohio, there's little to no natural reproduction and for some that's a legitimate reason to fish redds. The sight of fish and in some cases, very large ones, are far too hard to pass up.

There's some who will say they can fish redds without foul hooking fish and that often gets a skeptical look from me. The reason why I'm skeptical is because most of the time, the rivers run low and clear, fish are visible from a distance. If I can see them, I'm pretty sure they can see me and they most certainly can see your fly or bait. These fish have seen it all. I've watch anglers repeatedly cast over and over. They're determined to get a take and most of the time the fish move away. They're not stupid, they know what's going on. Whenever a fish is hooked, 99% of the time, it got flossed - period.

I frown upon it because I don't consider it fair game. It's the equivalent of a canned hunt. Fish are packed tightly together and the urge to spawn is so great they're reluctant to move. The end result is they get foul hooked and I've caught fish that are adorned with flies in their tail, stomach, head and fins. It's really pathetic as I'm pulling out, in some cases about 10 flies out. What even angers me more are the losers that fight a foul hooked fish. They have no control over it and the fish is stressed to the point that might not survive if released. I've seen the casualties late in the spring of fish that probably died from repeatedly being caught as they spawn. It's heartbreaking because they died a needless death.

But currently the state doesn't really have any desire to stop the practice. I'm sure the excuse will be it's a put and take fishery and there's no natural reproduction. The metro park rangers generally won't do anything because its so hard to enforce. As for the game warden, good luck, as he has an entire county to cover. Policing it amongst ourselves? That will go over like a fart in church. Some guides would never go for it, because spring is when their the busiest. If I see blatant snagging, I'll say something, but it's not worth getting into a scrap over it.

I don't see it ever stopping and hopefully one day, we can agree that maybe it's better to leave them alone.

June 21, 2015

51 Years and Still Waiting


When it comes to sports in Cleveland, it's a long sad sad tale. The city that has heard its fair share of jokes, ridicule and its pro sports teams having a habit of come up short time and time again. The last time the city won a championship was the Browns way back in 1964 and yes folks that half a century. The shortfalls have been long documented and most of them have a title. There's the Drive, the Fumble, Red Right 88, the Sweep and the Decision. So whenever a Cleveland team makes it into the playoffs you'll hear the comments

"We'll choke"

"We'll make it to game 7 and blow it"

"They'll find a way to screw it up"

That's how bad some Cleveland fans are as they've been conditioned to all of the failures of past teams. The Cavs once again are the latest team to fall short. Some people have already dubbed it "The Injuries". The King - LeBron James returned after a four exile in Miami where he won two titles. Many Cleveland sports fans felt he could be the one to break the drought. He was welcomed back with open arms from the same people who vilified him. That's what a 51 year drought will do to people - forgiveness.

To make the Cavs even stronger and appease LeBron, they made a blockbuster trade by acquiring Kevin Love. Wiggins was a potential superstar in the making, but the Cavs management when all in to make the team a contender. Early on the team struggled to click and at one point they had a losing record. LeBron who at the age of 30 started breaking down and took a couple of weeks off. Fans tired of losing started questioning whether the team would even make it to the playoffs. The Cavs made some more trades and hit pay dirt by getting Timofey Mosgov, J.R Smith and Iman Shumpert. LeBron found his second wind and the Cavs started steam rolling their way through the remainder of the season and finished with the 2nd best record in the Eastern conference.

But every Cleveland sports fan is fully aware of the "curse". Whenever a Cleveland team makes it deep in the playoffs something terrible happens. The Cavs ended up losing both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to injuries. The banged up Cavs made it the finals, but they severely under manned against the team with the best record in the NBA - the Golden State Warriors. When the Cavs lost Irving after the 1st game, many thought the Warriors would sweep the Cavs in four. The Warriors were just too deep and unlike the Cavs went through the entire season without any significant injuries. LeBron showed why he's considered the best player in the world by putting the rest of the team on his back. The Cavs countered with stifling defense and it caught the Warriors off guard as they won games 2 and 3. The Warriors adjusted and the Cavs couldn't hang with them. They were beyond exhausted and ended up losing the series in 6 games and many in Cleveland heard the comment that they hate hearing "There's always next year"

Many in Cleveland weren't terribly upset because they felt the Cavs were returned to the finals and the day after Vegas had the Cavs as the favorites to win. But nothing is guaranteed in sports as we've seen teams that were suppose to repeat year in and year out fade because of injuries or some other team got better. Now Cleveland fans have to watch the Indians stink up the joint until the Browns further stink it up in the fall before basketball season starts in late October.

June 13, 2015

Done


There's something odd fishing for steelhead when it's almost 80 degrees. I get this feeling that something isn't quiet right. I've always thought of steelheading as a cold weather fishery. Instead of being in layers of clothing, I'm wearing a tee shirt and shorts inside my waders. Instead of a grey lifeless landscape, the surrounding forest is covered in green. I don't have to worry about succumbing to the cold but I might keel over from thirst and cramps.

I left my apartment in the wee hours and the robins are in full chorus. The temperature is already in the 60s and the high today is suppose to be in the 80s. That's great weather for walleye or bass fishing, but not the best for steelhead. It seems the last trip of the season, always ends on the Grand. I arrive at the lower section of the river when most of Painesville's residents are either sleeping or just getting home from the bar. I'm on the hunt for drop backs and I shouldn't have a problem finding spots as everybody else will be ripping up the redds. I walk up along the trail and see nobody by the cliffs - sweet. The river is low, but has enough color in it to give fish cover and sense of security. It doesn't take long to hit the first fish of the morning. All of the them are spawned out hens and they put a hard fight. Instead of using 6# test, I'm using 8# and I muscle the fish in quickly. Most fight are very brief and I act like one those pro bass tournament anglers who fling the fish out of the water and into the boat as fast as they hooked them. The fish is beached quickly, but I forgot my pliers - shit. I jam my thumb into the fish's mouth and wrestle the hook out. The fish bolts quickly and there's blood all over my thumb. I wash it off and resume fishing. My thumb can't stop bleeding and my fingers are going to take a beating today. Luckily for some of the fish, they pop the hook out while I'm fighting them. I'm perfectly fine with that, ride them until they buck you is my motto.

I clean the pool out and cross over. Up stream, I see a group of anglers piled into an area below the feeder creek. The river here is clearer due to the creek and fish spawning are easier to see. Even though, natural reproduction in Ohio is extremely low, I frown upon the practice of fishing redds. I view it as nothing more than an aquatic canned hunt. The fish are clustered in a small area and are easily foul hooked. For some anglers, the sight of many fish is too hard to pass up. I'm content fishing below and catching fish that are willing to take the bait. I watch several angler's hook up and one them fighting a fish. Early on it's obvious that the fish is fouled hooked because he can't control it. Other anglers take their lines and say nothing. He continued walk downstream, trying to haul in the fish. He's determined to get in because it's large and probably wants a picture of it. I see the fish floundering about and with one surge the fish finally breaks off. The angler spews off a volley of f-bombs for everybody to hear. As he's throwing his hissy fit, I watch the fish go downstream belly up. I try to grab it but it's too far out and it drifts by. Every spring, I see the bodies of dead fish that died because they got over played or were not properly revived. These fish died needlessly and there's times, I've questioned should I be out fishing when the water temperature is over 60F, which is the upper threshold for these fish. That's why I go heavy and I set a time. It shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes to get a fish in. I continue to fish and the action is fast and furious. As the morning progresses more and more people are showing up. By now, I've cleaned out this spot. I check the time and it's not even 11:00A.M, I have plenty of time. I make the decision to head far up stream as I haven't been there in years.

I make the long walk and I'm breaking into a heavy sweat. I get into the car and crank the A/C. By the time I get the upper section of the Grand, the inside of the car is as cold as a freezer. It's almost noon and the sun is high and the wind is hot. I crack open another bottle of cold water and guzzle it down. From above I watch a guide and his client fishing a redd above the bridge. I shake my head and it's another example why I have a problem with certain guides that insist fishing redds. I make the long walk along the river and the peace and quiet is interrupted by the sounds of quads barreling down the hill. I watch three kids plow them into the river and do donuts in the water. They spray mud and gravel all over the place as they whoop and holler. They see me in the distance and immediately leave the river and head back up hill. There's massive blob of stirred mud drifting downstream. Scratch off one pool that I wanted to fish.

I finally I see the stands of sycamores and there's the infamous "sucker hole". I remember six years ago pulling over 20 fish out that spot. Today the spot is a shell of its former self. The entire hole has filled in by half. I managed to catch three fish and the heat was taking a toll on me. I decide to relax under a tree and watch about six males gather behind a hen. I was surprised to see fish this far up river considering it was the 2nd week of May. They seem content and almost cordial to one another or maybe they're all too exhausted to scrap it out. I finish off my last bottle of water and head back where I pick off some more spawned out hen. My last container of eggs is almost empty and I officially end the season by dump the last remaining sacs into the water. Once again, I'm drenched in sweat and fire up the A/C. I stop at a small cafe and order a sandwich and cold beer. I sit in the patio and write in my journal

"Decent number of fish still spawning through out the Grand. Plenty of drop backs and I wouldn't be surprised to see fish still spawning into next week. Worried about the water temperature because it's getting higher and there's no rain in the forecast for the rest of the week"

This season is a carbon copy of the last one - lousy fall, bitterly cold winter and a late spring run. The waders will have to be shipped out for repairs and the summer will be devoted to honing my fly fishing skills for carp. Summer will go by quickly and the cool winds will come across Lake Erie ushering in another season.

April 1, 2015

The Plant


It's a bitterly cold morning as I walk out from my apartment building. The sound of the snow crunching underneath and the sharp needles of cold invading my lungs. It brings back memories of my native Canada. This is the second consecutive cold winter here on the Alley as the majority of streams have been locked in ice since past December. Last winter was one of the coldest since I've been living in Ohio and this winter wasn't too far behind. Fishing the streams seems to be a distant memory and I long to fish them. The plant is the only option and I'm not thrilled at the prospect of fishing it. But if I don't get out, I fear I'll go insane.

One of my fellow tenants, Mike looks at me with surprise

"Dude, where the hell are you going to fish? Everything is frozen over?

Smiling, I tell him I have a little oasis and the water is warm there.

He gives me a puzzled look and said "Dude, you're crazy and stay warm"

Mike gets in his car and leaves for work.

Driving west on the interstate, I can see the stacks in the distance bellowing smoke. The water should be very warm as the plant has been running non-stop for the past few days. For once, there isn't any wind coming across the ice. I pull into the lot and dress. Some passing motorists stare at me probably thinking I'm crazy. I dressed warm from head to toe and I look like I'm ready to explore the dark side of the moon. I waddled off towards the beach. 

I walk along the shore and there's gulls, ducks and geese everywhere. Hundred of birds scatter as I walk. I see nothing but ice as far as the eye can see. This is probably the only open water for many miles. The steam dances along the surface as I can barely see the point. Halfway there, my cheeks are starting to burn from the cold. I check the phone and the temperature reads 5F. I turn the corner around the point and enter the plant's discharge pool. I can see waterfowl everywhere and several birds take flight as I wade through the water. There's mergansers, buffleheads, redheads, scoters, scaups and coots. All of these birds are after one thing - food. The warm water here attracts baitfish. But even with all of the fish, some of the birds have died of starvation. I see a redhead duck huddled on a rock shivering. The plant has nothing offer him and I feel pity for it as I know it will probably not survive the night.



I climb over several rocks and I make it to the discharge. I see several scoters diving and popping up with crayfish in their bills. When I'm fishing the discharge, I bottom bounce. My rig that consists of an egg sinker and a 3" gulp minnow. The pattern doesn't really matter because the fish will attack anything resembling a baitfish. I cast out into the current and let the sinker hit bottom. I feel it tumble about and I jig the minnow several times to entice a fish into biting. During that time, I watching for mergansers that might catch a glimpse of my minnow and dive for it. Last winter the number of mergansers in the back were so numerous, I couldn't even fish. Whenever the minnow hit the water, a dozen of them would dive after it and cut the minnow in half or even worse get hooked. It's not fun trying to haul in a bird as its flapping about. If I was lucky they would get hooked in their hard bills and it would easily come out. The biggest pain was whenever a bird got snagged in the wing or neck. To prevent injuring a bird, I would push the barb down so removing the hook would be quick and painless.

The plant is a bustling place as I hear trucks blasting their horns, loaders hauling coal and odd person barking over the loud speaker. This year, the loud speaker has been quiet. In past years, I remember constantly hearing somebody telling us to stand back from the buoys. We would stand there and ignore them. Several times the police would be called but there wasn't anything they could do as we where standing the lake. The lake bottom by law is public property. The police officer didn't like making the walk through the snow. He would try to explain that the plant was concerned that we would drown. We assured the officer that the water was clear enough that we could see the drop off. He checked for fishing licenses and with that he left.

It's cloudy this morning and the number of birds is very low, maybe a couple of dozen or so. From what I heard, the plant was slated to be closed down in the spring as new EPA emission rules made the plant obsolete and expensive to run. It had been a fixture on the lake front for over 40 years. Lucky for us, the federal government kicked in some money to upgrade from coal to natural gas, so that meant our precious oasis was saved from the wrecking ball.

The number of baitfish in the plant this season has also been very low. But it hasn't stop some of the steelhead from returning. I begin the process of working the discharge. So far this season, it has been feast or famine. So far, I'm hungry for a hit as my fingers are getting cold. I jig the minnow and I feel a tap and then a surge. I set the hook and feel the fish charge. In the distance I watch a skipper leap out of the water. The fish darts about in the shallows and I corral it into the rock. The larger hook makes it easier to pop it out. I watch the fish bolt for the deeper water. Then it turns into a long drawn out process as I cast over and over. Something isn't right. I figured there should be more fish in here. In past years, I would of reached double digits by noon. So far I have two fish and I'm thinking the point might be better. I switch from bottom bouncing to a float with a jig.



For decades, the current has dug a long trough along the breakwall and goes out to the lake. I tie on a white jig and set the float for about 7' and cast right along the ice. I wade out as far as I can go before the crystal clear water turns into a deep green drop off. A small flock of mergansers cruise along the rocks and periodically stick their heads in the water looking for any bait. I cast out and watch the float drift out into the lake. Due to the cold, the line on my spinning reel has stiffen and I have to yank the rod to get the line through the guides that have iced over. I strain to see the float and nothing happens. I repeat the process over and over and I'm making adjustments. I wonder the bright sunshine has moved the fish under the ice. I finally get a fish and I watch it leap from the water. It's another small bright silver skipper and I quickly release it.

Then it turned into a grind as I worked along the ice. Boredom begins to take over and the only thing that sparks my interest is canvasback duck that is bold enough to swim up to me. Something doesn't look right as the duck patiently lingers as if he's expecting me toss out some food. Whenever I reel in my minnow, the duck darts towards it. The warm water discharge is an oasis for waterfowl, but appearances can be deceiving. For some species of ducks, the lake bottom offers very little to no food for them. Mostly likely it was starving and probably wouldn't make it when the ice melted from the marshes. I watch the duck gradually swim off.

In the distance, I watched what I though was another angler walking along the beach. He had two box like objects in hand and net on his back. As he walked closer I didn't see a rod on him. He stopped and took out some binoculars. I figured he was a birdwatcher. I looked over and he was trying to coax the canvasback to come near him, but the bird wouldn't come and he motioned to me to come over. Bored with the fishing, I wade over to see what he wanted. He introduced himself as volunteer for a wildlife rehab center and he was trying to rescue sick waterfowl. He told me he noticed the duck would come near me whenever I tapped the rod in the water. He went on to say that he and others would nurse as many birds back to health as possible. He seemed genuine and concerned about the well being of the birds. I took his net and lured the duck in. He paddled close enough that I was able to swipe the net and get him. He gently took the duck out of the net and placed it in the cardboard box. I told him about a heron and other ducks in the back that were weak. However he didn't have any waders so he couldn't help those birds.

The cold and lack of fish was enough for me call it a day. It's early March and spring seems so far away. I'm longing for the rivers and the warmer weather that will free the rivers of ice and snow.

January 31, 2015

More Equipment Disasters and Reviews

Give me a piece of fishing equipment and I'll find a way to destroy or render it useless. Some of it can be caused by my indifference to money and other times I'm a clumsy oaf. When I started fishing, I was a cheapskate. I bought the cheapest equipment money could buy. That was back in the days when I valued beer and women more than fishing. Once I started earning more money, still had a hard time shedding the cheapskate mentality. But then I realized I was spending more money in constantly buying equipment. But even expensive stuff still hasn't been able to withstand the rigors of my abuse. It seems every time I write about equipment, I've had to replace something and here's the latest installment.



Simms RiverTek BOA boots

Add another pair of boots that couldn't withstand my torture. The Korkers were the latest victim as they literally fell apart. It was near the end of the season and my boots were close to being done. On one boot, the sole was literally being held by a thread. Walking back to the lot, the sole tore off and the other was ready to come off. I shrugged, picked it up and continue to walk. Not wanting to call it a day, I did what any diehard steelheader would do, head to the hardware store for duct tape. I taped the soles back and resumed fishing. I got two years out of them which is a remarkable feat. Here the list so far

Cabelas - trashed
Chotas - toast
Korkers - fubar

This pass summer I bought a pair of Simms RiverTek BOA boots. The boots had the same lacing system as my Korkers. The wire lacing makes it easier to take off the boots and adjust them. They were lighter and the synthetic materials allowed them to dry faster. The only negatives I had were the cleats as they didn't grip very well. I ended up taking them out and replacing them with my Korker cleats. Halfway through the season, one of the laces started to fray and the local shop didn't have the wire lace as they were a discontinued model. I needed them as soon as possible and I started to think what else I could use. Then the light bulb went off - picture hanging wire. Sure enough I had some at home. Lucky for me, it was right guage, but it was a bitch trying to get it to go through the holes as it was more stiffer. It was more of a quick fix and I later found out that a skiing store carried the proper wire so I went there to pick up some spare wire lacing. So far the boots themselves have held up - no fraying and no torn threads..........yet



Simms Guide Jacket

The next purchase was a new jacket. My Wright McGill jacket was finally done. I had it for five years and it looked downright disgusting. The side pockets and front were stained from egg spooge and slime. The jacket also absorbed water like a sponge. I went with Simms again as I bought the Guide Jacket. The jacket wasn't cheap costing $300.00 and I vowed I would take better care of it. No more wiping my hands on it covered in slime and egg spooge. The jacket is very light and almost feel like a windbreaker. It came with 3 layers of Gore Tex and the first time fishing, it rained and repelled water like off of duck's back. It had two large front pockets, a back pocket and one inner pocket. In the front it a had couple pair of zingers for tools. Even several times out in the bitter cold, the jacket kept me warm and dry.

G Loomis GLX float rod

If there's a piece of equipment that has taken the brunt of my abuse, it's my float rod. The rod has the proof - grooves in the guides caused by the line, sliding rings cracked, and cork and the finish is filthy. The only problem I had with the rod was the cork handle as it started wearing out. Whenever it was cold, the sliding rings didn't grip very well and the reel would slide up and down the handle. A couple of times, the reel fell out into the water and nothing is more worse then a frozen reel. A couple years ago, I broke the tip when I was trying to whack ice off the guides. I sent it out and they replaced the top section for $40.00. Then disaster struck one day last fall when I stumbled down a hill. As I fell forward, my rod and right hand slammed hard onto a rock. Pain shot through my hand and I thought I broke my pinky finger. I looked at my rod and some of the finish had scuffs on it. The pain was so severe that I didn't fish for the rest of the day. I drove home with my hand in a bag of ice. The following week, I'm on the Grand. For the first 45 minutes I didn't get a bite and I head downstream. I start working the pool and I get snagged. I yanked and CRAAACK, the bottom section of the rod broke. It broke right where the rod the hit the rock last week. The blank must of cracked. I was a hot under the collar as my morning was done. There was no spare rod and I wasn't in the mood to drive 50 miles home and drive back out. Disgusted, I stormed off the river and called it a day.

The following day I shipped it out to Shimano in Washington and waited to hear from them. The following week, I get a call from customer service informing me that it will cost $120.00 to replace the rod. I promptly give out my credit card number and they ship it that day. I was hoping I get it before the weekend. I hated using my back up rod as it feels like a pole vault. Friday I see the tube in the apartment lobby and there's a huge smile on my face. I open it and out slides the rod. I unravel the cloth and it's brand new. I couldn't be more happy - new cork, new sliding rings and new guides. I figure in matter of a couple of years, the rod will look like shit.


Simms Guide Waders


I'm fishing the lower Conneaut and the weather is bitterly cold for mid November. I wade into the water and about 30 minutes later my feet are getting colder and colder. I can feel moisture and I know where it's coming from. The neoprene feet must have a leak - crap. I also have some leaks in the knee section of the wader but they're so small that I don't feel it. Fortunately there are some spots where I don't stand in the water and it gives my feet some reprieve. For years, I sprung leaks in my older waders and I finally got fed up with cold feet and soaked pants. Tired of dealing with cheap Chinese shit, I shelled out almost $500.00 for a pair of Simms waders. Even the most expensive waders will eventually spring leaks. After the second season, I started to get leaks and sent them back to Simms for repairs. I ended up getting a free pair, because they couldn't repair them properly. But, even with a second pair of new waders, the inevitable happens - more leaks.



Kingpin Imperial


I have both the first and second generation of the reel. The second generation is much lighter and thinner in profile. I've had the reel for a little over three years and its performed flawlessly. Other than chipping off a small piece of the handle, I haven't had any other complaints. Every once in a while, I'll add a couple drops of sewing machine oil to help lubricate the bearings.



Fishpond Dragonfly Guide Lumbar Pack


I hate carrying a lot of stuff. Whenever I'm fishing, I'll see anglers wearing these massive vests. The only thing missing is a sleeping bag and a frying pan. That's a little too much for me. I pack smart because at the end of the day, your shoulders and back will thank you. The Dragonfly is the perfect size as I only carry a small tackle box, tube for the floats and container of eggs. It has the one compartment, so I don't go digging around. The drop down fly table is just big enough to hold jigs. The front pouch has enough room to hold a couple spools of line. On either side, I can carry a couple small bottles of water. I generally wear on the side and its so light I barely notice it.

That's life for a hardcore angler, always upgrading and sending out equipment for repairs. I couldn't imagine if I owned a boat.

January 25, 2015

Changing Rivers


There are three certainties in life - death, taxes and rivers changing on the Alley. Just when you think you know the rivers like the back of your hand, your favorite holes and pools are gone after the latest flood. It's just not your favorite stream, but nearly every stream from Ohio to New York. I have photos from ten years ago of the Chagrin, Vermilion, and Rocky rivers and you wouldn't be able the recognize those areas today. Banks get carved out, gravel gets moved, and trees fall in. I can't count how many times, I've seen my honey holes reduced to a section of dead water. The fish just blow through these areas and on some rivers, dead water can go quite a distance. Time to rewrite the book, maps and screw in some new cleats.


This past Wednesday, I'm fishing the upper Chagrin. This section is one of my favorites as it nestled in the sleepy village of Gates Mills. It's a section that runs through a series of metro parks and it has some of the best areas for spawning. In between the spawning areas were some nice pools. I haven't fished it since last year and I wondered what it looked like after the severe winter of this past year. That winter was one of the harshest on record. The rivers were locked in ice for months and when they thawed, massive chunks of ice bulldozed the rivers from top to bottom. Once the ice was gone, nobody knew what the river would be like.



Coming off the trail, the river has a different look. The first thing I noticed is the large gravel bar. Several years ago, there was a nice pool that had a hole about 30' in length. The water is on the verge of clearing and I can't help but notice all of the gravel. The pool was good for a couple of fish, but I rarely fished it. I didn't even bother to toss a float out because I felt it was far too shallow and there wasn't any structure on the bottom. I crossed over and I immediately sunk into the sand and gravel. I walked along the river and I kept sinking into it. It was like a giant dump truck dumped its load there. But I noticed that little hole next to the rock pile. It managed to survive the onslaught of ice. It was one of money holes always good for a couple of fish. Sure enough, I caught a couple of males from the tail end. 

 The pool above was probably the most productive spot on this stretch of river. The "yapping dog" hole as I affectionally called it. A pair of Weimaraners would always greet anglers and would bark the entire time. At times, it would test the most patient anglers. But today the dogs barely muster a bark, looking at me briefly and ran back to the house on the hill. The pool had drastically change. The hook and fly eating tree in the pool was gone. It had narrowed and towards the tail end the pool widen. Because of the sand bottom it was difficult to gauge the depth of pool. Stacking the shots towards the bottom, it was determined that pool had a depth of six feet. That's considered an abyss for a stream on the Alley. The pool only yielded three fish and one was massive feisty hen that give me a handful full. I worked the pool from top to bottom and didn't so much sniff a take. I was puzzled as to way there wasn't anymore fish. 



I continued to walk up and the river was clear enough that I could see bottom. It was scoured cleaned, nothing but gravel. The small run above - reduced to a babbling riffle. My heart sunk as it was a killer run that produced a lot of fish for me. I crossed over and I remember another nice hole that cut along the bank. It was deep enough to hold fish and I vividly remember the monster male that I pulled out of there four years ago. Today, it's barely 2' deep and the fish would blow right through it. As looked upstream, I could see a large gravel island. Under the power lines, this spot was a prime spawning area. Because of the island, the river cut hard against the bank and gouged out a run. However the water flowed really fast. I scanned to see if there were any dug out redds from Pennsylvania steelhead that might of ventured this far upriver - I found none. I walked past another dead section of the river and next pool above was always a producer. I looked at and I knew it was a goner. More gravel and sand. It was far too shallow and no bottom structure. I muttered that all of my honey holes were gone. This turned out to be a trip down memory lane. An entire 2 mile section reduced to marginal water. The only thing I could hope for is the forces of nature to change it again, but that could take years.  



Back in the car, I'm writing in my journal 

"Nearly every hole is gone except for the dog hole. Marginal water at best. This section is official off the map for the time being"

Back at home, I have 15 years worth of information and from time to time, I'll review them. Some spots never seem to change as they seemly can withstand the force of nature and others are gone for good. Good water on some streams is few and far between. For people saying steelheading on the Alley is easy, I beg to differ. It's a challenge. It seems every year, I fish a different river. Five years ago, I was primarily fishing the upper Grand. Last year, I was spending most of time on the Conneaut. This season, I'm on the lower Grand. But, I will go back to an old spot out of curiosity. 

The Rock and most of the other rivers are frozen over. It will eventually melt and start the process of altering the rivers once again. Many of us will wait to see whether our favorite pools and holes will still be there or gone. For some of us, change isn't a bad thing and should be embraced. 

January 17, 2015

We Did It! - National Champions!


OH-IO! The team of destiny finally finished off a fairy tale of a season. It was something right out of Hollywood. A young team that dealt with adversity from day one and was never given a chance of winning it all. They proved their critics wrong and put together one of the greatest stories in college football. It was a bittersweet victory as they brought home their first national title since 2002. Head coach Urban Meyer, a native of Ashtabula, Ohio was hired back in 2012 and many felt he would be the coach to bring another title to Ohio State. In his third year, he delivered the goods with probably the best coaching job in college history.

Unlike the Sugar Bowl game, I was fairly confident that Ohio State could beat the Ducks for two reasons. Ohio State's record against Oregon is 8 and 0. The second reason is Oregon has never been able to win against teams that play smash mouth football. For years, their rival Stanford was able to beat them because they were a big physical team. I remember watching the 2010 Rose Bowl against Oregon and Ohio State neutered Oregon's high-octane offense by controlling the line of scrimmage, pounding the rock and wearing out the Ducks defense. Ohio State had a stable of stud running backs, a monstrous quarterback in Terrelle Pryor and a punishing offensive line that turned the Quack Attack into foie gras. It was old fashion Big Ten football and Ohio State set a Rose Bowl record for time of possession, controlling the ball for over 40 minutes. It was an epic ass kicking. 

This time Ohio State would be facing the Heisman winner in Marcus Mariota. Last week, his team blew out last season's national champs Florida State and many had them winning their first title. The Buckeyes had beaten the two other finalists in Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper. Both of them were held in check and never factored in their games. Could Ohio State pull off the trifecta? 

The Buckeyes didn't make it easy for themselves as they turned the ball over four times. But the defense held the high-speed Duck offense to 10 points from those turnovers and only allowed them to score 20 points. Oregon could sneeze and score 20 points. The closest Oregon got was when the score was 21-20. Ohio State hunkered down and put together two long drives. They were up by two touchdowns and the Ducks couldn't stop the run. Oregon made a last stand deep in their zone. Mariota threw an incomplete pass and the Ducks turned the ball over on downs. I whooped and hollered as I knew the game was over. Ohio State tried to use as much time as possible, but Oregon still has two timeouts. The Buckeyes were short on 3rd down, but the Ducks were called for offside. Ohio State was 1st and goal with less than a minute and everybody thought - take a knee and celebrate. Not Urban, he had Ducks by the throat and finished them off by snapping their neck. Elliot barreled in and the final score was 42-20. Another Heisman bites the dust.

The true unsung heroes were the Slobs - the Buckeyes offensive line. Four of them were first-time starters and during the Virginia Tech game, they were clearly overmatched. But as the season progressed, they got better as a unit. The Slobs mauled the Ducks defense and cleared holes for Ezekiel Elliot who went into full beast mode shredding them for a national championship record for 246 yards of rushing and scoring 4 touchdowns. This was Elliot's third consecutive game with more than 200 yards of rushing. As for the defense, both coaches Fickell and Ash called a brilliant game. They rotated players and they held their own against the up-tempo pace of the Ducks. I take back every bad thing I said about Fickell, because last year, I wanted his head on a platter. 

As the clock hit zero, the Buckeyes stormed the field. While this game didn't have the drama and suspense of the 2002 game, it was a game for the ages. If you asked me back in August after Miller was lost for the season, if Ohio State would have won the national championship, I would say you're full of it. They were never respected, never given a chance and always viewed as inferior. But they sneered and played with a chip on their shoulders. Urban Meyer made them believe that they were the best and all he wanted was for them to give their best effort. The new playoff system worked because if it was the old BCS system, it would have been Alabama and Florida State. The Buckeyes peaked at the right time and no pun intended took the ball and ran, never looking back. Somewhere Mark May one of the ESPN college football commentators and resident Ohio State hater was served a huge helping of crow as many others were. 

Cardale Jones will be forever in Buckeye lore. Once a troubled youth from one of the poorest neighborhoods in Cleveland, he came off the bench with no starts or experience and won the Big Ten title, the Sugar Bowl, and the National title. He beat three of the Heisman finalists. On Thursday, Jones announced he would be coming back to Ohio State, instead of entering the NFL draft. Only a handful of starters will be graduating and none of the underclassmen declared for the draft. That means the majority of impact players will be returning. This team will be stacked and Meyer won't let them become complacent. The future looks really bright. Can't wait for the beginning of the upcoming season when they play Virginia Tech. 

January 2, 2015

Buckeyes Hold Back the Tide


The Buckeyes slayed the giant of college football, the Crimson Tide of Alabama. It was an inspiring and nerve-racking win as the young Buckeyes dealt with adversity and overcame challenges even before the season started. Here's a timeline of what happened
  • Two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year and starting quarterback Braxton Miller blows out his shoulder 12 days before the season starts. They were ranked #5
  • Redshirt freshman quarterback J.T Barrett wins the starting job even though he hasn't played football in two years
  • They get pummeled by Virginia Tech and drop in the rankings all the way to #22
  • Penn State takes them to double overtime and they pull out the win
  • They beat #8 Michigan State and take over the Big Ten East
  • They beat Indiana and win the Big Ten East division
  • Player Kosta Karageorge commits suicide before the Michigan game
  • The last game of the season, they beat Michigan. The win is costly as J.T Barrett, now a Heisman candidate breaks his ankle. Before his injury, Barrett breaks Drew Brees Big Ten record for most touchdowns in one season with 45 and passes for over 2800 yards
  • They end the regular season 11-1, and 8-0 in the Big Ten
  • They go into the Big Ten Championship game with their 3rd quarterback Cardale Jones, who's never started a game. 
  • They annihilate Wisconsin to the score of 59-0 after many (including me) thought they wouldn't win. Jones passes for 257 yards and 3 touchdowns.
  • They held Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon - the top running back in the nation and Heisman finalist to under 100 yards
  • They make it into the playoffs as the playoff committee votes them in as the 4th seed
A lot of teams would have folded like a tent if they had a season like Ohio State had. But a lot of teams don't have a coach like Urban Meyer. If you told me at the start of the season Barrett would have the season like he had, I would say lay down the crack pipe. I had them winning maybe 9 games and it would have been a case of better luck next year. But as the season progressed, they got stronger and stronger. Meyer has done a masterful job of guiding this young team, mostly of freshman and sophomores. He never allowed them to feel sorry for themselves or making excuses. How he didn't win coach of the year is beyond me. 

Despite hammering Wisconsin with their third quarterback, the national media still had reservations about having the Buckeyes in the playoffs. The 800-pound gorilla was the loss to Virginia Tech. That loss was the second game of the season, with a new quarterback and four new starters on the offensive line. That loss happened so long ago, that it becomes irrelevant. I couldn't name one team that could put out their third quarterback and win in a pressure cooker like a championship game. For weeks the talking heads debated furiously who should be in and should be out.

The day after the win, the committee made their decision. Ohio State was ranked 5th, Baylor was 6th and TCU was 3rd. The playoff committee came out the four seeds - Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State. There were howls of protest

"The Big Ten is the weakest of the five power conferences"

"They only got in because they're Ohio State, it's all about the money"

"TCU drops from 3rd to 6th, how's that possible, they blew out Iowa State?"

"The Buckeyes will be humiliated once again"

The haters couldn't hide their disdain for the Buckeyes as many said Alabama would destroy and humiliate them on the national stage. Alabama was the number one seed and they won the SEC title. I thought the Buckeyes would lose a close game. Some people would call me out for not being a true fan, but I see games in black and white. Saban was the best coach in college football and the Tide crushed Missouri in the SEC championship. But a friend of mine told me Ohio State was a team of destiny. It made me pause for a second - team of destiny, interesting. The media and other fans also gave the Buckeyes a snowball chance in hell of beating Alabama. After all, they've won three national titles in a five-year period. Most predicted a massacre and the game would be over quickly. 

It had all the makings of a massacre early on as the Buckeyes turned the ball over twice and Alabama scored on those turnovers. The score was 21-6 and Ohio State seemed lost. Jones seemed to struggle and I wondered when he would succumb to the pressure. I chugged a beer and muttered

"C'mon, guys you have nothing to lose"

Eventually, they settled down and started fighting back, showing that resolve they've displayed all season long. I started to get back into the game with more interest. Near the end of the 1st half, they pulled a play out of the bag of tricks. Both quarterback and the running back did a double reverse and then wideout Evan Spencer throws a beautiful pass into the end zone. Wideout Mike Thomas makes a highlight catch as he leaps in the air and snags the ball. He lands on one foot with an inch to spare on the line. The score was 21-20, it's a game again and the momentum has swung. I remember what my friend said about a team of destiny. Maybe the football gods have decided that Ohio State is the chosen ones, but they must finish the game. 

In the second half, they scored again taking advantage of Alabama's only weakness - their secondary. Jones throws a 55-yard bomb to Devin Smith and Ohio State is up 27-21. I crack open another beer and start thinking

"Shit, they might pull this off"

Alabama quarterback Blake Sims throws an interception and defensive end Steve Miller rumbles in for the score 34-21. The breaks are going Ohio State's way, but anybody who follows football knows that momentum can shift quickly. Alabama scores late in the third and score is 34-28 with the fourth quarter starting. I'm starting to sweat, my heart is racing a little faster and the beer goes down faster - 15 minutes until the game is over. The Buckeyes offense stalls and they couldn't move the ball. They go three and out and they're pinned deep. Then a couple of penalties are called against them, making it even worse them. Are the gods going to deny them or are they going to hand them another break? They punted deep in their end zone with barely any field to work with. The punter gets it off fast and it's a terrible punt. The ball barely gets out and it takes a Bama bounce - all the way back to their 23-yard line. It's a gift-wrapped touchdown for the Tide. I'm stunned and blurt out

"We're so fucked"

Only a fumble or an interception would save them. Sims throws an interception on the first attempt at the 1-yard line. The team of destiny dodges a bullet. I'm texting back and forth with friends and none of them can believe what's happening. Neither team can muster any offense. I look at the clock, under four minute which in football feels like an hour. Ohio State starts to move the ball and the momentum swings big time. Ohio State's running back Zeke Elliot blows through a hole and runs 85 yards for the touchdown. The Buckeyes fans in the Superdome go crazy and the Tide fans are stunned. Ohio State goes for the two-point conversion and gets it. The score 42-28 with less than three minutes. Most people think the game is in the bag right? I've watched enough football that I know the game is over when the clock shows zero. Alabama is one of those team that scores very fast and I'm sweating a little harder. The Tide marches down the field and Ohio State gives up a huge play as one of the Tide wide receivers blows by two Ohio State defenders. 

"Nooooooooooooo!"

It sets up a touchdown and score is 42-35 and it becomes a one-possession game with less than 2 minutes. Alabama attempts an onside kick and it's a textbook kick. The ball bounces high and Even Spencer leaps high and with the tips of his fingers grabbed the ball. All Ohio State has to do is move the chains and run the clock out. That seems logical right? Urban Meyer then picks the worse time to have a massive brain cramp - he throws on first down and Jones goes deep. I'm stunned

"What the hell is he doing?"

The pass is incomplete and they barely used any of the clock. I screaming

"Pound the rock!"

Alabama is too good of a team to give them another chance. That cute play might come back to bite Meyer in the ass. Ohio State goes three and out. I'm getting sweaty palms as Alabama once again starts marching down the field and clock is moving far too slow. Ohio State's defense makes a couple key stops, but there's less than 30 seconds left on the clock, plenty of time to score and tie the game. Alabama moves the chains and they're at midfield. Sims throws a deep pass to the end zone and two Buckeyes deflect the ball. I look at the TV and there are 8 seconds left and Alabama has no timeouts, everybody knows what's coming - the Hail Mary. Sims moves out of the pocket and chucks the ball with all his might. I watch it sail high, making its way to the end zone. The entire stadium is standing and Buckeyes fans across the country are at the edge of their seats. There's a group of players waiting to jump. I'm at the edge of the couch choking the beer bottle. The ball continues on its downward arch and I hear Brad Nessler's play-by-play

"Deep - Hail Mary! Not answered! Intercepted"

The ball goes right into the hands of Ohio State's Tyvis Powell. He grabs it and runs out the end zone, I see the clock - 0:00

I erupt with cheers and a volley of f-bombs. Buckeye fans are in delirium. They pulled off the upset, they beat the supposed giant of college football. Ohio State punched their ticket to the national championship to play against the Oregon Ducks. The team that a lot of people counted out at the beginning of the season, overcame the odds. I really believe this is a team of destiny, we'll see what happens next Monday in Dallas.