The Grand without a doubt is my favorite river. It's large, mysterious and fickled. Wide and murky, the river rarely reveals its secrets. Due to its large drainage area, the river can take over a week to come down to fishable levels. There have been times during some springs when the river can go the entire time without being fished. Fish have come and gone, without ever being caught. In some upper reaches, getting to certain places can be difficult and for the adventurous soul, the rewards can be great.
The upper Grand is rural consisting a mixture of forests, old farms, and vineyards. During the winter months, the scenery is beautiful, especially after a snowfall as the high shale cliffs and hemlocks are cloaked in it. Just walking a mile away downstream, you enter a place that time has forgotten as the only sounds you hear are the riffles or your breath as you walk along the river. The river continues north and the landscape eventually turns urban as the river flows through the towns of Painesville and Fairport Harbor. In some areas, the river runs through a series of metro parks. There are some high cliffs, but the river gradually widens and slows down before it empties into Lake Erie.
Today, I'm the Grand when most people wouldn't even consider fishing it. The night before I checked the flow gauge and the river is at 1080, it's fishable in my book, but I would never dare wade it in certain spots. I haven't fished since last year, because of it freezing over or being too high. I’m in dire need of a change of scenery, as I've been fishing the Rock hard over the past month.
It's a crisp cold morning as I walk down the hill into the metro park and there's a dusting of snow on the ground. Once I get down, the river is running a little high and fast. The color isn't that bad and I know exactly where to go. My guide is the is the house perched precariously on the edge of the cliff. It's a prime winter hole and I suspect the fish are holding off the current. It turns into a grind and I'm grateful that I don't have to stand in the water. On top of the bank, I watched the bubbles move and I place the float where the current is the slowest. I continue to make constant adjustments with the shot placement and I finally find the correct depth. My hard work rewards me with 3 steelhead and monstrous white sucker. But, I start getting antsy as it been almost 30 minutes without a bite. I grab another sac and suddenly I hear a loud splash in front of me. I'm startled as I see a cloud of muck come up. I have no idea what the hell is going on. Then 20 yards out I see the culprit - a river otter. He stares at me and bobs up and down. I've never seen an otter in Ohio before. I've heard they were found in the far upper sections of the river, but I never would think they would be this close downstream. The otter pops up one more time and then disappears.
I leave and head to another place. I drive along the tired main street section of Painesville. The community has seen better days. I turn the corner and head into the recreation area. Here I tend to fish farther below the old dam. This isn't the prettiest place to fish as the banks are littered with old bottles and concrete that the ice floes have scoured up. I start to long for the upper sections as I enjoyed the peace and quiet and beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, the flow would be far too dangerous to cross. I look across the river and I see the new park that the town has opened. At one time, the park was a condominium complex. The massive flood of 2006 all but wiped out the homes as the river exceeded the flood stage. It was a 500-year flood as I remember it getting national attention. I'm barely standing the water and to the untrained eye, it looks featureless. But, I know exactly where the shale ledges are. After an hour of fishing, I've landed two fish. I suspect with the colder temperatures, the fish might be farther down at the tail out, but the high banks and overhanging trees stop my progress and I have to go somewhere else.
It's back in the car and off to another spot. Thankfully, I don't have to park on top of the hill and have to run across the road because of the blind corner. Then there was the creepy tunnel where at times homeless people would camp out. I park at the cul de sac and I see an angler at the prime spot. The flow is hard, probably a little too hard. From the bank, I scan and I start thinking maybe I should head to another spot. That's what my gut is telling me and I usually go with that. So I walk back and drive off without wetting a line.
The next spot is where the river starts to widen and the lake is not far away. I pull in a there are about 4 cars and I have a good idea where everybody is. This place was once an asphalt plant and further down there was a chemical plant. At one time the chemical plant was a deemed a Superfund site. This place is in stark contrast to the places that I fished upstream. I see all of the anglers fishing the run and there’s no one farther down. I immediately wade into the water and the other anglers watch me thinking that I might either go under or get swept away. The river here is shallow enough and the bottom even that I can wade with relative ease. The spot I’m fishing is a run above the mouth of a small feeder creek. This spot only fishes well at a certain flow and at times the fish will be stacked towards the tail end. I’m not disappointed as I start to get into fish. With the heavier flow, the fish feel bigger and fight with vigor. Many of them are bright silver right out of the lake making their way upstream to the spawning grounds. With no net, I have to corral fish and pin them against my leg as I wrestle the hook out of their mouths. The action is fast and furious and I attribute that to the sun and rising temperature. The float chugs along and quickly goes under and I see a small steelhead leap from the water. I have a grin my face as I land one beautiful fish after another. I don’t want to leave because I know in a matter of a couple days, the fish will not hold in there. I look downstream and I know several other spots that could be holding a lot of fish, but I’m content to stay here.
The bite finally shuts off and I start to wade back and I hear one of the other anglers yell out that he didn’t think that fish would be there. I smiled and acknowledged him because it was one of the many secrets I know about my favorite river.