April 22, 2007

Steelhead Alley Recap - 2006-2007

Chalk up another season in the books. I decided to stay close to home and fished the Rock. It was going to be a bluebird day and this night owl was going to get an early head start. The Rock was running the same consistency as a bottle of Grey Goose. I was out of eggs and that meant using egg flies, beads and shiners. It was the shiners did paid out in huge dividends. I had a good morning hitting drop backs out of several pools. Upstream, I could see the latest crew gleaning the redds. I've never understood the appeal of flossing. Due to the nice weather, a lot of people were out including the game warden. He was hitting every hole asking for fishing licences. Too bad he couldn't issue citations for blatant snagging. I was surprised he wasn't on the East Branch or down at the boat ramps picking on the Russians. He was a young warden fresh out of school. Most graduates end up in Cuyahoga County. The county has over a million people. Due to the sheer number of people and there is practically no hunting. The Rocky is the only steelhead river within the county. The Cuyahoga River gets strays but not a lot of people fish it. For a game warden, Cuyahoga County is dudsville. Time is spend gaining valuable experience and in time, they jump at the opportunity of working in a rural county. We exchange pleasantries and I produce my licence. He asks if there anybody else downstream and I say no. He thanks me and heads back up. The crew upstream watches him.

If there was one word to describe the past season it would be - excellent. But that's my opinion and I'm sure a lot didn't share that sentiment. Last summer wasn't hot as my A/C took a rare summer off. The lake barely crept into the 70s and the month of September was cool and wet. A little birdie told me that fish were being caught on the lower Conneaut, Elk and Walnut after Labor Day. That secret information was passed onto me and I kept it under wraps for the entire month.

I racked up the mileage and prowling the Alley. October was a smoking month and the Conneaut was on fire. The double digits days were the norm. I pretty well fish the Connie and the Elk whenever the creek blew out. Both times on the Elk, I hammered fish and piled up some impressive stats. Towards the end of the month, I needed to change of scenery.

For November, I ditched the Connie for the Grand ole girl. The Grand has a special place in my heart. It's huge, challenging and a pinner's dream. It will always be my favorite river. On July 28th 2006, the Grand made national news as 10" of rain fell in 24 hours. The Grand went 11' above flood stage. Homes along the lower section were overwhelmed with water as many were forced from their homes during the night. Boats at the marina were ripped from their moorings and many were washed out into the lake. It ended up being the 500 year flood and I've never seen the river go that high. Many speculated that the flooding would drastically alter it. But, the river didn't really change that much. Me and others were somewhat surprised and relieved. Most of the pools were intact and none of the gravel beds were washed away. I camped out on the Grand for the entire month.

Both December and January were very mild months. The number of fish kept it interesting, but one river had disappointing numbers of fish. The Chagrin was a tough one to figure out. Most of my money spots really didn't produced. The numbers were way off from a year ago. Then the bottom fell out in February as it was the one of the coldest in recent memory. The rivers quickly froze up and shut down the fishing well into March. Time was spent down at the power plant dealing with those miserable little grebes that stole shiners off my hook. Once the ice was gone the fishing started to pick up once again. Luckily my home river started to get a consistent run of fish.

April was an odd month, it started off mild and I remember taking off one Monday when the temperature was 70F. It was the beginning of the great push of fish up the Rocky. But, then the weather started to get cold. During the Easter weekend, we received nearly 3' of snow and it was bitterly cold. But, the fishing was on fire as a lot of fish starting pulling off the gravel and heading back into deeper water. Since the Rock is a magnet for flossers, I didn't have a problem catching droppies. It was a droppie fest for the next couple of weeks until I call it a season on the last week of the month.

April 16, 2007

Spring Brings Promise

Spring brings promise. The rivers are cleansed of the winter decay. The water has a sparkling vibrancy. There's a sharpness in the newly emerged leaves and grasses. The riverine forests are full of bird songs and Ohio's steelhead have commenced their spawning run. Every time the river's rise from rain, the fish push into the rivers and had for the gravel beds. Some spawn not far from the lake, while others go to the upper reaches, many miles away. There both males and females start the process of digging out redds, depositing eggs and fertilizing them. But for me, the end is almost here. Spring is not my favorite time of the season. The warmer weather brings out more people and some of them are worst form of anglers. I never see them during the winter months. They only appear whenever the fish are on the beds. I never fish the beds, it would be too easy and I would be disgusted with myself. Instead working the deeper pools and holes and maybe is around. 

The grind has gotten to me. I feel burned out and I need time to unwind. I sit on a log on top of bank and I watch steelhead spawning. The water is clear enough that I can the hen move to side and dug out some gravel. I see the plume of debris rise and swept away. A group of males all of them evenly sized try to get along the female. They jockey and push one another. There is no alpha male here because if there was, he would be the only one next to her. Then I see a couple of anglers walking the trail on the other side. Doesn't take much to figure out where they're going. One of them points out the fish to his partner. I'm tempted to toss a rock out and scare the fish, but there's no rocks. I despise them as my eyes lock on them. Their unblemished waders, over priced rods and lack of ethics makes me sick. Into the water they go and they immediately start to present their offerings. That's enough for me as I don't want to be witness to that.

Once back at the Jeep, I undress and sit back and enjoy lunch. It's a beautiful spring day and the park is a bustling place full of people who were probably shacked up for the winter. I'll start the long slow process of stowing some of the gear away for the summer. Waders and the jacket will be washed and carefully packed away. The boots will be inspected for cracks and tears. The old line removed and the reels cleaned and oiled. The pin will be replaced by the fly rod as I'll switch from steelhead to carp. I'll spend the evenings tying various carp flies. 

Summer will be spent working hard. I'll be driving down the country roads of Ohio and Pennsylvania. The road will eventually take me somewhere special and interesting. I'll be playing after dark at one of the local tavern and pubs. Enjoying a ice cold beer and the company of friends. Usually this comforts me and makes summer go a little faster until the cool winds come across Lake Erie beckoning another season is getting close. 

April 7, 2007

Ragged Ass Fishing

Weather can turn on a dime at given moment on the Alley, especially during spring. The weather can go to extremes. One day its fishing in a tee shirt and later in the week, there's 2' of snow. By the end of winter, a lot of us are worn out by fishing. For some, we've been at since last September. Waking up at five in the morning, driving to the far ends of the Alley and covering miles of rivers. I've reached the mid point of my life as I'm over 40. Twenty years of bad habits have caught up to me. I'm overweight, I rarely exercise and my diet consist of drive thru's. I constantly promise myself that I'll eat better and exercise. It turns out to be nothing but an empty promise. For us fat asses, I dub as "ragged ass" steelheading.

This morning I had to drag my ragged ass out of bed. I could hear the wind wailing and I peeked out the window. Everything was covered in snow. I fell back into bed for several minutes debating should I go now or wait later. The bed was so warm as I curled into a fetal position. I stared back at the clock and I could still hear the wind. I reset the alarm and slept for another 30 minutes. The 30 minute sleep seem to help and I didn't want to waste an perfect opportunity. As I brush my teeth, I look in the mirror and I look like shit. Bags under my eyes, scruffy looking and pale as a ghost. I don't bother eating breakfast as I have fish to catch. The streets are plowed and I make it into the metro park. The cliffs were blanketed with fresh snow. It was a picture perfect scene worthy of a travel magazine. The river was emerald green and there were only a few souls fishing. 

Due to the weather and my lack of energy, I elected to fish close to home. Generally I avoid the Rock on the weekends, but the weather made it an exception. Unlike earlier in the week, the fair weather fishermen retreated deep into their posh man caves and waited for the snow to melt and the sun to come out. The fish were in a playful mood despite the colder weather. Me and several friends never had to venture far from the parking lot and we had a banner day. My body and mind were thankful and those aches and pain were not so bad. We finish around noon and what do I do - head to Micky D's for lunch but I only get a couple of cheeseburger from the dollar menu - that's a huge step for me........

April 4, 2007

Playing Hooky

It's Monday morning and my parents are getting ready head back to Sudbury after spending a couple of months in Florida. We have an early breakfast and I look at Ma and Pa, both are well tanned and not thrilled to head back to the Great White North. Speaking of the weather, this past weekend was beautiful as never received that much rain Sunday morning. The plan was if the rain held off, I was going to play hooky. After breakfast, my parents quickly hit the road before rush hour. They have a 9 hour drive and want to be home before. I stand at the driveway and watch go around the corner. I immediately head to the Jeep and head for the Rock - all work and no play makes Greg a dull boy. It's time to play hooky.

Hooky and fishing go hand in hand. Everybody does whether its spring, summer, fall or winter. We get sick of the bullshit from the boss. We've heard the old saying that a bad of fishing is better then a good day of work. I know a lot of steelheading brothers that love to play to hooky. There's been times, when three of us all call in sick. 

I only get five personal days, so I plan my days off in order to maximize my chances of catching a lot of fish. I'll never burn a sick day during the summer as that's a waste. If I have a cold or a sore back, I'll tough it out. Sick days are strictly used for fishing. Usually, I'll play hooky in the months of October November, March or April. October and November are the prime month in Pennsylvania and March and April are considered the best for Ohio. A few days after high water is also another factor as I'll get first crack at fresh fish and the number of people are low. I also never take a Friday off as it seems that the preferred day to be off sick. 

When comes to playing hooky never sound like you're moments from death. Not need to hack or wheeze. Don't give a detailed report of the illness and DON'T apologize. Remember, your boss will dick you over at a moments notice. Kid has a soccer game? Too fucking bad, wife's car broke down? Have her call AAA, and I need you in at five in the morning for an early job. Just flat out say you're sick. In my case, I'll use the my standard I eat something bad last night and puked my guts out all last night. The ladies up front buy it all the time. Since my boss and fellow employees don't fish, I'm safe from not bumping into them on the stream. 

Today, I'll be fishing close to home on the Rock. I stopped at Pete's for minnows and the cantankerous old fart wanted to know why I wasn't at work. He snorted and implied if he was my boss and found out I was fishing, he would fire my ass. That's Pete in a nut shell - a surly old bastard who's pissed that he can't go fishing. Stuck at the bait shop all day answering the phone. I paid for my minnows and he grunted good luck and went back to watching Springer. Pete is truly one messed up redneck.

I arrive to see the river running perfect and the water visibility was a couple of feet. The river had a nice flow due to the rain we had Sunday morning. The lower section was jammed packed with emerald shiners. Every spring, thousands of shiners move into the lower section of the river. Not far behind are the skippers and some of the adults that have yet to spawn. Fish dropping back to the big pond also feast on the plentiful bounty. Due to the sheer number of baitfish, steelhead often gorge themselves. That was evident when shiners leaped from the water as they were being chased. It was going to be a good day.

Since it was spring, the majority of anglers would be flossing the beds. They were way up river and the further the better. I never want anything to do with that the circus. I was down low, only a quarter of a mile from the lake. I started off at the "1st riffle" as the locals call it. Because I'm so close to the lake, the water level often rises and falls. One moment, the water is rushing by and then water level will go up several inches and all is quiet. I watched hundreds of shiners swim around and by me. I guess they figured I offered them protection. Downstream, I could hear the fish smacking the surface.

The riffle was fairly shallow and I had a couple of feet to play with. The shiners generally avoided the faster water and for good reason. Steelhead often lie in ambush waiting for the opportunity to pick off a school of shiners. I worked along the seams and suddenly the float popped. I set the hook and went for a ride. The fish blasted off and in his wake numerous shiners leaped from the water. Nothing gets my heart pumping faster then a chromer on a centerpin. He leaped and thrashed about as several people walking along the park trail stopped and watched. After several minutes, I managed to get him into the shallow water. It was your run of the mill skipper. He was as fat as a football and full of spunk. I quickly released him and watch swim off. The action was fast and furious as I systemically picked off fish. My supply of shiners are starting to dwindle and the morning is far from over, I start to get concerned. 

The bite shuts off and I head upstream. It mostly consisted of a mixture of shale bottom and ledges. I started at the head of the run as a tree was hanging over. This is where a centerpin excels as I was able to trot the float under the tree. About 20' downstream, the float got sucked under. I set the hook and a fairly large fish leaped from the water. It caught the attention of several people walking along the trail. The fish raced downstream and cut across the riffle. I had to keep the rod high as I only had a 6# tippet and the water was fairly shallow. I gradually got the upper hand and slowly guided the fish to the shore. It was a chrome hen that had yet to make her way upstream. She was full of eggs and measured under 30". She was holding in the deeper pockets waiting for nightfall to make her way upstream to one of the gravel beds. I continued to fish the run and scrapping it out with several skippers.

After fishing that run from top to bottom, I moved to the larger pool. This was the deeper section of the river and it was clogged with shiners. I had several steelhead taunting me as they frequently chased shiners in front of me. I was quickly going through a lot of shiners as several takes were aggressive and I was too quick with the trigger. However, the fish were so greedy that I simply drifted through the same area and they nailed it. I was down to six shiners and I see an elderly gentlemen netting shiners. He gets closer and I watch him walk slowly in the water like a heron as he scoops up shiners. Many of these old timers often net shiners and salt them. Many bait shops along the Alley often run of them during the summer. Many anglers fishing for perch swear by emerald shiners and by salting and freezing them, they'll have a supply just in case the shop runs out, usually when there is a full moon. I hear the gentlemen telling me not to move. My body has provided a break in the current and the shiners are resting next to me. He proceeds to scoop them up. I ask if he could spare some and he tells pick as many as you need. I grab about 4 or 5 dozen. He asked if the fishing has been good and I tell him yes. He tells me eventually all of the shiners will die after spawning so time is limited. Both of his buckets are almost full and he wishes me good luck and heads back to the parking lot to go home and salt his take.

I to bounce from spot to spot on the lower section for drop backs. By now the temperature was in the 70s and I was fishing in my tee-shirt. I hit a couple of pools and runs that had nice sections of gravel above it. From above the bank, I could see several love starved males waiting on the gravel for a hen to fight over. Most of them looked rough and haggard. I caught several spawned out hens that looked like they went through the wringer and removed several flies from their backs and tails. I found most of the fish were holding near lumber or in shaded areas. By now, the bite has shut off and I'm getting hot and tired. I check the time and I've been on the water for seven hours. I dump the rest of the shiners into the water and they drifted off down stream. Once home, I crack open a beer and relax in the enclosed porch reflecting on a perfect day. I get a call and it's my parents who made it back home.

The next day my face is slightly burned from the sun. Thank god I didn't wear glasses because I would of had big time coon eyes. I didn't go to the front of the office and quickly grabbed my paperwork. At the end of the day, I see Mike filling out paperwork. He looked at me and then whispered "Was the fishing great?" You can't get anything pass these old timers.

Back to square one........

What a week!! First of all, I lose my domain name for my website as some weasel snagged it. I lost steelheading101 and now steelheadbasics, I guess you snooze you lose. Then my computer crashed and I lost nearly two years worth of posts. As for my website, I don't have the time to redesign it plus I don't think my ex-wife will be in a helping mood. It makes more sense to blog as blogging is even easy for a caveman. As for the newer version of blogger, it's more user friendly and I don't have to look through the endless lines of code after code after code after fucking code. 

Back to square one......