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.

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