If insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result, then steelhead fishermen could be the poster boys for the disease. Hands stinging from the cold, wind and rain tearing at any exposed flesh, yet, every cast, every drift, holds the expectation of success. Even after hundreds of casts and long days spent on the river without a fish.
As cold as it's been the past two weeks around Lake Erie, we we're a little worried that there would be ice flows choking parts of the rivers, but getting there we found all the rivers & creeks free of ice except for the chunks shearing off from the sheets still clinging to the banks and cliffs. Every now and then a good size chunk of ice would tumble down the side of a cliff in a roar of ice, dirt and shale making a huge SPA--LOOGE hitting the water.
Getting there and just seeing open flowing water bolstered our spirits, and it wasn't long after arriving that Carl Smolka, Lou Reichel, Bob O'Donnell, Rodger Johnson, Ken Bowyer, Ken's friend Ted Peck and I waded into the Chagrin River. We were a ways up from the mouth, and the shallows and riffles of the Chagrin were running clear, but all the deeper holes were stained a funky greenish brown, visibility limited to about 6-8 inches, so there must have been some small rain event just before we got there. We moved closer to the mouth later in the afternoon where I fished next to a couple young fella's who were using live bait of some kind. I listened to them talk about recent fishing and apparently they had been catching some fish earlier in the week. But with no action that day they didn't stay long, and within about 30 minutes they had emptied out their bait bucket and headed off. Air temperature flirted just beyond the 40 mark around 1pm but dipped back into the 30's with the sinking sun. On the way out it began to sprinkle and the wind getting raw. A local was tending a nice fire in a pit along the path, curious as to why we asked; he simply replied "because somebody has to do it". That was good reason for me, especially since he let us share it awhile and warm up. The only fish landed that day, or any day in fact were a couple suckers caught by Lou & Carl.
Alan Burrows and Peter Banwell joined us Friday morning. It had rained about 3 tenths during the night. Figuring the rain we got was going to stain the water further, and with the wind bending the trees in heavy gusts, we headed for Big Creek just above where it dumps into the Grand. Hoping that far up it would be less stained and maybe even a little sheltered from the wind. And actually, the water itself was warmer than I would have thought, Alan Burrows thermometer read 40.4 degrees near the surface Friday morning, and Carl Smolka downstream a hundred yards got a reading of 44 degrees, but it was a muddy brown and seemingly getting worse.
What was common throughout the trip was locals would come down to the river, fish awhile, talk about the fish they caught last week during the cold spell, then take off after briefly fishing or just looking. Friday afternoon while standing in the Big Creek parking lot near the Kellogg, Big Creek & Grand River confluence plotting our next move, the manager for the Helen Hazen Wyman Park stopped by. He told us there were plenty of fish in the rivers, and the day before the guys did well down by the mouth of the Grand just up from the boat dock swinging big flies, but with the wind gusting up to 25-30 mph the mouth was probably not the best idea that day. He did tell us about a place up stream on Big Creek that Ken was already familiar, said it had been fishing well might be less stained. The color was about the same as below, but we spent the rest of our Friday and Saturday pounding it. It was nice looking stretch of water with a loop that I think was a man made diversion to power an old mill site.
Friday evening at supper, we heard about the snow event coming Saturday, and decided to fish into the afternoon then scoot out just ahead of it abandoning our plan to fish Sunday. The water had cleared a little over night but was still pretty stained, and with more moisture coming in rain or snow it wasn't going to improve any. The forecast was for an accumulation of up to 9 inches.
Back at the parking lot saddling up for the ride home, another young guy with his infant daughter pulled in just to look at the water. He was pretty surprised we didn't get into something and at first thought we were just teasing him. He told us a few days before during that cold spell fish moved up into the shallows and was aggressively taking his flies, and thought the rain might have brought in a fresh run. They have an odd expression in Ohio saying; "the mud should bring up some fish". I've never heard that expression before.
These Ohio streams are very pretty and larger than those we fish in Pennsylvania but do seem to have more dirt and less shale, and thus muddy quicker and clear latter. I guess when this mud hits the lake the fish run up into it. I had never really heard it said that way before, but I heard that said three or four times in just the brief time there.
To sum it up it was great fun, complete with foul weather, cold feet & hands, and great expectations. I'm already looking forward to the next road trip.
Give a man a fish and he eats today, teach a man to fish steelhead and he'll eat gas station food & drink old bitter coffee chasing those damn things all around the Great Lakes.
I have one correction to the March outing report - I got into some Steelhead when I got home.