It all started about a month earlier, in March, when my wife
decided she wanted to visit my sister-in-law and her family in
Ohio. Before this, Jen and her children lived in Stockton, Missouri,
in the heart of the Ozarks, which meant ample opportunities for
fishing trips thinly disguised as family unity (i.e., Gee, honey, I think
we should spend more time with your sister and the kids). When
Jen got remarried and moved to Cleveland, I started researching
the fishing opportunities in the island nation of Ohio.
Of course, one of the very first steps in this process was going to
the bulletin board here at FAOL and asking if anyone knew of any
good fishing spots in the Cleveland area. Of course I got answers,
good ones too, along with a few good natured instructions on what
immunizations and such I would need to cross the border into Ohio,
which, like Texas, is apparently a whole other country. Also, I was
pleasantly surprised to receive offers to fish from several Ohio
FAOLers, most notably Mike Flanagan (aka Ohiotuber) and Joe
Valencic (aka Joe Valencic). Mike was offering monster bluegills,
while Joe had the latter part of the winter steelhead run on tap. With
only one available day to fish, it was like having to choose between
prime rib and lobster. What's a guy to do in that situation?
Luckily, after a bunch of pm's back and forth between Mike and
me we worked out a way to have both. Mike got a whole day off
work, so we would go after steelhead in the morning with Joe, and
then hit the bluegill pond in the evening. Sounded perfect to me. All
I had to do now was try to figure out how to sleep at night for the
remaining days before the trip. And hope that my talent for bringing
bad weather with me wherever I go would misfire just this one time.
As the day approached the weather forecasts looked more and more
like my jinx would hold. I only had the one day to fish, and since Mike
had taken a day off specifically to fish with me, moving the day would
not be an option. Luckily the weather channel got it wrong this time.
The day dawned cloudy and cool, but without the rain that had been
promised as recently as the night before. As I got my gear ready and
waited for Mike to pick me up, I decided the best way to keep the
rain away was to be as ready for wet weather as possible, so I
grabbed my rain gear, my waterproof hat, and dared the weather
to try and spoil our fun.
Mike was a little late getting to the house after spending the night
before with the grandchildren, then, halfway to pick me up realizing
he had left his box of steelhead flies at home and having to turn around
and go back for them. But arrive he did, thanks in part to his trusty new
GPS system, and with him he brought two boxes of his world famous
peanut butter fudge. "One," he said, "to share with the family here, and
one to take back home to Kansas for Betty Hiner." I took the fudge in
the house, packed my stuff in the car, and we were on our way.
It turned out that Joe couldn't get the day off to fish with us after all,
but we were going to stop by his place on the way to the river to grab
a pair of waders he was lending me, and to get some advice on where
to start the hunt for Ohio steelies. Over breakfast, Joe gave us directions
to the Grand River, told us about a tackle shop along the way to buy
permits, and sent us on our way with a handful of steelhead flies tied
just for the occasion.
Grand River Tackle was right where Joe said it would be, and the
access point we decided to fish at was right where the young lady
working at the tackle shop said it would be, so in short order we
were in our waders and headed for the water. Beyond my wildest
hopes, the day was turning out to be a beautiful, partly cloudy,
cool late April day, absolutely perfect for what we were going
to do. At this point I should mention that this is the first time I
have ever gone after steelhead, and one of a fairly limited number
of times I'd chased salmonids at all. I knew just enough from reading
articles and talking to some of my steelheading customers to be able
to look at the river and get a vague idea of what might be productive
water. So we spent a few minutes looking at the river, with Mike filling
me in on how we should approach the river and what our best options
might be. We decided to start by working a couple deep cuts on the
near side of the river and working our way up to a set of riffles at the
bottom of a long, deep looking run.
Nothing much happened after about 45 minutes of swinging leaches
and buggers through the cuts, so we moved up to the riffles. There I
was greeted by a sight that all by itself would have made the day for
me. The steelhead were stacked up in the riffles, with an occasional
big fish breaking the surface in the run above. We'd found the fish,
now all we had to do was catch them, right? Right about this time it
came into my mind that the two controlling themes of much of the
steelheading literature were the number of casts between hook-ups,
and the number of hook-ups between landed fish. The thought
humbled me and I calmed down and went to work. Mike and I
were both still swinging leeches and woolies. I could get fish to look.
I could even get fish to follow. I even got one fish to half-heartedly
snap at the fly, but I couldn't get any of them to eat one. I looked
over occasionally to see Mike having much the same luck. I was
having fun watching big fish in shallow water reacting to the flies,
and I was learning a lot, but it was getting a little frustrating as well.
Mike was apparently feeling the same. I watched him as he waded
out of the river and went back to the car. He came back with a box
of egg patterns. I put on a chartreuse one, and Mike tied on a pink
one. That seemed to change things. We weren't back in the river for
too long at all when Mike gave a yell. I looked over to see him looking
down stream, a deep bend in his rod as a nice fish tried to muscle its
way to deeper water. It took several minutes in which it wasn't
completely clear who it was who had whom, but by the time I'd
worked my way over to them, Mike had worked the beautiful 28"
steelhead into water deep enough it could still breathe, but too
shallow to continue to fight. Mike carefully unhooked the fish while
I fished my camera out of my jacket. Unfortunately the fish flopped
unexpectedly and affected its own release before we could get the
picture. Mike's gentle handling and not playing the fish to exhaustion
cost a great picture, but we both agreed it was worth it to see it swim
off into the current healthy, fresh, and ready to fight another day. After
that, Mike hooked another fish, but lost it, and I had two hook-ups and
failed to land either of them. Long distance releases have never upset me
that much, and just to feel the power of those fish on the line, even if only
for a few moments, was enough for me to consider my first attempt at
steelhead a success. God willing, it won't be my last chance.
From there, we dropped the waders off at Joe's and headed to a
bluegill/bass pond that belongs to a friend of Mike's. Mike told me
this pond routinely gives up 10" bluegills and bass of a couple pounds.
That sounded like a good time to me. We were a little worried, though.
The sky had begun to cloud back up and the temperature was dropping.
Neither of those are good signs when it comes to early season panfishing,
and we were afraid the fish might not be in a feeding mood as we pulled
up to the pond.
I was on much more familiar ground here. Farm pond bluegills are
what I spend most of my fishing time chasing here in Kansas, and I
was anxious to see if the hometown flies performed as well on the
road. Mike had some ants he had tied, and I started with a foam
cricket with a fox squirrel nymph dropper. As we feared, the
cooling temperatures did slow the bite down somewhat, but you
won't hear me complain as the size of the fish made up for it. In
the short time we were there, I caught maybe a dozen bluegills,
none of which were less than eight inches and most were over
nine inches. Surprisingly for that early in the year most of the
bluegills hit the foam cricket. At one point I switched to a deer
hair bass bug to see if I could entice some of the bass that also
were to be found there. The big bass never materialized, but I
picked up several in the 10" to 14" range, and one super aggressive
9 ¾ inch bluegill that was almost as deep as he was long.
The sun was sneaking below the horizon when we packed up
the rods and headed to Akron for dinner. A cold beer at an
Irish pub style restaurant that featured homemade potato chips
on its menu made the perfect final touch for a great day on the
water. As Mike dropped me off at my sister-in-law's house, I
couldn't help but feel blessed. I had met two fellow FAOLers
who had both, based solely on our online association, taken me
into their lives for a day, lent me waders, and showed me a sample
of what the waters of the island nation of Ohio have to offer. The
friendships made and waters shared were the real gifts of the day,
the fish were just icing on the cake. ~ Tim