Thursday, March 5, 2009

Steelhead Commute #2 PM Edition

I love my work, but I also love leaving leaving work. As the temperatures approached 60 degrees this afternoon the volume on the steelhead siren call was starting to get turned up. To get work done I avoided the temptation of checking out Steelheadsite and stayed focused on writing.

But by 3 p.m., I couldn't resist anymore but instead of just checking things out online I headed for the river. The Rocky River was a beautiful emerald green (56 degree air temp, 36 degree water temp and about 150 cfs flow) as the sun began to fall into the west. Sunlight cut through the overcast skies and darted through the trees lining the far bank of the river near a stretch I call bridge run because, you guessed it, it's not that far at all from a bridge. Unquestionably the Rocky River is an urban fishery. The Metropark it runs through is an oasis in the middle of an overdeveloped area just west of downtown Cleveland. One of the many ironies is that even though there are often many fishermen in the park, they rarely fish where I like to fish. So even on a relatively crowded river, I can avoid other anglers and focus on my stretch of water with barely an interruption.

Bridge run is less than 100 yards from one of the most popular spots on the Rocky, but rarely does anyone fish it. If there is another angler there when I arrive odds are it's Jim, a friend from church. This little stretch is relatively ignored even though it regularly holds several steelhead who pause here in their run up from Lake Erie. Jim was still on his way to the river from work, so Bridge run was empty except for a little shelf ice that I soon sent downstream. Two mallards checked me out, as did a couple standing on the nearby bridge.

Green is the perfect water color for steelhead fishing and when the river is green I go with white. A white minnow fly, that is. I tied on the simple marabou and peacock fly and let the current swing it through the hole. I worked my way from the tail up to the head, which is reverse of what I should have done, but hey it's early in the season and I thought the tail would be more productive and wanted to get off to a fast start. I was wrong. The tail was empty. About 30 minutes or so after arriving I stood at the head of the run and wondered whether I should stick it out for Jim or head downstream.

I cast slightly upstream into the shallow riffle, allowing the fly to sink some before the current carried it into the heart of the run. As the fly began to swing through the run abut 10 yards downstream I felt that familiar, heart-stopping tug. Fish on. The shiny chrome female rushed out of the water, before quickly splashing back in and jolting the bank fisherman downstream from his his slumber. The couple above me on the bridge watched me, as well, as I fought the fish. Fighting steelhead is a nerve wracking experience, a mixture of thrill and fear. Excited to hold tight to a creature strong enough to put a full bend in 10-foot strand of graphite. Terrified that at any moment the line will snap leaving one with that empty feeling of what might have been. I tried to ease my excitement and lower my fears as I slowly walked the fish upstream in an attempt to beach the fish. I rarely use a net, just too cumbersome for a clumsy angler like me. And landing a steelhead mid-stream without a net is a challenge best avoided.

The fish made a few runs, but I was able to hold her in the eddy and eventually I slid her onto a small piece of ice that still lined the bank. After a quick picture, I removed the minnow fly from her mouth and she swam off without me having to touch her. But she touched me.

She was the only steelhead of the afternoon. I did land a hefty small mouth bass in the big bend hole -- the first time I've caught a winter small mouth.

Another wonderful steelhead commute.

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