Thursday, April 2, 2009

Introduction to Steelhead

Each year I try to take a few people out on the river for the first time to experience the wonders of Steelhead Alley. This morning it was Nathan's turn. Since I am obsessed with steelhead, the subject usually comes up within about 2 minutes of any conversation. About 18 months ago I met Nathan and since he lives just a stone's throw from the Rocky River we quickly decided that he should experience all that the river has to offer. It took awhile, but this morning we closed the deal.

Wearing brand new hippers (his size 12s wouldn't fit in my spare pair), Nathan hiked across the field carrying my Thomas & Thomas, 10-foot, 7 weight. The entire experience was new to him, and he showed his interest with numerous questions, including the basic: Why are these fish here? Thanks to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources we have one of the world's finest steelhead fisheries, although it is a put-and-take fishery.

This time of year the steelhead are normally spawning in big numbers, but thanks to the harsh winter I believe the major run is delayed by a few weeks. We should know after the rain that's headed our way tonight if I'm right.

Nathan learned the basics of swinging flies for steelhead and soon hooked his first fish -- a sucker. The suckers are in thick this year. They pretty much do everything like the steelhead, but fight. They live in the lake, swim upstream after the lake loses its ice cover and then spawn in the river.

A few steelhead were cruising in the rapids, but neither Nathan or I could get any to take our offerings. Nathan got his flies hung up at one point and started to pull hard on the rod to try and free the fly. He was surprised when the line pulled back. He had hooked a steelhead in the tail. The fish screamed to the other side of the stream, and wrapped the line around a rock. Rather than trying to horse the fish and break the line, I crossed the river and unwound the line so Nathan could experience the fight a little longer. The fish took off again after having the fly line unlodged from under a shale boulder. Nathan handled the runs and slowly brought the fish to the bank. We released the fish, and Nathan caught his breath. He and I both resumed fishing, but without luck. But Nathan is hooked and is ready to come back to the Rocky River to chase some steelhead.

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