The calendar flipped to April and the countdown begins toward the end of the 2012-13 season on Steelhead Alley. Demonstrating her wicked sense of humor, Mother Nature started the month with a little snow, a wicked wind and temperatures barely above freezing. Nonetheless, the countdown is on. Every steelheader knows that the season is winding down as the days get longer and (eventually) warmer.
Some years conditions remain "good" through early May and marginal into June. But more often than not the conditions wane with the first full month of spring.
One reason the clock starts ticking louder in April is that the "available days" to fish can be rare. Heavy spring rains can blow out the rivers along Lake Erie's southern shore for a week or more; leaving anglers to fish skinny ditches and wonder whether there will be any fish left in the systems once the water recedes. Worse, the spring rains often skip the Alley and steelhead are forced to hail cabs to get upstream. When this happens, there's often a last minute, abbreviated push of fish. These last-minute arrivals never stay long, instead they spawn when they first hit gravel and quickly turn around and head back to the lake. These conditions can generate epic days, but only if you're lucky to catch it just right -- plenty of water, not too many anglers and hungry drop backs returning Lake Erie. More often than not you are left standing on the bank admiring the empty spawning beds so easy to see in the low water. Those are the "neutron bomb" days -- the beds are still there but the fish are gone and they won't be back until fall.
With April's arrival we know our days on the water are numbered. We take every opportunity to catch an hour or two on the rivers even when the conditions are marginal. Desperation is in the air. Will there be one more "good day" on the water; the kind of day that will provide the memories needed to get through the long, trout-less summers along Steelhead Alley?
Tick, tick, tick. The clock is ticking down, but there's still time.