Old Man Winter is slowly easing the death grip with which he has held the 2013-14 season. Today -- the day before my birthday -- I was able to fish for the first time in 2014. The rivers of Steelhead Alley started freezing in December and there's been little fishing since. A more persistent angler would have spent time on the Cuyahoga River this winter. But not me; at least not yet.
Much of the Rocky River remains choked with ice and undoubtedly the wisest of fish returned to Lake Erie before the river was covered in ice. But Mike Durkalec's weekly fishing reports offered hope that there were a few fish hanging out in the open water. Sunshine and mid-30s created even more hope, so I dragged the gear from the basement and headed to a spot that I knew was open and normally holds winter fish.
The trampled snow along the bank indicated other anglers had the same idea I had, but they fished the morning shift. The hole was empty when I arrived. Snow blew off the trees and landed harmlessly in the water as I rigged up. Small explosions -- set off by melting ice -- sent dirt and rocks cascading down the side of the 100 foot cliff on the far side of the hole. Shadows of seagulls moved across the cliff face.
The water carried a winter-green color -- snow melt doesn't carry with it as much debris and particles as runoff from a rain storm. My casting reflected my two-month plus layoff. And with air and water temperature hovering around freezing, my body wasn't exactly thrilled to back on the river. But the sun provided some warmth and the wind was minimal. All I needed to complete the experience was a willing steelhead.
But the only tug I got was from a sucker who picked up the grapefruit leech I dead-drifted through the hole. After a long, tedious winter I will take the birthday sucker and keep dreaming of better fishing ahead.