I hooked my first Ohio steelhead on Conneaut Creek two decades ago, and I've caught plenty of fish from this scenic river near the PA border over the years. But that doesn't mean I have a clue as to how to fish it.
I was reminded of that reality as the sun rose behind thick gray cloud cover on Saturday. A steady drizzle fell. As the morning lightened it became clearer that the river wasn't. The Conneaut often carries a tannic tinge -- particularly in the fall -- that hides the creek's rocks, ledges, runs and (of course) its fish. On this morning the river was making the transition from tanic to muddy and the leaf hatch was heavy. Usually it takes the Conneaut a little longer to muddy up than the other rivers along steelhead alley. Usually. Just not this morning.
But the current still had a good pace to it and I thought the high water might attract a fresh push of steel. I fished my way upstream checking out a few promising holes and skipping those that were occupied. Nothing. I admired the yellow oaks, the red maples and always green pines as I kept moving upstream; succumbing to the belief that something different would be around the bend. Nothing. Nothing but leaves that is. Some casts I'd hook three, one on each hook and one attached to the split shot. I watched a few other anglers catch nothing as well.
I returned to my car and decided to give the spey rod a try. The good news was that I didn't hook a leaf on every cast. After some trial and error (mostly error), I was able to get some decent swings as I fished down a long, relatively straight stretch of river. My casts were passable. A steelhead rolled about 30 yards downstream. I worked my way down. And then kept going as no fish decided to interrupt the swing. I watched a spin fisherman sling a spinner across the river. He caught leaves too.
The rain kept coming. So did the leaves. The fish didn't.
I'd like to say that the Conneaut confounds me because I don't fish it very often. And there's some truth to that. But mostly, the Conneaut is just one of those rivers that holds its mysteries better than most. That is why I like it so much.