Sunday, December 14, 2014

Defending Steelhead Alley

Recently Trout Unlimited named the Lake Erie watershed as one of 10 special places at risk due to "fracking" in the Central Appalachian region. Since no significant fracking is being done in the Lake Erie watershed (yet) reasonable folks can argue with the designation.

But the good news is the announcement prompted Brian Bull, a reporter for ideastream, the Cleveland-based NPR affiliate, to want to learn more about our precious and fragile watershed. A friend connected me to Brian and a few anglers met Brian on the Rocky River this morning to show him a piece of Steelhead Alley. Mike Durkalec, aquatic biologist for the Cleveland Metroparks and author of the weekly fishing report, provided the technical expertise. My friend Terry and I tried to provide a little color commentary.

Brian wasn't equipped to wade -- which is a good thing since he was carrying a digital recorder. But he did walk the bank and demonstrated a high-degree of patience as I took him in search of steel. (I hooked and lost a few; and foul hooked a few more while Brian was with me. Of course, this one came to the bank shortly after he left the river.)

Throughout the morning I tried to put into words how important the fishery is to me and my fellow steelhead fanatics. Fly fishing has long been my best form of mental therapy and the opportunity to catch a steelhead as long as my leg is why I call Northeast Ohio home. More than anything else, it is what has held me here for nearly a quarter century.

While I have decidedly mixed emotions on issues like shale oil and gas drilling, I tried to be clear to Brian that fans of Steelhead Alley need to do more to take care of our land and water. Every property owner along the Lake Erie tribs and regular visitor to our Metro Parks has seen the effects of poorly designed developments and inadequate water drainage systems. When so-called "100-year floods" become annual occurrences, we should all take heed and think more about how and where we build. But issues like storm-water runoff have rarely held our attention. Aldo Leopold's call for a land ethic was prescient but we no more hear his wisdom today than we hear the thumping wings of the passenger pigeon.

Yet, I remain an optimist. I am hopeful that if more of us love our rivers we will do more to protect them. Yes, a consequence will also be that more anglers will crowd our rivers. But the only way that I can think of to protect Steelhead Alley is to have more people love it. I look forward to hearing how Brian captures this story. And I hope the attention will encourage more people to experience and protect the Lake Erie watershed.

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