Series 01 Episode 32: Fly Fishing for Ohio Steelhead
- Itunes -makes Firefox crash for me so be careful.
I have been making the drive to Columbus, Ohio several times a year since May of 2001. That is where the wife grew up and where her parents still reside. They all speak Russian at the house and I don't. I don't understand the conversation so I decided to have a fishing adventure instead. Unfortunately, Russians don't come with subtitles.
I have known about the Ohio steelhead fishery 'Steelhead Alley' for several years but never made the foray into that realm. I have fished Alum creek and some random pond in the past. This year I decide to finally go north and wet a line in the lake Erie tributaries.
I did some basic research on the internet about where to fish. I came up with the maps on the Ohio DNR website. I sent out a request for information on the Itinerant Angler forum. The guys there sent me private messages with loads of good information. Now all I had to do was pack my bags and gear in the car. This was the first road trip with the baby so I had the car packed to the ceiling with her stuff. I dedicated the space between her car seat and the drivers seat for my gear. Patagonia waders, Korkers boots, Orvis Helios switch, Temple Fork Outfitters switch, large arbor reel, back pack of fly boxes and leader material. Patagonia rain jacket, hats, fingertipless gloves, and neck gator.
We drove up on Xmas eve. We stopped at Cabelas so I could return a shoulder bag that fell apart and to return a net that was too big. I replaced it with the same model that kid dropped in the Potomac during the shad run in 2011.
I drove over to Dublin, Ohio on the day after Xmas to Mad River Outfitters. I have been shopping at this store for years. I had planned on picking up some tying material while there. I walked in and was greeted by Lou behind the desk. Before I could start shopping I was deep in conversation about the steelhead fishery. I inquired where to go and got a plethora of information. I always support the local fly shops, especially when they give me information. I was given a fishing spot before I had even bought anything. Kudos to the employees here.
Lou told me to head north to the Chagrin River. He told me to look for Todd Field. His preferred method is to throw an egg with a streamer trailer. Apparently the fishing would be awesome around Easter. I'll have to make a trip if I can get away from snakeheads and shad this spring.
I wrote Lou's info down on a little pad of paper. We then discussed muskie fishing and 'walking-the-dog' type flies. He told me to check out Apex Flies and you should too. I picked out some purple zonkers, some barbell eyes, and some orange McFly foam for micro eggs for the trip out west next month. If I wasn't needed back at the house so quickly I would have stayed around and chatted some more. I had to get back to take over baby duty and start my internet and map research.
I got home and hit up the maps page I found on the DNR site. It let me to the maps for the Chagrin River.
I found Todd Field and put that into Google Maps and found it to be 2.5 hours away from Bexley. I was going to get up early and drive north. I organized my fly boxes, ensured my gloves, hats, and other warm gear were in my bag, and purchased my fishing license.
I woke up around 0730 to a dark and absolutely dreary day on the 27th. It was raining like in Forrest Gump. I threw on my layers of Patagonia fleece and my trusty Orvis cable knit sweater. I threw my bag in the car and punched the address into my phone and was on my way.
I'd never been toward Cleveland before. I don't know much about it other than that is where Howard The Duck landed. I have heard about the Great Lakes Brewing Company Xmas ale and was hoping to find it up there. Anyway, the roads sucked. It was dark and raining with occasional snow and sleet mixed in. I had the heat cranked up and the wiper blades working overtime.
After a few hours and several Orvis and FishSchtick podcasts later I finally arrived at the town of Willoughby, Ohio. I was hoping the rain would turn to snow. It was cold out. I just found out my car has an outside thermometer. It would have been nice to have known that at the time. My smartphone would only display the D.C. temp on my phone.
I went through residential neighborhoods and came out in the Old Town section. Lots of mom and pop shops, pubs, art galleries, etc. I was scouting out a place to eat for the drive back. I made the turn down to the river and passed a sub shop with 3-4 dudes outside. That is a good sign. I made a mental note to eat there on the way back.
I pulled into the parking lot around 11am. It was still pouring and now a bit windy. I pulled up my waders and got my gear together. There was another guy suiting up. He didn't say much. He had a two-handed rod. I strung up my rod and headed to the river. It was about 50 yards away.
The first thing I noticed was the huge wall on the far bank. It was a really cool geological feature that I have never fished next to.
The water here was fast. I fished the riffles but it was too shallow. The water was off color too. Not so much a muddy color but more of a milky chalk. The shoreline was all shale, flat or round pieces from quarter size to dinner plate. I moved up stream and passed the guy from the parking lot.
He was nuts deep and tossing out some nice casts. He had a deep looking pool and fished on the far side. I didn't stick around too long, I had some exploring to do. I moved up stream and fished a two-fly rig in the deep pools and riffles. I had on a purple and orange egg sucking leech with a sucker meth trailer. I made cast after cast. I moved on up. There was a well beaten trail along the shoreline. I had trouble getting off the bank as everything was so muddy.
I started up the trail which soon turned to muck. I mean nasty, filthy mud. No cleats on any boots would have helped me. I trudged through it, slipped in it, slid down embankments, fell, etc. My fingertipless gloves were all muddy.
I arrived at a beach and slipped on the mud. Luckily I didn't hurt myself. I sort of hurt my back which is always a scary thing.
So I get to the beach and start swinging my flies. I begin to get hung up on the shale bottom. I loose a few tandem fly rigs. I work each and every pool. I hook into a tree on the other side and luckily free my rig. A sign that others fish this hole- there are flies broken off and dangling from the same tree. I move up river. By now there is all sorts of broken glass on the shore. Blue, turquoise, green, brown, white, etc. I start finding all sorts of shards of ceramic too.
I pass a dead steelehad on the shore. I move up and keep fishing. The water is cold. My toes are numb. The rain has not let up. A few flakes mixed in. Not a single fish other than that one -->
I get to a deep hole. I mean deep. I was worried that my back pack would get wet as I walked along the shoreline. It was a sandy bottomed hole. There were lots of footprints on the shore so I figured there would be fish here-others had spent some time here.
All I did was hook the trees behind me and lose another tandem rig. I walked up and around a slight bend only to find another wall. The water was fast and shallow. The reason the pictues are so dark is that it was really this dark out. I was wearing my yellow polarized sunglasses I picked up on Amazon. They were $21 and do a great job.
I decided the wall was as far as I wanted to go upstream. I found a spot where the water was shallow. It was rather fast but this was my best option for crossing. I wanted to fish the other shoreline back down. I did so. This side was deeper and I had some better access to the holes. Not a single bite.
I returned to fish the water above the guy who was fishing the long rod. I lost a couple of rigs in the hole above. I met two other anglers who agreed that the weather sucked but it's better than not fishing. They fished the water above me, from the beach where I fell down from the bank. I continued down and got to fish some water I could not reach from the other shore. After losing two more tandem rigs I decided to pack up and head back. I fished one more spot, under the bridge near the parking lot. I lost a fly there too. What is it with this river?
I returned to my car. As soon as I opened the doors the rain turned to snow. Really! Why could I not have had snow when I was fishing. I was soaked. My bag was soaked. I got the car started and the windows all fogged up. I headed straight to the sandwich shop.
This was a no frills place. I didn't know what to expect. The menu had a dozen or so options. I really wanted a hot sub--like a cheese steak. The place is called What About Bob's.
I ordered the #8 Bob's Ultimate Roast Beef Sub
Juicy roast beef, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, mild peppers, garlic, provolone, Bob's horseradish & sub sauce. 12" long. It was ready in about a minute. I got a big fountain drink with some caffeine for the ride back. I sat in my car and took a bite. Are you kidding me? The first thing I noticed was the bread. I had not had a baguette like this since Paris. Crusty, chewy, and flavorful. The roast beef and toppings were exactly what I needed after four hours of casting. I devoured 3/4 of the sub on the spot.
With a belly full of awesomeness I looked up the local fly shop. Chagrin River Outfitters was only about 18 minutes away. The drive there was beautiful. Huge houses on Pepper Pike with snow covered yards. The snow was thick and heavy and coated everything. About a mile from the shop I saw a bunch of turkeys on the shoulder. As I approached they decided to fly right in front of me/over my car. That was a first. I was scared they would hit me. These were some big birds.
I got to the shop around 4pm. I was in need of some Thingamabobbers. The only one I had brought broke. I figured If had had more I would not lose so many flies the next time. I had the map I printed off and walked into the shop. I was greeted by Bill. I was picking out my items when I was approached and we started talking about my day. I had the map and he told me some spots to fish the next time. Chargrin's shop was very cozy. They had hard wood floors, wall decorations, all sorts of colorful tying materials, and were pushing American made reels to the other guy.
He circled the spots and told me where deep holes were, logs, bends, etc. I picked up some tying thread and sniffed around some more. I spoke with another customer who has family this way. We discussed how great the living prices are in Ohio compared to Northern Virginia. The shop had some very unique patterns. I made my purchase of a handfull of pink strike indicators and headed back to the car.
The snow was dumping by now. I found the GPS unit in the car and entered my in-laws house. It was about 2.5 hours away.
Little did I know the snow was going to continue to dump for 2 of those hours. The road back sucked. It was a total white knuckle drive.
The rods were not getting plowed. A few inches were piling up. The left and right lanes were covered with snow. Changing lanes proved to be a slippery ordeal.
Every truck that went by in the right lane threw chunks of snow and ice onto my car temporarily blinding me. I got back to the house in a few hours. I had the remainder of my sandwich and more podcasts to listen to for entertainment.
I walked into the house in the rain. Poured a pint of Guinness and took a hot shower. I then unpacked and started planning my next trip for Thursday to the spots Bill suggested. The only problem was I left the map with his directions at the fly shop.
I called the shop on Wednesday and spoke to another dude. He said the map was still on the desk. He told me where it was marked and I printed off another map and re-created those instructions. I was told not to fish on Thursday as all that snow had melted and the water was too high to fish. I was told not to fish until the levels dropped below 4,000 CFS. This saved me a nearly 6 hour drive. Many thanks to the guy who answered the phone.
I spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning watching the water levels drop. I made the call on Thursday night to get up early and drive to the new spot.
I pulled out of the garage around 0645 and headed north. The weather was cold, dark, and dry. I didn't see any sun on the horizon for at least 2 hours. Only a slight pink hue glazed the horizon over a barn. It would have made a great picture. I stopped and filled the tank at a BP with $3.16 gas. It was cold.
I passed the Cuyhoga river and there was a cool bridge. I remember this is the river that once caught on fire.
I arrived at the new spot or at least what I thought was the spot Bill suggested. Ice was all around. The ponds I passed on the road in were frozen. Ice puddles filled the fields.
The parking lot was covered in ice. I had to put on my layers right away. It was frigid. The wind made it worse.
I met a guy who was suiting up. He has spin gear. He was amazed I didn't have a wading staff. He said that pockets of sand and silt will fill in gaps between the shale and you can get stuck. I made a mental note to grab a branch when crossing. He said there is a little bit of fishing above the bridge and a little bit below. I chose to go downstream.
I think I found the fallen tree Bill told me about. I fished over it and in the holes created by the current underneath. Nothing. Probably better fished from the other side. I found a big crayfish in the sand.
I moved down to the next deep hole. There was a wall on one side with a cut out bank. A stream flowed in. I saw some guys in the middle. I went back upstream to cross as the wall was a dead end for me on this side.
I crossed and began to fish some deep holes below a cut bank. No fish. I was getting my line and myself all caught up in the trees. I can't remember the species. I have my guide books in storage. I know they have crenate leaves and white pendulous flowers in summer (I'm a nerd). The stems are hollow. They don't grow more than 6 feet tall. As they were hollow, I used my boots to crush them as I made my way down stream. I was now sweating and had to open up my jacket and lose the hat.
I arrived at the hole and said 'how's it going' to one of the fly anglers. He had looked up from his fly box when I arrived, he looked at me when I greeted him and then put his nose back into his fly box. Rather rude.
Those guys looked to be camped out. Two were waist deep in the middle of the outside of the bend and tossing flies into the deep current. I moved on.
I found some riffles and some deep pools. I fished and hiked for another hour or so. Nothing. I saw lots of wood peckers.
One more guy joined in on the fishing. He had a big net. I hope that was an omen. I talked to him and watched him for a while. I was now getting cold from the sweat cooling off. I had moved far enough down that the water was wide and shallow. Time to turn around and head back. I was hankering for a sandwich and maybe another spot to fish. It was noonish.
I asked if he would mind me crossing upstream from him and he gave me permission. I tried but it was too deep and too fast. I noticed the three fly guys were leaving that deep hole. One was fishing below and the other two were on the other side. I moved on up and tied on a red/orange/white popsicle with a chartreuse egg on the front. I had on a pink sucker spawn as the dropper. I made some casts and not much was going on. The guy below me started to walk up. And here is when things got good.
I made a 60+ foot cast to the head of the pool. Mend after mend, I got that fly down. On this, the fifth of casts, I got a tug. My line went straight and the rod tip started to bend. I had a fish. I reeled up the slack as soon as I could. The guys were now watching. They had fished all morning and nothing. It gave me some confidence that I came in and got a fish right away.
I fought the fish on the reel and go it to the shore. I handed the fish to the guy and asked if he could snap some pics. I took out my camera. Took some pics of him with the fish to adjust the light-with what ever light there was on this overcast day. We switched and I had the fish. I knelt down in the water, wet the fish, and lifted it up. I told him to hold down the shutter. We got about half a dozen pics. I put the fish back in. I was in an adrenaline rush. The fish started to swim away and I grabbed the tippet. The fish broke it off. I'm hoping the barbless hook came out easily.
The fish had all of its fins, looked more like a wild fish than a hatchery. The pectoral fins normally are rubbed off in hatchery fish from them swimming in circles against concrete pens.
I'm going to name the fly the 'tennis ball sucking popsicle'
I tied on my last popsicle fly and lost it on the bottom. Turns out the guy who took the picture had never been fishing before. His first time out was fly fishing. He turned out to be the nicer of the three. We chatted and I gave him some flies. His buddy came over and he started to talk. However the original guy I greeted was still standoffish.
I was now hungry. I decided to end on a high note. It was now raining. I walked back to the car and headed to Bob's. I got there in about 20 minutes. I went to the front door. It was locked and the store was empty. I was confused. There was a sign with an arrow to the left. <-- use other door.
Turns out they expanded in the past two days. I walked in and immediately slipped on the floors-still wearing studs. The old place had rubber mats on the floor. The place was huge. And sold pizza and burritos.
I ordered the #6 Bob's Ultimate Turkey Sub
Oven roasted turkey breast, turkey ham, turkey pastrami, mild peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, garlic, provolone, Bob's ultimate sub sauce.
As I waited for my sub I noticed a guy in waders! I chatted him up. He said that the rain had been strong all morning and the water was rising. They hooked some fish but didn't land any (Todd Field).
My sandwich and fries were ready. I headed back to the car and drove down to the parking lot.
I used my hemostats to open a bottle of Moosehead lager. A clean and crisp beer. Its been a favorite for years.
I stood in the rain under the awning of the trunk. I ate in the cold. I watched a guy string up his rod and gear up and head to the water. I ate my food in a few minutes. I was fueled up and the fries warmed me up. The beer on the other hand made me cold.
I told you this place was close to the parking lot. That building at the top of the hill, that's it. This is the view from my parked car.
I made it down to the river. The guy who was gearing up was in the first section of riffles. He said he hooked a few earlier in the day. I managed to get a picture of the river's mondo huge squirrels.
I started to fish the first bend. I was immediately greeted by two anglers with a huge steelhead on a stringer. That breaks my heart. I know people have to eat and their tax dollars and license pay for their fish so what can I say. They crossed below me. I started to lose flies again. Another angler walked down with another stringer full of steelheads. These were much bigger than the one I caught.
I was getting bummed out now. I made a few more casts, then decided I should get back to Bexley. I missed the baby lady. I cut off my fly and packed up. While the last drive back was all snow, this was pouring rain.
I stopped at the GoAsis. A combination Taco Bell x Starbucks x Pizza Hut x convenience store x tchotchke shop. I filled up on gas and headed out. This place was great. Of course, I was still wearing cleats and I almost wiped out on the floor.
I got back to Bexley around 6pm. I was tired. I caught my fish. I was proud of myself. What a way to end the year.
Next time I'm up I hope to get out and do some steelhead fishing. I'll be sure to stop in to Mad River to thank Lou and to Chagrin River to thank Bill.
On a side note, there were some HUGE clams in the river.