As I write this, I am in the process of packing my bags for an early morning flight to Fort Lauderdale. I'm going to the Miami area for a work trip for the weekend and squeezing in DIY fishing from shore or kayak wherever I can. My wife is coming down to enjoy the sun, beaches, and a few more fish than I can find. We plan on paying a visit to a very fishy dude, too, while I'm in his area. So, let's hope I get a few eats while in the heat. It will be a much-welcomed change of climate at the least (a balmy 30*F here today). Unfortunately it means I'll miss the April Chi-Tie event I've been co-running lately with Dave of Urban Assault Fly Fishing. But it will be my birthday next week, so I'm treating myself to time in Tarponland. Check out Dave's blog in the meantime.
After I got back home, I needed some redemption from Ohio. It wasn't that Steelhead Alley wasn't fun. I just needed to hook, fight, and hold a giant freaking steelhead.
I immediately got in touch with my buddy Scot from Indiana. He has a guide service called The Modern Fly. It had been a few months since we fished together, and we finally had an opportunity. Scot's fishery this time of year is skinny water--tiny creeks that hold steelhead (Spring run and Skamania) and brown trout, as well as floodplains with pre-spawn pike. We thought we'd give it all a try over the course of a day.
Indiana's version of "Drifltess"
To get to the first spot we fished, we walked a quarter mile down some railroad tracks before sliding into a small creek. Scot waded upstream ahead of me, following the shallowest areas and looking in the potholes and troughs for a fish or two. The water had dropped recently, he said, and there were abandoned redds everywhere.
We spotted tails ahead of us, made a few casts around logs, but just spooked the fish out. Finally, a large buck with a beautiful red lateral came shooting around the back of a hole and back up under the laydown at the head. I made a few casts right up onto the tree trunk laying over the fish's head and dropped the lead-eyed streamer down in the hole. I stripped a few times and the line felt funny--I got the chew! Another strip for the hookset and I was putting the cork on one of the biggest steelhead I've caught. Here I was in a few inches of water pulling a 30"+ fish out from under a laydown, using the full 8' of cheap fiberglass Eagle Claw rod to control the aggressive buck.
Scot stood downstream and did a funky monkey dance whenever the fish shot downstream of me so that it would turn back my direction. It takes a true guide and fisherman to do this dance. Trust me.
I was engaged in another dance. The fish wanted to go back under the tree where I had found it. It was a few feet deep but narrow under that tree. Just upstream was a nasty set of snarled roots, branches, and other debris. When the fish headed there, I kept its head up and bear-hugged the tree, passing the rod from under to over the trunk and played the fish back to Scot. He tail-nabbed it and we got a bunch of pics. What a beauty. Fists = bumped.
The spot-hopping continued. We gave the brown trout spots a quick look, but we came up with only a few creek chubs and, oh yea, another steelhead for our efforts. Since the steelbow bite was on, we forewent our plans to get a slam and focused on them instead. I could not believe how skinny of water we were getting these non-spawning early spring steelhead from. I had to stand on the bank, cast downstream, then roll cast back upstream.
The day continued like that. Another spot, a lot of walking and searching, spot a fish, take another shot...
On our way back to the car, Scot spotted another toad of a chromer aggressively defending its hole. Scot gave it a few casts, stripped the fly a few times, and eventually it bit--and we were hooked up and in the rodeo again. I did less funky monkey dancing than Scot when he was in this position, but I corralled the fish away from tree roots with my attempts to capture the fish and the fight on film (er, um, I mean, on digital memory). It was a hot fish, and when we got a look, it was a beauty.
Another fist bump for another early Spring fish released. This Indiana steelheading is way too fun--or at least it was that day. If you're in the area, look Scot up. He knows these waters like we all wish we knew our own.
On my way back to Chicago, I got a much-needed car wash after a weekend on the road. The soap, like the lake-run trout, was rainbow.
So after a weekend chasing steel along the rust belt, I'm a happy angler. With friends or fish, it's good to reconnect. Get out there.