Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Holiday Alley

For Turkey Day this year, I returned to Ohio to visit some relatives. The food was plentiful and delicious, and it was definitely one of my many things to be thankful for. But I was also thankful to have a few spare hours to sneak away with my brother-in-law and fishing buddy, Shane, to prospect for silver in the Lake Erie area's famed "Steelhead Alley." 

To facilitate our rendezvous with the oversized rainbow trout, I had been in contact with longtime online pal and professional guide, Bob Steelheading White (no, really, steelheading is his social-media middle name). Bob guides for Ohio Steelhead Drifters, and has been fishing the Lake Erie tributaries since he was a child. And if his biography isn't enough, Bob is constantly posting pictures of his swung-up hens and bucks on social media.  I knew he was good resource.  We set the time and place, and he said he and his friend Tim Pilarczyk would be fishing streamers while Shane and I floated egg flies under indicators.  Perfect--all our bases covered. 

Bob knows the pose. 
The forecast promised a notably warmer day than what had been, but the morning was nippier than expected. To make things worse, the many limestone cliffs that have been carved away by centuries of erosion can put a shorter window on the sun's appearance.  It's something I'm certainly not used to when fishing my regular streams on the flat geography of Wisconsin and Indiana. Bob and Tim were rigged and ready when Shane and I rolled up. We needed no additional motivation to bundle up quickly, so we were on the pine-laden trail in no time, dodging fallen trees and splashing through feeder creeks. With the recent snowfall, the scene was idyllic--a winter steelheader's dream.
"I'm a big believer in, if you're keeping the flies in the water, the fish gods will smile upon you. Something will happen."
-Bob Steelheading White

We settled into the inside of a wide run where the water dropped off alongside the steep cliff of the other bank. Believing it was worth fishing thoroughly, Bob and Tim got to work finding dry branches and building a fire. A few hours into the day, and it was still easily below freezing.  Roll casts became a thing of increasing force and decreasing style as Shane's and my rod guides froze solid to the fly line. 

It wasn't long, however, before fish began to warm us with a rise in bloodflow and adrenaline.  Not even three casts after Bob showed Shane some pointers on getting a good indicator drift, Shane was hooked into a solid fish. I ran for my good camera,  only to return in time to see Shane's head tilt back in agony as he let out a sigh of frustration. The fish had one last charge of energy and avoided being tailed and photographed this time.  Bob consoled Shane, "It's alright, dude. You did everything right."

There's something so beautifully rhythmic to this fishing. Drift, drift, drift. Indicator disappears. Set. Log? Stay tight. Head shakes. Slack line. F***! Cast. Drift. Mend. Indicator disappears. Set. Fish on! 
Small, but dime-bright and dozens of miles from the lake
I even managed to catch a decent steelhead. Sure, it was cookie-cutter in size, but it was a gorgeous colored-up male that wanted the hell out of my egg. I'll take it everyday of the week with no complaints. 

"I want my client to have the real steelheading 
-Bob Steelheading White

Bob is on the water for at least a few casts seven days a week.  He prefers to swing sparse streamers on his switch rod, but he has a local reputation for being dangerously good with the "indi-rig." He's been known to outfish everyone around him on the crowded days that Ohio steelheaders know all too well. After showing me and Shane some water and a couple literal handfuls of potadromous trout, the allure of duck hunting's opening day of the season pulled Bob away. He left us in the hands of the very capable Tim Pilarczyk for the short remainder of the day.  

Tim showed us some of the lower stretches of the river and some of his favorite runs for finding aggressive fish to slam a swung bug.  Tim also fishes at least a few hours everyday, and boasts an impressive ~60 swung fish last season (The day after I left, he got 3 steelies and 2 walleye on the swing).  I took this opportunity to watch and get some pointers on my switch cast.  I probed here and there with my indicator rig to no avail.  Shane, on the other hand, scored living proof of some natural reproduction among these amazing fish.
Wild Ohio Chrome
All in all, it was a fantastic day with lots to be thankful for. Now I just can't wait to go back! 
Some swingers don't need company :)

If you crave winter chrome and want to fish the Erie tribs, I highly recommend you look up Ohio Steelhead Drifters and request Bob White.  He also has these same rivers dialed for chubby lake-run smallmouth bass once the steelhead return to the lake.  When you're ready to catch fish, give him a call. I'm thinking a day in Steelhead Alley would make a pretty nice Christmas gift...