Friday, March 23, 2012

Careful when approaching another steelheader, even if you're related

The steelhead angler huffed a categorically negative “no” when I asked if I could slip in and cast to the trout above in the next run.

A chilling response to be sure since it was me who had pointed the fly-rod-equipped angler to the pod of spawning steelhead. And that the angler also happened to be my wife, Bev, just goes to show how serious Northeast Ohio steelhead anglers can be about their sport. Even to the point of setting aside nearly 40 years of wedded bliss.

“I know if I let you in you’ll catch all of the fish,” Bev said, the hackles on the back of her head finally settling down to normal.

Yep, these steelheaders can get a mite prickly about others (supposedly) horning in on their turf.

Still, you can’t blame them. While steelhead anglers have trodden the shorelines of the Chagrin, Grand and Ashtabula rivers as well as Conneaut and other creeks since the trees still held leaves, this is when they go all-out.

The reason for this drooling excitement is the fact that for the next two or three weeks the streams will become chock-full of spawning trout. And finding the fish up on what’s called their spawning “redds” is the highlight of most steelheaders.

And that heart’s desire is no more aflame than it is in the chests of the anglers who employ fly rods.

For Bev the opportunity to try out her new Reddington fly rod, matching large arbor fly reel and Cortland fly line was the point that tipped our late afternoon fishing trip in her favor.

Bev was unable for one reason or another to christen her new equipment (which I had bought, by the way) last year.

So when my invitation arrived by way of a kiss to her cheek Bev eagerly accepted.

The stream we were to fish had been struck earlier in the day, first by me and my older brother, Rich but also by others. Simply, Northeast Ohio has no “secret” steelhead water that is still untamed and unfished.

Fortunately for us the small section of riffle water and chute were presently vacant of other anglers.

So I positioned Bev as best as I could, pointing out to her two or three pods of spawning trout. I coached Bev on where best to stand and cast, cautioning her about the vegetation growing along the stream’s bank and over-hanging the water.

Bev asked what best fly to use and I instructed her to tie on what is locally called a “crystal meth,” a sucker-spawn-like imitation made from a glassy-like synthetic fiber that sparkles.

Informed to also use no more than two B-size split shot owing to the stream’s shallow interior, Bev dutifully soaked in the recommendation. As often the case Bev tried and then rejected the best of my intentions.

Even a pink variety of the fly was tried and rejected though Bev did score two hook-ups.

Eventually Bev tied on one of her own hand-tied chartreuse sucker-spawn flies, as good a go-to lure for spawning steelhead as ever has seen the light of a fly-tying vice.

Sure enough, Bev hooked a fish, the steelhead trashing the water and upsetting the rest of the fish in the small section of stream she had staked a claim to for herself.

After a bit of a do Bev landed the steelhead, a male that spewed milt as it was beached and then measured. At 27 inches the hook-jawed male missed the Ohio minimum length of 28 inches by just a smidgen.

Back to work Bev went and kept at it until the sun hung low in the west.

Ever so reluctantly Bev spooled the line, attached the fly to the rod keeper and gingerly eased her way across the stream’s slime-slick rock and gravel.

Bev was happy. She should have been. The rod/reel combination was now officially broken in and the fly used to catch the trout was one of her own hand-made pieces.

But, boy I tell you this, Bev will guard her stretch of water the way a mother grizzly protects her territory on an Alaskan salmon stream.

I guess that means next time I better pack some bear mace or else risk getting my head chewed off.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

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