Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lack of steelhead no reason to dispair for this retiree

With large, wet snowflakes slapping cold skin and an uncomfortable chill to the wind it was hardly the best of fishing days.

Still, it was a day for fishing; one of (hopefully) many more to come.

And why not, a person may ask? As a newly coined retiree I have the opportunity now to pick and choose when I can fish as well as how long I can fish and even where I can fish.

All in all a pretty good deal, if you ask me; not that anyone was on this day and along this stream.

Thing was while I may now have an abundance of time to hand sort angling opportunities I remain bound by the dictates of the fishes themselves. And this spring the fishes have not proven particularly cooperative.

At least not for the steelhead, which are my favored targets during this spot on the calendar.

Handcuffed by a series of medical conditions that included a total knee replacement back in January I was
unable to fish much beyond living vicariously through the lives of angling friends.

A favorable go-ahead from the doctors and a decision to jump ship and take early retirement combined to become an ideal merger.

Even so the fishing lives of my angling friends were far from blissful. Neither was my day on the stream.

Few fish to no fish is the by-word that is chiseling the epitaph on this season’s steelhead-fishing program. A shrunken bounty of trout has turned off the usual spring flow of anglers with only a trickle now dripping from a rusted spigot.

Ask the Ohio Division of Wildlife why a dearth of steelhead exists and one gets the impression the agency is a member of the Excuse of the Month Club.

At the beginning of the expected run the state said the stream flow was being choked off by the lingering drought. In turn the fishes had neither mindset nor the ability to begin their seasonal spawning run up the streams.

Next on the excuse menu followed on the heels of Hurricane Sandy, a storm system that disgorged enough rainfall to swell the rivers, creeks and streams to overflowing.

When that piece of lore became frazzled the agency’s guess focused on a belief that many of the would-be returning trout were actually long-since dead, falling victims to the foul-play of the invasive sea lamprey.

In effect the steelhead were doomed to a watery grave in Lake Erie, scuttled there by the always-unfilled appetite of the sea lamprey eel.

Lastly, the Wildlife Division said the lack of trout was due in no small measure to a much-reduced, single-year stocking of fish.

A rather convenient excuse, given that the very same fisheries biologists are more than happy to tell anglers that one bad year of Lake Erie walleye recruitment is manageable if it is book-ended by good years of successful spawning.

Whatever the excuse or whatever the true reason is the cause, the fact remains steelhead anglers just aren’t seeing the numbers of fish they once did, let alone catching them.

So my hike along a favored stretch of beloved stream as a retiree was met with limited success.

Of the 10 steelhead I had seen during my three-hour tour only two were actually in the mood to make whoopee, as it were., though I did manage to snipe one of them from off its spawning redd.

Was I discouraged then, you might ask. No, not really, I’ll reply. More surprised than disappointed, if you don’t mind me saying.

And why is that, may be your follow-up question.

To which I’ll respond: Because once this letter is finished I’m headed back to the same creek, not because I believe the steelhead have miraculously appeared overnight but because now I have all the time in the world.

Yep, I think I’m going to like this retirement gig.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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