Sunday, April 28, 2013

That's a wrap: Finishing touches to another steelhead-fishing season

The whine of weed-whackers and the incessant roar of lawnmowers were over-powering the quiet, demur happy gurgling of the small stream.

Spring had come to the creek at long last, and not a moment too soon to suit most people.

But steelheaders are not most people, not in the conventional sense anyway. Some steelheaders even crave the nastiest, cold-nose-running weather imaginable. Not so much because the angling is better but rather for the reason such weather conditions help keep other, weaker, members of this tribe huddled around a fireplace.

I don’t go that far, though truth be told steelheading is the only type of fishing for which I’d give up a hunting trip.

And this day likely was the closure on the season. Oh, the law says nothing about when such a season begins any more than when it ends. That subjective decision is left entirely up to the fates.

When the retreat of sunflower-yellow colt's-foot and the cerulean bluebells emergence to take the former’s place the creek begins its own hibernation of sorts.

The stream has begun to warm and even many of the frequent spring rain showers have less impact on the volume of water that races between its banks. An easy answer exists for this; spring has awakened the neighboring trees and kick-started the emerging ground cover.

Such growth sucks up a goodly portion of the rain water before it has an opportunity to run off into the creek.

Sorry that I’m taking so long to get to the point. Actually, this is the point.

Every steelhead-fishing season about this time I stalk the stream’s banks in search of the last few  steelhead, the stranglers who lingered beyond their annual breeding welcome. For the most part they are tired fish, these steelhead. On their spawning redds they still fan the flames of egg and sperm but the warming water tempers their behavior.

More sluggish as a rule than their brothers and sisters that ran the creek in February and March, the ones that spawn in April seem to take on their duties with half-hearted interest.

A pity too the trout must deal with the more dynamic quill-back suckers which are now entering the stream in strong volume. The suckers are in no mood to curry the favor of the trout, of course. They have their own procreation business to attend to about this time of year in this same creek.

After all, the creek is not owned by the suckers or the trout, nor any other fish species for that matter. They are all time-share renters of its waters.

Still, it is good that I do this each year, paying this visit and giving my respectful “thank you” to the creek and its trout.

So I take my newly acquired Scott 7-weight fly rod (thank you, Lake Metroparks employees for dipping into your personal checking accounts to buy this wonderful retirement gift) and tie on a fly.

The first fish to claim the hand-tied fly was a buck steelhead. The fight was over soon after it had begun, the male trout struggling without the vigor of those steelhead caught a few weeks earlier.

Now the hen trout was a different matter. She struck the fly, engulfing it and transmitting the strike up the leader, the fly line and through the 9 ½ feet of graphite.

She deserved to be released as unharmed as possible, which explains why I snipped the leader’s tippet and let the hen trout escape not just with her life but also with my olive woolly-bugger fly.

“Jeff, you can always make another fly but you can’t make another trout,” I said as I watched the steelhead dash for the fastest water it could find.

I strolled along the rest of the creek, or that portion for which I have permission to trespass anyway. In passing I paid attention to not only the activity in the stream (there was not much) but also what had had passed by earlier.

Besides those prints created by my own footwear there was no other sign of someone else  having recently come and gone this way; just those of geese, ducks and white-tail deer. Their passing was the stamp that even when the transient trout and I are gone the others are permanent residents.

At the vertex of the property where I am entitled by permission to fish I take my rest, assessing as well the emotional, spiritual, physical values of this short, though intense, steelhead-fishing season.

Yep, I reckoned as I finished the short hike back to my SUV, it was another grand adventure. They all are, of course.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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