Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Midwest Steel Where Art Thou?

This past weekend I was privileged enough to fish with my best friend and long time fishing partner Nate out on his home turf away from home. Nate has lived in the Northwestern part of Ohio now for a few years and it has given both him and I a great area of fishing. The point of the trip was to not only get me hooked up with my first ever steelhead, but also to just let nature take us away from all our worries. Nate has been under a lot of stress lately working on his thesis and I've been getting my hands on every project at work I possibly can. It also makes it easy to get away and fish for 18 hours a day when both you and your buddies girlfriend have each other to keep company.
My girlfriend and I left the Chicago land area at about 7:30pm on Thursday for the grueling four hour drive to Perrysburg, Ohio. After getting in about 12:30am Ohio time we were lucky enough to sit and wait for Nate get back to his apartment from a long night of college work. After our greetings and unloading the car, Nate and I decide to hit up the Chagrin River at sunup the following day which would mean a 4:45am wake up call.
What seemed to be 25 minutes later our alarms blare and wake us up. Both of us are moving swiftly to get the few items two guys need to fish all day (since the car was basically loaded with our gear). The drive of about two hours east flew by. I love fishing with Nate because our trips aren't just fishing and talking about fish (even though it is the main subject of conversation) but about growing up, our childhood, and where things are going. It's a great sense of friendship that we have especially when we get together and it seems like we hangout everyday still. 
Okay, back to fishing.
We get to a spot that Art at his local fly shop told him about. Gear up and walk to the river. The water was moving pretty fast but we were both eager to get in and wet a line. I was eager to get in and wet my drawers since I usually fall in my first time wading a new river. I just thought I'd get it out of the way first thing in the morning of our first day. We fish a deep pool beneath a low dam that was somewhat removed with nothing to show for it (which is the consistent theme this weekend). We came across another fellow fly fisherman which kind of gave us a scoop on the river and actually asked us if we would be up for trying the East Branch. Since neither of us had any idea, we went for it. Three guys hiked a good two miles of river fishing all the eddies and holes we could spot and didn't even see a single fish.
Nate and I moved onto the Rocky River and worked a few spots before having to head back closer to home. His girlfriends family luckily lives right by a creek that will get steelhead in the spring and fall. We had about an hour to kill before our only set plans (other then fishing) were going to happen. We suit up in our armor and hit the holes that Nate knows. I started working a spot that Nate's buddy has fished that has produced fish in the past. The entire day took a toll on me and I shut down. This is the exact wording out of my on stream journal:
Beaver Creek, OH 3/19. A lot of time on the water today. First cast was about 7:25am on the Chagrin. Worked the East Branch all the way up with zero fish to show for it. We worked the Rocky River at a few Fords and a good bend. I'm starting to question if I'm meant to fly fish, let alone for steelhead. Maybe I should stick to spinning gear and working the ponds. If only I could get a fish of some size on the fly. We'll see what happens...
It didn't help my mood that his buddy showed up and as we took our waders off caught a small steelie in the pool we worked. We later found out he grabbed a 11 pounder out of the same hole I sat off of and wrote my "feel sorry for me" journal entry. We went on with our girlfriend duties that night trying to regroup for the following morning.
It led us to the Rocky again which even in the morning I didn't have high hopes for. Worked a few different rivers but it led us back to the creek that destroyed my will to fly fish the night before. In that same hole that Craig caught the monster, a fish kept surfacing. I moved strategically up stream from the hole and casted about 15 feet down stream so my fly will drift into the hole toward me. Well about my fifth cast, I got the beast to bite. The fight lasted about 20 seconds before he snapped me off. I was discouraged but we both didn't really say much about it.
We came back to the spot later that night to really work the creek when the sun is going down. Nate and his fish eyes saw two steelhead that just came out from a jog jam. I was able to get the larger one to take my trailer fly. The fish led me downstream a little bit, hit the far bank, and came right at me. This allowed the hook to come out. I dropped my pole and shut down again. I think I only took about 5 more casts after that to Nate's 40. I just didn't have it in me anymore and the discouragement really set in.
It was about 25hours of fishing in two days, close to 10 miles hiked, zero fish, and two best friends having the time of their lives. It was easy for me to get frustrated and shut down with the lack of fish we encountered this past weekend, but looking back on it, I wouldn't change the time we had for anything. The two of us still probably haven't laughed harder then we did when it was us being us, exactly how we've been for over 16 years now. We were both able to get lost in the surroundings around us and forget about our jobs, our reports, our life that keeps us stressed and on our toes. And even though it was only for two days, those two days will make a difference. Nate, thank you for a great time on the water, I'll fish with you any time. 
As for the giving up fly fishing and chasing steelhead...not a chance. I'm going to hit the waters harder and with more determination. If this style of fishing was easy, everyone would do it. Until the next time out...

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Mighty DuPage

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to get out with probably one of the most well known Northern Illinois fisherman Ken G. I know a lot of people frown upon Ken and his beliefs on fishing and conservation. He encourages people to share information and to give actual locations. It was an honor to fish, converse, and explore with him this past weekend. I hope to have many more days on the water and/or trails with him.
 Saturday afternoon after a LONG night of drinking I met Ken G on a new stretch of the DuPage that I've never fished before. I pulled up to our designated meeting spot and Ken was already puffing away on his cigar, waded up ready to fish, except he was heading back toward his car. He had been walking around the shore and made the decision that the part of the river we planned on exploring didn't favor our conditions at all. We decided to hit the area that both the West and East Branches of the DuPage River come together. Both of us figured this would be a hot spot since two very different river systems would come together. The East Branch is a very slow moving river that allows a lot of sediment to settle making it very murky. The West Branch has more faster moving water which helps keep the water clear. We were both excited to get into the water and see what was in-store for us.
We both suited up for battle and grabbed our weapons of choice. I've been real stubborn the past season of fishing, and its carried onto this year so far. I prefer throwing flies with a fly rod then spin fishing lately. Ken grabbed his spinning gear and we worked up the East Branch first. The water from shore looked VERY promising. I slowly slide down the bank and went knee deep into mud. I was able to get a few casts in before I climbed out and worked back down stream. Ken had already crossed the river and was going to work upstream to downstream on the West Branch. I worked the mouth of where both join together. Once we were both across from each other we decided to work each shoreline down river. Ken and I worked for about 2 hours that afternoon and went about 300 yards downstream with no fish for our efforts. It didn't put a damper in my mood. I was able to walk and pick the brain of someone very knowledgeable. We walked through the fields toward our parking spots and talked. He inspired me to get involved in the conservation, especially in our area. If I would like to take my kids and grand-kids to the same rivers and lakes I fish today, things need to change.
The next morning a small group of us were going to work different parts of the river and compare notes. I finally met Sam which is another avid fly fisher. Him and Matt worked from where Ken and I had left off the day before. Ken and I walked downstream about another 100 yards and got in again with my fly rod and Ken with his spinning gear. We decided to use the exploration method from the day before. We made it down to the water treatment plant. This is where Matt and Sam caught up with us. We fished the area together for about 10 to 15 minutes before it started to sprinkle on us. With the long walk back to the car we called it quits. There were no fish caught today either, and again, it didn't bother me one bit. I learned much about these rivers in the two days I spent on there but I was also inspired by the three guys I explored with. Ken inspired me to really get involved and do what I can to better our waters and wilderness areas. As we got back to our cars, Matt pulled out a magnificent custom bamboo fly rod that he built himself. He was also fishing with a spinning rod that he had built himself. It was great to see and something that I may want to get into. Then comes Sam. I'm not sure how long Sam has been tying flies, but he is great at it. He graciously gave me a few flies that have worked well for him on the DuPage last season. Now, I've tried to tie a few flies here and there, but never really sat down for an extended amount of time to get decent at it. Thanks to Sam, that is going to change.
Getting out to walk a river, take some pictures, and just soak in the world around me was great. The river systems that we worked have promising water for late spring/early summer. I can't wait to get out again and get a line wet. Until next time...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

It's Starting to Feel A Lot Like...

SPRING! No fishing or adventure stories here. Just excited that spring is right around the corner. Walking to my car this morning as the sun was starting to come up, I heard birds singing there sweet songs. Not only did it put a smile on my face, but it also gave me a little extra hop in my step. The sun was out and it really just lifted the my spirits. Spring is slowly becoming my favorite season. I know a lot of people that get down with the shorter days and long drawn out winters that us chicagoans have learned to deal with. I'm one of those people. I'm usually not myself during the winter months and the next few weeks will allow me to come out of my shell. Enough about me, this is about the great time of year that starts "life" all over again. Between the baseball season, a few softball leagues, the great tasting spring flavor Sam Adams White Ale, and countless hours on the water, there is no better time of year. Lets keep the lines in the water and our feet on the substrate. Be safe out there this spring with the water levels changing lets return to where we came from after every adventure out. Good Luck this spring. I plan on making it a season that is unforgettable.