Sunday, October 29, 2006

Wind and Motion

Only on a salt water sea do the waves get much bigger than what my father and I experienced this Sunday, by the beaten shores of Lake Ontario.

Great, foaming, white-capped giants charged cantankerously the reeling shoreline, crushing it with massively bulldozed sand, pebbles and rocks, wrenching out small islands from the beach, while methodically beating and grinding them into splinters and sediment. Here and there, among the flotsam, we could see all that is now left of the lost stragglers from the September chinook salmon run; bits and pieces of white cartilage, dried skin and leathery cheekplates, looking as though an ogre had chewed them and unceremoniously spit out their remains.

Matching the rage of the lake, the violence of the wind was at times frightful. Rods had often to be held with two hands, and floats sometimes zigged uncontrolably, nearly flying out of the water on sudden gusts that must have exceeded 65kmh. On several occasions my father or I would feel a heavy wallop and we had to quickly brace ourselves, or fall. I read afterwards that power lines were broken in places, that trees were blown over, and even a house-in-progress in Etobicoke was knocked down. I still don't know where my Barbeque cover went. It was a west wind ... Montreal, maybe?

So, what in all that chaos the steelhead might have been doing, whether fleeing to safer depths or actually attempting the perilous search for the obliterated flows of nearby rivermouths, was beyond our ability to guess. My hunch is that most of them would not attempt getting embroiled with 7-8ft waves, risking injury or being beached. Just as most sane people (my father and I notwithstanding) don't venture out long into gale-force winds, steelhead probably don't brave surfs that have the literal ability to pulverise. But some of them do, it seems, and some of them did.

It was an unusual day as, thanks to the abundant rainfall we had on Friday and Saturday, flows which are normally mere trickles looked like decent brooks; and the usual "creeks" bore more resemblance to rivers. The flows we visited ranged from high and clear, to high and slightly less than clear, which is always good, when you're looking for steelhead! All of yesterday's fish were aggressive takers, and most of those who obliged us were in the 1 - 2 lb range, but a few were bigger. I can only assume that the one that actually broke my hook was fairly large, larger I think than this handsome 5lb male. He tamely posed for the photograph, but sprang smartly away as soon as I pointed him back into the water.

At one point, my float went down in a deeper section of the river. I could feel that the fish had weight but it didn't deliver the frenetic activity that usually denotes the first couple of minutes of a steelhead hookup. The fish merely bulled its way to the bottom and shook its head "no no no!" I was suspicious - and maybe you are too; and it was only when I got him up closer to the surface that I could see clearly why there had been so little fight: brown trout!

It's my opinion that we were very lucky to have any fish at all, given the outrageous condition of the Lake. I've often visited rivers under these conditions, and have very rarely been successful. However, more significantly, we were equally lucky to have been present when Lake Ontario was in such a state. I've rarely seen it that animated, and just being witness to such immense power and beauty, and thundering surf, was well worth the trip!


Monday, October 23, 2006


I need a second digital camera, or I need to stockpile Lake Ontario scenery and fishy pics. I've known this for some time, actually, but I've now procrastinated to a point beyond the acceptable.

On both of my latest eastern Lake Ontario outings, I had no camera because Laura "needed" it to photograph the twins, while visiting relatives. So, the caption for this article is really old, and is one of the last remaining "à propos" pics in my online collection.

Speaking of procrastination, two trips have gone by without any update to my blog. So I'm redressing that now, I hope.

I won't go into huge detail, since I was fishing solo and didn't do much out of the ordinary; but, on a last minute decision, I fished the Grand River for the first time, at Caledonia. The water was relatively high and quite dirty, so I had no success - but I will definitely be returning later this fall.

I intended to visit J.C. , when I was in Caledonia. J.C. built the custom rod I won on last Dec 28th. I had him inscribe the greek/roman symbol for twins, right on the blank, because that also happens to be the day my twins were born. What a lucky day! Anyway, I never got a chance to shake J.C.'s hand or thank him in person, because Mike picked up the rod for me last March; and it will have to wait. I assumed (falsely as it turns out) that J.C. had something to do with the bait shop at the Caledonia dam, but nobody there knew him, and I left fairly early on account of the water conditions. Next time!

Then, after my last rant, I did manage to escape the confines of four walls to subject myself to the great waves of Lake Ontario. I braved it for about an hour, at the mouth of one of my favourite tributaries, but managed merely to get wet, cold, annoyed, and thoroughly humbled by the unrelenting nature of the surf. Even though there was hardly a breeze at my house, the Lake had jealously kept its white-capped children in play, and I was thwarted by their unruliness.

Not completely, of course, as river mouths are always a good place to visit in the fall. I was afforded some measure of success, the biggest and most beautiful portion of which weighed about 7 lbs, was brighter than the back side of a Little Cleo spoon, and seemed decked out with a silver corslet damasked with precious gems and mother-of-pearl. I've no picture of it, unfortunately, but the colours are well represented by the caption.

There's also this matter of the "nice beach bonger guy" I keep meeting. I seem to meet him whenever the steelhead are running, whether fall or spring, and it's always the same story. He's usually beach bonging the surf or the river's estuary, we catch sight of eachother and wave, and at some point in the day we have a chat about the conditions: where the fish are, why they're not in yet, how many we've caught so far, etc. I always mean to introduce myself, but I never seem to get around to it. And this time was no different. We left off with "good luck" and "see ya next time," and that was it. He looks like he might be a relation of John Kerr, chief editor of Ontario Out of Doors, but I can't be sure. Maybe we'll clear that up sometime.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What am I DOING???

Isn't this the cat's meow?

The picture in the caption is a gross misrepresentation of what Lake Ontario must look like this morning; still somewhat wavy, but generally windless - and overcast. But since I'm in no position to offer you an updated version, I have to use this very old one from 2004.

Given yesterday's generous dollops of rain, I imagine that several creeks are clearing, right this minute, beckoning fish.


When I walked out of my door a couple of hours ago, I was immediately aware: no wind. F*&^*! WHAT AM I DOING???

Going to work! ...not fishing.

Thinking about it doesn't help, either. But in my opinion, the conditions and time of year are perfect for a little lake-side steelheading - my favourite now, since the fish are always so ultra-fresh, scintillatingly bright and eager to accept offerings. Runs and jumps galore.

What a rotten day to have one's priorities "straight," sipping rancid, paleolithic coffee from a styrofoam cup & watching videos of our EVP's magnanimously thanking us for our "outstanding contributions to this latest initiative in leveraging opportunities for the Business."


Is that a tickle in my throat?

*cough!* *cough!*


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Right up my Alley

Part of me laments the popularity that certain Lake Erie tributaries now enjoy which, even five years ago, were relatively unknown to most great lakes anglers. It means that when I undertake the long drive, I have to ask myself whether or not I'm willing to face a crowd.

Last Monday, I decided that both the conditions & fishing crowds were acceptable, and headed out to one of the tributaries in Lake Erie's famous "Steelhead Alley." Together with John, Mike and Richard, I figured to "crush" some steelhead.

It didn't turn out to be the total victory that we'd hoped for, but all of us got fish nonetheless. I got some nice shots of John fighting a chromer, just before the camera's batteries died; the photographer in Mike once again revealed himself, by snapping this shot of a lovely little hen rainbow; Richard was captured on digital, a little gollum-like, doing the yum-yum unacceptable (if you ask the members of certain forums on the internet); and Mike released what seemed to me the biggest fish of the day, a gorgeous nickel bright hen in the 9-10lbs range.

The story of the day, however, was the beautiful weather and the scarcity of crowds - so there was no lamenting! The morning afforded quite a few good shots, as this one on the right, and the few fishermen we did meet (with one minor exception) were in the same mood we were: happy, sun-warmed & friendly.

As a case in point, near the end of the day, one of the "fly guys" helped me locate fish; which is the only time this has ever happened to me (they are normally aloof when they see the "pinners" coming). Perhaps frustrated by water conditions that were still a little too coloured for presenting flies, this gentleman from Ontario directed my attention to a tail-out where he'd seen fish surface before my arrival. His coaching worked as, after a few drifts in the spot he'd indicated, my float slipped beneath the surface at the urging of a spunky 4lb-er whose eagerness to get back in the water almost cost me the picture...

Now I'm making plans for this weekend. Lots of rain this week. Who knows where the next blog entry will come from?

Not me! Not yet, anyway...


Wednesday, October 04, 2006


While Laura is out getting supplies, I've finished bathing and feeding the twins , and I've put them to bed. Since they are now both counting little sheep, and I've finished a number of my appointed chores (including "brownie point" chores), I've taken time to check out blogs by Joe A. & SD.

Their entries for today, respectively entitled "Why Steelhead?" and "A lull...", are both about the same thing: the odd behaviour of those who chase after a fish (i.e. steelhead) that is more easily catchable during cold-weather periods.

Joe is very poetic and philosophical in his approach, whereas SD represents the physical example: discussing centrepins and planning to go out, after a rain, while recovering from a pneumonia.

When SD talks about going out "pneumonia notwithstanding" he asks why it is that he would do such an apparently crazy thing. But I don't see it as crazy or abnormal at all; in fact Joe gives him an answer of sorts, correctly pointing out the exhilirating unpredictability of the fish and the fishery - which seems like a good reason to me. Because if you really want to catch steelhead, you will seek them and you will do so in the short window of time that is alotted. A "perfect" window is so rare, that given only the capability to stand, not one of us will blame any steelheader for being brave, and driven. One day there is a throng of them, the next they are gone like "La belle Dame sans Merci" in the famous poem. And who knows when that day has truly come, without going out and testing the waters ourselves? We are not omniscient...

So, what can I add? What words of mine can equally describe, for anyone who does not seek this fantastic creature, why we do it or what it's like? I don't know. I have a bunch of poems on the subject, that I've written myself, but I won't bore anybody with any of them here.

But whatever "steelheading" is for anyone else; for me, I guess it's all of these things at once: art, discipline, meditation, prayer and earnest battle. Oh, and fraternity (not excluding any "she," who are rare and exceptional), which includes the odd beer.

I'm thinking about my next trip now, and where it might be, and if I will go alone or with anyone else, and how many, and how beautiful the fish I/we will catch... where's the button on Time? You know... the fast-forward...?

Oh, never mind!


Sunday, October 01, 2006

First Chrome

Somehow, the Steelhead gods must have found it amusing to grant me my wish.

It was uttered thus, at about 10 o'clock on Sunday morning: "This sucks. All I want is one fish. Just one fish."

I can imagine some Loki-type deity responding, Ok... if you'd been just a little more patient, we were going to grant you 10 fish or so from 11 O'clock on... but, since you insist. Fans of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," insert "Q" here.

I visited three eastern Lake Ontario tributaries, today, each at a different stage with regards to the salmonid fall migration, and each having behaved quite differently to the 5mm of rain we had last night. It stands to reason, then that the larger of the three, and the one most sensitive to precipitation, would be where I ultimately received my gift from the gods.

At the first two tributaries, all I really got were messages from the animal spirits sent by the Steelhead gods themselves. The pensive egret said "valiant average steelheader, nay! cast thy tackle over these waters no longer! eastward lies thy boon!" The three ducks agreed. When I went further eastward, where to my great chagrin the water in the river was too low & the surf in the lake far too high, the two-headed swan said "unimpressive tosser of balsa sticks," (swans are more imperious, and somewhat haughty) "angle thou here if thou wilst. 'Twould amuse me to witness thy futility..." But I thought the egret & the three ducks too sincere to have sent me to this place, so further east I went.

By now, I should just call it "My pier," or to amuse some of my friends, "My peer" - the same place I've written about twice previously. Yes, I arrived at "My peer" (peer, not pier, haha); to witness pandemonium. Large boots were flying out of the water everywhere. Bottom bongers were having a heyday (those who were in fact bottom bonging) and/or uttering growls of dismay whenever the fish got off. Large boils dotted the surface of the water, haphazardly, and every now and then a chinook salmon, variously shaded with mating colours, would fly out and land with a splash.

But here and there, a staccato splash, or boil, would occur. Smaller, quicker, and somehow more timoroulsy voracious than the big lento kabooms of the chinooks. Something was out there, that by its surface activity could be read as being at once actively feeding, and accutely aware of its enormous, dangerous and territorial cousin: there were steelhead off My peer.

Anyhow, I began alternately to drift roe and jigs for them. But either they were too spread out, not yet in enough numbers, being chased around by the boots, or all of the above; because, they didn't seem interested at all. About an hour went by. Finally, feeling quite discouraged with the way things were going, I intoned my little prayer to the Gods. One fish. Just one fish.

Moments later, they complied.

The float hesitated, then zipped downward with such force that it nearly splashed. I knew immediately, upon setting the hook, that it was a steelhead. A chinook, when it's hooked, will usually make a big splash, or shake around a little, decide it's probably in danger, point its nose in one direction and blast its way there. They're like a jumbo jet: big, heavy, lumbering, powerful. A steelhead, on the other hand, is like a Spitfire. Wheeling, diving, climbing, yawing, and just as capable of pulling out a long, wicked run. This one did not disappoint. He shook his head madly when he felt the hook, leapt at least six times, ran twice and even attemped at one point - or so it seemed - to rub the line off on the cement of My peer.

He's the lovely 30-something incher who graces this post, in the caption above. Seconds later, he was back in the water, and I wish him luck in his endeavours and in his romantic pursuits.

The last thing I have to say, in deference to the Steelhead Gods, is that I am happy with my day - though by no means content. When is a steelheader ever content? When fishing. Otherwise, we spend a good chunk of our time planning our adventures, watching the weather and guessing what has been decreed for today, for tomorrow, for the next day...

But I humbly thank the Steelhead gods for my one fish. He is magnificent, and the gift of his apparition made my day!