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!