In early May 1997, when my good friend Ed pulled a shining chrome hen from the upper reaches of the Ganaraska river, I couldn't believe my eyes. Neither of us could. But it was a late spring and, as I recall, I heard stories that year of guys catching drop-back steelhead well into June.
I'll never forget the one Ed missed that same year, large and dime-bright, which vaulted several times and snapped off his entire rig like gossamer. May Chrome lightning, literally out of a bottle!
This past Friday morning, I thought I was onto a similar, though smaller combatant. In the gray early morning light, it was obvious to both Dan and I that she was particularly bright, and the delicate blush of fresh pink on her sides was easily visible at every leap. I lost count of her aeronautics after about the sixth jump, and she will be one of those fish that I'll be talking to my sons about someday, when they've experienced their their fair share of fighting with feisty lake Ontario steelhead. As it is, she was either freshly spawned out or a rare, almost fully recovered, drop-back.
But as it was in 1997, so it may be in 2011, it seems. To many it may feel as though the fish have all gone back to the lake, but I think that this view would be mistaken. As such this year's opener is in stark contrast to last year's, when bass were already present in systems where they often don't appear until late May. This year, it seems that the progress of the steelhead run is about where it would normally be in the first week of April. I certainly hope to tangle with a chrome fish or two before the weekend is over, anyway.
It's funny. Last year, the hot sunny weather (and pneumonia) conspired against me when the opener rolled around, and this year the cold rainy weather, Easter and the Royal Wedding have turned the same trick on me. Whereas I cursed the dry weather we had last year, I was almost ready to do the same for the wet weather we've had this year. And as for the other interferences in question, to quote the wise Wallacio, "Easter on the opener should be banned!" Hear, hear! And let's add Royal Weddings to the list. Honestly, a gentleman - a Prince no less - should know better than to cast aside his bachelor status at such a time as when trout bite best! The nerve! As he will soon discover, a husband and father can do nothing on his own without the assistance of his wife; and similarly may his wife some day be as enchanted by the prospect of some royal wedding or other when for all the world he would rather have gone fishing!
Another contrast between this year's opener and last year's are the invariably cloudy water conditions. Fish could see your offering coming for miles, last year, but on both times I was out I had to count on good piscatorial feeding reflexes to carry the day. Certainly fish weren't seeing our baits until they were a few inches from their faces. Then, to the strong side of the ledger, the crowds of fishermen have dissipated with the decrease in water visibility. Amazingly, sections of river that looked like circus bivouacs last year, now sit entirely deserted.
This was certainly the case for Dan and I on Friday. There were no cars parked in any of the usually popular spots, and we had miles of river to ourselves. The visibility was quite poor, thanks to the recent monsoons that have battered the countryside, but we happily made do amid the early morning birdsong - always so sweet in April - and scents of wet cedar on a cool, fresh breeze. A few short minutes after I released then hen that I referred to above, Dan mentioned that someone was coming through the woods, on the other side of the river. I was somewhat disappointed, as I was really enjoying not having to share any of the pools or runs that were available in this stretch of river. First I heard him coming through the bush, then I saw a pair of waders, obviously Simms, and the flash of a centrepin reel. At least, I thought, it looks like someone who understands how to fish them and he probably won't bother us. Then I saw a gray coat and a black cap. The black cap swivelled left, then right, as the man surveyed the river before him. Then I did a double-take; Bill?
Bill! This was a pleasant surprise indeed. For a second I felt like I was in a scene from the Lord of the Rings, where the hobbits re-unite. Frodo! Bilbo! Merry! Sam! This is a very legitimate way of feeling about it, actually, since Bill is always a great guy to fish with. He's always happy to be out, always in a good mood no matter what the circumstances, so you can never be unhappy when you see him show up. How fortuitous that what we had talked about planning in the past should happen entirely by accident, namely fishing an Eastern Lake Ontario tributary together! He lives in Barrie, so it's not as though it's a short drive for him.
If I was happy to see Bill, Dan was ecstatic. They talked about all manner of northern Ontario fishing trips together as the morning wore on. They're on the same wavelength where that's concerned and they've already been on a good, long trip together. Also, Dan is a pretty open-hearted guy and he really appreciates friendly and positive chaps like Bill.
As for me, I gave them both a short recount of opening day on the past weekend. Khalid and I had combined for only 4 fish between the two of us, and we didn't find them where we had expected them. Hindsight being 20/20 we probably should have strayed from fish to find more fish, since our productivity really dwindled after we moved from our initial starting point. Mind you, we went from a crowded little spot to large areas of no fishermen at all. The fishing was slower there but not entirely unsuccessful, so you take the good with the bad. And then finishing the day with a Flor de Oliva - which I so rarely get to sample - was the icing on the cake for me.
The next day, on a completely different river, was much more favorable for Khalid. In the span of about two hours, he and his daughter landed two fish and missed another four, and all of them in water that most people quickly glanced at then moved away. The secret? He'd found the right seam at the right depth, in a perfect spot for fish to come and rest; and feed.
Dan and Bill listened to me patiently enough, but by the end of my spiel, they went back to talking about Thunder Bay and Nipigon, coasters and giant pike. It's very interesting stuff, but given my circumstances - and my natural tendency anyway - I'm a poor or average specialist in floatfishing our little rivers here in southern Ontario. I just don't have the time to engage in omnivorous fishing activities, so I tend not to have much to contribute once the discussion meanders away from great lakes steelhead.
As I randomly amble along for this particular post, I finally come to a point where I can put my reader(s) out of his/her/their misery. A coda: the best part about this >year's opener is hope. It's not the opener, then, but the "hopener." Unlike many more recent opening seasons, this one promises to be a long one. If not, and should the weather suddenly turn hot and dry, then at least it was not over in only a week and anyone who pays close attention, wherever they fish in Ontario, has an excellent chance of hitting real paydirt.
Here's to hope!