Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Spring Song of the Steelheader

Give us the beautiful coldness.

Give us a cool mist passing slowly, blotting out the sunrise.

Give us a chill morning when all others lie in the indulgent trance and warmth of their beds, and give us a river whose cold water travels over our boots murmuring memories of ice.

Then, give us the silver steelhead that have dropped down like living chunks from the shattered floes, to ply hungrily the current for springtime’s little denizens; the brazen midge and swift stonefly, the timid minnow, the worm curling in futile aquatic struggle.

Give us the Battle of them!

Give us all their cunning and grace, and their indescribable beauty!

Take away your echoes of Summer, your midday sun, your blue skies and your swelter. Take away your heat.

Or delay it all, just a little, we beg. We plead with you – please! Why hurry? What necessity to push out roses, so soon after the tulips have gone? A week, a day – nay! one sweet, cool morning extemporized out of the wreck of the past season, before the coming chaos and flowering haze and heat – is all we ask.

Then, we Thankful, will seek our rest elsewhere, leave the river in peace, put the rods away, tuck our waders into closets, hang our hats and put our tackle aside.

And wait;

For the multitudinous be-speckled ardent Mykiss to return; at the Fall, when the cold breath again blows down from the eternal North, before everything must die; and we are unfurled again among your vigorous children, in your vast, scintillating bounty. 


Friday, May 16, 2014

Ontario Trout Opener 2014 - A Photo Epic

No, I can't say that I came away with quite the piscatorial success that I'd hoped for this Spring. Some reasons or excuses might be the equally expectant crowds, the unusually high water flows, the sudden upturn in recent temperatures; even age might be starting to creep in a bit.

But somehow it hasn't mattered much. My passion for the sport remains undimmed, and hope of numerically more successful tomorrows will probably only die with me. Whether it's being out on a fine Spring day when the weather's clement, or in the Fall with her early sunsets and chill drizzle; it's a fine thing to swing a rod for these fish, especially when the company is even finer.

I've struggled quite a bit with how to represent this year's opener to my scant readers, and I've concluded that I want to be a little lazy this time. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Sam. The most intensely successful fisherman I met in my travels this Spring. Mike may have beat him in numbers, but he surely didn't go 0-5 in 15 minutes of white-hot night-crawler induced steelhead action. Needless to say, I am quite proud of his exploits! I hope they foretell even better days to come.

First fish. Sadly, I only landed my first fish near the end of opening Monday. I'd had quite a few hits early on, but was either late in the hooking or had had fish come off early - including a straightened hook.

Mirkwood. Even after the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, "Mirkwood" triggers a spellcheck error. No, it didn't lead to giant spiders or elf kingdoms; only a quiet river with neither lots of fishermen, nor lots of fish. It was a sheltered place, perfect for enjoying a cigar quietly, out of the wind.

Me. Lucky me, to have Khalid stationed right behind me during one of my rare successful moments this Spring. Almost, one would swear, the gentleman in the photograph appears to be a master of the craft. Would it were so!

Khalidian success. My good friend caught this drop-back hen a day before the shot above. Classically beaten-up by its spawning journey, it was taken in a smaller stream less susceptible to the ravages of the intense rainfall we received during the opening week. 
Mike. Incredibly, he confided to me a sincere interest to join me on my home rivers. This after many years of swearing that he'd rather stick needles in his eyes. I kept all my needles hidden on that day. The Steelhead Ninja pose is still going strong, as is Mike's new site: Canada Fishing Guide. I'm glad to see him putting his considerable talents to good use!

Khalid. He caught the biggest fish I saw any of myself or my pals land this Spring. If it returns this fall, it could push 14lbs. 

My biggest. Note how well recovered this fish is. It's almost as silver - on May 2nd - as it was when it first entered the river. It gave an outstanding battle. I would've loved to have had a picture with it, especially as Khalid was just over the nearest bank. But he couldn't hear me when I called, and once a fish is ready to go, you really ought to release them.

Mike. "Ah so, Steelhead-san! You will not escape me now!" ... couldn't resist... :)

A release. Another steelhead goes free. This is perhaps the nicest thing my new Lumix point-and-shoot camera can do. Its wide angle lets you take some interesting release shots.

Sett'n'er up fer a rip. Ah NY state! We showed up late, as it turns out. Late in the season. As far as setting out, we did that early - 3 am. Richard himself wouldn't get back home until 1:30am. (Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)

The Grass is greener. If there's a reason why I need to find myself at least a used DSLR somewhere, to take on fishing trips, here it is. Look how green that grass is! Not only that, but images and lighting are all superior. Envy!  (Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)
Spring morning. Just looking for a likely place to start. It didn't take long to figure out that the water was a bit too warm for the Steelheads' liking.  (Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)
Drifting... I hope to return to this stretch in the fall after a rain, when the river's on the rise.  (Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)
Richard. When he pulled this one out, we thought it was a good omen - at first.  (Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)
Richard again. The pics tell the story. Richard had the best attitude. As soon as this little silver dollar was landed, his day was made. Smiles all around!  (Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)
Slurp. Tell me this isn't the life. Beer in one hand, schmoke in the other, rod tucked under one arm and river at my feet. This shortly after missing a rocket that had launched itself 2ft out of the water, after taking a blue bag. Surely this drift would spot us a few more fish? Surely not...  (Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)
Oliver. Same as I was, enjoying a drift on a high, clear NY river. 
Downstream view. Note the bright, fresh springtime green of the birches on the left. At no time in the year is the colour of foliage more delicate or vibrant.
Richard, in the trees. Classic drifter pose!
Small Tributary. When fishing was decidedly slow, we ceded to the temptation of checking out a nearby tributary to the main stream. Idyllic beauty flowing through rural prettiness, with nary a fish to be seen.
A second wind. Re-rigging for an afternoon foray on a different stretch of the river. (Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)
Sparking envy. Should any Canadian beer aficionados also be checking out this blog... (Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)
Drop-back success. Ok, not really... More like a drop-dead. Somehow Richard managed to hook this recently departed fish in the nether regions. It was good for a laugh! (Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)
Little ones. Lots of smaller yearlings were jumping around. Some of them that came to hand were atlantics, although I can't tell in this picture if this was one of them. (Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)
Jig time. Countering desperation, when all else had proven futile, I started toying with jigs.(Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)
Tying one on. If you observe closely, you might get the pun. Sorry about that. Mind you, I do think (notwithstanding the subject) that Oliver took a great picture here. (Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)

Getting one on. And taking it for a rip! The surprise and delight are not feigned. (Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)

What she took. I got some love from bass with this jig as well, but wouldn't land another fish. 

Botched. Despite botching a fish picture, it ends up being quite expressive nonetheless. I like it. (Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)

Friends on the river. Richard's venerable 14' Raven IM8 finally succumbed to statistics on this day, after the tip section snapped at the ferule. In this picture, Oliver is giving him a hand untangling his spinning setup. Richard tried a few plugs and spinners but, in the end, to no avail.

Putt'n'er away. Now looking forward to a dinner at Five Guys, we started putting our stuff away. I used to hate this part of the day, but fishing with Richard, Oliver and Chesley has renewed my appreciation for it. Recapping has its own special place in the order of every fishing day. (Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)

Storm cometh. A presage of our home receptions? Not really, thankfully! But it was quite a site to see this giant alto cumulo nimbus roll over the countryside. I had images of twisters sprouting from it, but we didn't see any materialize.(Photo: courtesy Oliver Marx)

Adios! I hope you enjoyed this latest post and that you'll forgive the lack of steelhead pictures! There were more than what I show here, of course, but not that many - and nowadays I just don't take as many pics as I used to.

Thanks for reading!

Oh, and finally, where all this "rippin" came from... 


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Equinox Chronicles

Part I - Late March

From four, the tale dropped to three, then two, then finally just one: me. Richard, Chess and Oliver had all removed themselves from the upcoming trip, one at time. And it was a near thing for me too, since I ended up having to sacrifice most of the morning for a sick boy with the flu. But as it turned out I'd be able to spend first light and then the afternoon, chasing Steelhead on nearby streams, thanks to Laura.

The conditions seemed as though they would be ideal, so I went to bed in a fair degree of excitement that night. I slept, though a little on edge...

4:49am - Through the thick veils of sleep
I hear something. It's not my alarm. It's my cell phone. Sleepily I wonder who could be texting me so early and I fall back asleep.

5:30am - The alarm rings and now I get up; like a shot, ready to go. I check my phone to see who texted me. It was Oliver. "Hey bud. I'm up early. Now I'm wishing I would have gone. How's the river?"

5:55am - I respond, "Still not too late :). Not there yet, but the graph spiked really high. So it could all be for naught. Pulling on my waders now and should be fishing in 30 minutes."

6:14am - Oliver: "So you're not going to where you said you were going?"

6:15am - Oliver: "Good luck with it!"

6:21am - Oliver: "Let me know how it looks. I'm super curious!"

6:44am - Me: "Standing in the river now, watching the sun rise. Waiting to see what the water colour's like..."

6:50am - Oliver: "Cool! Wish I was there..."

Less than fifteen minutes later, any reader more perspicacious than I am (which is not hard to imagine) will already have anticipated the fact that the sounds I heard behind me, of some impertinent angler intent on destroying the quiet stillness of the morning, were made by none other than Oliver himself! I was happy and sad, surprised and disappointed all at once. Happy to see my friend, sad that I wouldn't be able to spend the whole day with him, disappointed for him that he'd made such a long trek for possibly only a very short time together, and of course surprised to see him there. I was a little hopeful that we'd get a chance to fish together later in the day, but I knew he'd probably have to leave before I got free again.

The air had kept a small tinge of winter, but it was very still. From where we fished, we could see the lake spreading out its vast mirror to the quickening sunrise. Smoke from a cigar curled up around my hat brim as we spoke quietly, anticipating the coming successes of the season ahead - and even in the gloaming before the full light of day we were somewhat surprised that no rod anywhere had yet indicated the presence of some unwary fish.

By 8am, I had to leave, and we were in wait-and-see mode as to whether Oliver would still be around, by the time my Mr. Mom shift ended. There isn't much to tell other than that, while I cleaned up the house and kept my cub warm and attended to, Oliver hopped from creek to creek in search of any kind of bite. I finally did manage to catch up with him on the far eastern portion of my home range. We had enough time to share a smoke together, attempt to catch fish as we and other fishermen stared wistfully at the blue horizon of Lake Ontario, and as usual share good conversation and quality time together.  

Part II - Early April

Little less than a week later, it was Bill's turn to pay me a visit. We planned to fish on the Sunday, so we expected to meet some fairly serious fishing pressure, which is not generally as bad on weekdays. Mind you, when I was a lad, weekdays, the rivers were usually pretty much deserted... *sigh*.

Bill and I met up in the parking lot, arriving almost at the same time. Being close to home, I had already donned my apparel and was ready to go, so I went down to the river first - ahead of the rest of the gathering crowd - to make sure that one of my favorite spots at least would be ours for the morning.

I can never get enough of quiet Great Lakes mornings. Taken in contrast to the enormous roar and foam of the Lake when in storm, still mornings - with a baby's breath no more powerful than any wisp you might encounter in your living room - seem almost miraculous; hushed as they are, with only the cries of far off gulls and the gentle tinkle of wavelets on the rocky shore entwining in a never ending and calming music, just within hearing.  It is a murmur so gentle that it seems to accentuate the silence rather than break it. Even the most brazen and loud-spoken angler seems to revere it; and if someone laughs, it simply gets rolled up in the cottoned air becoming part of the overall andante, the morning "berceuse" that it is our rare privilege to experience.

However, this wondrously late Spring would deliver no greater piscatorial success to Bill and I, than it had previously to Oliver and I. It seemed that a curse might have descended upon me somehow, and I was bringing bad luck to my friends. As I finish this up, with the opener getting closer and closer, I hope this unlucky trend is discontinued shortly.

Part III - Mid April

In retrospect, I can see that timing was at once more difficult and important than usual. There were precious few days where the water temperatures were high enough for fish to actually be active enough to bite; and I missed all of those. When waters were high, there was still a good deal of run-off, which in turn meant that waters ran cold - too cold for fish to actively feed or jump, but evidently not cold enough for them to trickle slowly up-river and up into the safe zones.

I could not ask for better proof of this than the results of this past weekend.
On Easter Saturday, I went out for a quick morning foray and found the usual haunts mostly devoid of anglers as well as their quarry. I did manage to locate at least one fish, probably a 5 or 6 pound steelhead, which twisted and pulled and yanked itself free in a little over 30 seconds of battle - the silver of its sides had glinted beautifully in the green water, lit with sunrise as it was. Though I saw another pair of fish hooked by other anglers, we mostly just flossed water. And the tale was the same from everyone; everywhere they'd been, the anglers were present but the steelhead were not.

As nature delivered two warm days back to back, the answer became gloriously obvious. It seems that the trout have been trickling their way up river, even through the heaviest of the thaw, and they'd been waiting just below dams for the water to warm up enough to allow them to leap and finish their upstream journeys. They came in droves, sometimes five and six at a time, attempting to conquer waterfalls and dams.

Time for blogging has run out; time for getting ready is short!

Part IV - End April (TBD)