For those who are either out west or up north from Cleveland, you’re probably just getting into the good fishing weather for trout species. However in Cleveland, these are the dog days. If you’re unfamiliar, picture someone soaking a blanket in hot water and then draping it over you. Maybe hitting you over the head a few times with a wet pillow. That’s kinda like our humidity. Granted, bass fishing can be excellent here. And Erie boasts a respectable walleye fishery year round. But if you’re on the fly and on the river, even the bass fishermen are fairly well dispersed. You can fish a spot all day sometimes and not see another soul. Especially if you’re targeting carp, which means you’ll basically run into me or my friend Nate. The latter being the only person I know who can catch the bastards.
I, in particular, am extremely grateful when I’ve got some space between me and the next angler. After experiencing three spring runs on the Rocky River, I’ve finally found (through generous and more experienced friends) some good spots for steelhead where I’m not having to box out competitors and start throwing elbows. Places where my party and I can casually work up and down and up and down a run and can pretty much lock a section down with our mere presence. Generally we hit the river in groups of 2-5 but in most cases its 3. Just enough to cover some space while still maintaining some space between us. Far enough that we’d need to shout to communicate (not that we would) but close enough that if we lay into the trophy, we’ve got a net man/camera man nearby to facilitate our transcendence to legend status. Although more often it plays out as being close enough that you can show your respectable fish and get a head nod from your neighbor. Works for me.
During this time of year however, we start to dream about cooler weather and the reappearance of those pink streaked monsters in our shallow river. The bass are respectable, but the steel. The steel. It’s been my experience that the spring run on the Rocky River is far better than the fall run. Truth be told, I’ve yet to catch a Rocky River steelhead in the fall so my observation is bitterly biased. It’s one of those baffling things where I just can’t seem to find them yet everyone else seems to know where they are. I am optimistic that some of the aforementioned new spots will produce this fall, but we won’t know till we get there.
What’s more likely is that I’ll be taking as many trips as possible to some of the small creeks in PA where they have a prolific fall run on a regular basis. Problem is, we aren’t the only ones who know about it. CLEARLY, we’re not the only ones. Claiming real estate on these creeks rivals anything you’d see on those survivor shows. Descending down slippery cliff walls that if my wife saw them, she’d slap me upside the head. Camping out a spot at least a full hour before first light. Fishing under duress as a pack of Doberman Pinschers growl and snarl at you from across the stream, while you thank god the water is just deep enough to keep them from crossing. Practically sprinting along a “shortcut” through the woods in waders and gear just so you might get the chance to leapfrog the group just up river of you, only to find that there’s another group there at the next hole and you’ve shaken up your entire supply of beer.
Not only do you have to contend with the crowds, but there can be a language barrier as well. The Rocky River has its share of “Russians.” I didn’t come up with this term, but it is most definitely talked about. Most likely, they’re not even Russian, but they definitely have a vague Eastern European vibe to them so they’ve come to bear the burden of cold war animosities. Or perhaps Russia bears the burden of these fishermen… The worst are the snaggers. Ripping weighted spoons across clusters of unsuspecting steelhead, then celebrating as though they didn’t just throw the equivalent of a hand grenade into an otherwise fishable pod. On the Rocky, you’ll only stumble onto these guys occasionally. In PA, they’re everywhere, American and “Russian” alike. And like most people from the rest of the world, they do not subscribe to the more stringent American standards of personal space. Especially if you’re hooking up. It seems like they’re familiar with the standard though, as they won’t just outright stand next to you. They’ll set up about 20-30 feet upstream from you. And each time you cast, and your eye follows the drift, they shuffle a little bit closer while your eyes are downstream.
This particular scenario happened to Andy towards the end of the fall run last year. We had earned our spot by showing up well before daylight (and hammering a few beers). Along with daybreak came the lazier fishermen who felt they earned something just by being there. It was me, Andy and Mickey, with Andy on the upstream end, Mickey in the middle, and me targeting the tailout downstream. A group of three guys in neoprene waders come ambling downstream towards Andy who’s fishing a waterfall as it dumps into a deep pool into the path of at least 12 sizeable steelhead. Andy is literally at the head of the pool, and some schmuck sets up shop above the fall and starts drifting 10 feet past Andy. Andy calmly asked him to stop, and the guy pretty much said he would, in broken english. Then the guy start scooting closer. And closer. And each time, Andy, becoming more agitated, would raise the volume of his protests. Finally, Andy exploded… “MOOOOOOOOOOVE!!!!” In that little valley, his voice echoed and sent me into a laughing fit. What followed was an exchange for the ages, with Andy’s voice breaking from pent up rage and the Russian, soundly oddly like Balki Bartokomous from Perfect Strangers, shouted “But there’s room for everybody, buddy!” Only it sounded more like, “Ders room for ayvereebahdee, bahdee!”, which of course became the catchphrase for the rest of the trip. Apparently Andy had just enough apocalypse behind his eyes to send this persistent “ruskie” fleeing. Ironically, I think all the commotion scared the bejebus out of the pod we were fishing and we moved on probably 20 minutes later.
To some of you, this may sound like an absolute nightmare. And while there are certain spots on the Rocky that will get a little too crowded for comfort, you can generally find your own space if you work at it. But when your trout population disappears during the summer months, and you’ve grown tired of chasing smallmouth and carp in sweltering heat, you start to long for those crowded streams. At least there are trout. Big ones. And here it is, only the end of June and I’ve already started stocking my fly boxes for the fall run. I suppose the Cleveland summer is much like the mountain or northern winters for distant fishermen. It could be worse I guess. At least we do have something to fish for between our runs but comparing those summer species to the brute force of a steelhead just doesn’t level out.
In the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep tying and hope that it stops raining so I can at least go for smallmouth. It’s setting up to be one of the rainiest summers on record and I for one am not enjoying my rivers looking like chocolate milk and destroying everything in their path, including me. So I just keep daydreaming and hoping that my new spots on the Rock will pan out and get me into some fall run steel on my home waters. If not, we’ll have to brave the crowds and hope Andy can provide some levity with the help of some hapless crowder who stumbles into his wrath. But if there’s steelhead, we’ll be there.