The temps are dropping in these parts. While walking the dogs in our neighborhood last night, I saw my breath for the first time. The air was crisp and the static shock of anticipation has been crackling up and down my spine as the thermometer slowly drops. Around here though, you’re not just waiting for the temps. You’re waiting for the rain too.
The temperature is that first sign for the weary angler just beginning to sense something coming. But those temperatures are a bit of a tease. Cruising the social media outlets and you start to find idle chatter and posts saying something to the equivalent of “my chrome senses are tingling” or maybe “the skies are looking a little steelhead gray.” It starts out slow. Just little blips in the steady flow of media that comes across our field of view. It builds gradually and eventually, with sustained cool temperatures, it becomes a cacophony of noise with fishermen purposely mocking eachother “I saw the first chrome over in this spot” or that spot, knowing full well that comment sent at least half a dozen steelhead loyalists rushing to the river, practically on all fours.
Then it happens. Not the big run. But the first mini push of steelhead into our local rivers and with them, the first pictures of grip and grins on social media. We play it cool and say, “Eh, I’ll wait for the run to really get going before I get excited.” But even as you say it, your eyes are pouring over the backgrounds of the photographs, searching desperately for clues as to where the fish was caught, what fly was used, and what time of day it was.
That’s about where we are now here in northeast Ohio. We’re starting to see those pictures of those lucky SOB’s who are either unemployed or work nights. These are always the first fishermen to get into the chrome. Those who have zero responsibilities during daylight hours. And they just sit there, sitting in MY river holding beautiful fish before I’ve even had a chance to fill up my fly boxes. But I digress.
That’s the first mini push. What we’re really waiting for is the rain. The real rain. The Rocky River especially is a pretty shallow river with a lot of natural and a few man made falls. Most of the river is not navigable by steelhead until we get that first real rain. After that, they can make a real push up over the various obstacles between them and… coitus. Up to this point, the chatter has actually died down a little. We’re all thinking about it, but we’ve made promises to ourselves to varying degrees of resolve that we will not think about steelhead, we will not think about steelhead, we will not think about steelhead…. We’re waiting…
Then it happens. With a weeks worth of cool temperatures and consistent reports of steelhead stacked at the mouth of the river, the rain starts. It starts with a vengeance. The fall in northeast Ohio can get pretty sloppy. It’s no Pacific Northwest, but we can get several days in a row of solid rain followed by a short reprieve and then another surge of wet weather. But that first rain, the chatter that died down explodes in every venue of your social perspective of the world. Friends are texting you. Non-anglers seem to disappear on Facebook as your timeline is consumed by weather reports, flow rates, and predictions on when the river will clear up.
There it is. That last one. When the river will clear up. Those few days between a heavy rain and a fishable river are perhaps the longest days in a steelheaders life. Time seems to stand still. It’s then that those guys who work nights become your best friends in the world, because they’re out there scouting the river and if you’re lucky, reporting their findings back to you. I’ve said many times in the past that the flow/depth/temperature gauges on all rivers should also have some kind of device that measures water clarity. Every year, when the rains hit, I think I’ve got it figured out as to when the river will be fishable. I’m looking at my calendar, trying to figure out if “clarity” will fall on a weekend or if I’ll need to take a vacation day. I make my arrangements. I email my wife, Candice, “Would you mind if I tried hitting the Rocky on Saturday?” I desperately try to convince my brother Mickey, Andy, Erik or any of my friends to join me on what is surely to be a fools errand. Surely to them at least, but to me, I’ve got it figured out this year. I know it’s going to be perfect.
Inevitably I’m wrong. Dead wrong. I get too reliant on the flow chart. And I underestimate on a regular basis the Rocky River’s capacity to run muddy. Like, super muddy. I’m a busy man. With a 2 and a half year old at home, a wife who’d like me to show my face every now and then, and a full time job, my windows of opportunity to fish must be calculated carefully. Buuuuuut I’ve never been good at math. That morning, I’ll suit up in the waders that I laid out the night before. I’ll throw on the Simms pack that I carefully sorted through and reorganized the night before, stocking it with snacks, bourbon and cigars. I’m out the door by 5am and on the river, in my spot, with everything set up at least a half hour before first light. Sun comes up…. Chocolate milk. The river looks like chocolate milk. So bummed.
Every year it happens. Every year I think I’ll be calmer and cooler about it and I won’t get so amped up that I blow my first real opportunity, but I do it every year. So I guess I’m writing this as a plea for help. After that first big rain, when I call you or text you, pleading for you to join me, tell me to “calm the hell down.” If not, it’ll be like every fall and spring. Me, standing alone, waiting in mud with a sad look on my face.