Some of you may have noticed that things have been a little quiet here at DoubleHauled lately. In fact, it’s been a couple months since we’ve posted anything beyond sharing a link or a video. Worry not, DoubleHauled is not closing its electronic doors. Things have just been, well, screwy lately. First, I got a new job which has different hours that leave less time to fish and write. Andy and Erik have both been slammed at work as well. But perhaps the majority of the blame for the recent lull in activity falls squarely on the unseasonably warm and dry effects of El Nino. And here’s why;
The steelhead runs in northeast Ohio hinge on two major contributing factors.
- Cooler temps:With our shallow rivers, they tend to run on the warm side in a normal year, requiring several weeks of steady cooler temperatures to allow the water to cool off to a level conducive to trout. Average high temperatures for Cleveland during the fall are September 72.3°, October 60.8°, November 48.7°, and December 37.4°. Where have they been so far this year? September 83.6°, October 73.6°, November 57.5°. That’s +11.3° for September, +12.8° for October, and +8.8° for November. And here we are so far in December with highs not having dipped below 41° yet.
- Rain rain rain:Shallow rivers and bed rock river bottoms make it so it is damn near impossible for steelhead to move up river without copious amounts of rain. Some of the older and stronger fish may make it further up into the river systems, but we never get any real push until we’ve had steady rain that keeps the flow up high for more than just a day or two. We haven’t had nearly as much rain this year, with the Rocky River flow rate going above 400cfs only 5 times from September to December 7th. And in each of these cases, the flows were only up for a day and a half at most before plunging back down into about the 70s. For a region notorious for its gloomy and rainy transition to winter, those are crazy low numbers.
And it’s not just northeast Ohio. Steelhead numbers have been down in the major western Pennsylvania tributaries as well. I’ve even heard that the brown trout haven’t been moving up river much in the New York streams as well. It’s just an odd Fall.
So, considering the change in available hours to fish and with the unusual weather for this time of year, frankly there just haven’t been enough opportunities to fish or fish to catch for us to maintain a flow of content for the blog. Granted, we’ve gotten out a few times, with Andy having some success on the Rocky River once or twice, and my brother Mickey and some of our friends having success on a Western PA small tributary over the weekend. Me? I’m ashamed to say I’ve been skunked so far for the fall. To be fair, I haven’t gotten out many times. On the rare occasion I’ve been out, I’ve either come across ZERO fish, or I’ve found fish, but couldn’t land them. I had a beauty of a fish on the line while on the Rocky with Andy, but alas, he charged me and threw the hook. Maddening. Then over the weekend, after hours of watching my friends catching fish and the fish literally swimming out of the way of my fly (the same damn fly that my friends were using mind you) and I finally hook into two steelhead later in the afternoon. The first was a solid fish. Not long, but fat. And it took me under a log I didn’t see and broke me off mid tippet. The second wasn’t nearly as good of a fish, but in desperation I would have gladly taken it. But sure enough, it broke me off on a different log in the same pool that I couldn’t see.
Sometimes you just have days like that; days where, despite doing everything right, you’re still left with a nagging feeling that “bad luck” is a real thing and not just superstition. You can feel bad about yourself and blame the trees lining the river, or the logs and rocks in the water, or the sun or any other possible reason you can think of. But really, it all comes down to the fish and how well you fish them. And even then, no matter how perfect your presentation is, you’re still at the whim of a stubborn trout that just watched his buddy get plucked out of the river by your buddy and is understandably a little wary of that bit of yarn and feather drifting towards him. There are just days when you’re the guy catching them and days where you’re not. I’ve been on the losing end so far this fall.
Now the hard part. Since September, I’ve been nursing a bit of tennis elbow that has been infuriatingly frustrating when it comes to fly fishing, especially since it seems to be getting worse. It was most likely caused by my being a jungle gym for my toddler daughter. She insists on hanging on my arm while I swing her back and forth. Oops, at least she had fun. With the injury, casting is difficult other than a straight overhead cast, which let’s face it, is so rare to be able to use when you’ve got trees and brush behind you. More often, you’re stuck with an arsenal of roll casts and some odd tailor made flicking casts to get you underneath that low hanging branch or whatever else could be blocking the presentation to a trout you’ve been eyeballing. These casts in particular are exceedingly difficult to do with tennis elbow, as they apply significantly more torque to the tendons in your elbow. Not only that, even hooking and landing a fish is a battle in itself. Your hook sets are weak because you can’t snap your rod up. Also, you lose a lot of strength with this condition and with it, the ability to steer an angry steelhead towards a net. I’m left with the tough choice of either maintaining a strong grip and only being able to pull straight back using my legs for power or being able to steer side to side but losing all grip strength. I’m screwed either way.
So we’ve now entered into December. Weather predictions for December and January are largely a continuation of the past few months. Dry and nearly ten degrees higher than average. Add to that the nagging elbow injury and I find myself in the unenviable position of either fighting through the injury to fish conditions unfavorable to steelhead fishing, or hanging up the waders for a couple months and healing. Sadly, I think the latter will be the case. My ego has been bruised enough for one fall season and I don’t want to add a long term injury to that. I’m giving myself a target of early February to get back on the water. The winter run is a little less frantic as it is, so at that point I can ease my way back to fishing on the regular. In the meantime, I’ll keep icing my elbow, maybe get it checked out by a doc, and hopefully spend a little time at the vise so I don’t completely lose my mind. Thankfully I lost plenty of flies in trees over the weekend so I’ve got my work cut out for me.