A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of working in Fast Jimmi's second Orvis Cleveland steelhead school. The event was held again at the Conneaut Creek Club, which with its streamside location, trout pond, and rustic cabin, has quickly become a student and instructor favorite. This spring's school was very similar the one held in the fall - lots of great students, lots of opinions (hopefully correct ones) on steelhead shared, some firsts on the river, and a couple midnight trout pond missions.
Since I'm not going to divulge midnight, budweiser-inspired trout pond tactics for Kamloops, we'll move to the next best thing, and that's the time that I was able to spend on the water with the students.
Jimmy had been telling me for months how excited he was for this spring's school. He had a couple students attending that took part in one of his fly tying classes over the winter, two of whom were a local father-son duo that were brand new to steelheading, and pretty new to fly fishing as well.
I remember my first steelhead like it was yesterday. I was ten, fishing with a spinning rod off the concrete embankment alongside the Gates Mills dam on the Chagrin, on Halloween (pre trick-or-treating of course), and the fish ate a pink tube jig. I insisted to my parents that we keep the fish, and they had it mounted and presented it to me on my birthday a few months later. That fish still sits above my bed at my parents house, and each time I'm home it serves as a reminder for how I became hooked on these fish and this fishery.
When William and his father Martin saddled up in my car on Saturday afternoon after a morning of classroom instruction I think I was nearly as excited as they were. It's not often that a guide gets the opportunity to instruct in this type of setting. Usually a guide trip involves fishing, and any guide would be lying if they told you that until the first first found the bottom of the net they were feeling the pressure - it's easier to catch a fish than to pull off the master dog-and-pony show. Regardless, in this setting the goal was learning, and learning only. Neither William or his Dad thought they were going to catch anything all weekend, although each of them had their hopes and they took that hope with them to the river.
After a short walk upstream, we started to fish. I had each of them pick out a spot they though might have fish in it, explain to me why they thought it might be good, and then they got to it. It wasn't long until Will's bobber went down, and he set up on his first...
Sucker! His first fish ever on a fly rod.
For the next fifteen minutes every time Will's indy went under his face lit up with a huge smile. They were all snags until he tied in to this biggun.
After we released the fish Will looked at me and asked politely if we could try to catch another one, and that if we were lucky enough to catch a second, could we take it home and mount it. At that point his Dad told me how they had a carp sitting in their freezer at home that Will had brought home to mount the previous summer. Now that Will was away from home for a weekend, Martin suspected that the woman of the house was going to dispose of Will's frozen bounty and wouldn't approve of a replacement, even if it was a steelhead.
Afternoon turned into evening, and Will and his Dad had some more luck before it was time to head back to the cabin for dinner.
I could feel the excitement from both of these guys the whole way home. They were jazzed up and exhausted at the same time after their first day of steelheading. I was pretty excited for the next day. The water had been up a bit, and we had gotten our behinds handed to us by a few fish. It seemed like there were some hot chromers around, and tomorrow we were going to get another shot at them.
We started day two a little bit earlier, and it was a warm, sunny day. The creek had dropped quite a bit, but was still holding great color. The whole group started out in the same area, and then William, Martin, and I headed off on a long hike upstream. The plan was to hotspot a bit, and see if we could find those chromers that we'd had a taste of the day before.
After a half-dozen suckers in a row out of this hole, Will got one of the fish we'd come back for.
When I first tailed the fish in the net, it's first kick almost dislocated my shoulder. This fish was as fresh as I've ever seen them come in during the spring. Dime bright, dark back, and doodaddies like all steelhead fisherman dream of.
We moved upstream and both Will and his Dad got in to a handful more fish, and eventually got back to the spot where Will had caught his first fish the day before - the sucker hole. This time it was Dad's turn to get "the fish" he'd been after all weekend. It wasn't the longest steelhead Martin had caught this weekend, but it was by far the heaviest.
And, of course, Will wanted to hold it for a few pictures...
As I mentioned above, it isn't often that a guide gets an opportunity to take two first-timers fishing, and when it does happen the trip takes on a whole different character. Will was as eager a fisherman as I can remember, and he's lucky to have parents who are so supportive of him pursuing something that he's passionate about. Being able to play a small part so many firsts for him and his Dad on the river was really rewarding. It isn't often where the guide gets more out of the trip than the fishermen - but on those couple days I think I could make a strong argument that I did.