As we're buried under layers of snow and a blanket of cold air that seems as if it'll never be pulled away, the "unseasonably warm" temperatures of a week ago seem like ancient history. It's impossible to say for sure whether the best winter steelhead season in recent memory is officially over or not. Despite the fact that it's the end of January, there's still some incredibly warm days forecasted for the next week. However, I guess that it's important to remember that good fishing doesn't last forever, but winter in Cleveland always does.
Over the past month I've been lucky enough to be fishing my home water of northeast Ohio, with a handful of exceptions, almost exclusively. The duality of an intimate relationship with a piece of stream so close to home is simple; when she's fishing well, there's nothing better, but for a young fly fisherman with a bit of a wild side and sense of adventure, it's easy to look past and in the belief that greener pastures lie elsewhere. Thankfully, for a variety or reasons and a bit of luck, I didn't fall into that mind trap this time.
Most of the time I've spent on the water of the past month has been by myself. Considering the time of year and weather (even on a warm day), this shouldn't come as much of a surprise to any of you. I've long believed in the importance of basic mental health (not in a clinical sense of course, but simple in the idea that it's important to do what you want and to be happy while you're doing it) and sometimes these solo expeditions on a cold, snowy day are exactly what's called for to maintain that sense of well being. When no one in their right mind is around, the snow is barreling in sideways, and even the ambient noise of the moving water is deadened by layers of fleece and frozen precipitation, it's easy to slip into that happy place.
A week or so ago Jim had the day off from work, and surprisingly enough, I had a free day as well. As I was driving back from the West Branch of the Delaware, we talked and settled on a time and a place to meet rather quickly and readied gear for the next morning. A few hours after daybreak I picked up Jim and his trusty hound, and we started driving along the river and before long we parked in a familiar place and started heading upstream.
The first pass through the run was promising - one really solid grab, and another light, but certain, pull in the tailout. I blew them both. I'll just chalk those up to road burn and a lack of sleep from the night before - but even those are pretty sorry excuses. When you're swinging in water temperatures below 35 degrees, no excuse provides comfort for a missed grab. A few fly changes and more passes through some promising water gave up nothing, and with no tangible results to show between us, we decided to make a move.
As we walked down the next place we decided to fish, I continued down the bank to set down the extra gear we always seem to drag along with us. I'd barely set everything down, when I turned around just in time to see to see Jimmy's line jump, and him set the hook into a fired up fish on his new "Big League Chew."
We swung through a few more promising runs with nothing to show for it, and decided to make one more move to a hit or miss spot. The afternoon was beginning to fade into evening, and it seemed that lately that last part of the day had been the magic hour. I'd be lying if I said we had high hopes for the last run, but after a couple of casts, I got hammered with one of the hardest strikes I'd had all winter.
After that, it only got better. The fish were hot, and as the sun got lower, the more they seemed to want our flies. The last two fish we landed pretty much summed it all up.
We walked back to the car, and sat down on my tailgate. There wasn't really much to say, but we agreed that we'd just experienced one of the best hours either of us had ever had steelhead fishing. After experiencing fishing like that there's a part of you that wishes that this is what it was like every day. Then, after you think about it, you realize that it probably shouldn't be. If success was the norm, then it wouldn't be long before it lost its luster.