A gust rips up the glacial valley, streaking the emerald green water, and somehow wedges itself between layers of Gore-Tex, PrimaLoft, and fleece. The weather window that looked so promising hours prior is now closing fast - dark clouds billow up from the lake and race ominously across the sky. It's one in the afternoon, but the fading light and polarized sunglasses create the impression of dusk. But there's still time - the lack of feeling in my feet temporarily abates as I trudge along the bank to the next likely run.
I'm standing in uncharted territory - miles upstream from an old bridge - rarely used, largely forgotten. I've long passed the steelhead version of Hadrian's wall in second century Great Britain - entering a section of river that few venture to. Tucked away in the rolling hills of northeast Ohio, hidden in a gorge within a valley, lies this de facto steelhead sanctuary.
Snow falls and numbs the noises of the river and woods, broken only by the sharp crack of my line ripping off the water. A swift set drives the hook home into something beneath the wintergreen stained water - I'm unclear, and uncaring if it's slate or steel. For a fleeting moment nothing moves, but just as hope fades, the line throbs violently back and forth, as a lethargic steelhead gives its first headshake. After a spirited - but brief - fight, the fish succumbs to the cold and slides gently across the surface of the river and into the net. Its crimson cheeks gasp for breath, and with each convulsion the fish's powerful body flashes chrome.
With one swift kick of its large tail, the fish shoots back into the depth of the run in the fading light. Evening is coming - and with it the decision for any fisherman at the conclusion of a good day, at a time of year when good days are tough to come by. As winter's grip clenches tighter, the reality is that days like this one are even less likely in the coming months. Caught between fading daylight measured against green water and willing fish - the angler faces a gut-wrenching, but inevitable reality.
Daylight wanes, the snow falls harder, and winter wins. It's time to go home.