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Fishing the Island Nation

By Tim Giger (Bluegill222), Kansas

It all started about a month earlier, in March, when my wife decided she wanted to visit my sister-in-law and her family in Ohio. Before this, Jen and her children lived in Stockton, Missouri, in the heart of the Ozarks, which meant ample opportunities for fishing trips thinly disguised as family unity (i.e., Gee, honey, I think we should spend more time with your sister and the kids). When Jen got remarried and moved to Cleveland, I started researching the fishing opportunities in the island nation of Ohio.

Of course, one of the very first steps in this process was going to the bulletin board here at FAOL and asking if anyone knew of any good fishing spots in the Cleveland area. Of course I got answers, good ones too, along with a few good natured instructions on what immunizations and such I would need to cross the border into Ohio, which, like Texas, is apparently a whole other country. Also, I was pleasantly surprised to receive offers to fish from several Ohio FAOLers, most notably Mike Flanagan (aka Ohiotuber) and Joe Valencic (aka Joe Valencic). Mike was offering monster bluegills, while Joe had the latter part of the winter steelhead run on tap. With only one available day to fish, it was like having to choose between prime rib and lobster. What's a guy to do in that situation?

Luckily, after a bunch of pm's back and forth between Mike and me we worked out a way to have both. Mike got a whole day off work, so we would go after steelhead in the morning with Joe, and then hit the bluegill pond in the evening. Sounded perfect to me. All I had to do now was try to figure out how to sleep at night for the remaining days before the trip. And hope that my talent for bringing bad weather with me wherever I go would misfire just this one time.

As the day approached the weather forecasts looked more and more like my jinx would hold. I only had the one day to fish, and since Mike had taken a day off specifically to fish with me, moving the day would not be an option. Luckily the weather channel got it wrong this time. The day dawned cloudy and cool, but without the rain that had been promised as recently as the night before. As I got my gear ready and waited for Mike to pick me up, I decided the best way to keep the rain away was to be as ready for wet weather as possible, so I grabbed my rain gear, my waterproof hat, and dared the weather to try and spoil our fun.

Mike was a little late getting to the house after spending the night before with the grandchildren, then, halfway to pick me up realizing he had left his box of steelhead flies at home and having to turn around and go back for them. But arrive he did, thanks in part to his trusty new GPS system, and with him he brought two boxes of his world famous peanut butter fudge. "One," he said, "to share with the family here, and one to take back home to Kansas for Betty Hiner." I took the fudge in the house, packed my stuff in the car, and we were on our way.

It turned out that Joe couldn't get the day off to fish with us after all, but we were going to stop by his place on the way to the river to grab a pair of waders he was lending me, and to get some advice on where to start the hunt for Ohio steelies. Over breakfast, Joe gave us directions to the Grand River, told us about a tackle shop along the way to buy permits, and sent us on our way with a handful of steelhead flies tied just for the occasion.

Grand River Tackle was right where Joe said it would be, and the access point we decided to fish at was right where the young lady working at the tackle shop said it would be, so in short order we were in our waders and headed for the water. Beyond my wildest hopes, the day was turning out to be a beautiful, partly cloudy, cool late April day, absolutely perfect for what we were going to do. At this point I should mention that this is the first time I have ever gone after steelhead, and one of a fairly limited number of times I'd chased salmonids at all. I knew just enough from reading articles and talking to some of my steelheading customers to be able to look at the river and get a vague idea of what might be productive water. So we spent a few minutes looking at the river, with Mike filling me in on how we should approach the river and what our best options might be. We decided to start by working a couple deep cuts on the near side of the river and working our way up to a set of riffles at the bottom of a long, deep looking run.

Nothing much happened after about 45 minutes of swinging leaches and buggers through the cuts, so we moved up to the riffles. There I was greeted by a sight that all by itself would have made the day for me. The steelhead were stacked up in the riffles, with an occasional big fish breaking the surface in the run above. We'd found the fish, now all we had to do was catch them, right? Right about this time it came into my mind that the two controlling themes of much of the steelheading literature were the number of casts between hook-ups, and the number of hook-ups between landed fish. The thought humbled me and I calmed down and went to work. Mike and I were both still swinging leeches and woolies. I could get fish to look. I could even get fish to follow. I even got one fish to half-heartedly snap at the fly, but I couldn't get any of them to eat one. I looked over occasionally to see Mike having much the same luck. I was having fun watching big fish in shallow water reacting to the flies, and I was learning a lot, but it was getting a little frustrating as well.

Mike was apparently feeling the same. I watched him as he waded out of the river and went back to the car. He came back with a box of egg patterns. I put on a chartreuse one, and Mike tied on a pink one. That seemed to change things. We weren't back in the river for too long at all when Mike gave a yell. I looked over to see him looking down stream, a deep bend in his rod as a nice fish tried to muscle its way to deeper water. It took several minutes in which it wasn't completely clear who it was who had whom, but by the time I'd worked my way over to them, Mike had worked the beautiful 28" steelhead into water deep enough it could still breathe, but too shallow to continue to fight. Mike carefully unhooked the fish while I fished my camera out of my jacket. Unfortunately the fish flopped unexpectedly and affected its own release before we could get the picture. Mike's gentle handling and not playing the fish to exhaustion cost a great picture, but we both agreed it was worth it to see it swim off into the current healthy, fresh, and ready to fight another day. After that, Mike hooked another fish, but lost it, and I had two hook-ups and failed to land either of them. Long distance releases have never upset me that much, and just to feel the power of those fish on the line, even if only for a few moments, was enough for me to consider my first attempt at steelhead a success. God willing, it won't be my last chance.

From there, we dropped the waders off at Joe's and headed to a bluegill/bass pond that belongs to a friend of Mike's. Mike told me this pond routinely gives up 10" bluegills and bass of a couple pounds. That sounded like a good time to me. We were a little worried, though. The sky had begun to cloud back up and the temperature was dropping. Neither of those are good signs when it comes to early season panfishing, and we were afraid the fish might not be in a feeding mood as we pulled up to the pond.

I was on much more familiar ground here. Farm pond bluegills are what I spend most of my fishing time chasing here in Kansas, and I was anxious to see if the hometown flies performed as well on the road. Mike had some ants he had tied, and I started with a foam cricket with a fox squirrel nymph dropper. As we feared, the cooling temperatures did slow the bite down somewhat, but you won't hear me complain as the size of the fish made up for it. In the short time we were there, I caught maybe a dozen bluegills, none of which were less than eight inches and most were over nine inches. Surprisingly for that early in the year most of the bluegills hit the foam cricket. At one point I switched to a deer hair bass bug to see if I could entice some of the bass that also were to be found there. The big bass never materialized, but I picked up several in the 10" to 14" range, and one super aggressive 9 ¾ inch bluegill that was almost as deep as he was long.

The sun was sneaking below the horizon when we packed up the rods and headed to Akron for dinner. A cold beer at an Irish pub style restaurant that featured homemade potato chips on its menu made the perfect final touch for a great day on the water. As Mike dropped me off at my sister-in-law's house, I couldn't help but feel blessed. I had met two fellow FAOLers who had both, based solely on our online association, taken me into their lives for a day, lent me waders, and showed me a sample of what the waters of the island nation of Ohio have to offer. The friendships made and waters shared were the real gifts of the day, the fish were just icing on the cake. ~ Tim

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