Written by: Tom Revis, Fishing Manager at Orvis Westlake
March is peak steelhead season here in northeastern Ohio, and a few good friends were ready to make the annual trip up north. Braving inclement and unpredictable weather, we planned the trip around early March, landing on the same weekend as the Fly Fishing Film Tour. Our logic held that, at the very least, if we couldn’t find steelhead on the river, we could find a bunch of fishy folk and good films at F3T.
A close friend, Zach, arrived Friday afternoon and Brad Kellerman, Fishing Manager of Orvis Leawood, was scheduled to land late Friday. The itinerary was simple: Fish Saturday, attend the F3T Saturday night, fish Sunday and Monday. The makings of a perfect weekend.
Rains early in the week had spiked the rivers just enough to set us up perfectly for the weekend, and our hope was that the bump in flows would bring in a fresh push of fish. Saturday morning, we were up early and headed east, beyond the city limits, in search solitude. Despite the cold air temps, hopes were high, and we had confidence in the destination.
The first fish of the trip was right where he should’ve been when Zach swung a fly through the tailout of a long pool. It was a good cold-water grab, and a few moments later, the skunk was off. This fish was bright and clean, likely one of the previous night’s new arrivals riding the bump in flows. Natural reproduction is not a major factor in our rivers, but now and then we come across a fish whose impressive appearance makes you ponder its origins. This one was likely river-born, and a great way to start the weekend.
The day ended with just one fish on the board, but everyone was feeling good. We had big plans for Sunday, assuming we survived the F3T and its after-party. We did survive, barely, and got on with our Sunday plan after only minor delays, knowing we’d likely fared better than many of the other attendees. Brad had first crack at it, and after he had fished through a few runs, his first Great Lakes steelhead finally came to hand.
On Monday, we stayed local as Brad’s flight was to leave later that day. Snowmelt from the day before had our local river shaping up nicely, and we headed that direction. A few juvenile steelhead woke us up and started our morning. Later, we jumped upstream to another run that has been very productive this season. Brad was up first again, still needing a good fish on the swing to complete the weekend. A few passes through some faster water with a black-and-blue leech, and he was locked up. Brad had his first steelhead on the swing on only his third day of steelhead fishing.
Brad headed upstream to the pool above us, as Zach and I continued to swing through the run. Not long after, we heard some hollers from upstream, and we ran that direction. Brad had a nice post-spawn hen that had eaten a stripped streamer. This led to a change of plans. I jumped in next and had another fish eat the same fly on the first cast.
Zach was last to fish through the pool, and things had seemingly gone quiet. As he reached the tailout, we were running short on time and were preparing for one last location change before Brad’s flight. Brad and I were up on the bank, assembling the rods and packs when a loud crack caught our attention. At first, we figured Zach’s fly had taken down a tree branch on a snag, until we heard the yells from downstream. Zach was hooked up and holding the top half of his rod; The strike from the fish had snapped the rod on the hookset.
We ran downstream and Brad grabbed the butt section and reel while Zach continued to play the fish with the top half of his 10’ 6-weight. The rod had snapped in two places in the butt section, leaving us in awe of what we were up against. With no net, I ran downstream with a landing glove in hopes of tailing the fish before it reached the faster water below us. After what felt like an eternity and complete chaos, the fish of the trip came to hand. This was grandpa, the bad boy of the pool.
Needless to say, memories were made and traditions were formed. Although conditions are never guaranteed during spring in northeastern Ohio, we planned for the same weekend next year. Brad had his first taste at steelhead fishing in the Great Lakes, and it didn’t disappoint. Here’s to looking forward to some more great times on the river with good friends.