As a novice to the sport of fly fishing, I’ve had plenty of tangles, snags and broken leaders in the first year.
After learning the craft catching bluegill and some smallmouth on poppers last summer, last fall, I took on a new challenge of fishing Lake Erie’s tributaries and the steelhead population.
For years I had heard of the “Steelhead Run” into the local rivers. However, I never fished for them.
Attending a few educational seminars around town in the fall, I picked up my gear and headed out to the Rocky River just west of downtown Cleveland the second weekend of October.
Continually roll casting upstream and throwing mends in the line got old quick after seeing my indicator continually stay afloat without a tug or anything. On the counter, it was frustrating to see the indicator go under only to find out you’ve snagged the bottom. One thing fly fishing does teach is patience and relaxation, something I nor anyone else has in this generation.
Getting skunked in the fall wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. I learned a lot about nymphing, steelhead and different types of water across Northeast Ohio. Plus I met some great people through the sport and explored the area I grew up in; finding places I never knew existed.
A long winter came in November and ran well into late March, with the month of February never reaching above freezing throughout Northeast Ohio. Even March was impossible to fish with the rivers taking nearly 4-6 weeks to fully thaw and reach “normal” levels.
But once the water got into fishing range, I found the same level of frustration. Roll cast, mend, feed line, get a drag free drift became lectures to me after I was doing just that but not getting as much as a hit on my line.
I watched others around me catch and bask in the glory of landing one of these prized fishes. Without envy, I enjoyed watching others enjoy finding success on the rivers. After all, I was the new guy having only been involved in the sport for less than one year.
But in late April, I went out on a Sunday night after dinner with a good feeling that something would have to give.
I walked into the river and found my favorite spot of water with nobody around. Bingo. For the first 20-30 casts I found myself disappointed once again and feeling pessimistic as I watched the indicator drift through the riffle untouched.
After taking a deep breath I realized the flies needed to get lower and in the feeding zone just as I had been told for months.
I raised my indicator (or bobber as I tend to still call it sometime) and added some weight to the tippet and wham! I pulled in the slack line to get the fish on the reel and began fighting this beautiful hen as she broke water and pulled my drag.
After a hard fight the fish tired and I landed her, enjoying my own moment of bliss that I had seen others enjoy throughout the previous weeks.
While this 21.5” hen isn’t the biggest trophy Lake Erie steelheaders caught this past season, it along symbolizes something way more than length and weight.
It’s the reward of putting in hours on the river, hours and empty wallets, buying the gear you need to get started with the sport. But more importantly that one fish symbolizes the beginning of a sport I am now hooked on and pray my future spouse and kids will learn and keep fly fishing a sport for all ages rather than “an old man’s game” which many perceive it to be.