Combat Fishing Parade
We stood, at 5:30 am, just off the lake shore as two foot waves crashed against our knees and shins trying to push us back on to dry land. Donny assured me that the lake would calm down as the morning progressed.
There were 5 of us total who stood in the darkness, forfeiting sleep, just to get a good fishing spot in the hopes that steelhead would gather in front of us wanting to make a run towards the shallow creek. The lack of rain kept the creek very low and the chance of a steelhead crossing the shallows of the pebbled and sandy beech to the creek were slim. Inevitably they would come, shallow water or not, and we were there to greet them.
Like every year they would come by the hundreds sooner or later. We also knew, like every year, we would be joined by other steelhead hunters, how many we weren’t exactly sure.
The lake air wasn’t just chilly, for early October, it was cold, at least compared to the warm and mild September. Duofold undershirt, fleece sweat and insulated flannel button down kept my upper half warm and wind resistant under my fishing vest. My 3mm neoprene hip waders kept my bottom half dry and warm from the lake temperature.
We stood patiently as the first sign of light appeared in the east behind the peninsula. A red glow found enough space between the heavily clouded sky to filter through and give us hope it would be light soon.
I’ve stood many a morn in the deep forest gazing out through the early darkness, in hunting season, quietly waiting for a sight of a deer. How many dim lit early morns I sat against a tree watching for a lone squirrel foraging for nuts? This morning was different. The only reason to be out this early for steel was to get some pleasant angling in before combat fishing with the soon to be crowds.
As Donny and I stood chatting in the darkness, streaks of light would be seen across the shore from headlights turning into the parking lot behind us. The more daylight appeared the more headlights would grace the lake shore.
I didn’t need much light to cast my white bunny leech out into the darkness of the lake. Being bored I started my wind up and fished the tide. Soon Donny followed suite with a white woolly bugger. The indicator and bobber fishermen stood with their lines still connected to their hook keepers. It was still too dark for them to see out onto the lake to see their indicators. Soon the waves calmed down as Donny predicted and as if someone turned on a switch, the lake shore lit up with daylight. The rest of the group started to cast and fish into the opaque water. It was quiet along the lake shore as a cool breeze blew in now and then. We stood with eagerness but content under the gun metal gray clouds that hovered above us waiting for that first steel!
Donny hooked up first with a good fight of a rambunctious steelhead. His Sage rod took on the beast as it flexed with each pull and quick turning movements. Donny got the beast to shore and a big smile lit up on his face.
It was within the first hour of daylight when I felt a line tap my hat brim and I felt a tug on my vest. Donny had somehow got out of rhythm with his fly stick and his wild false cast landed his bugger into my vest. We laughed as I jokingly said I was glad I had my safety sunglasses on. He commented that I should have worn a Kevlar vest.
Soon we could see swirls atop the water made from schooling steel beneath. Hook ups were more frequent. Donny and the tandem fisherman next to him were connecting more often than the rest of us. From behind us some kid squeezed between Donny and the next guy to his right. Donny let him know about the closeness in other than kind words. The kid gave him a little more room forcing the other guy a bit to his right. I noticed the tandem guys were hooking up more often than the rest of us. I also noticed they had more disconnects and the ones they did get in usually had a fly hooked to the dorsal fin or a pelvic or pectoral fin, just saying!
The bait casters to my left and I kept a comfortable distance between us so we had more room to cast and fish in front of us. We shared the space and kept track when one was fishing deep, with a bobber or streamer fishing to keep from tangling.
Two guys had a double going as we waited for them to get their fish under control and nearer to them. When I seen the two getting their fish to cooperate I roll cast my sucker spawn out into the lake not too far out. It didn’t take long for my orange top indicator to go down and pull towards the open lake. I yanked back the rod, the line tightened and I felt the massive weight on the other end as I called out “FISH ON’. Wet fly line flung water as it raised from coils upon the water in front of me, through my fingers and rod guides. The clicking reel gave alarm to the speed of the rod bending fish. The fish stayed below the surface as it pulled with more of its weight than speed of a steelhead, if that makes much sense. I wasn’t in a hurry to force this guy in, I seen too many escapees and snapped lines from earlier hook ups. Only I knew the strength of this fish through my clinched grip and tightening arm muscles when I tried to turn him towards me. The fish finally broke water in front of us just enough to show its bronze brown dark spotted back. I kept tension as the big brown went deep again and pulled line out to my left.
The guy beside me asked if I wanted him to net the big fish. I accepted his voluntary request and tried to keep the brown at bay while he retrieved the net from the bank. The brown was only a few feet from two fishermen on the far left and got a good eyeball on the big brown. He rose displaying his thick back and dove again as I kept tension on the line. Beneath I felt the shock in the line as he tumbled beneath and my line went slack. Bringing in line I saw the tippet shown signs of the line breakage at the hook knot. That’s fishing!!
As time went on more fisher people participated in the parade. Soon colored power bait would be seen flying through the air like jawbreakers being thrown from parading fire trucks. Sucker spawn and streamers were being cast along with bobbers and indicators displaying an array of candy looking objects. Spectators sat on lawn chairs, or stood, on the beach to watch this undeniable spectacular event. Caught fish would be seen taking air in acrobatic fashion as kids watched in astonishment. Fly lines were tossed in the air with uncontrolled loops by amateurs but also straight lines and perfect loops would be seen gracefully air born by those with more experience. Caught fish splashed upon the watery bank and then displayed to loved ones or friends for a classic memorable picture.
“FISH ON” “RIGHT, RIGHT, FAR RIGHT” “LEFT, HARD LEFT” were shouted be lucky fishermen like a conductor giving orders to their marching band.
I even saw a few clowns among us……
Swirls of fish would come in and with that things got more hectic. On my next big catch my indicator sunk instantly. I set the hook hard and the fish took off like a “‘hell cat’ with tail afire!”
“FISH ON, RIGHT” I called out. Guys quickly reeled in as my fly line danced across the lake surface following the fish. There was no way stopping him and when I seen my white 20lb backing shoot through the guides I double clicked the drag knob tighter to slow him down. He felt the excessive pressure and leaped, exploding, out of the water some 45 yards away. We watched as the big fat fish cleared water and showed his athletic ability in somersaulting back into the “Big Pond.” I put the screws to him and he reluctantly followed, briefly. My line went slack and he won the scramble freeing himself. That’s fishing!
Sometimes you can do everything you think is right and still not bring a steelhead to hand.
I brought in the line and noticed my sucker spawn was still dangling from the 6lb tippet. Within the next fifteen minutes I hooked up 4 times, briefly, before I inspected my sucker spawn only to find that the hook was bent open. Lesson learned!
Donny and others were still hooking up while I was tying another spawn on. All of a sudden a guy splashed his way over and squeezed in, within arms length, between me and the considerate bait casters. Our comfort zone was now lost to the ignorant fly fisherman. He instantly hooked up before my next cast. I took a couple of steps back as he took two steps forward to keep from elbowing me. By the time he got the fish in my patients were thin and I was about to say something to him when Donny noticed he knew the guy. I kept quiet as they talked about walleye fishing.
More late new comers started to squeeze in and jockey for position. Kayakers, out on the lake, paddled closer for some action. One actually got hooked up with a shore fisherman as their lines stretched from lakeshore to kayak. Hooked fish were being lead in or being fought on tangled lines, limp flying bobbers and indicators. Elbow and rod flinging combaters were raging havoc over the once mild mannered crowd. Spectators watched as the world of steelhead fishing in Lake Erie became a combat zone.
I was standing still waiting to cast when a line passed by my eyes and a hook lodged into my rod gripping finger. I yelled, to stop any further action of the two fishermen untangling their lines. The pain shot through an arm nerve to my brain as I winced. I quickly dislodged the hook with a tug and I was glad to see blood flow from the puncture, hopefully seeping out any loose metal or would be infectious germs from the fish hook.
I had enough at that point and gave up the combating parade. I didn’t have the ignorant mannerism that was now so prevalent among the parade of anxious fishermen. I stepped back and joined Gary and the parade spectators on shore.
Gary and I left for new water to explore. A new creek and mild Fuente cigar calmed my nerves and I was almost back to normal by days end, almost! Ha!