Monday, December 18, 2006

Slab of the Year:

Over at a picture of a beautiful Lake Erie Steelhead caught and released by myself in the first week of December is up for a "slab of the year" contest. Go check it out.

Moldy Chum

Limiting Factors

When gas funds and time are short, there’s one stream I head for. It’s not a stocked water way, just something close to home that finds the occasional wayward steelhead. Upon asking if I’d “seen any fish” by another angler, he quickly shouted before I could respond “It’s better than sitting at home!” I guess he anticipated the nature of my unhappy body language. And so it went, until my luck changed in a place with all the right factors.

Today the water was clear and low. USGS says it was about 100CFS, half the 33year mean. Air temperatures were a high of 56F and low of 39F. Without a recent precipitation or melting event, any lone ranger hanging out in this suburban stream’s current was going to live in the most dynamic water it can find. Water with the fewest limiting factors. Within the upper most stretch of creek, just below the impassable fish barrier are three distinct areas’ that represent excellent examples of where steelhead typically take refuge under similar water conditions. Here is the run down on one of these.

The first habitat area is just below the impassable barrier to steelhead. It’s a deep plunge pool at the base of a beautiful waterfall. Finger like runs discharge the pools overflow and create lanes where active trout may frequent. Steelhead also find refuge under the surface turbidity created by the falling water. Shade is created by the numerous air bubbles on the surface, while also benefiting the trout by providing a reliable source of oxygenated water. Although not as nutrient rich or organism thick as a riffle, the depth of the pool provides excellent habitat for forage food like smelt, crayfish, gobies and various stream aquatics. Additionally, the depth allows plenty of room for the steelhead to ambush its prey. At the base of the falls the water cascades form height creating a rolling current, pushing its way down to the bottom of the pool, picking up small pieces of gravel and washing them in a continuous rinse cycle. These small polished pebbles are deposited around the perimeter of the plunge pool creating optimal spawning habitat. Here the steelhead has cover, oxygenated water, available food and spawning gravel. This is where I would take cover if I was a steelhead.

I started by bumping a green bead head bugger along the bottom substrate just in front of the waterfall. I didn't find any takes so I switched over to the Rainbow Smelt Clouser. The weight of the clouser is ideal for this deep pool. I can swing it in the heavy current created by the waterfall while achieving a significant depth; a key factor in locating steelhead hiding in low, clear waters. On the third run through the pool I had one of those steelheader's moments. For no apparent reason relying on intuition driven precision, I set the hook. What greeted me next was the head shaking rage of a beautiful colored up buck. This fish put on an impressive performance considering the tight confines of his honey hole. I brought him over to the bank at least three times but at the last second he would summon some primal reserve of strength and battle his head back down and into the current. Finally I made one last shot at scooping him from a exposed rock ledge. Leveraging my rod back, it doubled over with stored energy and I reached down for the fish's tail. Everything was going well until my shadow past over his head, unleashing a violent thrash, snapping my tippet material. My heart sank as he slinked back into the depths. I would have loved to have taken a picture of this guy.

So I have been thinking…I’m going to invest is a classy landing net for Christmas. A little something from Santa to me.

Rushton Landing Nets

Brodin Pro Series

LDH Landing Nets