Every new trout season seems to come with its own unique characteristics and challenges. Last year it was higher than normal water levels and flows and this year it’s the polar opposite: some of the lowest spring water levels I’ve ever seen on many of our southern Ontario rivers. The long cold winter, which lacked in snow but not in record low temps, has left us with some pretty difficult early spring fishing conditions. That’s not to say that good fishing can’t be had, but many holes or runs that would typically hold good numbers of fish have been relegated to a couple feet of crystal clear water – no place for a wary trout. This equates to fishing the deeper holes that still provide enough cover for fish to hold in throughout the day or limiting fishing to lower light hours.
For some reason, everyone in my house was awake at 6:30 am Wednesday morning. That may sound normal for a house with working parents and school-age kids, but it’s certainly not the norm here. The combination of flexible job hours, a night owl for a wife and kids who really like their Zzz’s keeps us all snoozing closer to 7:30-8:00 am on a normal day. Actually, who am I kidding… it’s a rare sight to see me awake at such a time, unless it involves fishing.
I’ve been itching to break out the 3 weight on my local stream this year, but early spring steelhead makes it too risky until they drop back out to the lake. With everyone awake early, the sun shining through the bedroom blinds and birds chirping, it seemed like a good morning to sneak out for a couple hours before work.
I love small streams and all the perks and challenges that come with them: solitude, stalking wary fish, light gear and technical casting. Sure, fish size generally correlates to stream size, but when you’re casting a 2-3 weight rod with 6-8x tippet on a small stream, an 8 inch trout can be just as exciting (or more so) than a 12 inch trout on a larger river.
I feel like a broken record when I mention my avoidance of steelhead over the years, but in case you missed my previous rants, it all comes down to crowds – I don’t like them. This spring though, I finally decided to put forth a bit of effort and track down some nearby steelhead water with little fishing pressure.
Unlike many excellent steelhead rivers in other regions that are open year round, we’re limited to fishing only the lower stretches of rivers that drain into the Great Lakes for the bulk of the year. The remaining middle and upper sections of rivers are open for steelhead only during regular trout season. This means that fishing between October to April has you sharing limited sections of open water with everyone else, while fishing the upper sections of water in the few weeks of open trout season when steelhead are still in the rivers brings massive crowds. Thankfully, this year’s colder temps and excessive precipitation seemed to have dragged out steelhead season longer than normal, providing more time and options to target them in the rivers.
So, a few days after opener, I hit a nearby tributary that I heard held decent numbers of fish. It’s a pretty quiet spot, surprisingly unusual to find other anglers around. The river is tight in this section, with lots of debris making it difficult to fight and land fish without having them run under a fallen tree or log jam and snap you off. My timing was right, with a good amount of rain falling in the days prior and water levels still high. Water clarity was also quite good here, making sight fishing a solid possibility. After a bit of scouting, I stumbled onto a pool with a number of active fish that seemed to be feeding.
I really wasn’t expecting to see this and likewise didn’t arrive with much of a game plan. In fact, I hadn’t prepared a single steelhead fly – no egg patterns, no bright headed buggers or anything other special. I had a bunch of size 12 hares ears, some white and black woolly buggers and a few other large streamers that I used for resident trout.
I saw a tweet a few weeks ago that hit close to home for me, describing the time immediately after trout season closing as a trout hangover. That’s almost what it feels like when I put so much thought and effort into fishing at the end of the season. Since so much fishing is crammed into so few days, my fishing gear, tying gear and other related gear gets abused, pushed to its limits and in some cases, lost. During the active season, if any of the above were to happen, I would fairly quickly remedy the situation – otherwise I would not be properly equipped for my next outing. When the season ends however, there’s no immediate motivation to do so.
A few examples from this year’s end of season:
- I lost my pair of $200 polarized sunglasses and broke my landing yet – neither has been replaced yet
- I have yet to unpack my backpack / fishing pack
- My fly tying gear is scattered everywhere
- I still need to clean my fishing gear for storage
Basically, I sort of crash after all that buildup of excitement and anticipation ends and I suddenly lose the motivation to even think about it. So yeah, I’d say it feels a lot like a hangover.
Thankfully, it’s not permanent and the fact that I’m even posting this means that I’m recovering. I need to accept the fact that there’s still fishing after trout. It mostly comes in the form of Bass and Steelhead. In fact, I took my son out fly fishing for Bass a couple weekends ago and although we didn’t catch much, it was a refreshing change.
Bass definitely change their feeding habits in the fall and I’m not overly familiar with it. One effective and fun way to fish for them during the summer is with top water flies, but this is no longer true in the fall. Also, since most bass fishing is done in water that can’t be waded, it means I need to find a better way of getting at fish in deeper water. In the summer, I would use my float tube but I’m not too keen to jump in it with the colder waters of fall. What I really need, is a pontoon boat.
Steelhead are a different story and still something that I avoid like the plague. It’s not that I dislike them: I certainly have nothing against catching 10+ lb Rainbow Trout that can and do frequently take you into your backing. It’s just that I dislike the environments that must be endured to fish for them most of the time in Southern Ontario. Perhaps it makes me sound like an antisocial snob, but I don’t particularly enjoy sharing water with many other fishermen, especially the type that often lurk by the hundreds on small stretches of water during a good Steelhead run.
Surprisingly (or not), the number of productive resident trout rivers in Southern Ontario is relatively small in comparison to the number of productive steelhead rivers. However, though you might often find yourself enjoying a nice stretch of resident trout water by yourself, you’d be hard pressed to encounter such conditions when out on one of the many steelhead rivers. It’s a real dilemma for someone who is accustomed to the much more solitary resident trout fishing of this area. I also understand that this is not exactly the norm everywhere and when I complain about the conditions here, I’m only referring to Steelhead fishing Southern Ontario (though I’m sure the problem is not unique to this area).
On the plus side, our area boasts an extremely large number of Great Lakes rivers and tributaries that see large runs of Steelhead. I’m sure there are ways to experience more solitary Steelhead fishing in the area, which I have simply not discovered. One obvious way is to stay away from the more popular rivers: in other words, don’t try to fish the Credit River at Erindale Park. Another is to get out on a drift boat, but to be realistic, this means hiring a guide. While I’m all for putting money into the hands of fly fishing outfitters, at several hundred dollars per day, it’s simply not realistic to rely on drift boat guiding as a way to enjoy the sport. My only other idea is to fish when the weather sucks – but of course that means less enjoyment for me.
The long and short of it all is that I really do need to find a way to enjoy fishing into the fall and winter, after my trout hangover ends. My current stance on this is that I need to splurge and do a couple Steelhead guided trips, to hopefully get a better inside scoop on locations, timing and ideas on how to target Steelhead without massive crowds. At this point, I’m very much a novice when it comes to understanding this fish so anything I can learn will surely be useful.
Every year I dread the end of trout fishing season in southern Ontario, but I always try to be optimistic about the possibility of getting out for some steelhead fishing during the colder months ahead. It’s never really been my thing, but I figure there must be a reason everyone else is addicted to it, so it’s worth a try. Well, it’s all coming back to me now… the reason that optimism never turns out.
Dark, work, kids, weather and more dark… that about sums it up. The much shorter days mean less opportunity to get out after work and less time spent outdoors with the kids (I have three of them by the way). That basically writes off weekdays completely and when the weekends come, it’s a lot of catching up with the family. For me, evenings are always prime fishing time and that just doesn’t work well this time of year.
It’s not all a loss though, since thankfully there are things other than fishing to keep me busy. Like… tying flies, or reading about fishing, or playing fishing video games! OK, just kidding (sort of) 😉
Seriously though, I’ve wondered for a long time why there are absolutely NO good fly fishing video games. Just think about how great a fly fishing game would be on the Wii, done properly, where you cast using a realistic motion with a Wii Remote. I’ve searched for fly fishing simulations and the only ones I could find are extremely outdated and not very appealing, at least aesthetically.
In case you weren’t aware (or it wasn’t obvious from my writing), I’m a pretty big geek. I’m a software developer, currently on the gaming team at RIM (BlackBerry). You know those really outdated BlackBerry games, Brick Breaker and Word Mole? I made those, years ago granted. Technically I did not create Brick Breaker – just took over it a couple years after it was created when I joined the team. Word Mole though, was all mine (along with a couple artists and a co-op student).
Anyway, my point is that I spend a lot of times either writing games or playing them and I’ve been giving this whole fly fishing simulation a lot of thought recently. If I can muster up enough motivation and free time, I am seriously considering starting a project working on one of my own, with modern 3D graphics, realistic environments and simulated casting motions using something like the Wii Remote. Maybe then, my southern Ontario resident trout fishing can extend into the winter months (in my family room)!
If you’ve got a bit of geek in you as well and think this is a good idea, I’d love to hear your thoughts/comments.