Monday, December 15, 2008

To Protect and Serve...

The past few weeks have been nothing shorter than a wild rollercoaster in terms of weather and the fishing. Over the last two weeks, the conditions on our favorite waters have gone from perfect, to frozen, to high and muddy, back to frozen and are now back to perfect. Sound crazy? It is, but it's part of winter fishing in western Pennsylvania.
With the steelheading forecast looking grim, Luke and I decided to head south into the Laurel Highlands for a day of trout fishing. The weather forecast was nothing short of spectacular; high of 30 degrees, with sustained winds of 15-20 what if sarcasm doesn't carry over in writing...this was going to be just stupid.

We opted to head for the warmest water around and headed to the local tailwater in search of a few trout that were fortunate enough to dodge the stringer dragging crew that normally fishes this water. As we neared the summit, a bank sign encouraged nothing more than pouring another cup of coffee when it flashed the temperature reading of 12 degrees at our passing car. I said, "This is ridiculous, this is the first weekend where we shouldn't be fishing...and we are. It's going to be a long winter." Like a good fishing buddy, Luke just chuckled and muttered the same response we always use to justify our stupidity, "At least there won't be a crowd."

Any sane person would tell you that there is a reason why you are the only idiots standing waist deep in water when it's 20 degrees out...but we were grasping at straws here and the idea of having some normally crowded water to ourselves sounded pretty good. Unfortunately, the fishing was extremely tough and even the guy feeding the fish in the outflow hatchery said that the fish haven't been feeding much since the extreme cold set in.

After a quick lunch, we agreed ot scope out some other water and were rewarded with a stream that was empty of fishermen, but full of midging trout. While these were not wild fish, they acted like it. Hovering in the middle of the water column, they darted back and forth, feverishly grabbing the midge larvae that were trying to pop out of the water despite the overwhelming odds that they would freeze before they were airborne. Several browns, rainbows and even a tiger trout came to hand in a relatively short period of time before we decided to check the big river for fish that may be waiting to make a spawning run.

While we didn't find any more fish in the big river, hiking the tributaries and along the rocky banks under a steady snow provided some gorgeous conditions...

The following weekend forecasted much more comfortable temperatures to fish under, so Josh and I planned to get after some steelhead with what looked like a short window of opportunity on Sunday. Unfortunately, the comfortable temperatures were offset by a steady downpour that built up over the course of the day. Fortunately, good raingear ensured that our minds stayed focused on the steelhead that decided they wanted to tear the rods from our hands....

After catching a few fish on eggs and blowing the cobwebs out, we swung bunny flies for the rest of the day and found numerous fish that were more than willing to run down and blast a fly despite the freezing water temperatures...

Staying at it until dusk, we hooked enough fish to keep things interesting and were excited to return the the warm car to dry out. We both looked forward to hot coffee, some food and a Steeler game to listen to on the ride home. As we approached the road, we were both greeted with a suprise that neither one of us were expecting...
It's hard to miss a red pickup, but despite looking our hardest, we couldn't find any sign of Josh's wheels but a pair of skid marks left in the gravel. Immediately, we thought the worst. It was dark, cold and we were wet, and left without a ride 2 1/2 hours from home.
Josh's truck was loaded with hunting and fishing gear and the immediate thought was that someone made off with the truck, gear and all. This concern was calmed a bit after we called the Ohio State Police, who informed us that the truck had been towed because it was parked on the "road" and was a hazard.
As we sat in the dark on the side of the road, things were looking pretty bleak. The rain continued to pour down as the dispatcher brought us up to speed on what had happened to the truck. Someone had called about the truck with out of state plates and a tow truck had taken it 5 miles down the road to the impound lot.
I explained out predicament and asked, "Can you please send a trooper over here to give us a ride to the impound lot?"
"I'm sorry sir, the Ohio State Police are not a taxi service..." the dispatcher responded.
I swear, I choked on my tongue. "To protect and serve..." was what I thought. Thankfully, I held that one back, as now was not the time for smart remarks. I pleaded, "Ma'am, I need you to understand what is happening here. We are standing on the side of the road, it is dark, raining and it is 35 degrees out here because the police took our truck away. I am not asking the Ohio Police for a ride, I am asking them for help."
"I can give you the number of the towing company and a taxi company. You can call them and see what they can do for you." She responded. We were furious...
Maybe we were in the wrong, but this was ridiculous. As I pleaded back and forth and gathered what information I could from the woman on the other end of the phone, we were greeted with the best news I had heard all year. The tow truck driver would pick us up. Maybe he wanted his money, maybe he was just a good person...who knows...who cares...we were getting out of there.
Upon picking us up, the driver told us how the trooper attempted to contact us over his loudspeaker so we could move the car. I guess it was a good try, but why not run the plates and call the number of the owner of the car? Why not just move it? What if we wouldn't have had our phones? This could have been bad...VERY bad.
Regardless, we made it to the truck and even got to hear the end of a great football game, but the whole thing left a sour taste in our mouths. While we can laugh about it now, I can only imagine what could have happened if a few crucial events wouldn't have been said.

Despite the hardships, the fish are still pumping in, are extremely aggressive and the crowds have died down a good bit. Go get 'em while you still can! (Just watch where you park)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Great Time For a Long Weekend

While winter has set in a bit early here in western PA, the fishing is still going very strong. Fortunately, I was able to spend two days on the water over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Both of which provided some great fishing and memorable events for all involved.

I spent Wednesday with Dan and Jarret fishing under what could only be called "abnormal conditions." The creek was WAY higher than normal, but for some reason was still teetering on the brink of fishable. After messing around on some smaller water, we decided to give the high water a go and were rewarded with lots of fresh fish with almost nobody around...

Why no pictures of Dan? I assure you he caught his share of fish, but he swore his hands weren't ready for being wet and cold after two weeks of grabbing these things...

..can't say I blame him.

Saturday was the day that many of us were really looking forward to. Julia was freed up from her school responsibilities for the break and was pumped to do some fishing, regardless of the weather and having to get up at 4:45.

It didn't take long before Julia was back to her usual antics of making us "regulars" and many others on the stream look like fools...

On both days, we lost count of how many fish were brought to hand, but one thing was very apparent; The fish have definitely lost much of their zip due to the cold temps. The knuckle busting, line burning runs of the fall are now a thing of the past and "death roll" season has truly begin. This is a sure sign that we are into winter for the long haul and it won't be long before we are seeing iced over and slushy streams and thinking of warm spring days. The good news is that there are still plenty of fresh fish to be had, so get it in while you can!

As a side note: Check out for some great saltwater photos and some good stories from Stuart, FL. Capt. John Meskauskas runs Stuart Fly Fishing and treated us to some good times during our time spent in the area a few years back. Look him up if you are headed to the Stuart/Ft. Pierce area anytime soon and you won't be disappointed!