Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
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Spring steelheading surely a sweet spot

VERMILION, Ohio If you want to forget about the cares and worries of everyday life, put a big steelhead on the end of your flyrod.

You ll think about nothing else for the duration. Nothing will matter except you and The Fish, for if you drop your concentration, lose focus, it s byebye.

Such are the thoughts that run through one s mind after.

After landing a 30-inch, 11-pound male steelie on fourpound-

test tippet, that is. Such thoughts stay with you at least until, a short while later, your guide, Chris Cutcher, of Toledo, ties into an even bigger steelhead. Significantly bigger.

The fish ran downriver a good 50 yards after it took the fly, and Cutcher chased it downstream another 50. It didn t want to play. After a few minutes the monster, which Cutcher, on seeing it thrash

and roll several times, knew was way over 30 inches and 14

pounds or more.

He ll be back, said Cutcher. He ll move right back into that run [where he was hooked] and pester that little [four-pound] female. Cutcher would be back another day soon for a rematch.

Cutcher s bag of tricks includes watching for the telltale flash of a spawning female twisting over a redd, or nest, and watching for the sandy cloud thrown up off the bottom by a female digging a redd.

If you re going to get into steelheading in Ohio, you ve got to learn to fish dirty water.

Otherwise, the guide said, you will be fishing about four days a year when a stream may be clear. His primary steelhead streams are the Vermilion in Lorain, Erie, and Huron counties, and the Rocky in western Cuyahoga County.

On Tuesday the water was stained and clearing at first light, but it grew murkier through the day. The increasing discoloration likely was caused by chunks of ice and snow, still clinging to the Vermilion valley s 50-foot cliffs. Until, that is, rising air temperatures loosened

the hanging slabs and sent them crashing periodically into the river.

The resounding, hollow booms of breakaway ice and snow sounded like trucks colliding head-on. Streams of gravel, soil, and rocks cascaded into the river with loosened ice, no doubt adding to the silt

load. With this river and the high cliffs, you don t get a lot of sunlight, Cutcher said, referring to the remaining ice.

Too, he added, the fishing has gotten a slow start this year

because of the slow-to-arrive spring. It takes water temperatures

warming to 40 to 45.

That brings them in [from the lake], turns them on.

Indeed, even at mid week few chromers bright silver steelies fresh in from the lake had shown up in the Vermilion.

Good numbers of darker winter fish, however, were in their lairs.

As a result of the slow start, Cutcher expects that steelheading

in northern Ohio tributaries of Lake Erie, including those east of Cleveland, will be good into the middle of May. Everything s behind.

Back to hooking up: Cutcher, does not cast straight at the female on a redd. In fact he tries to avoid taking her off the redd, because

she is the draw for a dominant male and a pod of smaller

males that usually attend her.

Where there s a female, there s a dominant male with her and

other males [downstream] below her.

The tip about looking for the streaming clouds that signal a female on a redd is important when fishing stained or murky water.

Sometimes it is all but impossible to see the target fish. You also learn to look for darkish shadows of fish in likely runs.

The Vermilion s prime steelheading zone begins just above the State Rt. 2 bridge at Vermilion, and it winds some 16 stream-miles, or so, to the dam at Wakeman on the main stem in Huron County, or slightly less distance on the East Fork to a dam at Kipton in

Lorain County.

Another Cutcher tip: Daily stream-flow data for most northern Ohio rivers, including the Vermilion, is available at the U.S. Geological Survey s Web site, I wouldn t be able to do this [guiding] without that information, stated Cutcher. It s

vital. When I first started steelheading I had no idea about


In his early days, he noted, he burned a lot of fuel and wasted a lot of time driving to a stream only to find its flow way too high or way too dirty, or way too low.

Cutcher currently uses a 10-foot, 6-weight Orvis fly rod with a Ross Big-Game No. 4 reel filled with floating leveltaper line. The biggest advantage of level line, he noted, is that is has less drag than

weight-forward tapers. You don t have to mend line all day, he said, referring to the tactic of flipping backward loops in line on the water to reduce drag help a fly drift more naturally.

The guide ties on sixpound-test leader, about the same length as the rod, then about two feet of four-poundtest tippet. He ties flies in a

variety of patterns: egg, pheasant-tail nymph, woolly bugger,

rabbit-strip leech, green caddis fly, rock-worm nymph, and such.

The 11-pound male described at the top of this article, a 30-inch, nine-pound female, and the 14-pluspounder that got away each

took a brown woolly bugger.

These fish that are in here all winter, they re used to seeing

crayfish, said Cutcher, adding that the brown woolly imitates that. On the Rocky River it s olive, on the Vermilion it s brown.

Cutcher does not use a strike indicator on his line in the spring but watches the end of the floating line very carefully for the telltale twitch of a take. Sometimes he can feel the take. In either case it calls for

concentration and learning the touch.

It take a touch, too, to use the chuck-and-duck method that is common in steelheading.

It hardly resembles classic flycasting.

It essentially begins with a smooth flip and shooting the stripped line to the target.

Cutcher pinches on one, two, three BBs of split shot, whatever

is needed to get the fly down into the zone where it makes eye contact with the steelies. It is not sophisticated, not for purists, but it works, he notes.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife began stocking the Vermilion in May, 2002, with an initial planting of 69,000 young steelhead, or smolts.

The river has been planted with at least 55,000 smolts a year since

then. The expected return of the first two-year-olds, last year, was something of a disappointment.

If the fish showed up, few fishermen saw them in any numbers, Cutcher said. But he is hopeful now, with yet another year-class in the mix and numbers building. This should be the big year.

For guiding information on the Vermilion and Rocky River, which flows along the western side of Greater Cleveland, call Cutcher s service, Steelhead XStream, at 419-944-9658 or 419-476-3710. Or e-mail him at

Contact Steve Pollick at: or 419-724-6068.

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