'Do we have to get up extra early to milk the cows...?'
'B-mar gets to milk the bull.'
It's approaching 11 PM on a Friday night and we have been on the road for over 5 hours so far. We got off the highway 40 minutes ago and seem to be doing circles through hill and field as the glow of Buffalo repeatedly brightens and wanes in the distance. Texts between driving parties are getting progressively antagonistic.
'I think the GPS is lost'
'It's 55 here...not 25...'
'These dairy farms all look the same...'
'Wait...these dairy farms are all the same...'
And then I get the call...
"Yo...yeah, we're almost there...we're still about 15 minutes out...we're crossing the river just down the road, thought you might want to take a look...yeah, we're still above the dam, but only a couple miles...alright, see you in a few."
200' below it's pitch black, but a glistening surface tells me it has started. To the right, at the bridge rail, is a sign. I saw it, and it opened up my eyes.
Exactly 6 months. That's when it became official. On May 14, 2009, I obligated myself and 3 others for this trip. There would be no "I'll let you know if I can make it." It was more, "Clear your schedules, I'm doing this and you're coming with me whether you like it or not!"
The plan was to play loose and fast with the cards we were dealt. We would start on the Erie tribs and work our way back to Altmar. We would be prepared for any scenario and hit whichever water struck us as particularly inviting on any given day. Hundreds of eggs in various styles and dozens of swinging things were stashed in the back, along with 2 tying kits "just in case". Miles of tippet waited to be tied. My versileaders were all cut back to a more appropriate length. Backup rods were on standby. A small forest had been donated to provide us with topos and PFR maps. Keystone, Genny and Knobb Creek were there to supplement our caloric intake. 9 nights of lodging had been arranged.
There was only one problem.
As Brian's Grandma G. chatted us up and made sure our midnight stomachs had no room to spare, it began to set in...how truly unprepared we were. I had never even seen a Lake Erie tributary. What was I thinking? We're going to come out here and do what exactly? I know the water is low...but what does that leave for best-bets? I know I want to avoid the crowds (always...always...), but where the hell am I going to find uncrowded water...with fish in it? Months of planning and still not a clue where to begin.
We "slept in" Saturday; no use fumbling around unexplored areas in the dark on 4 hours of sleep. Blueberry pancakes and sausages with a healthy side of coffee were waiting for us at 6:15. Can we kidnap Granny when we pull out Monday morning? After fueling and dressing we transferred enough gear to fit us all in the XTerra and solidified our "plan."
Construction, reconstruction, and lack thereof, confounded us throughout the day. After a couple wrong turns and dead ends, it took us 30 minutes to complete the 15 minute drive to the dam. The number of cars told us immediately we wouldn't be fishing here today, but it was worth a stroll to at least check things out before moving on. Some more closed roads and another 30 minutes later we were finally gearing up at a slightly less-crowded spot number two.
"So how the shit do I cast this thing?"
B-mar has never held a strung fly rod. B-mar does not enjoy fishing. B-mar is only here because the front end of his hunting portion of our trip fell apart. I get him adequately roll-casting an egg at the head of a small run before completely abandoning him. He's smart...he'll figure it out or quit early...gotta get my swing on and the 4 Toronto-ans are vacating the pool above. Friendly and free with info, they leave me cautiously hopeful. Hopeful because they got into unheard of (by me) numbers up by the dam yesterday, and have already hit a few today. Cautious because they are not swinging, I have never caught steel on the swing, and I have absolutely no confidence in my rudimentary attempts at spey-like flies.
2.6 ips 10' leader. 8 lb maxima ultragreen...3 feet. Hmmm...how about purple and brown schlappen over a brown body.... How do I get that snap-T working for me again?
Two spinner-bobber fellas move into the tailout and hook a fish.
They're here. Don't get jealous, just step and swing. Step and swing. Boy...even 2.6 might be too much...better watch those boulders. Shit, hung up - NO, SET!
The battle doesn't last long. No blazing runs. No tailwalking. Once she came up over the lip into the shallows, the toughest part was chasing her through the rocks to get a grip on her. Joe came running up the shore to assist and man the camera, but she was on her way back to the hole before he was within 50'. In hindsight, I might have waited a couple seconds to get a better photo-op, but I hate causing undue stress to these jewels.
A perfect little specimen in the 20" class. Afterwards I could barely control the emotion. To be honest, much of it was relief. This is what we're after boys. Six months. 330 miles. Tens of hours on the 'net and ten times that behind the vise. Don't get me wrong, I was more than pumped. First swung steelhead...on my tie...in a new place...on a perfect day. But more than anything, I was grateful.
All this planning. All this prep. All this speculation. All this money. All this beard-trimming. All this denial of Miss Hannah's wishes. Finally...to reap the rewards...
"Joe...I think I need a hug."
TBC...with more pics next time