Saturday, December 24, 2011

When Good Hunts Go Bad

I think that I've said this before about a fishing trip a few months back, but ever have one of those days?  This time, it was my last bow hunt.

I awoke to Metallica blasting from my Droid clock alarm app at 4:30 AM with plenty of time to shower and get ready for my hunt.  Metallica.  Jeez, I nearly jumped three feet out of bed!  My daughter changed my ring tone...her practical joke on me no doubt.  Still, I'm glad she's home from college for the holidays.  I really look forward to seeing her.  I laughed and proceeded to get ready to go hunting.

I'm meticulous in my preparation, making sure that everything is scent free, from my under clothing to my tooth paste, and even my towel washed in scent free laundry detergent.  My gear was checked and double checked, ready to go.  Everything was placed properly in my backpack that I needed for any situation on my hunt.  I stowed my Scent-Lok gloves and head cover, and my grunt call along with some tree climbing accessories neatly in the pockets of my Scent-Lok parka.  Even my Droid was fully charged in case I needed to video or take pictures to document my glorious hunt that would soon be.

My plan was to arrive at my buddy's house, dress in my scent free outer layers, spray my backpack with scent eliminator, don my boots, and load my tree stand on my back along with my backpack.  Then, I'd quietly work my way down to my destination, a fine climbing tree...the perfect size for my stand.  It has plenty of cover, a great backdrop to hide my silhouette, and a great view in all directions in a classic hardwoods deer funnel.  A point of woods leading from an adjoining field, leading into a draw that leads to another field.  It's been a great place to ambush unsuspecting deer. 

I left home ready to go, as ready as I've ever been, with plenty of time to set up for my hunt.  This is my routine, and routines should be routine.  And, with everything in place, and a great plan, what could go wrong?

I arrived at my buddy's suburban archery hunter paradise beaming with excitement and the anticipation of having the type of hunt that I've had many times before.  I quietly exited my vehicle to be greeted by my friend's cat, a male athletic feline, Cheese. Cheese had his own plan, affectionately rubbing my legs in an effort to claim me as his own, rubbing his scent glands along the base of my calves.  What could I do?  I like cats, and I couldn't shoo him away.  I couldn't yell or make noise as my tree is only about 100 yards away.

All I could do to Cheese was oblige him.  I scratched his back and petted him to the point that even my own cat would be bored, and time was ticking now, and Cheese wanted more.  I tried pushing him away with my tree stand.  The tactic didn't work, he loved it, and rubbed all over it too.  So much for the scent free preparation.

Finally, Cheese wandered off.  All is not lost.  I could spray my equipment down again with scent eliminator, and I still had my Scent-Lok parka and bibs to put on and remain scent free.  My boots were still in my vehicle too, protected from the Cheesy aroma.  For now.

As I completed dressing and just tied my last boot lace, Cheese came back for more, purring ever so loud, like a fleshy furry home generator, with his goal being to mark me as his territory once and for all.

OK, I had enough of this game.  Time was flying by and I had to get into the woods, and the last thing that I needed was a Cheesy trail.  Then, an idea hit me.  What a better way to get rid of cat scent than scent eliminator spray?  As Cheese approached, a purring menace, with that amorous look in his eye, I pointed and let him have it.  A shot of scent eliminator spray would do the trick.  Cheese took off like a shot!  It worked!  I felt slightly guilty, but he'd get over it and so would I.  Time to go to work.

I affixed my backpack on my tree stand and slung it over my back, grabbed my bow, and headed into the woods toward my stand.  I quickly found my tree and set my stand up.  All is good now.  I still had plenty of time. 

I set up my tree stand, first the base, then the seat section.  Then, I attached my pull up rope to my stand, and the other end to my backpack and bow.  I'm ready to climb.

Well, almost.

I realized that I left my safety harness in my vehicle.  Dirt!  Well, I had to return to my vehicle and put it on, risking another encounter with the Cheese cat, but safety is important to me, as it should be to anyone.  I won't climb without the harness.  I'd rather hunt off the ground otherwise.

Fortunately, Cheese took the hint and stayed away.  I was able to put on my harness and return to my tree.  I took my time moving back through the woods not to crack any sticks.  I made it to my tree and after all that, I still had plenty of time to climb and get ready.

I climbed into my stand and proceeded to climb the tree, a few feet at a time in my stand up-sit down climbing Lone Wolf tree stand.  Stand up, lift the seat section, sit down, place your feet under the bar, and lift the platform section, push down, and seat the platform against the tree.  Then, stand up again and repeat the process up the tree, a few feet at a time. 

I was nearly eight feet from my goal of climbing thirty feet up when all of a sudden, I couldn't raise the stand any more.  Something was preventing me from climbing any further!  I glanced down and my pull up rope was tighter than my bow string.  Dang, it was wrapped around a log on the ground. 

I climbed down a few feet to give me some slack, and tried to snap the rope free from the log, without success.  After snapping the string back and forth several times, I realized that it wasn't going to come free, and the only option was to climb down again and free it.

I made it down relatively quietly and quickly, about six feet from the forest floor, and decided to once again shake the rope free.  After flipping the rope a few times, it finally came free.  I climbed up the tree quickly and quietly, but now I've worked up a sweat.

I'm sure that my Scent-Lok would keep my presence known from the keen nose of the whitetail deer, yet the pessimistic side of me played on my mind, making me wonder about the sweat that I've worked up giving the deer an advantage over me.

While finally up in the tree, I geared up and nocked an arrow just in the nick of time as deer moved in from my right.  It was still too dark to see them, but I could hear them moving through the woods, feeding.  I was filled with excitement and enthusiasm.  This could be a really good hunt after all that I've been through so far, like previous hunts, with deer all around me.  The sun couldn't rise fast enough.

After a little while, the woods became brighter and brighter to the point where I could see somewhat, but things became quiet.  The deer moved on.  My neighbor was probably taking Charlie for a walk, his beagle/basset hound mix.  Shortly after that, I could hear him fire up his van and head off for work.  Things were quiet in the woods now.

I still had plenty of optimism at this point.  My fears of being winded were calmed, as the deer that fed behind me earlier were down wind of me, and they didn't run, nor did they snort.  My confidence was high as I glassed the woods with my binoculars.  I couldn't see any deer.  Where did they go?  I wondered if they returned to the field from whence they came, the most likely scenario.

The sun rose, casting strong shadows across the wooded lot, creating images that kept my mind entertained.  Is that a deer?  I'd glass what I'd seen only to see a stump and shadow combination resembling a deer in shape...a deer mirage.  We always see them when nothings moving.  Is it hopeful optimism?  Sometimes, they turn out to be a bedded deer, but more often than not, just an object laying in a different direction than you'd expect. 

Basically, anything that you can visualize that places a horizontal figure through the trees could be a deer.  The woods is basically vertical in nature.  When combing the woods with your eyes, look for horizontal breaks in the vertical tree shapes, and check them, they could be deer.  Combine that strategy with looking for movement, and more times than not you'll see deer before they see you.

It was about 8:15 in the morning now, still the magic hour, but as time elapses without seeing anything, confidence wanes.  Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye to my left, I catch movement about eighty yards away.  It wasn't a deer, it was blaze orange, a hunter, walking along the property line down the edge of the field.  My heart sunk.  I couldn't tell if he was carrying a blackpowder rifle or not, but he worked his way down toward a tree stand that I found a few weeks ago along the property line.  I had yet to see anyone using it.

The hunter was moving faster than I would, given the time of morning when deer are moving.  He wasn't sneaking, but seemed to be a little careful to not make noise.  When I sneak, I take a few steps slowly and quietly, the pause, wait and observe.  He wasn't doing that, almost if he was trying to jump a deer.  Or, did he see me, and resent me being near "his" hunting spot, and attempt to ruin my hunt?  I'd give him the benefit of the doubt, but what the heck was he doing?

He moved into the woods but avoided Bob's property, moving away from me straight ahead where I've seen deer bed repeatedly throughout the season.  I lost sight of the orange as the trees in the distance blocked his view.

About ten minutes later, I could see the hunter returning the way that he came, this time moving much more quickly and not so quietly.  I could hear him cracking sticks and branches as he moved briskly through the woods toward the field.  Once in the field, from the other side of the field along a point of woods emerged another hunter, carrying a bow.  I glassed both of them and they both were carrying bows.  Who bow hunts like that?  Was the first hunter trying to kick deer out to his buddy?  It was 8:15 AM for Pete's sake!

I wondered if he returned so quickly because he successfully kicked the deer out perhaps not in the direction that he intended.  He met up with his buddy and they left.  I've never seen anything like that before, at least so early in the morning.  My hunt was ruined, rare on private land.
I just shook my head and cursed under my breath in
disbelief of what happened.  Why me? 

I sat in the tree until about ten o'clock in the morning, and climbed down.  I think that just about every cursing adjective ran through my mind in disbelief of what happened this morning.  How could a carefully planned hunt turn out so friggin' bad?  I climbed down, gathered up my gear, took down my stand and left.  I was planning on leaving my stand in the woods, but not knowing those other hunters I didn't want to risk it being stolen.

After climbing up a tree, I expect solitude, the quiet of the woods.  Hunting small plots of land, multiple properties with multiple owners, in a suburban environment often doesn't provide that solitude that we're used to.  Just remember that deer are used to human activity in these areas.  Do everything correctly, and you'll still have a chance.
I went home to run some errands with the intent of hunting that afternoon, and now my confidence was way down.  But, I wasn't about to give up.

After cooking and chowing down on some venison kielbasa, I decided to return to the same tree, having had good afternoons there.  Perhaps the woods would quiet down, the other hunters would stay away, and the deer would return?

I arrived at about two in the afternoon back to my buddy's house.  Things seemed quiet, partly because it's a weekday and the many suburban noises like leaf blowers, power tools, and such weren't dominating the area.  The only real noises now were from the occasional train traveling a nearby railroad, and the many airplanes that fly over and annoy hunters everywhere.

Being a weekday, I figured that everyone was at work and the kids all at school.  I arrived this time, and without Cheese there to harass me, I was able to gear up quietly and quickly.  I made it to my tree with out cracking any sticks and snuck through the crunchy leaves deliberately and slowly.  After setting up my tree stand, I climbed, donned my gloves, release and head cover, then nocked an arrow, and waited. 

It was about 2:30 in the afternoon.  All was quiet.  I glassed the woods for deer or movement, nothing.  Still, it was early.  A pileated woodpecker moved and called from tree to tree, entertaining me for a few minutes.  A red headed woodpecker followed, landing on the same trees and vocalized his calls seemingly to mock the pileated woodpecker.  About ten minutes later, the silence would change.

You can control almost everything on your hunt, from your preparation to your actions in the woods.  You can't control other people, their actions, or their sounds.  Realize that deer are used to them in suburbia.  They react differently than big woods deer.  Stay confident, do things right, and you stand a good chance.
At 2:45, the neighbors kids and their friends, four little girls, came outside to play.  They came out to jump on their trampoline, playing some sort of game, laughing, screaming, and yelling.  How long would this last?  Kids are like energizer bunnies.  I rationalized that maybe they'd tire soon, and the woods would once again quiet down.  It was a beautiful day, and remembering when I was a lad, how I'd play tirelessly until the last possible hint of daylight.  Kids are kids, I thought, and I can't blame them.  If I was their age living in this neighborhood too, I'd do the same thing, or maybe worse.  I'd be all over those woods, turning over logs looking for salamanders, toads and snakes, climbing trees, throwing rocks, doing what boys do with any kind of space outside.

I called the property owners wife, to make sure that the neighbors wouldn't worry about me being there.  She assured me that they know that I'm there, and all was well.  You never know how people would feel if someone was up in a tree watching the woods in the direction that your kids are playing, using binoculars.  I didn't want to creep them out, even though I was a good hundred fifty yards away.

At 3:30, all of the kids went inside the neighbor's house.  Things got quiet in a hurry.  When hunting large plots of land, I'm used to blending in, having things as quiet as possible, and let nature happen.  I'm not used to this suburban hunting environment.  It's difficult for me to reconcile hunting in such noise, and more difficult for me to believe that the deer are use to all of this human activity. Still, I've seen that before, deer not worried about kids, people woking in their yards, or walking through neighborhood streets.  Those same deer seem to know a hunter though.  How is that possible?  Smart little buggers I thought.

Things became really quiet now save for the occasional airplane noise.  Subconciously, I worried that those other hunters would return just in time to ruin the afternoon magic hour, and I kept looking over my shoulder for them.  I glassed the woods again, nothing in view.  Jeez, those hunters couldn't have messed things up that bad, could they?  Or the kids?  I was wondering if I was wasting my time sitting thirty feet up a tree, watching kids on a trampoline?

I heard my buddy Bob return home from work.  I knew that he'd soon be taking Charlie for a walk again.  We have a code of sorts, if I'm parked on one side of his house, that's the side that I'm hunting.  However, someone was parked in my space, their cleaning lady.  I had to park on the other side.  When I called his wife, I asked that she'd let him know that I'm at the same spot that I was in the morning.  I hoped that she had told him so that he and Charlie wouldn't be heading down my way into the woods.

A short time later, two does scampered into the woods near his house, heading my way.  They stopped and watched the road and the field.  I knew then that it was Charlie that had kicked them out from their bedding area, and Bob was probably following.  They moved into the woods further, about 50 yards from me.  If they'd move a bit closer, I'd have a decent shooting lane and a thirty yard shot.  I drew back.  Just after that, I saw Charlie, sure enough!  The deer saw him too, and bolted away from me and behind the house.  Then, I saw Bob appear in the field, and he called Charlie and they headed back to the house, from the front.  Maybe they'd kick them out again back to me.

Deer are notorious for doubling back when being driven or chased, so I was ready.  I watched behind me, in Bob's back yard, for any sign of those does.  About ten minutes later, I heard Charlie barking again.  Perhaps he was chasing them again?  Another ten minutes, and nothing.  I sat down.

Five minutes later, I heard something coming my way from that direction, from behind the house. It was the two does.  Sure enough, Charlie had kicked them out again, or they doubled back.  They returned almost exactly the way that they came the first time, in reverse.  They stopped in almost the exact same place, strutting and on high alert, seeking Charlie.  Maybe they'd come down a bit closer and give me a shot.  Right now, they were still 50 yards away.  That's out of my range, plus, my shooting lanes weren't clear that far out.

Then, as soon as they came, they hopped away from me out into the field leaving me without a shot.  I sat back down, turned and started glassing the woods with my binoculars again.  The woods became quiet again, and I didn't see any more deer. 

Looking back, I can remember many hunts on public land where other hunters tramped through my location in the woods, or when I made mistakes kicking deer out, moving when I shouldn't, standing up in a tree stand with deer behind me amongst other problems.

I can remember one hunt where I glassed some deer bedded down in the late afternoon.  They didn't see me climb the tree, or didn't care.  But, after being perched in the tree for over an hour, some saliva went down my wind pipe when swallowing, and I couldn't dry it and had to cough.  All it took was two coughs and those deer rose up and took off, waving their white tails at me in defiance.

I had another hunt on the ground, sitting on a stool in a makeshift blind that I threw together in a dead fall.  I sat nearly motionless for over three hours watching and waiting in ambush.  I kept thinking that I was off the trail a bit, and that spot, "over there", looked better.  Maybe if I got up and moved quietly, just twenty yards away, I'd have a better hunt.  I made the decision to move, and after two steps, I kicked out at least six deer that I didn't know where there not thirty yards away.  Lesson learned there...don't move, trust your initial instincts.

All that aside, hunting in suburbia is quite different than hunting a remote location.  In the woods where deer aren't used to human activity, you have to blend in, not sound or smell human.  In suburbia, you can get away with some noise, like metal on metal, as long as the deer don't see you or it sounds like everyday human activity that they encounter.  I experienced this on this last trip, actually.  When those two does doubled back, I accidentally banged my bow on the seat section of my tree stand, clank!  The two does didn't even flinch, didn't look back at me.  They were focused entirely on Charlie!  In a remote woods, those deer would have bolted on the sound for sure.

Looking back at this hunt, it wasn't what I'd call the classic good hunt.  In fact, a lot went wrong.  It was a stressful hunt, where I was unsure and not confident.  Still, I saw deer and nearly had a chance at a good shot.  Normally, I say that was a successful hunt, wouldn't you?  I've got to get used to this suburban's quite different. 

My next trip will be to a more remote spot.  I'll have to be on my game as the deer there are hunted fairly heavily.  Pressure makes them wary.  Those deer seem to search the trees for hunters in treestands.  And they seem to know what tree you picked, somehow, like a sixth sense.  I'm used to that though as I prepare for that.  No mistakes next time...maybe I'll have some more venison in the freezer, with a little luck.

I'd like to say one final thing, that all hunts are good hunts.  I'm out in the woods, blending in, observing nature at it's best, with a chance to take some of the good Lord's bounty.  What more could one ask for?

Monday, December 12, 2011

On the Scale - An Official Weigh In

Normally, I don't post much about myself.  This blog isn't about me, it's about my view of the outdoors, and what I can share with you.  But now, there's a turning point in my life.  My direction has changed, and below is the story why.  Perhaps what I'm going through can help you some day, however you decide to do it.

The name "Fat Boy" was originally coined by me as an internet user name, or handle, on one of the first web forums that I had the pleasure of joining,  Why pick such a name?  I don't ride a Harley, but I do ice fish.  And a popular ice fishing jig at the time, and still today, is called a Fat Boy, by Systems Tackle.  At the time during ice season, I used them to ice many crappie, yellow perch, bluegills, largemouth bass and stocked rainbow trout from the hard waters of Maryland and Pennsylvania.  The name stuck, and I've been using it ever since on all my fishing forums amongst a few others.  Anyway, when I picked the name, it had nothing to do with my physique.  However, as time went by, my stature tended to resemble my user name more and more.

A few months ago, I dropped below 230, and felt much better.  I climbed down the bank to lip this bass, something that I couldn't have done even six months earlier.
Nine months ago I hated the way that I felt.  I let myself go since I got married twenty years earlier, and I had to either suffer the consequences or do something about it.  At one time during my marriage, I tried the Atkin's Diet and lost a bunch of weight and quickly, I might add.  I went from a fat 267 pounds down to 211, not quite my goal, but not too bad.  The 56 pounds came off in a matter of a few months.  Several deaths in my family took a toll on me mentally, and along with the added stress of that to an already stressful sedentary job forced a war within my mind, leading me to eat everything except perhaps my cat and family, and gained it all back and then some.  If it was edible and not nailed down, I ate it.  Originally, the purpose of the diet was to lose the weight, then change my lifestyle and keep it off.  Part one worked, part two never got underway.

As my lifestyle changed and weight piled on, I became more and more apathetic, especially towards fishing and hunting.  My friends drifted away, or perhaps I drifted away from them, to the point that the prospect of going on a fishing or hunting trip didn't much appeal to me any more.  And, with my brothers passing just over three years prior to my accident, hunting became a reminder of him.  It should have been a positive reminder, but it wasn't...I took it the other way and lost the desire to be in the woods.  He most definitely wouldn't have wanted that.

The Fat Boy ice fishing jig
Other factors contributed to my outdoors apathy.  I was coaching girls travel fastpitch softball as my daughter progressed through the sport.  That takes a lot of time. It did provide some measure of physical activity which may have kept me from becoming a shut in, but not enough to stay in any form of good physical condition.  The lifestyle may have contributed to the weight gain.  Travel players and parents are always on the go, away from home, and that often means eating out at odd hours.  More times than not, the food either isn't healthy or the portions are massive.  And, as an eat-a-holic, the massive restaurant portions appealed to me.

A few weeks prior, I was in an auto accident that was serious enough that it could have taken my life, but the good Lord and also wearing a seat belt saved me along with a well designed car.  I was lucky enough to escape with a few scratches, sore muscles, seat belt bruising, and a severly sprained ankle that bothers me to this day.  During my recovery and physical therapy, I decided that life is way too short.  Not only would losing weight assist in my recovery and aide in the healing process of my ankle, but that too could save my life.

My desire to improve my health also changed my attitude about the outdoors.  I craved to fish and hunt again.  I wanted desperately to reverse the couch potato trend and hit the outdoors as much as possible.  I started with my food intake again.  About the only advantage to having a pendulous paunch, is that you can tuck a napkin at a restaurant under it without worrying about the napkin dropping to the floor.  I was ready to trade that one advantage for a better life.

This spring, my first trip on my buddy's boat felt good to be back in the swing of things.  At this point in my diet, I had lost about 15 pounds.  There's a lot of pizza still in that mid section, and plenty of cheeseburgers in those chins.
The problems as an outdoorsman carrying a bunch of weight are many, in addition to daily life issues with weight.  The simple things, like tying my hunting boots, were a real chore.  It was embarrassing having to come up for air after bending over to tie a bootlace, only to go back down to tie the other one and rise up gasping for air again, as if I was drowning.  The other option was to tie both of them really fast and risk passing out from lack of oxygen with the veins in my forehead feeling like they were going to pop.

It's also embarrasing when I'd go on a fishing trip in the rain, and my bib overalls wouldn't zip up, leaving my belly hanging out unprotected from the cold and rain.  Thank goodness for the oversized waterproof insulated parkas to cover that embarassment up.  But, when temperatures warmed, I'd either sweat or have to expose the basketball that I'd swallowed to the public via fishing pictures on my camera.

Heaven forbid if I'm out fishing and drop a bullet weight on the ground.  I'd either pass out bending over or risk splitting my drawers in the field.  Nobody wants an unplanned  trap door at the seat of their coveralls or waders.  So, I'd just let whatever I dropped be, unless it was expensive, like a spinnerbait or a crankbait, and it was easy enough to see that I could find it quickly without running out of air.

And, consider shark tooth or fossil collecting problems.  As I increase in age, my eyesight declines, like many people.  My belly stuck out far enough that looking straight down, where things are easier for older eyes to see, impossible.  My effective range to view objects on the ground started at about a 45 degree angle out from my belly.  And, not only was it difficult to see artifacts on the ground, but still difficult to bend over and pick them up.  Finally, with regard to collecting, when wading places with blown down trees and the like, you have to navigate around or over them.  Often, I'd choose to go under, even if it meant getting wet, because lifting my massive body over those obstacles became nearly impossible.  I'm no weakling, having lifted and played college athletics in my younger days, but my weight gain exceeded my lifting ability as time went on and my muscles atrophied over the years.

And, don't even think about buying a new tree stand at a bargain price.  All of the ones on sale have maximum weight recommendations, including gear, and I exceeded all but a few of them...which, by the way, never go on sale.  I have two climbing stands that I use, and neither of them were rated for my ballooning weight.

Many tree stands have weight recommendations.  Now I don't exceed them, and I feel a lot more comfortable in them that I did a year ago.  And, it's easier to climb too!
I also avoided early ice fishing season.  Who would want to fish with me on the ice during such times?  Four inches of good solid clear ice is good for a small group as long as they aren't too close to each other, but if I weighed as much as a small group, I'd better have six inches under me.  That meant, you guessed it, that I'd pass up early fishing trips in the ice.  That's a great time to fish through the ice as the fish are still really actively feeding, and I was opting to wait for later ice when they became less active.

I won't be self conscious about pressure cracks being my fault on the ice any longer!
Trudging through snow, dragging my shanty and equipment, really became difficult too.  And while in my shanty, I had the same issue with dropping tackle, having to bend over to pick it up, even while sitting my my bass boat modified seat in my Fish Trap proved a real hassle to find what I dropped.  And, my belly blocked my view of fishing a hole near me or viewing my underwater camera.

Now, bending over to pick up this fish in my shanty won't result in me losing my breath, and I can more easily fish over the hole.
On the ice, one of the keys to success at jigging up panfish is to stay mobile.  You use your electronics and your auger to find fish, cutting lots of holes in a methodical calculated manner, searching logically for locations that you'd expect fish to be.  When I was heavy, it made me apathetic, lazy, and easy to stay in one spot, cozy and comfortable in my warm Fish Trap, not willing to move when the bite slowed.  Rather than fish several good holes, I'd stay on one good hole and wait for the fish to return rather than go find them.  This meant catching less fish than I used to because of my apathy.

From a health standpoint, my blood sugar and blood pressure were high, leading my doctors to think that I'd soon be on medication for type 2 diabetes, and more blood pressure pills to boot.  In addition, my back ached daily, and my feet would get sore on all day fishing trips, not to mention a lack of stamina to even climb the shortest set of stairs.

During my first run at losing weight, on the way down to 211 pounds, I walked fast, as fast as I could, everywhere.  This probably helped in my weight loss.  I'd make it my goal when walking in from the parking lot at work to pass as many people walking up hill as possible, at a brisk walking speed.  This past March, when I made the decision to change, my weight combined with my ankle injury, wouldn't let me pass people in canes or walkers (bless their hearts).  It became a viscious cycle...can't exercise, get depressed, eat more, gain more.

The only way I knew that I could lose weight was the low carb thing.  I've tried other diets, but couldn't stick to them for one reason or another.  Cutting portions didn't work either as I just didn't have the will power.  So, I opted for low carb again.  This time, the weight didn't fall off like the last time.  You see, on this diet, you're basically fooling your metabolism into thinking that you're starving, and it burns your body fat faster.  But, the next time that you try it, your metabolism isn't easily fooled, and it comes off a lot slower.

The first month, I nearly quit doing it, because it didn't seem to work.  Normally, on these diets, the "induction" phase lasts two weeks, and you drop about 10-20 pounds.  I was at five pounds...could have been only water weight.  But, I stuck to it anyway, and eventually saw improvement.  After induction, you add more and more carbs, but good carbs...from nature.  Limit or cut out potatoes, rice, beans, fruit, sweets and especially bread.  Doing that is difficult, especially since I LOVE to eat.

Prior to doing this diet thing, in my mind, the basic food groups were pizza, cake, soda, chips, and cheeseburgers.  And portion control really meant how much a paper plate could hold without collapsing.  I had a reason to celebrate and eat too, and those reasons came often in the form of office parties, family parties, my own personal solo parties, and holiday parties.  I was addicted to food.

Now that I'm back on my diet plan, and sticking to it, not ever cheating, things are starting to improve.  I didn't even have a piece of birthday cake at my birthday party!  I've lost 57 pounds and I'm now down to 215.  I have three goals, and I'm determined to reach all of them.  The first goal is to reach 211, now within reach, and I'm hoping that my metabolism will allow me to reach that goal within a couple weeks.  The 211 goal will tie the lightest that I've weighed since my marriage over 21 years ago.  After that, it's the 200 milestone.  I hope to reach that goal by the new year.  And my ultimate goal is to reach below 190, my playing weight when I played college baseball 32 years ago.  I know that I won't be in the same shape, but at least I can do more than when I started.  I won't stop until I reach that goal, no matter how long it takes.

Last month, I broke the 220 barrier.  At least now my weight alone didn't exceed the capacity of my buddy's Coleman Crawdad!

Already I am feeling the benefits of my weight loss.  Here are some of them:

1)     I can bend over and tie both boots and still breath, and take my time if I so choose. 
2)     My insulated rain gear bib overalls fit nicely, and actually zip up all the way without me having to lay on a bed and hold my breath to put them on. 
3)     I feel comfortable now in both of my tree stands.
4)     My hunting gear fits perfectly.  I can even get into some coveralls that I couldn't even zip up last season.
5)     My waders fit, and I can wear a jacket underneath without having to hold my breath to pull the waders over it.
6)     I can save money by not leaving inexpensive tackle items on the ground when I drop them, as I can now pick them up easily.
7)     I spend all day fishing without my back aching having to hold up that basketball belly.
8)     When fishing on my friends boats, I can carry 57 more pounds of tackle than before without adding more stress on their boat motors.  Or, put another way, carry the same amount of tackle as before allowing their boats to get on a plane much faster.
9)     When fossil collecting, I can actually see shark teeth at my feet.  Heck, I can see my feet!  I was wondering what the heck they looked like after all these years.  Man, are my toes ugly by the way.  The only drawback of that is that when I go to the beach, I can't rely on my belly shade to protect my feet from the sun.
10)     I can put my tree stand on smaller trees if I so choose, and not worry about the tree bending to the ground with me in it.
11)     When at the beach, people may no longer confuse me with a beluga.
12)     Health wise, seriously, my blood pressure is down, and so is my blood sugar, and I feel great.
13)     My clothing, from hunting and fishing and casual wear, to work apparel, fits much better.  I can button my shirt collar and wear a tie without my face turning red, or worse, blue.  And, when I bend over, I don't have to worry about a button shooting off and injuring my fishing pal.
14)     When ice fishing, pressure cracks happen all the time especially when ice is building, and when they do, I won't think that it's my fault any more!
15)     Finally, when taking fishing pictures, the fish will actually look bigger, or at least their true size, and, I won't need to use a wide angle lens for my fishing pictures.

Okay, so what about the future?  Will I go back to my old ways or stick to my plan?  Only time will tell.  But right now, I have no intention of going back.  This is a lifestyle change.  Moderation is the key, but so is continued will power.  I won't quit eating carbs, but I don't need three pizzas a week, by myself.  I can limit my intake to a couple slices, once in a LONG while.  I don't need two double quarter pounder with cheese supersize extra value meals along with a huge regular soda.  I can eat a normal size sandwich meal, with a regular order of fries, and a bottle of water.  I don't need ice cream or cake daily, or desert for that matter.  Instead, I'll opt for a fruit bowl and limit the intake of sweets for special occasions only.  I didn't quit drinking soda, but did quit drinking regular soda.  In addition, I limit my diet soda consumption to only a couple of them each week.  I drink a lot more water and zero carb sports drinks.

I don't want my blog or user name to represent my shape.  I'm tired of that, that part of me is over.  I'm feeling good and I want it that to continue for the rest of my life.  I'm enjoying my time outdoors again, and it's special.  There's nothing like it, whether it's being in a tree looking for that perfect shot at an ususpecting buck, or walking the bank of a terrific lake in search of lunker bass, or walking and wading a remote shoreline in search of that huge megalodon tooth.  The outdoors is life to me.

Well, let me restate that.  My family is life to me.  I want to be around, and be there, for my wife and daughter.  I owe it to them.  Along with that, the outdoors is life to me.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Small Stream Magic...Going With the Flow

By guest author Jim Cumming

The twenty inch brown trout added an exclamation point to what was already rising to the rank of a career day.  It strained my four pound test in the strong flow, but everything held and my net hand was true.  After a brief moment of admiration and a snap of the shutter, he zipped off to join ten other browns that had slammed my Yozuri Pin Minnow in the course of the last couple hours.  I took in the scene for a moment, enjoyed the satisfyingly strong pull of the current against my chest waders, and chuckled at my fortune for having escaped the “you should have been here yesterday” mantra that eats so many well-intentioned trips for breakfast.  My revelry was broken by a dimly visible figure working his way down the bank toward me in the failing daylight.  It was a county sheriff’s deputy.  I had to strain a bit to hear him over the current.  “Hey, buddy, I received a call about someone in trouble in the water.  You OK?”  As humorous as the situation may have been to me, I realized that this area had been under a flood warning just two days earlier as the first strong cold front of the fall plowed into what was left of summer’s stickiness.  To be sure, I no longer waded as surely as a blue heron and my sporadic stumbles probably attracted some attention.  Still, there was only one answer for the deputy’s question, “I’m fine.  REAL fine.”  No field sobriety test was administered, and he left me with, “All right.  Just be careful.  I don’t want to get called back here later tonight to fish you out.”  Well past sunset now, there was just a sliver of light left on the western horizon.  Still time for a final cast or two.  Enough for another chunky brown before hitting dry land.

The sheriff’s deputy had worried about me being in trouble, and perhaps I was, but for a different reason.  I was nearly two hours late when I pulled into the driveway, but my wife was unfazed.  “Was the fishing good?”  I’m sure she knew the answer before the question left her lips.  I’m almost always on time, almost to the minute, unless to quote myself, “Something dramatic happens.”  On this evening, the fishing clearly had risen to that level.  By why?  What were the triggers?  Ah, let the small stream journey begin.  It’s a journey that I started nearly forty years ago and is still my calling to this day.  Like any trip, it is best broken down into smaller, easily navigated segments.  By their very nature, small streams can change more quickly than lakes and other more stable parts of the water world.  Seemingly, they can morph from nearly dry streambeds to raging torrents overnight.  It only makes sense to start the small stream adventure by “going with the flow.”

Hair styles have changed since he caught these brown trout in 1976 and a smallie
in 1985, but the author's passion for small stream angling has only grown.
Going With the Flow
The very things that can make fishing small streams challenging and difficult can also make them easy to master if you keep a few basics in mind.  Fish relate to current in predictable ways regardless of a stream’s geographical location.  Fish rely on current to bring them food; however they will rarely stay in open current areas for long periods of time in order to avoid expending too much energy fighting the current.  This makes current breaks behind boulders, below riffles, or behind woody cover key spots to target.  The fine September evening described previously provides an example of two other locations that are often keys on a small stream……the outside of bends in the streambed and a confluence with a smaller tributary.  I encountered the brown trout that night at a spot where the water deepened below a set of riffles, while at the same time bending to the left.  This meant that the right descending bank (the outside part of the bend) was scoured out and deeper.  It was all the better that a smaller tributary flowed into the stream at this point, creating a small fish-holding eddy.  This was a classic, “textbook” stretch of stream, with three or four great things going on within 100 yards or less of each other.  You don’t find that everyday!  But finding and recognizing even one of these fish-holding features on your favorite stretch of stream will maximize your chances of finding a concentration of fish.

This stretch of a Maine coastal stream has many key fish-holding elements...a deep pool, a current break, an undercut bank, and even a nearby confluence with tidal water.
The spot yielded this fine early spring sea run brook trout for the author.
Riffles and pools are important structural elements of small streams.  As their gradients increase, streams quicken as they pass through shallower, faster riffle areas.  Further downstream, the gradient lessens, the current subsides, and depth increases into a pool.  At the downstream end of the pool, the depth decreases, the current picks up, and the next set of riffles marks the beginning of a repetitive stream bed pattern.  The eternal question with this and every other situation on the water is, “Where are the fish?”  The answer will vary with the stream flow, time of day, time of year, and other factors, with stream flow usually being the most critical. 

Fish tend to hold in predictable locations based on the stream flow.  As a rule of thumb, I’ve found that fish tend to hold in the large numbers at the head (upstream end) of a pool under lower flow conditions.  The same can be said of the tail (lower end) of the pool where currents increase approaching the next set of riffles downstream.  On the other hand, when flows are up from rainfall or snowmelt, the current at the head and tail a of pool tends to be swift.  Fish are no different that the rest of us…..they love food on their dinner plates, but want to avoid expending too much energy in getting those tasty morsels to their mouths.  Fish in pool and riffle sequences handle high water conditions by holding in the deeper, more placid sections of pools. 

The drop off into a pool below a set of riffles is a classic spot for pre-spawn fall brown trout.
This large brown responded to a well-placed crankbait.
At bends in the stream bed, fish also react to flow changes.  In low or normal flows, fish will tend to stack up in the deeper outside part of the bends.  On the other hand, the same current that scours out these outside bends to create what is normally good holding water, will become too swift for comfort after rain or snowmelt.  When flows go up, fish will often slide up into the shallower flats on the inside parts of bends.  This provides an important example of why you should cast the shallows first before wading in and potentially spooking fish. 

The small stream game is a multi-species affair.  Even crappie and white perch congregate in pools below riffles.
Smaller tributaries can be an ally in several ways when flows on the main part of a stream go up.  The confluence of a tributary and the main stream creates a relatively placid, fish holding eddy.  I remember a particular outing in May 2009 on the Androscoggin River in Maine.  May is still “early spring” at that latitude, and snowmelt is still very much a factor.  My buddy Dick and I had ventured out in his canoe on a pleasant Saturday.  Quite honestly, as good as his company was, I was thinking that yard work would have been a pleasant alternative (that speaks a mouthful for me) after having fought with the canoe in the current for the whole morning with only a fish or two to show for it.  We decided to tuck back into a protected cove to get out of the current for lunch.  The cove was located where a small tributary flowed into the main river, creating an eddy area.  Two bites into his sandwich and Dick’s glance fixed on the eddy, “Was that a fish?”  I turned in time to see the spreading rings of a surface swirl.  Lunch would have to wait, but it tasted a lot better after we’d brought a dozen or more quality smallies to hand. 

The author with a large smallie that was holding in an eddy where a small tributary entered a swollen main river.
Smaller tributaries themselves can give you a nice “Plan B” if you find a larger river unfishable.  They have smaller watersheds and won’t blow out as badly after a rainfall event.  In addition, if the water gets high enough on the main stream or river, fish will move up into the lower reaches of the tributary.  An outing with Fat Boy back in November 1985 comes to mind.  We had planned an outing during the week for late fall smallies on the Upper Potomac.  Vacation time approved, gear packed, and anticipation building.  What could go wrong?  Moisture-laden Hurricane Juan, that’s what and that monsoon muddied our plans as surely as it did the Potomac.  Never being inclined to throw in the towel in our fishing pursuits, Fat Boy and I were determined to make lemonade out of the weather lemonade we’d been dealt.  Plan A would become Plan B, C, or Z if needed.  The selected back-up plan of attack was to hit the lower reaches of a few tributaries to beat the main river blowout.  The first tributary we tried was what I call “high, fishable” and only slightly muddied.  Twenty five plus years have a way of muddying your memory more than that tributary, so I can’t recall with certainty which one of us scored first.  I do know that, “Fish on!”, “I’ve got another one”, “Good smallie”, and other simple phrases dominated our conversation throughout the day.  No need for deep, philosophical discussions on the meaning of life when the bite is on.

There are other factors that can trump all considerations for fish location in riffle and pool sequences on streams.  Forage fish like chubs will spawn literally right up in the shallowest part of riffles, with predators following them into the bony water.  One particular day in late April 1998 in Maine comes to mind.  Large brown trout pursued chubs up into spawning gravel, with their spotted backs breaching the surface as they chased their prey and made visible wakes as they homed in on a properly placed crankbait.  I shared that day with my buddy George.  George stays beyond busy as a restaurant owner, and we rarely get a chance to chat, let alone fish together.  Though whenever we cross paths, the conversation rarely seems to go more than ten words before we launch into our “remember the day” discussion about that blitz gone by.

I’ve also seen smallies drawn into shallow riffle areas to sip on diminutive mayflies that thrive and hatch in abundance in the turbulent, well-oxygenated water.  Anyone who doubts that smallmouth bass can be selective feeders has never fished for them in these situations.  “Matching the hatch” with Size 18 dry flies and getting the right drift in this scenario can be about as technically demanding as fishing gets.  But when your hook set into that little dimple of a rise leads to a heavy fish blasting off like a torpedo, all of the temporary frustration is forgotten. 

As critical as water levels are to stream fishing, it pays to check out stream flows when planning a trip.  I like to use the real-time stream flow data available from the U.S. Geological Survey at  This web site provides a map that allows you to click on your state and access real-time stream flow conditions.  Dam operators and power companies often have hotlines or web sites where you can also access flow information.  While most of the flow data you obtain will be for main rivers, over time you will be able establish how the flows on the bigger rivers correlate with the flows on the small streams covered in this article.

As with any type of fishing, it pays to constantly seek ways to improve your game.  On small streams, in addition to mastering riffles, pools, bends, and other features, it pays big time to look for “spots within spots.”  For example, if a nice pool also has some wood structure, the potential for action will often skyrocket.  Wood provides shelter for both predators and prey, plus it is the focus for insect hatches and a “drop in” site for grasshoppers and other terrestrial insects.  In other words, wood is a fish magnet.

The author prepares to net a native brook trout that hit a fly drifted by a downed tree.
This current seam with the benefit of sunken wood looked fishy in full daylight.
The author returned at dark to entice this stocky brown trout with a dry fly.
It can also pay dividends to locate spring seeps, particularly during low water conditions in summer.  In addition to noticeably cooler water in the vicinity of spring seeps, their location will often be marked by lush shoreline vegetation.  In summer, fish will seek out the cooler water that springs provide.  At times of low flows, I’ve seen streams literally bone dry above significant springs, while at the same time having substantial flow below.  It can also pay to make a mental note of these spring holes for winter fishing.  The springs deliver ground water that remains at a relatively stable temperature when compared to surface water in the icy grip of winter.

A dry spell left the upper reaches of this stream as dry as a bone in early August.
A mile hike through the woods led to a series of spring seeps which increased flow and created a veritable oasis.
A gorgeous August brook trout caught downstream from a set of springs.
I’ve presented a few thoughts about the relationship between fish location, flows, currents, and other factors.  I hope you find the information helpful on whatever you call your home waters.  If Fat Boy will have me back to his blog in the future, I plan to explore water temperatures, seasonal considerations, safety, resource protection, record-keeping, and other items that will enhance your success and enjoyment on small streams.

Jim Cumming has written fishing articles for the Great Lakes Angler magazine amongst other periodicals.  I've known Jim for many years, and have yet to meet anyone with the passion for small stream fishing that he has, whether it be fishing for trout or warm water species.  I hope that you all enjoyed Jim's piece as much as I did, and look forward to his next article as much as I do. 

Jim, thank you for your contribution to my blog.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Search For Steel - Great Lakes Steelhead Fishing

One of my favorite things to do this time of year, sandwiched between my hunting episodes, is to head toward the Great Lakes and fish for steelhead.  Just about every tributary of each lake has runs of these powerful strain of rainbow trout, from the smallest ditch like creek to some of the mightiest rivers on the continent.  Unfortunately for me, family obligations and other scheduling issues prevented me from making the trip this fall.  So, instead, I'll provide an overview of steelhead fishing along with some tips and fishing pictures that would make any trout angler drool.

Steve Kelley poses with a brute of a steelhead.
These strains of rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss, are native to the tributaries of the West Coast of the United States and Canada, but have been introduced into the Great Lakes and have been stocked ever since providing anglers year after year with exciting action and quality fish.  Many of these fish wind up being the fish of a lifetime for some anglers. 

Why?  Steelhead are actually sea run rainbow trout out West, and like their Western cousins, Great Lakes steelhead grow extremely large in a hurry because of the large forage base available to them.  Great Lakes steelhead are mostly stocked early in life, then spend most of their lives in one of the Great Lakes feeding heavily on alewives, smelt and other baitfish, then returning each fall and into winter to spawn to the creeks.  There have been documented natural reproduction on pollution free tributaries with suitable spawning habitat.  It's these fall runs that excite anglers from all over to visit the Great Lakes for the chance at a trophy trout.

Bob Barber can attest that fall can bring solitude along with beautiful scenery during hunting season, along with some fine steelhead action.  You have to take some time away from your tree stand however tough that might be.
Fishing for these salmonids only seems to get better as the fall waters cool towards winter temperatures.  Early on, anglers crowd many tributaries with hopes of hooking and landing these silver rockets.  When hunting season arrives many of these anglers head for their tree stands while others prefer to wait for more seasonable weather to fish for the chromers.  It's during these times that you can enjoy having a bit more elbow room on these streams.

My friend Mark Sirko is a master at catching steelhead on the Great Lakes tributaries.  I've learned so much from him over the past several years.
What techniques are employed to catch steelhead?  There are many different ways to fish for them, and depending on the size, flow and water temperature of the stream or river, some ways are better than others.  These techniques include fly fishing and float fishing as well as more commonly used spinning and baitcasting tackle.  In addition to flies, hard lures, soft lures and live bait can all be used to tempt these trout into biting.

Large rivers like the Niagara can be fished by boat or from shore.  Boaters like to drift live bait, egg sacks or crankbaits, or sometimes cast lures for steelhead.  Trolling is also very effective on these larger bodies of water.  Anglers fishing from the banks use a wide variety of tackle, from fly fishing, to drifting small jigs or flies under a float, jigging soft plastics, to chucking large flashy spinners, spoons and small crankbaits.  One thing is certain, when dealing with strong flows, the key to success is getting the lure or bait down to the fish.  Heavier lures, more weight under larger floats, or sinking or sink tip fly lines often help anglers accomplish this depending on the techniques that they prefer.

Jim Cumming with a fine Niagara River steelhead.  Jim turned me on to this type of fishing years ago.  I learned much from Jim who happens to be a fantastic trout angler on the biggest of rivers or smallest of streams.

Mark gets into the big river steelie action.
Mark McWilliams with a fat big river steelhead.

Conversely, smaller flows require a more delicate approach.  Fly anglers can use floating line with split shot on the leader to get the flies down, while float fishermen utilize floats that are designed for smaller flow combined with lighter amounts of weight.  Still, the key is to get the lure or fly down to the fish.  Live bait or eggs sacks can be very effective on these smaller tributaries when steelhead get finicky.  Fly anglers may find large spey type flies effective while swinging them across and down current when these trout are aggressive, or when they're finicky, small egg patterns or stonefly imitations could prove to be the ticket for success.

Yours truly with a colorful winter steelhead.  These fish become more colorful the longer they hold in the stream.
There are many books and videos on how to catch steelhead, so I'm not going to go into great detail, but I'll touch on each technique briefly.  Fly anglers do well with seven or eight weight fly rods and matching fly lines.  Local anglers swear by fluorocarbon leaders and I tend to agree.  Streamers in bright colors work well with wooly buggers being very effective, but don't overlook natural colors like olive or brown.  Egg sucking leeches are also very effective.  Basically, these flys look like wooly buggers munching on brightly colored eggs. 

This "chromer" fell for a chartreuse bead head wooly bugger on a 7 weight fly rod.  Fish moving in from the lake have a shiny "chrome" appearance, where the steelhead name is derived.

I teased this steelhead into striking a pink wooly bugger using a 7 weight fly rod.
Egg imitations also work well, with smaller sizes being optimal in clear water while larger more brightly colored ones being more effective in murkier water.  I really like the Otter egg flies.  Not only do they look realistic, they're made of soft plastic and kind of feel like the real thing.  There are scads of egg fly patterns and many of them are deadly on these trout.  Steelhead enter these streams early in the fall to feed on salmon eggs during their spawn while fattening up for their own spawn during the winter.

Fooled by an Otter egg!  Notice the rubberized net, perfect for protecting steelhead when fishing catch and release.

Another victim of the Otter egg.  As you can see, I really like the opaque apricot color.
While visiting these streams, steelhead will feed on just about anything that drifts by them at times, while at others being extremely finicky and difficult to catch.  Streamers that imitate minnows like the emerald shiner can be very effective.  Also, stonefly imitations of various sizes as well as other aquatic insect imitations may work when these fish are finicky.  One of the most popular types of flies are of the sucker spawn variety.  These flies sort of resemble the spawn of sucker fish (I guess), and come in a wide variety of colors, sizes and materials.  Tube flies are also becoming very popular.  The unique feature of this type of streamer fly is that the fly material is tied to a tube then threaded on the line and the hook tied on separately, making these flies versatile and also much more durable.

One things for certain, when fishing for large trout like these, when you tie your flies or purchase them, make sure that the hooks are strong.  Large steelhead make blistering runs when hooked and tend to straighten some of the light wire hooks commonly used for smaller trout.

Bob Barber with a beautifully hued steelhead caught in a Great Lakes tributary.  You need strong hooks to land big hawgs like this.  Bob has a gift for hooking these monsters.
For float fishing, the concept is pretty basic, but specialized tackle and the variety of floats and other terminal tackle makes this technique almost a science.  Basically, the float is attached to the line via little rubber bands, below that is a good ball bearing swivel, and below that a fluorocarbon leader with a number of split shot to control the depth followed lastly by a fly or a hook with bait.  Live bait, like minnows or nightcrawlers work well, but almost as effective are small egg flies or sucker spawn flies.  Many anglers use specialized float rods and centerpin reels that provide drag free drifts.  Centerpin reels resemble fly reels in shape, being levelwind, but are very friction free with quality ball bearings, allowing line to come off the reel effortlessly using the current to empty line from the reel.  Casting with this tackle is a bit tricky to learn, but once you do it's quite an effective technique.  You can cover a lot of water with virtually a drag free drift that makes fly anglers envious.

I was able to tempt this steelie on a sucker spawn fly under a float.  Notice the specialized line made by Sunline designed for float fishing and is highly visible.  It floats on top of the water while the fluorocarbon leader sinks.
Spinning tackle works well too.  Floating minnow or crayfish imitating crankbaits, small spinners, and jigs round out the tackle options for steelhead.  Make sure that you check local regulations to make sure your favorite lures are legal.  For instance, in New York, spinners can't have treble hooks and therefore must be single hook spinners.  There are all kinds of regulations on lures to prevent people from snagging these fish, so carefully read the regulations of the water you choose to fish.

This fine winter steelhead fell for an egg sack fished under a float.

When fishing bigger water, lure choices for spinning tackle offer a bit more variety as most of the regulations mentioned in the previous paragraph are designed for smaller flow and more vulnerable fish.  Heavy bright and colorful spinners designed to get deep can be very effective when temperatures are a bit warmer.  Also, spoons along the likes of Acme Little Cleos or Lure Jensen Crocodile spoons will take steelhead in larger rivers.  Jigs and slower presentations are more effective when colder temperatures set in.  A small white crappie jig is very effective under a float.  Soft plastic twister tails or Berkley Gulp minnows also work well jigged on a tight line.

After all this talk about techniques and lure choices, probably the most important thing to know no matter if you're fishing a small flow or a large river is how to read the water.  Reading the water means knowing how fish relate to cover and current.  Steelhead are like other stream fish preferring current breaks created by bottom or shore structure, holding to conserve energy while at the same time using the current as a buffet line having it bring food to them.  Once you determine where the fish are holding your chances of success increase dramatically.  Steelhead don't always hold in the same places all the time even in the same stream.  For example, even in the same day, steelhead may hold at the tail of a pool during low flow, and after strong rains and rapidly rising water may find more suitable holding in a riffle.  Likewise, the time of year and water temperatures will dicate where they hold.  The general rule is that the colder the water, think slower eddies and less current.  Think like a critter to catch a critter.  Ask yourself, where would I hold given the current conditions.  If conditions change, adapt accordingly.

Here's Mark with a beautiful Great Lakes steelhead caught while float fishing.  Look at those colors!
Once you figure out where the fish are holding, what depth to fish your lure or bait, find some solitude and present a series of casts with your bait in front of active fish, you'll be in for a treat.  There's nothing like hooking a steelhead and enjoying the fight and acrobatic leaps that they offer.

I'd like to finish this post with a special thanks to two of my out of town friends.  First, I'd like to thank Jim Cumming because if it wasn't for him moving to the Great Lakes region, then learning about how to catch these fine salmonids, and then inviting me up to his fishery and showing me the ropes, then I might not have ever experienced catching these trophy fish.  Second, to Mark Sirko for showing me some of his spots and teaching me about float fishing.  He's one of the finest anglers that I know and is definitely one of the best steelheaders out there. 

There are several good books on the market that detail how to fly fish or float fish (centerpin fish) for steelhead, but I thought that I'd point this one out because it's a pretty good guide in general about how to catch these fish, but also because it has a great section about tube flies.  It's a great read, and I recommend purchasing this book: 
John Nagy's Book "Fly Fishing Techniques and Strategies for Lake Erie Steelhead"