Meet Me at the Net: Stories from Steelhead Alley
By Ed Novak
A book on fishing for steelhead in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York
Fishing for steelhead in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York attracts millions of anglers every year. Thanks to aggressive stocking programs by these three states, the tributaries of Lake Erie have become one of the best places to fish for steelhead in the country, earning the name "Steelhead Alley". National television shows such as The In-Fisherman and ESPN's In Search of Fly Water have produced shows on Steelhead Alley.
Finally, a book is available that captures the experience of living and fishing in Steelhead Alley. MEET ME AT THE NET: Stories From Steelhead Alley is the first book to capture the pleasures and experiences of living within this incredible fishery.
The thrills of fishing Steelhead Alley are captured in the author's stories and reflections of fishing the Lake Erie tributaries with close friends for over a decade. The book offers readers a humorous, informative and intimate look at fishing one to three days a week, during the steelhead season (October through April), with very good steelheaders. Fishing with that frequency is bound to generate quality stories. Fishing with expert steelheaders makes for even better stories.
The authors style invites readers into his personal steelheading experiences. His narratives give readers a feeling of inclusiveness, placing them into the story and stream. By the time the reader has finished the book, he or she will not only have an idea of what fishing Steelhead Alley is like, but will feel a connection to the author and his fishing buddies.
If you fish for steelhead, this book will have you waist deep in your own memories and emotions of chasing silver. If you've never fished steelhead, you'll be at the local fly shop buying steelhead gear long before you've finished reading all the chapters.
There's nothing that beats fishing except maybe a good fishing story. "Meet Me at the Net: Stories from Steelhead Alley" is a collection of fishing stories from Ed Novak as he explores the stories of fishing throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York and the unique brand of game that one experiences in this region. For fishing enthusiasts, "Meet Me at the Net" is a fine and very much recommended read that shouldn't be overlooked.
Mike and I have been fishing steelhead together for fourteen years. Our friendship and fishing trips include quality fishing experiences out West in places like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the Green River in Utah. We've also landed tarpon in Florida and trophy brook trout in Labrador, Canada. Mike's steelhead skills and outgoing personality come through in stories like this one:
If you meet Mike on the stream, it feels like you've known him for years. More than once I've watched Mike help a new steelheader land his first fish, take the guy's photo with his own camera, get his address, and mail him the photos. Last year we were fishing in Oak Orchard, NY and I heard a guy say to Mike, "Hey, you're the guy that took my photo with that beautiful steelhead last year!"
Dan "Clinic" Haude
Dan Haude earned the nickname "Clinic" because he seems to outfish all of us on the stream, putting on a steelhead clinic on just about every outing. He's been fishing with Mike and me for about seven years and we were lucky to have met up with him, not only because he is a great steelheader, but also because of the humor and good times we have on our steelhead outings. Clinic is so good at steelheading that I note in the book:
Clinic had me believing in reincarnation for a while. I was convinced that he had been Captain Ahab in a past life. Upon further reflection I dismissed this possibility, for if Clinic had truly been Captain Ahab, he would have caught Moby Dick!
Thomas is my now sixteen-year-old son who began steelheading at age eleven. Stories and experiences of steelheading with him and his friends bring a different perspective to the sport. In the book, I describe the way he and his friends see steelheading fishing like this:
He's more of a quality-over-quantity guy, and it doesn't take too many steelhead for him to feel he's had a good day on the stream. Hopefully, that will never change. He's generally looking for one photo opportunity with a steelhead of seven pounds or more, so he can hang it in his locker at school.
One of my first steelhead friends and a great person to spend time with on the stream:
One early fall day on Elk Creek, the fishing was excellent and the fishing pressure was low. Bill and I were having our way with quite a number of fresh and aggressive steelhead. At one point we managed a double hook-up where Bill and I caught and released what looked like a pair of twin fall chromers. Following the release and high fives, Bill's expression turned serious as he said, "You know Eddie, if we were good-looking, this would just be unfair." It's a comment I use often now in Steelhead Alley.
My brother David Novak doesn't steelhead with me as often as Mike and Clinic, but when he does, those outings always seem memorable. In the book I refer to his colorful and engaging personality and that,
...his sense of humor is extra large, often bordering on irreverent, and he will keep you laughing most of the day.
The Entire Gang of Steelheaders
Over twenty-five fishing friends are mentioned in the book; many of them became my friends through our steelheading together. That is one of the beauties of steelheading:
Steelhead Alley has not only introduced a new species of fish into Ohio and Pennsylvania, but also created a new fishing community within these states. When I think of the people who are my steelhead buddies, I'm surprised at how many of them I really didn't know until I began steelheading. The sport has been good not only for local businesses, but also for deepening existing friendships and creating new ones.
But hatchery-raised steelhead are in no way an ugly cousin to the natives. There is nothing that feels man-made about a fresh October steelhead in any Steelhead Alley river or stream. The fish is going to bend a fly rod, head shake, fight as if there is no such thing as catch-and-release, and reflect sunlight like a mirror when you pull him from the net, just like any wild one would do...
From Chapter 4: Steelhead Philosophy
The summer months in Steelhead Alley feel as if our steelhead rivers and streams no longer exist; the steelhead have all dropped back downstream to Lake Erie. The summer's hot days and the region's lush summer foliage change the streams dramatically. Brush, weeds, and ivy line the stream banks, the water temperature is swimming-hole warm, and the low and clear stream flows make even your favorite fall or winter runs unrecognizable in the summer months. During these months, a steelheader has to move on and find new fishing options.
Not true in other areas of the country. Out West, the scenery itself is a twelve-month reminder that there are trout always waiting for you, and ready to play. Even if you're only going to the store for milk and eggs, the mountains, streams, and forest views nudge you into thinking about using your afternoon to chase trout. You can't get away from these natural billboards that seem to advertise "Fish-On! Next Exit."
In Steelhead Alley, though, even during the peak of our steelhead run, the highway drive doesn't so much as hint at what's going on in our streams. Ours is a nearsighted fishery, and Mother Nature is very good at keeping it a secret until you arrive at the stream. Many of the waters of Steelhead Alley feel like a scene from an ancient mythology tale, where a hero's journey leads him into a hidden enchanted forest.
The first fall trip back to a Steelhead Alley stream always feels like this. Fifteen footsteps away from the parking area is the distance it takes for a part of you that's felt dead to come alive again. Water changes everything. The sound of it, followed by the sight of it, seems to soak and revitalize a dry, dehydrated part of your soul. You step off the bank into the stream, and you are immediately reacquainted with a part of yourself that was left there last April...
From Chapter 17: Fall Steelheading
Clinic tells of a legendary fellow who fishes our waters. A somewhat crotchety elderly man, he's come up with a creative, if not antisocial, way of dealing with a familiar occurrence on our waters – claim jumpers on the run of silver you happen to be prospecting. Apparently this fisherman equips himself not only with a fly rod, but also a yellow flag and a referee whistle. When someone begins to poach on his personal space and fishes too close to him, he'll throw the flag and blow the whistle, attracting quite a lot of attention from other anglers. I've never seen him, nor has Clinic, but it's a good story nonetheless...
Chapter 16: Broken Rods and Personal Fouls
I'm always reminded of this magic at the net when I take a first-timer out on the stream. Many of us had a similar experience when we caught our first steelhead. You take someone out for their first time on an Ohio, Pennsylvania or New York stream, and they progress through a personal learning curve of casting a fly rod, watching a strike indicator, and figuring out when to set the hook. While they are getting used to this new way of fishing, they watch other anglers land a few steelhead. This only adds fuel to their already heightened desire to catch one of these special fish.
Generally, they'll miss a few before landing that first one. But if they are fishing with an experienced steelheader on a typical Steelhead Alley day, there is a good chance a netted fish will happen eventually. When it happens and the fish is deep in the net, there is a time-stands-still moment when a steelhead is held and viewed up close for the first time. The removal of a fisherman's first steelhead from the net reminds me of someone removing a valuable antique or Tiffany vase from a storage chest. The reaction is no less; it's an almost breathless response as they lift the fish from the net.
There is the handling of the fish with reverence and excitement, a photo, followed by the revival and release. The return to fishing is usually accompanied by the first-time fisherman, now worthy of the name "steelheader," replaying for everyone the hook-up and fight. Their replay always includes comments about how beautiful the steelhead looked, and the story is enhanced with intermittent laughter. Frank at the TMF Sport Shop describes the experience as a fisherman spontaneously laughing "for no reason" other than a delayed reaction of excitement over the catch. I've had this experience of spontaneous laughter and I witness it several times a season. Usually the laughing steelheader is my brother or my friend Mike, and it never gets old...
Chapter 21: Meet Me at the Net
The highlight of that day was the eight-pound fresh hen I caught on a Clouser minnow right before dusk. We had walked past a deep pool earlier in the day. On my way back to the car, I stopped at this pool to make my final few casts of the day. I decided to use a black and white Clouser I had tied earlier in the summer to fish smallmouth at my brother's cottage on the Allegheny River.
I had been casting and stripping for a while with no luck when Mike, who had been fishing downstream, met up with me. He gave me one of his, "Eddiee, another great day!" greetings and announced that it was probably about time for cocktail hour to begin. I puffed on my cigar and said I wanted to make a few more casts. But let's be honest about it, a few more casts to a steelheader is really another half hour.
This evening the steelhead gods smiled on me, and on the next cast I was into a good fish. I had made a few slow and long strips, and as the Clouser was sinking, I began the next strip. That's when the fish assaulted the counterfeit minnow, and the collision was one I'll never forget. The intensity of the attack against my slow and steady strip is still embedded in my nervous system.
The battle was a good one, a few leaps blurred by the dusk, a screaming reel, and the suspense of whether I could land this fish. After she made three good runs, Mike waded below me and I guided her toward his net. The photo Mike took is still one of our favorites. There I am, worn cigar in my mouth, big smile on my face, and rather scrappy looking after fishing all day. There she is, contrasting my homely appearance with her shiny bright silver. A steelheader's version of "beauty and the beast."...
Chapter 13: Overnight Trips
Born and raised in Ohio, I've been fishing since I was three. My professional writing background began in my profession of psychotherapy. I've been published in an international psychotherapy journal and I'm also a member of the editorial review board. My professional writing style places emphasis on the interpersonal experiences between patients and me. In MEET ME AT THE NET: Stories From Steelhead Alley, this writing style helps to evoke within readers their own experiences of being with good friends chasing steelhead or other fish.
About the Illustrator - Nate Prebonick
Nate Prebonick is a freshman at the University of Akron, majoring in Environmental Science. An AP Art student during his high school years at Archbishop Hoban in Akron, Nate spent many classroom hours drawing fish, sometimes even at the expense of note taking. Nate's passion for fishing comes through in his drawings, which accurately provide glimpses of life in Steelhead Alley.
About the Editor - Kelly Andersson
Kelly Andersson lives in "Big Sky Country" - Montana. She is an accomplished (and award-winning) writer with a 20-year history of writing for publication, a degree in journalism, and a love of the land. Kelly knows writing, but she also knows hunting and fishing - she's guided for elk and spent many days fly fishing some of the best streams the West has to offer.
We all have them, here are some of mine.
Thank you for visiting my website. I hope you enjoy my book and also hope that
if we meet one day, it will be at the net, in a Steelhead Alley river.