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Details are important for local anglers

Details, details, details. Who cares, right?

Anglers care. Or more precisely, we qualify that by noting “successful” anglers care. They know the difference between a successful fishing trip and a bust often boils down to seemingly insignificant details.

Ask Ohio’s steelhead anglers. They know the persnickety trout will snub offerings that are anything short of perfect.

Two of the best in the steelhead game are John Breedlove of Girard and Chris DePaola of Austintown. Breedlove and DePaola favor completely different tactics, but they tally pretty much identical totals of steelhead during the fall, winter and spring season.

Breedlove fishes for Lake Erie steelhead exclusively from his aluminum boat, which he has rigged expressly for trolling Erie harbors’ breakwaters and river mouths. DePaola, meanwhile, dons waders and wields a long rod with a centerpin reel to deliver flies in the pools and runs well up in the streams where the silver bullets migrate during the cold-weather months.

While their tactics are different, both anglers pay keen attention to everything that they can control during their fishing efforts.

For Breedlove, it starts with boat control and encompasses the lures he presents, his rods and reels, and the length of line he deploys.

Some days the steelhead attack spoons. Other days, he drags an array of hard-body stickbaits. Breedlove combines experience with trial and error to determine which baits to deploy.

He stows an inventory of spoons and plugs in pretty much every color imaginable and selects each day’s choices based on sky conditions, water clarity and depth. Steelhead love flash and bright colors, so Breedlove’s arsenal includes baits with metallic finishes and gaudy paint schemes.

Breedlove is particularly fussy about his trolling speed, having learned over the years that steelhead will ignore lures that are moving too fast or too slow. He experiments every trip to determine the best speed and then feathers his outboard motor’s throttle to adjust for wind and current. Even one-tenth of a mile per hour can be the difference in triggering strikes.

Line-counter reels are critical in Breedlove’s approach. He has learned some days the fish respond best to lures trolled relatively close to the boat, but other days the fish won’t hit anything closer than 100 feet from the boat.

DePaola is equally as careful in selecting and presenting his lures, mostly streamer flies and egg-mimicking patterns. Streamers that resemble the tributary’s baitfish are good choices, as are pink and orange egg flies.

He pays close attention to the movement of the current relative to speed of his fly’s drift. Steelhead prefer to set up in pools with their noses pointing into the current and they use their excellent eyesight to identify potential food, which tends to wash into their view in a natural manner.

The fish are naturally wary and will shy away from flies that are dragging because the angler’s line is laying over water that is not moving as fast as the water where the fly is drifting. They also can detect a lure that is being pulled faster than the current.

Rain over northeast Ohio late in the week added volume to Erie’s tributaries. The increased flow pulled fresh fish in from the big lake and river fishing will heat up as the runoff clears, which will provide the perfect opportunity for anglers to fine-tune the details of their favorite steelhead game plan.

Jack Wollitz’s new book, The Common Angler: A Celebration of Fishing includes stories about a number of Ohio anglers, including John Breedlove and Chris DePaola. He enjoys emails from readers. Send a note to jackbbaass@gmail.com.

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