January 5, 2018

The End of an Era

I recall reading a tribute to Kobe Bryant in the L.A. Times and a line by the author stuck with me (paraphrasing slightly) "Winners are complicated people. They don't often arrive to us agreeably or untethered to flaws. They anger us. Confound us. Infuriate our senses. They leave us gasping for good and bad reasons. But when the sun sets on their chance meetings with us, we can undeniably say this much about them. They were winners. Dammit, they were winners."

That commentary pretty well sums up J.T Barrett’s career at Ohio State. He was complicated, he had flaws, he confounded us, he angered us, and left us gasping whether it was bad or good. But at the end, he was a winner, whether we as Buckeye fans wanted to accept it or not. 

For me, ever since after his freshmen season, I steadily grew dissatisfied with him. I felt he was the reason why Ohio State couldn't achieve their full potential. I lost count how many times I cursed under my breath whenever a pass sailed over a reciever's head, throwing for 3 yards, or standing in the pocket too long. I sit on the couch with a disgusted look on my face. Whenever they showed head coach Urban Meyer's face, I would yell 

"How long is this crap going to last? Bench him!"

But Urban would never do it, no matter how loud we yelled or cursed about it. He was loyal to a fault and Buckeye nation was losing it. 

Barrett was complicated. He's a humble quiet kid from Wichita Falls, Texas. Despite being that, he was a well respected leader in the locker room. His coaches and teammates love him. He was a three time captain which has never happened in school history. However, he never had that same respect from the majority of fans who over the two years started to sour on his performances on the field, especially in big games. Many felt he regressed as time went on. 

On the field, he had flaws. He was a great read option quarterback and ran Urban Meyer's spread offense well. But when it wasn't not working, the offense struggled mightily. Barrett's weakness was his arm and it wasn't particularly strong or accurate. When the passing wasn't there, the offense became very vanilla. I still believe to this day, had he not been injured during the Michigan game. Ohio State probably wouldn't win the national championship, because Barrett couldn't stretch the field like Cardale Jones did. 

Barrett with his broken ankle healing, watched Jones from the sidelines dismantle Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. They made it into the college football playoffs as the number 4 seed and were huge underdogs against number 1 Alabama. The Crimson Tide had no answer for Jones as he brought them back from the brink of defeat and eventually won the Sugar Bowl. For the finale, the Buckeyes defeated the Oregon Ducks and won the National Championship. Even though Jones, despite his limited playing time, was forever immortalized in Buckeye lore. Barrett would have to wait for the following season to get his shot at a title. 

Sadly, that never came. In 2015, he lost his starting job to Jones. But, Jones struggled and eventually Barrett got his job back. All looked great until the team suffered a devastating last second loss to Michigan State, eliminating them from the playoffs. The following year, Ohio State made into the playoffs even though they didn't win their division. They go up against Clemson who are the number one ranked team. The Buckeyes are humiliated 31-0 and Barrett is the scape goat as the team fails to generate any offense. After the season is over, Barrett who has graduated is free to play anywhere. He announces that he's coming back for his 5th season. Some fans are not happy, many want a new quarterback as they felt Barrett wasn't the answer. Others are optimistic as head coach Urban Meyer has overhauled the coaching staff on the offensive side of the ball. 

This past season was Barrett's last shot and it doesn't take long for the fans to begin grumbling as they loss to Oklahoma in week two. He struggles to pass the ball and is inaccurate. Once again, fans want a change, but Urban Meyer continues to stick with him. What sends the rest of the fanbase over the edge is the embarrassing loss to unranked Iowa. The week before, Barrett rallies the Buckeyes to a huge comeback win against Penn State. With 2 losses, the odds of them getting back into the playoffs is slim. They go undefeated for the rest of the season and win the Big Ten championship. The win is underwhelming as Barrett has an average game. The playoff committee announces their decision and Ohio State is not in the playoffs. In bitter twisted of irony, Alabama gets in, even though they didn't win their conference. The Buckeyes settle for the Cotton Bowl. 

The Cotton Bowl was Barrett's swan song. Ohio State defeated USC on the strength of the defense. Barrett on the other hand struggled and many fans were just happy to see the last of him. Barrett was a good quarterback against lesser opponents, struggled against good defenses and was demolished agaisnt elite defenses. However, there's no denying Barrett's accomplishments. He holds virtually ever record at Ohio State and the Big Ten as a quarterback. 

  • 769 of 1,211 passing, 9,434 yards, 63.5 percent completions, 104 touchdowns, 30 interceptions.

  • 656 carries, 3,263 rushing yards, 5 yard average, 43 touchdowns.

  • 147 total touchdowns, 12,697 total yards, both Big Ten records.

  • 50 games, 44 starts, 38-6 as a starter.

But, there's that sense of he never really accomplished any worthy other than winning a Big Ten title and a couple bowl games. When he came out and said he was going to come back last season, I knew Ohio State's chances at winning a national title were gone. I always thought he regressed as a quarterback, because he was so one demensional. His lack of arm strength and accuracy, is what kept the Buckeyes from being that elite team. Unlike his opponent in the Cotton Bowl, USC's Sam Darnold who is projected to be the number 1 draft pick, Barrett will most likely go undrafted in the upcoming NFL draft. His performance especially in the 2nd half was so bad that I couldn't even stay awake to watch it. The next morning I read the box score and I wasn't surprised. He was a pedestrian 11 for 17 for 114 yards and was the leading rusher for 66 yards. He just did enough for his team to win which was the case most of the time.

That would the last memory for many Ohio State fans, the most winningest quarterback in school, who set all of the records, but never won a game when it matter the most. He will be a lighting rod for debate whether he's one of the best players to wear a Buckeye uniform. But dammit he was a winner.

December 31, 2017

The Hardcore Steelheader

The hardcore steelheader is a rare breed. They are a passionate group, who love to get out as much as possible. Mother Nature will throw everything at their way and they'll brush it off with a sneer. They’ll drive in squalls, wade across raging rapids, are oblivious to the cold and will go off the beaten path.

As that famous Christmas song goes, the weather outside is frightful and the holiday is a couple days away. The weather is to go from rain to freezing rain to lake effect snow. For the majority of steelheaders, they'll be deep in the confines of their homes. Not me, I'm at Starbucks getting my coffee and sandwich for the road. The barista comments that I'm crazy to venture out and fish. I shrug it off and smile

"It's always a great day to go out and fish"

I wave goodbye and the rain immediately pelts me as I open the door. The drive out to the Grand is the same as the wipers are going non stop. Many Clevelanders are still in bed or waking up hoping to get the rest of Christmas shopping done. I arrive at the lower section of the river at first light and there's isn't a person out. I suspected that because it started raining around three in the morning. I open the back hatch and get ready to put on the gear. I look at my rod and it's been a while since I cleaned it. I remember like it was yesterday when I got my new rod from Loomis after I broke my old one. The blank was shiny, polished titanium guides and fresh cork. Today, the cork is filthy, the guides worn and the blank not so shiny. The same can be said about my Kingpin reel as its logged countless trips and fish. The hardcore steelheader spares no expense. They don't flinch when the cash register flashes $580.00 for the latest reel or top of the line rods. But I have this indifferent attitude towards my gear. I treat them like crap and not worthy of my attention. For me, gear isn't supposed to be shiny and clean. It's more of a badge of honor, that my equipment shows the wear and tear. There a story behind every scratch and nick on the reel. The only thing that is new is my waders, because the last pair wore out, literally. The last pair of waders I dropped over $500.00 and I abused them. Charging through buckthorns, sliding down banks, busting out ice and leaving them in the tote box wet for a week. No wonder they wore out. This time, I promised myself that I would better care for them. The next item on the list to be replaced are my boots and they look like they've been put through the wringer. Cracked and frayed, the boots are still functional, but I loathed the wire lace system. I'll squeeze another season from them and replace them next year. The last items are my jacket and waist pack. The waist pack is filthy, covered in fish slime and whatever else my hands came in contact with. The jacket which I did wash a couple weeks ago so I could apply some water proofing. But since there wasn't any rain in the forecast, I didn't bother. Today, I sure could have used it.

I make the long walk down and look at my phone, the flow data has the Grand running a little high, but fishable in my book. I reach the river and the flow is great and clarity is still good, but the window is slowly closing. I wade into the river and head down to the tailout above a small feeder creek. I'm in the middle of the river and pick out a pick sac. Even though I'm in the middle, it's only 3' deep. In past years, I've done very well in this spot. Unfortunately, it turns into a grind. I work the entire section, muttering to myself that I forgot my small towel to keep my hands warm.

The monotony is soon broken as I see the float go under and feel the line surge. The fish darts about, I as I perform a pirouette. The stronger flow and the long rod make it that more difficult as I try to grab the line. I finally grab it and pin the fish against my legs. Without hemostats (hear me Santa) I jab my thumb against the fish's tongue and pull the hook out. The fish bolts and I'm left nursing a bleeding thumb. The wind continues to gust and I try to keep my hands dry. I look up and down the river and there's nobody. I blow into my hands and continue to fish. I want to squeeze as much time as possible considering next week, this river will be locked up ice as a frigid mass of Arctic air invades the Alley. A skipper falls for a chartreuse sac and unlike the other fish, I easily pull it in and pop the hook out.

The rain hasn't let up and I check the flow data, the river is inching up but there's plenty of time. The section of river fails to produce any more fish and the rain has switched to freezing rain. The water is 38F and decide to move up to the pool where I can get out the water in case my feet get too cold. I can hear the freezing rain pelting my hood as I labor against the current. Because the flow is stronger, my intuition tells me to go above and fish the tailout.

My hands are getting red and numb. But I shrug it off as there's been plenty of times I fished without gloves or hand warmers. The hardcore steelheader just brushes it off. Just like in the previous spot, it turns into a grind. I watch the bubbles and move the float to where the current drops off. The float drifts along as I tether the reel. I watch the float go under and I react. I yank but it feels like I snagged the bottom, but the snag starts to move. I feel the line surge as the fish moves further out into the river and parks itself in the middle. I patiently wait for the fish to start tiring as I flip the rod left and right and gradually reel in. I'm oblivious to the cold steel as my fingers gently cup the reel. It becomes a drawn-out battle as the fish continues to make a break into the current. I'm perfectly fine with that as the current will wear it out more quickly. But, I'm curious to see how big my antagonist is. I start to get the upper hand and move the fish into the shallow water. It's a pretty big fish as I see it flounder on the gravel bottom. It continues to fight as explodes through the shallow water. Eventually, I get it on the shore and it's a large male. Its head is huge and I'm hoping its 30" because it been a couple years since I've caught one. Sadly, I measure it and it's 29", but a beautiful specimen nonetheless.

I place him in the water and he lingers until finally drifting into the murk and disappears. By now the freezing rain has turned into snow and to the west the sky is dark. My hands are completely numbed as is my face. Had my girlfriend not be coming over early this afternoon, I would have drove to get a cup of coffee, warm up and head to another spot. Begrudgingly, I must pack it in. The snow dances about as I head back to my car. It gradually snows harder when I get to the car. I see a car parked in front of the gate and watch a young man get out.

"Any luck? How's the river looking?"

I reply that it's slow and bundle up. He looks unsure and gets back in the car. I see him get on the phone, probably telling a friend. I wouldn't bother to get out and ask. I would get dressed and head down, regardless if the bite was slow or the weather cold.

I pull my toque off and feel the heat escaping my head. My jacket is soaked and gradually get all of my gear off into the tote box and toss the rod in. I get in the car and crank the heat up. My hands welcome the warmth as does my butt when I turn on the seat warmer. The snow starts to intensify when I pull out and head for the highway.

I look at the flow data and the Grand is on a steady rise. Most likely every river in Ohio will blow out later today. By Christmas, the temperatures are to plunge into the low 20s and into the teens at night. Only the hardiest of the hardcore will venture out to a river clogged in slush and ice. They'll find a way as they usually do. I'll be vacation until the New Year spending time with my girlfriend and her family. Halfway home, I get a text message from her and she isn't taking her son to his music lesson, because of the weather and I can come over anytime.

I arrive home and unpack everything. I hang the waders and jacket and place the boots on the rack. I shower and gather the bags of gifts and my belongings. The snow is coming down hard as I load I pick up a coffee at Starbucks and my barista is still working and she asks how the fishing was. I said it's always a great day to get out and wished her a Merry Christmas. Out of curiosity, I drive down to the Rocky and the river is getting high and muddy. All of the lots are emptied and I wonder how the fishing was this morning.

By the time I get back to work, all of the rivers will be locked up in ice and snow. Even Lake Erie will probably freeze over. Instead of the rivers, I'll venture out the power plant and try my luck there. The hardcore steelheader will always say there's somewhere to fish on the Alley.

November 18, 2017

The Introverted Angler

I’m an introvert and I’m proud to say it. For years, especially when I was younger, I was never comfortable in my own skin. I always felt like something was wrong with me. I didn't have a lot of friends, I rarely engaged in conversations, and I seemed to be in my own little world. High school wasn’t a particularly fun time for me as I often hid in the shadows. Only when I was in college, I took a sociology class and learned about introversion. I was completely blown away and a lot of it made sense of who I was. But it didn't stop some people from judging me. I was that introspective, reserved guy. I could come off as too serious to certain people and aloof to others. But for the few people that knew me well, I was the loyal friend who is there when a problem arise or I could talk passionately about things that matter to me the most. That's why introverts are so misunderstood, because many people have a hard time figuring them out.

One thing introverts crave is alone time. Because they get their energy from within. That’s probably why I enjoy fishing so much, because of the solitude and slow pace. Some guys like the camaraderie and bonding. There’s a time and place for that, but it's done in small doses. Generally, I prefer to head out alone. Its good for the soul and mind after a long grueling week at work, which ironically I deal with the general public on a daily basis. The weekends are the time to charge the batteries and disappear into the upper reaches of the Alley’s rivers far from people.

During the steelhead season, I’ll be on the road, driving in the dark. The music playing in the background as I drink my coffee. It sounds like a peaceful morning, but inside my head, I’m trying to figure out where to go. You would think I would have this all planned out the night before. I have plenty of information to go on such as experience, flow data, weather, and reports from friends. Over analyzing is an introvert’s kryptonite. I call it analyse paralysis. Like a massive connect the dots puzzle, my brain links everything to everything else. I want to make sure that I’m not missing any facts and I’ve considered all the possibilities. That I’m making the absolute best decision possible with the information I have. Usually, it goes like this

“Grand, Conneaut or Ashtabula?”

“The Bula might be too low, Conneaut might be too crowded, Grand still might be off color.”

“But I heard the fishing was better on Conneaut”

“Hmm, what if I started there and if the number of people is too much, I’ll head to the Grand”

I check the flow data

“Uh oh, the flow on the Grand is a tad too high”

“Maybe the Chagrin?”

Classic introvert dilemma and if I was taking someone else, they would probably strangle me. You would think with almost 20 years of fishing the Alley’s streams I could pick a river and be comfortable with the decision. Sometimes it’s easy when all the other rivers are too low and clear, the most logical choice would be the Grand or if it’s really cold out and there's a chance of slush, the Rocky would make sense because it’s so close to home. If I’m going with a couple of friends, we make a decision the day before. But in my head, I’m thinking of other possibilities and at times I try to change their minds. But if every river is fishable, I'll agonize whether I'm making the right decision or not. Now you can see why I prefer to fish alone.

What introverts lack in decision making, they make up for it in attention to detail. Introverts process everything in their surroundings and pay attention to all the sensory details in the environment. When I’m on the river, I’ll carefully read the water. I watch the bubbles and the texture of the water. In my head, I’ll ask myself if I was a fish, where would I be? It can be a long pool or a tiny section of pocket water. I’ll analyze it before I cast it out. Even when I go to a section that I never fished before, I have a knack for getting on fish. Call it intuition because introverts have this uncanny ability to go on hunches and gut feelings. My intuition will tell me when its time to throw in the towel, pass up a spot or tossing the float into a small run.

Even when I'm fishing a remote section, I'm always looking over my shoulder. I what I'm looking for if any other people are coming. I'm a very private person and I generally don't like fishing around other people. Why? Because I hate small talk. Small talk is meant to be light and fun. It flees from depth and meaning. Personal questions are considered inappropriate. From my point of view, I see small talk as not authentic. This is where some people will take it as me being standoffish or cold. This is frequently misunderstood as introverts hate talking. However, this is not so. Introverts like the right kind of talk. So what is the right kind of talk? Things that matter to me and that are important. I can talk for hours about steelhead, environmental issues, the food scene in Cleveland and music. But, talk to me about meaningless topics and I'll probably look up with a blank expression on my face. Even when I'm fishing with the guys, I'm more focused on my float then engaging in relentless banter. They understand that I'm not the social butterfly, that I'm a passionate angler who loves to go out regardless of the weather or the time of day, I'm always game.

I've accepted that I have limitations. I still struggle having to fish around a group of people and in most cases, I'll pass up a good spot in order to get away. If you fish next to me, I'll be cordial and that it be the end of it. I generally won't engage in starting a conversation. I'll be too focused on fishing. It's nothing personal. Even if I start hitting fish, eventually I'll start thinking about where's the next place to fish. My gut will tell me, that I should head down and fish that tail out where I seen five people pass it up. Sitting on a spot all morning is a waste of time.

So the next time, you run into a person and ask "Any luck?" and that person turns to you and replies "Not bad" and turns their back and resumes fishing. Chances are you've encountered an introvert.

June 30, 2017

The Donald and The Lake

When Donald Trump became president, there were three groups that knew they would be in his cross hairs - illegal immigrants, Muslims, and the environmental movement. Well, come to think of it, anyone who dares cross his path would feel his wrath. But, that's a whole different topic, that quite frankly is too taxing to write about. I've said it all along that Trump isn't a politician, he's a ruthless businessman right down to the core. If there is one that people high in corporate America really hate, it's regulationsFor most Republicans, when they see smoke belching from a stack or raw sewage flowing out of a pipe, the American economy is doing great. As the for the environment? Too bad, just hold your breath and don't swim there. 

Trump has released his 2018 budget and he's ready to slash and burn the EPA right down to the ground. Trump has made is clear that he's isn't a big fan of the agency. After all, he has gone on the record that climate change is a Chinese-perpetrated hoax and called the Paris Agreement "ridiculous." I read an article about all of the cuts he's seeking and it left me numbed and outraged. One of the programs that slated to be eliminated is the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The initiative was created to clean up decades of misuse from toxic wastes, the introduction of invasive species and restoring wetlands.  

Prior to the initiative, the lakes have benefitted from the enactment of the Clean Water Act and changing attitudes from the general public. However, one of the lakes is starting to show signs that its health is declining is Erie. For the past several years there have a series of large algae blooms popping up on the western basin of the Lake Erie. I've witnessed this massive green carpet stretching for miles in every direction as boats have to plow through it to get to open water. Then there was the contamination of Toledo's drinking water from the same algae and it made national news. A lot of the older people along the shores of Lake Erie remember all too well seeing the dead fish washing up on shore, the extinction of the blue pike and the Cuyahoga River catching on fire. This generation could very well see the same things happen again if attitudes don't change. 

But the one that scares me the most is the Asian carp getting into the Great Lakes. For years, politicians have kicked the can down the road on what to do to prevent them from getting into the lakes. When Obama was president, he never addressed the problem during his entire time in office. The electric barrier isn't a 100% and it's a matter of time before they start getting into the lake. Just last week I read an article that carp have breached the barrier and are caught just 9 miles from Lake Michigan. But Trump won't release the study plans to stop the potential invasion. Why? Because it hurts business interests. It's that typical short-sightedness that politicians are famous for. 

Because if the carp get into the Lake Erie you can pretty well kiss the sports fishery goodbye because they'll practically clean out the lake of any plankton that younger gamefish rely on. We'll be sitting at the bar when we're old and gray talking about the good ole days when we caught walleye, perch, bass, and steelhead all day long.

The reality is that Lake Erie and the Great Lakes don't belong to Donald Trump and the Republican party, they belong the American people and it's up to every American to do whatever they can to protect them. His budget isn't set in stone and the politicians from Ohio, both Republican and Democrat have already said they'll fight the cuts. I'm pretty confident that both the Congress and Senate will sound a loud message that Donald Trump ignorance and greed are not acceptable. Four years can't come fast enough.