There’s an old, unfortunate, expression you’ll still hear in certain circles when a fellow is having some trouble coping with things one says, “He’s on his way to Apple Creek!” It makes reference of the old state facility for mental health deep in Wayne County. In my own case, this pre-PC expression is entirely apropos, as Apple Creek is the kind of place I would go to deal with some troubles, only I’d be sure to take my fly rod and waders with me.
As trout fishing goes, the tributary rivers of Lake Erie are Ground Zero of Steelhead Alley and they are the kings overall when considering a place to do some trout angling. But seasons change, the Steelies move out into the lake, and the fishing goes cold after a while. Ask a fly fisherman on the Rocky River what he’s doing out in the water this time of year and he might tell you, “Just staying in practice” while he dreams of better days. So turn your compass south, follow down route 83 to the college town of Wooster (Pronounced “Wuss-ter”, don’t say “Woo”) and in an unlikely place you’ll find a gem of trout fishing on the Apple Creek.
Grosjean Park is a little corner of left over land squeezed in between some concrete elevators and route 30 just south of the Wooster Brush Company’s factory. But trust the directions, follow down a weedy path through some muddy bottom land just off the exit ramp, and you’ll find a spring fed, sandy banked, pebble-bottomed wonder that’s ideal for trout fishing the entire year round, the Apple Creek.
Now, if your mouth is watering for trout almandine or you’re packing a coffee can full of worms at this moment, stop right there, this experience is not for you. Go drown your worms on some Lake Erie Walleye and Cracker Barrel makes a fair trout supper, with cornbread. The wonder of Apple Creek didn’t happen all by itself, it had a little stocking help from the Clear Fork chapter of Trout Unlimited, making it one of Ohio’s terrific conservation success stories. Because it’s their party, they get to make the rules; no live bait and it’s catch & release only!
Catch and release is really about just one thing, survival of the fish so that it can breed and live to fight another day. Many a fish I release with the words, “Thanks for the fight, come see me again sometime!” Yes, it is pretty silly talking to a fish, but it keeps me focused on why we practice catch & release; to live the thrill again and pass it on. That being said, here’s some pointers on how to release your catch so to give it the best chance for survival.
The biggest thing is the most obvious thing; fish can’t breathe out of water any better than you can breathe under water (and they can’t hold their breath either). Every minute you keep a trout out of water sends its odds of survival down drastically. Consider keeping the fish underwater for that trophy photo. This goes hand in hand with the second thing, that is, hands! You know how you’re always supposed to wash your hands because they are the number one place you carry germs and pathogens? Well when you put your hands on a fish, you carry the pathogens right to him. If you think wearing gloves to handle trout is better, you’re wrong, it’s worse. Gloves remove the slimy protective coating on a fish and make it much more susceptible to infection. The best course is to wet your hands, keep the fish in the water as long as possible, handle it minimally and set it free as soon as possible.
If you must take the fish out, be gentle and deliberate in how you hold it and release it. Giving it a chuck back into the water will probably kill it because of the shock as its body hits the surface of the water. Hold gently around the circumference of the fish, near the tail if possible and slip it back in the water moving it back and forth to get a little water going across its gills. If you’re in moving water, this is better yet, kind of like fish mouth-to-mouth as the oxygenated waters will help. When it begins to show a little squirm, just let it go, and smile because you did a good thing!
Most of the other stuff is common sense, avoid the net if you can, bend the barb down on your hooks with a pair of pliers, and cut your line if you’re having trouble getting it out. A lost fly is nothing compared to needlessly losing a rainbow. Enjoy Apple Creek and Get Outdoors!