November: Winter Steelhead -- Where Hell Freezes Over

Babes In Boyland, a Mad In Pursuit Diary


mad in pursuit home

about me


cold weather fishing at Point BreezeMaria had a party last night. Nothing loosens my tongue like tequila. I cornered Malone.

“Hey, Maria and I went fishing last Saturday.”

He gave me sidelong glance.

“Yep, Oak Orchard Creek up at Point Breeze.”

He drank from the can of Labatt’s, deciding, perhaps, how impressed to be. “It was 20 degrees out.”

Maria chimed in. “Susan brought a Thermos of Hot Screaming Orgasms* to keep us warm.”

Malone smirked. He was a guy’s guy – one of that tribe who, at midlife, hemmed in by wife, children, aged parents and the demands of a poor-paying job, still nurtures his right to tramp off into the woods for showerless weekends of beer, horseshoes, and fishing. He and his brethren didn’t know what to make of us – two women suddenly taking up their sport, not with our men but with each other. Curious they were and maybe a little suspicious. What were we really up to?

So far, Maria and I were self-taught, our only lessons from Katie, who knew how to counsel a fish while extracting a hook from its throat and who had bits of advice about untangling line. But, beyond that one lesson, Katie had little interest in fishing. It was Maria and I who decided one August afternoon to get our fishing licenses and a couple of cheap spin-casting outfits. Malone was kind enough to tell us to stock up on French spinners but didn’t bother to mention that in August there were precious few fish in Irondequoit Creek, our destination.

What the boys knew from childhood we were forced to learn from scratch.

We’d been pestering him and his kind to take us fishing ever since. Sure, sure, sure, they’d all say. But somehow everyone was always too busy and then the weather turned cold. So tell us where to go fishing, then, and what to use, Maria demanded. He was vague: Oak Orchard. Spawn sacs.

Clearly we were on our own. What the boys knew from childhood we were forced to learn from scratch, the only resources our womanly grit and our books. I’ve learned a lot in my life from books, but suspected we could no more learn fishing from books than we could learn ballet. Maria told me to read anyway. I read. 

I discovered that fall brings enormous trout and salmon into the streams off Lake Ontario. This is apparently a secret. I’ve lived in Rochester NY for 30 years and the whole town is taciturn about fishing. I thought about the giant fish as big game, but the natives were apathetic. It was as if tigers strolled through downtown every year and people couldn’t make it fast enough to the golf course – except for men like Malone, of course, with their secret places and undisclosed methods.


For our Oak Orchard outing, I methodically reproduced the “Salmon River Rig” from page 204 of my book: small salmon hook, 24 inches of line to a swivel, bits of lead splitshot above the swivel. It’s de rigeur for steelies. I found a bait shop up on Irondequoit Bay that sold spawn sacs – clusters of petite-pea salmon eggs sewn up in nylon net.

Before dawn on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we set out for Point Breeze, a 40-minute drive from Rochester. It was 19 degrees and a stiff wind blew in off Lake Ontario. Oak Orchard Creek was a swift dark river. It was supposed to be teeming with steelhead trout but instead it looked like we’d found where hell freezes over.

Standing on a high deck at the beginning of a long breakwall into the lake, we tried to cast our lines. We didn’t have a clue, really, about how to put anything referred to as a “rig” into action. Now I understand that you’re supposed to keep the weight and the swivel dangling off the end of the rod, but we had them reeled up among the eyelets and everything got screwed up. To hell with this. We ripped them apart, tied hooks to lines and slapped chunks of lead above the hook. 

We waited for a strike. There was no evidence that a fish had ever inhabited these chill waters. Maria was doing a lot of talking about office politics and kept casting her line in the wrong direction, failing to notice how this caused a bloom of backlashed line to dance around her reel.

We’d already decided we were not out to mimic men. They were jocks. We were dames.

In the midst of dealing with a hopeless tangle, she dropped her glove in. Even if the trout were wary, I proved that I could cast accurately by snagging and retrieving her glove. This success called for a celebration.

We jumped into the car, turned the heater up full blast and poured ourselves a Hot Screaming Orgasm. Sure, it’s a ladies’ drink, the kind bars serve to women late on snowy evenings when the party-weary need to pump up their waning conversations. But, hey, we’re ladies. We’d already decided we were not out to mimic men fishing but to put our own feminine stamp on it. We were not jocks. We were dames. We were the Babes in Boyland.

A nip of fortified coffee and we were back on the pier, casting, casting, casting into the fast-moving stream, waiting for a steelhead to take us on. 

The morning went fast, with only one more coffee break. We triumphed over the cold. We congratulated ourselves for having the right stuff for outdoorswomen. Only one small problem: not a bite. 

“We don’t quite have the knack of this,” I said as we pulled out of the parking lot. “We’re going to have to find a damn guide.”


“So when are you going to take us fishing, Malone?” 

Maria handed me another salt-rimmed drink and Malone grabbed another can of beer out of the cooler.

“We’ll go, we’ll go.”


*Recipe: strong coffee, heavy cream, and spikes of Kahlua, Crème de Cacao, Godiva Liqueur and Bailey’s

Oak Orchard Steelhead.