Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Monday, January 30, 2017
(The waker of the month for February 2016 is kindly brought to you by my good friend Adrian Cortes. This will give my readers a much needed break from my monthly foam creations. Thanks to Adrian for this fine article and photos - enjoy!)
Lemire's Thompson River Caddis: "The Closer" by Adrian Cortes
15 minutes ago, your surface fly landed softly nearing the front edge of the tailout in a classic glide. The moment you waded in on this particular pool, it felt electric. You reached this tailout with a fly unmolested so far; doubt creeps in whispering you should switch to a wet fly.
A retort, "well, I will probably finish the tailout in the next 10 casts...I'll stick with the dry fly". However, the focus has already wandered to the next pool as the fly tracks close to the dangle...and that's when it happens. A large push of water disturbs the surface, its energy creating a bulge that makes your fly bobble yet the hook continues its course to the shallows.
Fast forward to 15 minutes later after a few repeat casts and maybe a fly change or two. That fish never came back. You've tried resting the fish, shortening your line, twitching the fly...you're at the point of contemplating that wet fly box again. Before you tie on the wet fly, may I make a suggestion? Amidst the layers of hair, foam, and sparkle dominating your surface box is a somewhat diminutive pattern named the Thompson River Caddis.
|It was a tough day fishing until this nice BC summer doe slurped the gifted TRC tied by John Lauer.You can see that the light wire hook took its toll from the hard fighting wild fish.|
Let's go back to that steelhead that lunged at your dry fly. It hasn't come back to any of your other attempts. There's a decision to be made. If I may oblige, and there is no one following behind you on the run, tie on the Thompson River Caddis. The pattern's low profile, surface imprint, and uncanny ability to pique the interest in a shy steelhead is worth a swing.
While larger patterns such as foam wakers or deer hair flies may elicit that initial aggressive attack, the Thompson River Caddis closes the deal for a confident steelhead response. It lulls the steelhead to think "oh, I can eat that". Let the water rest and cast the TRC without any pulsating...just that predictable swing.
There you are, you've decided to give the dry fly one more dance. The TRC tied securely on your tippet. Either Mr. Lemire’s preference for floatant or your choice of a riffle hitch will keep the pattern on top.
Things get quiet and you ignore the ouzel bobbing on the exposed boulder below you. Line gets picked up with a familiar fly rod. The cast sails out effortlessly, placing the fly in the window before the current catches the leader and line. Nearing the zone where you thought the fish lay, you mumble "don't set the hook...don't set the hook". As if on cue, albeit prematurely from where you expected, materializes a significant head-and-tail rise. The Thompson River Caddis disappears in a swirl. Standing like a statue, waiting for the line to tighten, and the reel to start clicking feels like a minute has passed. In real time, it takes 3 seconds before the reel starts screaming. The rest is anti-climatic.
Sunday, January 1, 2017
Yet another color blend with with my favorite waker. I bought some baby blue glob rite floss at my local fly shop and sought to find a way to highlight the material in my pattern. The result includes an orange gloBrite butt, pink cactus chenille thorax, black cow elk wings, black foam shellback/lip, and royal blue Krystal flash.
Just to show that just about every color blend will catch a fish if kept on the line long enough a couple examples are noted below.
|Desert steel bends the gap open on this baby blue.|
|My first surface steelhead of 2016 munched on a sz 6 baby blue.|
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
After having a mediocre summer/fall season of surface steelheading, I have settled into my winter steelhead visions with the typical hesitation and saddness that comes with the reality of leaving consisent surface fishing conditions behind. The tumultuous ups and downs of the winter season is upon us and finds my car pointed in the direction of the coast.
I always come to terms with the change in season soon enough and find my excitement for winter fishing rekindled as I gather my boxes of winter dry line flies and ponder my rod/reel/line choices for the season. I reminisce over past seasons as I mentally prepare my game plan for the cold, wet season ahead. Will this be a season that will yield hookups on my favorite Winter's Hopes? Will I be able to raise/hook a full sized winter steelhead on a waker this year?
As I headed out on my first winter trip a couple weeks ago, I rejoiced in the hope and optimism that comes with life as a steelheader. Each season brings anticipation of the possibilities that lay ahead; each trip to the river could provide anything from an epic, multi-hookup day to perpetual skunkings, to anything in between. Regardless of the outcomes, steelhead fly fisherman tend to be a group that appreciates being out on rivers for much more than how many or how often the elusive chrome unicorns are encountered.
We have had winter water levels in our rivers since November so I have been anticipating some early winter steelhead being around on my favorite winter stomping grounds. I theorized that the good flows over the past month should have encouraged steelhead to ascend their home rivers ahead of schedule. I have made two winter steelhead trips thus far and there have been no indications of any early winter steelhead being around in waters where I have been tossing my flies. None of my friends have heard of any winter steelhead caught on our home rivers yet either.
It is still early in season and in the spirit of a steelheader's optimism, I will continually get out over the course of the season with great anticipation of seeing how things will unfold.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
|The Pink Panther|
This month's waker is another version of my pattern that came about through a request from my friend Steve Turner. Steve was planning for his first trip to the Dean a couple years ago and so he contacted me to request some pink versions of the Little Wang in a large size. Steve had a trip booked through Jeff Hickman's Kimsquit Bay Lodge on the lower Dean in late July/early August. Jeff had been telling Steve that the ocean bright lower Dean steelhead would aggressively take large pink flies so Steve asked me to tie up a few monster versions of my skater in all pink.
Knowing of the aggressive nature of Dean river steelhead and also knowing of that strain's ferocious fighting characteristics, I decided to tie more than just a few flies for Steve: I decided to gift him with a dozen of the big pink wakers, just in case of break offs and just in case Steve decided to share a fly or two with other fisherman. I had tied those early versions on size 2 Mustad 9672 hooks which are an old school 3xl streamer hook.
Steve is such a generous guy that he did indeed end up sharing some of those flies with other fisherman at the lodge. He was ultimately left with just a few remaining flies from the dozen I gave him. He got a nice coho and raised a steelhed on the pink panther on his first trip and he hooked into a nice Dean steelhead on the pink panther on his most recent trip this past summer. One of the guests that was at the lodge with Steve a couple years ago hooked and landed a nice Dean steelhead on the fly as well.
Steve recently requested more pink panthers, but this time he asked for me to try tying them on tubes as he wanted to share some with a renowed steelhead guide who intends to go after winter steelhead with them. My friend Tony Torrence gifted me with some hooks and pink tubes so I could beging tying prototypes of my first tube wangs. The pink panther pictured above is the result. I have tied the rear half of the fly on the stinger hook itself and the front half of the fly is tied on the pink tube. I burned a hole in the bottom front of the tube so the leader goes in from the bottom of the tube. Early field testing finds that this pattern skates well. Further field testing will reveal if winter steelhead will show some interest in this pattern - stay tuned!
I am so thankful whenever Steve requests flies from me as his requests have brought about new versions of my pattern and his fly requests give me a rare opportunity to reciprocate, even if in a small way, Steve's kind-hearted generosity.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
|The Big River. Photo by Todd Hirano|
Sometimes things come together in a way that just happen to line up good fishing opportunities in the mix. My in-laws Jim and Barb Jones recently retired and decided to move to a town that is a hub for at least 3 great eastside Pacific Northwest steelhead rivers. When Wendi and I made plans to visit Jim and Barb this past Thanksgiving, you can bet that there was more on my mind than turkey, stuffing, and gravy.
The scheming began with texts and phone calls going back and forth with Jim. After he and Barb got settled into their new digs with a new house built, lawn installed, furniture bought, and wrangling with the contractor over with, Jim had time to focus on more important things, like learning to spey cast and becoming more familiar with the steelhead nirvana he found himself immersed in.
Jim had been asking me about a good spey outfit to purchase to get started with so I suggested a 12'6" Echo classic and 390 Airflo Compact Scandi head. I still own the original Echo classic and the same Airflo line and found it to be a very easy setup to learn on and a good all around kit. I also put some of my skaters in my trademark Altoids cans in the mail to get Jim started before my arrival. I wasn't too long after that when Jim texted to let me know that he got a 30" hen on a sinking poly leader and lead eyed fly, a great start for a beginning spey caster!
Up to then, Jim had been hesitant to get into fishing with the two handed rod. His trips to steelhead country were limited when he lived in Montana and he was wary of starting fresh with learning a whole new style of casting and fishing. Now that Jim is living in the middle of steelhead country, taking up the two hander seemed inevitable.
As Jim and I continued planning in anticipation of getting together over Thanksgiving, I recalled when Jim and his friend Toby met up with me in BC for our first trip to Skeena country in 1995. That was a trip that sealed my fate as a dry fly steelheader and two handed caster. I was glad to see signs that Jim was starting to lean towards being taken by the affliction of steelheading as I know it - its always great to have more like-minded company in this strange niche I am part of.
In the course of planning my trip east, I contacted Zack Williams, renowned steelhead guide and editor of Swing the Fly. Zack had previously mentioned to contact him if I ever got out his way, so I figured this was a good opportunity to do so. I emailed Zack asking for any advice on fishing the area rivers he would be willing to provide me. In response, Zack went far beyond offering advice, he offered to take Jim and I out for a day and to even get us out on his sled, depending on where we ended up fishing. Of course, this was an offer I could not, and would not refuse!
As the departure day came upon us, we loaded into Wendi's 2006 Chevy HHR, which is a far cry from my dreaded "steelhead taxi" (1987 Chevy Spectrum). Unlike the steelhead taxi, Wendi's car doesn't smell like wet boots and waders,and doesn't have empty sandwich baggies, cookie crumbs and stray potato chips strewn about it. Somehow, my fishing gear didn't look like it belonged in such a sanitary environment, but I got over it and we went on our way.
We travelled north on I-5, then east on I-84. As we drove through the evening, we encountered some heavy traffic in areas due to all the Thanksgiving travelers doing the same thing as us - heading off to spend the holiday somewhere away from home.
We arrived in town at around 1am and got mixed up with how to get to Jim and Barb's home so we called Jim and he was gracious enough to drive down from his home so we could follow him back to the house. Wendi and I got settled in for bed after a quick tour of Jim and Barb's beautiful new home that was built in a new subdivision on a hill overlooking the river valley.
After sleeping in for a bit the next morning, I got busy with important things, like eating a huge breakfast that Jim and Barb cooked up for us, then figuring out how to get an out of state fishing license on Thanksgiving day. We found that a couple gas stations carried fishing licenses, being an area where fishing is an important recreational activity.
Having the fishing license out of the way was a relief in that we would not have to worry about scrambling the next day when we were scheduled to get out with Zack Williams. While Jim helped out with preparing Thanksgiving dinner, I made some feeble attempts to give him some spey casting lessons on his lawn, between him checking on the thanksgiving turkey cooking on his grill.
I also occupied some down time before and after thanksgiving dinner by tying more skaters on Jim's luxurious tying desk so I'd have a few to gift to Zack the next day. Jim's tying area was notably cleaner and neater than the smoking crater that I typically tie in.
We enjoyed a wonderful thanksgiving dinner where we all ate well and considered all that God has blessed us with so abundantly. After dinner, we cleaned up and set aside some turkey for making sandwiches for the next day's fishing.
We met up with Zack Williams the next morning at a local diner for a hearty breakfast. This was a little local joint where everyone knew each other, except us - we felt like outsiders overhearing personal conversations among this tight knit group of locals. This was my first in person meeting with Zack and it was great to put a face to the name. We talked of the local fishing conditions, Zack's guiding business, and of course Zack spoke excitedly about how he was working hard to get Swing the Fly in print. This is a big undertaking that Zack has ambitiously taken on with some inspiration coming from those old classy, glossy issues of Wild Steelhead and Salmon Journal. In fact Zack has been able to consult with editor Tom Pero about strategizing and potential pitfalls to avoid in such an undertaking. Zack's vision was to have a publication that would be of such quality that would be worthy of collecting and cherishing.
After breakfast, we followed Zack to the put in. As we drove along the river to the put in, I was amazed at the size of the runs I was looking at. This water was several times bigger than my typical homewaters. I was intimidated and awed all at the same time. This is the land of guys who wield long belly lines and 16' foot rods and I could now see for myself water where such mega sized tackle would be right at home. (Zack is actually a talented competition spey caster who has traveled to compete in Spey O Rama in San Francisco for the past few years) I would "make do" with my Sage 8136 and 9140, but I wondered if my little rods would make a dent in the potential water to be covered.
During the drive, I also noted Jim's truck thermometer reading outside temps in the high teens in places then going up into to the low twenties when we approached the put in. I questioned the accuracy of the temp readings I was seeing, but when we arrived at the put in and as I wadered up, I felt the bitter cold and realized the sub freezing temps were a reality. Surface steelheading didn't seem like the optimal mode of operation, but knowing myself, I'd still have to try.........
|Zack Williams on a guide's day off. Photo by Todd Hirano|
|Pate manning the bow and directing us to surface steel. Photo by Todd Hirano|
Never mind about ice forming in my guides and on my line. Using a Delta spey line helped with it's "longer" head and reduced stripping. It's funny how a few years ago the 54' heads on Deltas were considered short lines. As time goes on, lines have gotten shorter and shorter. I thought my Ambush lines were very short, but now we have even shorter lines, like those Commando heads.
|Iced guides were the norm for most of the day. Photo by Todd Hirano|
We had no takers in that first run so we headed downriver to another expansive run on the other side of the river. I hit the upper corner of this run and Jim and Zack split the lower sections. By the time I walked to the top of the run, Jim and Zack were little specks in the distance. I enjoyed the water I was fishing and I was even able to reach the seam a bit easier this time as the fishy currents ran closer to shore.
|The sun came out and warmed the day above freezing for about an hour! Photo by Todd Hirano|
I was happily working my way down the run and noted that the day was starting to warm and there was less ice forming in my guides. After a while, I saw Zack walking back up towards me. By the time we caught up with each other, the day was bright and it even seemed the air temps got just above freezing! As I chatted with Zack, I thought he had come up to tell me we were ready to move on to another spot, but instead, he calmly told me that he raised a steelhead to the surface in the water he was fishing. When I asked if he was just resting the fish before going back to cover the fish for comeback, he said "no, you are". See what I mean about Zack staying in "guide mode" even on his day off?? He wouldn't take no for an answer and insisted that I walk back to his position to put one of my skaters over his fish.
When I got back to where Zack raised his steelhead, he put me in the exact spot he had been standing at and even pointed out the exact foam line to cast to so I could put my fly over the lie his fish lived in. Surprisingly, it didn't even take a very long cast to cover this lie and as I lengthened my casts and got to where I needed to be, Zack pretty much called it when he said "he should be right about there", and sure enough a nice steelhead came up and lunged at the fly.......and missed. I made a few comeback attempts and no reruns from this steelie.
The remainder of the run still looked great to me so I quickly worked my way down towards what passed as the tailout of the run. I lengthened my casts a bit and continued down at a brisk pace to cover as much water as I could. Jim and Zack were taking a break as I continued in my mad pursuit. I happily noticed that air temps had definitely gotten above freezing with no more ice in my guides - sweet relief!
As I approached the tailout, I watched my foam creation coming across on a broadside swing in full sunlight when a steelhead suddenly came up and ate my fly in a quick rise. This little gal was on instantly and went off making some short runs as I overpowered her with my old Sage 9140. She fought gallantly against my 14' stick and after a brief battle, I was able to lead her towards shore where Zack was able to grab a hold of my leader to tail her. Just as Zack was about to get a hold of her, the hook popped out and she was off. I was thrilled nonetheless, to be raising and hooking steelhead on the surface in conditions most would not bother to be out in, much less be skating flies in. Sometimes insanity pays off!
|Hooked into cold water surface steel. Photo by Jim Jones|
We motored upstream to another beautiful run and by the time we fished through and I was nearing the limit of the water I could safely wade through, I noticed that Zack and returned to the sled and also that it was lunch time. As Jim and I approached the sled, I was anticipating eating those turkey sandwiches made from the Thanksgiving leftovers when I noticed Zack was hunched over and steam was rising around him. As we got closer, we realized Zack had busted out his Coleman stove and he was grilling fresh burgers for all of us. Thoughts of turkey sandwiches were set aside as the aroma of freshly cooked beef filled the air.
|Zack grilling burgers in the subfreezing conditiions. Burgers tend to taste extra good when it is 28 degrees out! Photo by Todd Hirano|
During our lunch break we inquired with Zack about his guiding business and he explained that he had moved closer to the eastside steelhead rivers several years ago as the Olympic Peninsula rivers he guided on had become so crowded. He still does some guiding on the OP rivers, but only during select times. In the few years he has been guiding on the eastside rivers, he notes that his guiding calendar is pretty full, mostly with repeat clients. He noted that he has received a golden endorsement from Poppy of the Redshed and Poppy has sent many clients his way. However, it is very evident, that Zack's easy going, polite, and generous ways make him a pleasure to fish with where repeat clients are just about a given.
After lunch, Zack motored us to a few more great looking runs on this expansive river. We finished off the day at a big water run that involved wading on and through a serious of bedrock reefs. It seemed that a rise would be inevitable for one of us, but none came.
By the end of the day, I realized that Zack had been using a 12'6" 6wt spey rod the whole day, one made by a manufacturer that he reps for. I was suprised by Zack's tackle choice due to the big water we were fishing and especially since Zack is a tournament caster who has been competing at Spey O Rama each year. His 15' Bruce and Walker sat in the boat all day and he never used it. Maybe he was just too gracious to cast the big rod and make Jim and me feel inadequate!
Zach trailered up his sled and we bid him farewell as we thanked him for a special late fall day on a beautiful river. Jim and I were so blessed to have been graced by Zach's knowledge of the water, easy-going companionship and being spoiled by a first class steelhead guide during his precious late season window of personal fishing time.
|Last run of the day. Photo by Todd Hirano|
The next morning found Jim and me driving back to the river with the game plan of hitting as many bank spots as we could. We again braved sub-freezing air temps in the low twenties as we subliminally questioned our own sanity for being out in such conditions. We started the day by accessing the same run that we hit with Zach first thing the day before.
I started as high as I could in this large ledgrock run. I was fishing my Sage 8136 and making the biggest casts I could to reach the inner seam of the main flow of this large run. As I made my way to the point where my black and blue waker was swinging into the top of a bay along the shoreline, a steelhead came up with a gulp and then immediately made a jump. I saw the form of a modest steelhead buck in the 5lb range as it leaped clear out of the water. Upon it's landing, the hook pulled out. I stood there laughing to myself as it was about 8:30am on a cold day with ice in my guides and I just had a surface steelhead attack. I'd never experienced rising steelhead in subfreezing air temps before this and I was just amazed with what had just happened. I wondered if these eastside steelhead adjust to cooler temperatures like BC steelhead, which are known to remain active to the surface in much cooler water than most of our lower 48 steelhead.
|Black and Blue Celestial Skater gets a cold water grab. Photo by Todd Hirano|
|Jim disappears in the distance of this expanisve run. Photo by Todd Hirano|
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Every serious surface steelhead enthusiast needs October Caddis colored flies during fall. I have been tying my pattern in the burnt orange color scheme for a few years now. I decided to post my most recent octowang, even being a month behind. The fly pictured is tied on an old stock Mustad 3906, size 6. The small, short hooks seems to hold steelhead well.
I have still been seeing a few October caddis fluttering about and there is still some time for more surface action before the season of deep wet fly fishing starts.