Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Unexpected Opportunity: Field testing the JM Reid 8592 cane single-hand prototype

Sometimes life provides unexpected opportunities and blessings...

About a month or so ago, I received a message through the Speypages board from James Reid, a very talented contemporary bamboo rod maker.  In this message James inquired if I fished single hand rods throughout the winter steelhead season and if I'd like to field test a cane single hand prototype that he was designing for winter steelheading.  I'm not one to miss out on unexpected opporturnities and blessings, so my responses to James's questions were yes.... and HECK yes!!

Apparently, my crazed dry line winter steelhead posts got James's attention and he chose me as a candidate to put his prototype through the Oregon Winter Steelhead Acid test.  James asked me to fish the rod hard, not baby it, and test it out with various lines and techniques.

The rod turned out to be 8' 5" and rated as a nine weight.  It is a splice jointed rod, with the splice slightly below the halfway point.  James stayed in contact with me as he neared completion of the rod and by early December, he took advantage of using USPS (rather than shipping from Canada)  when he came down to Washington for A Day On The River through River Run fly shop on the Snoqualime river.

James had warned that the prototype would be "spartan" in it appointments and that it was "cosmetically subpar", but he could have fooled me, because when I excitedly took it out of it's rod tube for the first time, it was genuine beauty to behold.  The finish, wraps, handle, reel seat, and hardware are all first rate

I was hoping to give the rod an immediate test on Oregon winter steelhead, but Christmas activities  provided a distraction from heading to the coast.  Instead, I was able to beg a couple quick local trips from my wife to hit the MF Willamette below Dexter dam for some initial test casting and fishing over some late summer runs.  Upon arriving at the parking area, I taped the spliced joint on the rod and mounted my favorite 3 7/8 Hardy Perfect loaded with a 350 gr Ambush head on the reel seat.

Most of the time, there was a slight upstream breeze prompting single spey and snap t casts on river left.  This rod easily flung tight loops carrying 10-11 strips of running line out behind the Ambush head.  The rod is light in hand and it's swing weight and balance were perfect.  This rod is actually crisp and powerful, not what one may expect from a cane rod.  Even at 8' 5" and rated for a nine weight line, I could cast this rod all day without tiring.  I was casting a 2/0 Winter's Hope on a 12' Maxima leader with the Winter Dry Line Swing method and the rod really shined while I fished my preferred technique.

When the wind briefly blew downstream I was easily able to make cack handed double speys while using the short bottom handle for compact two handed casting.  I was also able to two hand cast snap Ts and single speys using compact casting strokes while employing the bottom grip as well.

I recently spent a several full days on a favorite coastal river in search of some early winter steelhead.  As I got more and more familiar with the ferrule taping process, it becomes second nature to quickly get the rod setup for a days fishing.  On each of these days, I spent up to 7 straight hours casting and fishing this rod.  I tried a few different lines, but settled on the fully integrated 9wt/350 grain Wulff Ambush line as my favorite line on this rod.  The short aggressive head (20') allows easy single hand spey casting with the relatively short length of this rod and when deep wading.  The seamless transition from the head to the running line allows ease in adding hauls to the backcast (d loop formation) and forward cast - a double hauled spey cast.

As an angler who up to now, has never had the opportunity to fish with a cane rod, I was pleasantly surprised with the crisp, powerful action of this rod.  The hollow six strip design seems to help the rod track very straight with no tip wobble on the cast.

James informed me that part of the push for the design of this rod is to be able to offer customers the option of owning both a single hand and double hand rod for relatively little additional cost.  The tip section of the rod I am field testing is the same tip section used on James's 13' 7/8 classic spey model.  This is a cool idea for folks who would want the luxury of having the option of fishing a double hand or single hand cane rod.

Visit the JM Reid website for some drool worthy browsing of James's masterworks:

(This review was also posted on the Speypages board)

Happy New Year to all and a Blessed 2014!


Sunday, December 22, 2013

May the Rivers Never Sleep by Bill and John McMillan

By now, many of you may be aware that Bill and John McMillan released their book May the Rivers Never Sleep last year.  This book is a wonderful work by the joint efforts of father and son.  This book is rooted in the inspiration and influence of Roderick Haig-Brown and follows the concept of The Rivers Never Sleep which describes rivers as calendars of the changing seasons through time.

I was so blessed to be able to receive a signed copy directly from Bill last year.  I was amazed by the beautiful photos by Bill and John, including John's incredibe underwater photos.  Bill and John alternate with the writing of the chapters discussing each month of the year.  As I read through the book,  I could not help but feel so much gratitude for the love and dedication to rivers and steelhead that Bill has embodied and passed down to John from youth.  Haig-Brown's influence on Bill and John has been profound, just as Bill's and John's influences on me form the foundation of my values and ethics as a steelhead fly fisherman.

Bill talks about how he and John took up snorkeling rivers just as Haig-Brown did, and this opened up a whole new world of discovery and understanding of rivers and fish.  It is true that as anglers, we are limited to the single dimension of looking at rivers and fish from above the surface and focused on the single minded pursuit of hooking a steelhead.  May the Rivers Never Sleep helps give the rest of us a glimpse into a deeper understanding of rivers and steelhead.

Bill and John discuss how over time, run timings on our rivers have changed due to years of hatchery management, habitat degradation, and over harvest.  Recent discoveries about anadromy of rainbow trout/steelhead is also discussed and how a "resident" rainbow can become anadromous and a steelhead can become a resident trout, depending on conditions.  I find myself going back to this book as each month goes by and rereading the chapter corresponding with the current month.

Despite the ravages mankind has brought upon our rivers and steelhead, this book is ultimately about hope for the future.  Dams have been coming down as John discusses about his home river the Elwah, and hatchery practices are slowly changing and management for wild steelhead becoming more frequent, thanks in no small degree to the tireless conservation work and scientific study of Bill and John.

Copies of May the Rivers Never Sleep can be purchased through the Wild Fish Conservancy store Duvall, WA:  Purchasing the book through the WFC will allow extra funds to go towards wild fish conservation.

Wishing all a Merry Christmas and may Jesus Christ reign as the supreme reason for the season!


Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Dead Drift

Bill McMillian's Paintbrush
       For as long as man has angled for steelhead he has presented his offerings in a downstream manner.  It should be no surprise that fly angling for steelhead this way should also be effective. So effective in fact that it is held in contempt by many. Recent developments in angler ethics and equipment give plenty of reason for this technique's maligned reputation. However room still exists within the technique for it to remain effective, satisfying and traditional.
      The tug of a steelhead while swinging a fly is the most exciting moment in our sport but there are times when that presentation simply isn't going to work.  Not every scenario we encounter with our fly rods in pursuit of steelhead lends itself well to the swinging approach, nor does the across stream presentation appeal to every fish we encounter. Dead drifting is a tool that a properly prepared angler can use in these situations.
      Before I start let me make it clear I am not talking about what is commonly known as nymphing which uses lead and a float.  I am talking about fishing tied flies on a floating line with little or no added weight,  no lead eyes no split shot and no indicators.  There is plenty of information on that elsewhere so I'm not going there.
        Anglers using a swinging approach with a floating line only need to alter their gear slightly to begin dead drifting. First you'll need a line with a belly long enough to allow you to stack mend.  A stack mend is simply and underpowered roll cast intended to stack slack line directly on top of  your fly. This allows your fly and leader to sink faster. Anglers that fish unweighted flies on a floating line for winter steelhead probably do this already. The preferred line is the double taper. Some weight  forwards such as steelhead tapers  have a long bellies and are also great.
     The  second alteration you may need to make is to lengthen your leader.  Mono-filiment has much less water resistance than a fly line therefore a 12-14 foot leader will give your fly a faster sink rate thus allowing you  to fish faster and deeper  water with effectiveness , something a 9 foot leader cannot do because of the fly lines buoyancy.  Though Fluorocarbon is less buoyant than mono I do not advocate it's use. Being non-biodegradable and causes a greater risk to wildlife when lost.
Bill McMillan's Silver and Orange
     Flies for the dead drift can vary by season and personal preference. For summer fishing a simple 1/0 skunk does most of my work whether fished across or downstream. In Winter I am  more concerned about getting down and staying down as the fish are less likely to move up. Winter flies should be sparse, tied with materials that absorb water and  that give the impression of bulk. Webby saddle hackles, tinsels and calf tail are great materials for tying fast sinking flies. Patterns developed by Bill McMillan such as the Paint Brush and Silver and Orange give an angler all that is needed. Both patterns adapt well to colors changes to suite to any conditions. The hook choice for these patterns is the Mustad 7970. It is heavy wire bronzed down eye hook that sinks like a rock. Sizes 1 and 2 are perfect  for most situations. The barb on this hook however does require some attention. It is large and often pinching it with pliers isn't sufficient. A file however easily removes any remnants.  Heavy wire hooks also require substantial sharpening. For this reason your flies  should be prepared before reaching the river.
     Dead drifting is not for every situation it is for those times and places where the swing has not or cannot produce. The North Umpqua is a wonderful river on which to use this approach as a back up or a follow up. On many occasions after having raised a  fish while swinging a wet fly and having repeated presentations refused brought the fish back to the fly by presenting it dead drift. Likewise many times I have pitched my 1/0 skunk upstream into a likely looking but un-fished pocket that cannot be approached for a proper swing and been rewarded with a take. It  can also be effective on visible  fish that have rejected a swung  fly however great care  should  be taken  not to harass a fish just because you know it's there. I grew up on the Washougal river where sight fishing was common even in very shallow water and saw  first hand the inevitable outcome of such harassment, foul hooking. If you dead drift your fly past a fish over and over again sooner or later you'll snag it, a bad outcome for you and the fish. Some runs, particularly on smaller rivers, just do not have wide enough holding lies to swing.
       The dead drift is great for small streams because of the speed at which depth is attaind and the length of time the fly remains in the strike zone. Dead drift presentations can develop into a swung presentations seamlessly with just a mend allowing you to effectively to cover the same water with two methods in one pass.  The dead drift is least effective on large rivers with the broad gravel bar runs that we all love so much to swing but even there a few extra casts into the buckets by a simple drift angle change can be rewarding.
     The dead drift will never replace swinging  for steelhead. It's not as pleasurable as or personally gratifying as the across stream approach but it has it's uses and  As every steelheader knows it never hurts  to have another trick up your sleeve for those times and places where the swung fly just  doesn't get the job done.

Thoughts on the Dry Line Swing in Winter Part 1

For some that read my blog, you may know that I have been a regular poster on the Speypages forum (since 2008) and my username there is "808steelheader".  The Speypages board is a wonderful place with good helpful discussions about all things spey, steelhead, fly tying and beyond.  There is also a great classifieds section as well (be careful on there!!).

I've made many friends through the Speypages board and maintain contact with other local friends there as well.  Some Speypages friends I actually fish with or have fished with include Keith Tymchuck (moethedog), Adrian Cortes (Fshnazn), Aaron Ostoj (aaronostoj), Terry Robinson (Flyfisher231), Mark.Stangeland (theWaker), Tony Torrence (Riverman), and Randy Clark (Clarkman23).  There are several others who I correspond with regularly on the board or through PMs (private messages) that I have yet to meet in person, but hope to have the pleasure of meeting in person in the future, hopefully on the river.

Speaking of Speypages, it seems that each winter, a thread on the Winter Dry Line Swing gets going and seems to keep going!!  This year I decided to be the troublemaker to get the Winter Dry Line thread started:

If you do a search on Speypages you will also find older threads on Winter Dry Line discussions from prior seasons.  There appears to be a strong interest by many in this subject, judging by the discussions that continue and never seem to get old.  When I started the Winter Dry Line thread on Speypages this year, there were over two pages of discussion within 24 hours.  I absolutely love participating in these discussions.  Some posters are already well versed in the technique, have experienced some success and are as passionate as I am about it.  Some are curious and just dabbling, while others are slowly gaining confidence in the method as they continue to persist with it.  Unfortunately, some folks become offended by Winter Dry Line discussions and feel like Winter Dry Liners are elitists and preaching the best way to fish that others should follow.  But overall, the discussions on Speypages (and actually on other boards as well) about the Winter Dry Line Swing or "Deep Wet Fly Swing" as it was called by Bill McMillan, are good-natured fun, informative, and carry a spirit of camaraderie and generosity in sharing of information and experiences with the method.

I've thought about and wondered of the reasons for the level of interest many have recently taken in the method.  Many folks happily fish sinktips or indicators and do well, so why would someone want to fish a method that requires more self-imposed restraints and typically, sacrifices in numbers of steelhead hooked?  A few reasons come to mind:  Bill McMillan's book Dry Line Steelhead has had a far-reaching and profound influence on many of us and the notion of hooking a winter steelhead on a floating line without the mechanical advantage afforded by a sinktip may have romantic appeal to those looking for a new challenge; some may want to feel like they are utilizing a more "traditional" approach to steelheading;  some may want to feel like they have beat the odds with a method that is overall, a lower percentage proposition; some folks just plain hate casting sinktips, even with modern Skagit systems; and some may even become interested in the method through discussions on internet forums (and blogs...).

Whatever the reasons are, I'm glad for the rising interest in the Winter Dry Line Swing, it gives me more like minded company on line and on the river!!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

Early Winter Steel Recon

November is one of those tough "tweener" months for a steelheader like me.  Conditions on my local flow is volatile during November with periods of the river being blown out by early winter rains or levels being bumped for no apparent reasons by the Corps.  When levels are stable enough, I'm able to get surface steelhead up to Thankgiving and beyond, but that hasn't been the case this season.  While I have had a few surface hookups in water temps as low a 44 degrees on the North Umpqua in early November, the water is often too high and cold for surface steelheading during this timeframe.

For some folks, November could be seen as a good month to take some time off from fishing, maybe do some other things like yard work, home improvements, hitting the honey-do list hard, etc - I have done some of those things, but my inner voice that says "you'll never get a fish if your line's not wet" just never stops.  I recently took a couple very early trips to chase after the unlikely encounter with a front running winter steelhead.  One of these trips involved friends Steve Turner, Adrian Cortes, and Aaron Ostoj coming my way with Steve's Clackacraft in tow.  Steve traveled from his home in Ridgefield, WA and Aaron met up with him at his home in the pre-butt crack of dawn hours and they picked Adrian up from his home in Beavercreek on the way down to meet me in Springfield.  We spent a couple wonderful days on the water, floating in Steve's gorgeous Clackacraft on day one and we bank fished on day two.  Steve even let me share rowing duties in his newly reconditioned Clacka and I proceeded to bang it into in a rock in the only stretch of moving water for miles.  Steve had a beautiful new set of Sawyer composite, counter-weighted oars that made rowing a pleasure.

While it was no surprise that we didn't enounter any steel during our two days of fishing, we had a wonderful trip spending time together, sharing in our common bond as brothers in Christ, and having the opportunity to get our winter steelhead rod/reel/line setups dialed and mentally shifting to the rhythm of winter steelheading.

When amongst these guys, I'm in some pretty fast company.  Adrian and Aaron are top notch classic Atlantic Salmon fly tyers and they both tie their magical creations in hand.  Just take a look on the "hooks, feathers, and floss" board on Speypages for a glipse at some of their talent.  Aaron also happens to be the proprietor of AO Feathers, a premier supplier of exotic fly tying materials for those classic Atlantic Salmon flies and beyond.  Aaron also dyes alot of his materials in house and all of his materials are only of the highest grade and carefully selected. Check out Aaron's wares at:

A glimpse into Aaron's fly box:

Perusing Adrian's fly wallet:
(Photos courtesy of Steve Turner)

Steve is a master behind the camera.  I have been an amateur, self-taught photographer and Steve's compositions inspire me to take my snap shooting to a higher level.  Thanks to Steve sharing his amazing photos with me, I've been yearning to purchase a used, outdated Nikon DSLR body so I can make use of my old Nikon AF lenses from my film shooting days and hopefully take some better fishing photos.  After our trip, Steve emailed me some of the photos he took while we were out on the water.  Among the photos that I really liked was one of a guy casting - the composition was perfect, all the elements and background came together for a perfect shot with the line in the air during a single hand speycast, the only thing "wrong" with the photo  - the caster in the pic is me!!  Geeze, for Steve to get me to like a photo that I appear in, now that's talent!  Steve's website:

AO enjoying a light hearted moment on the water

Steve's cool photo of amateur caster with outdated glass rod:

Fly tying master Adrian Cortez (Fshnazn)

Aaron and Adrian humoring each other while the guy with glass rod works down a run.
(Photos courtesy of Steve Turner)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Switching Gears

Now is that time of year when I am switching gears between fishing for summer runs and preparing for the fun ride of winter steelheading.  I'm about ready to fully leave behind the worst summer steelhead season I've had so far.  Finding rising steelhead was tough and I did not bring one fall steelhead to hand - very disappointing when I am typically able to raise my local hatchery summer runs to the surface with some regularity in Sept, Oct, and Nov on my homewater.  Unless the Army Corps brings the river level down soon, my surface steelhead season is over on the MF Willamette as it is currently running too high for any more surface steelheading until  fresh summer runs arrive next season.

Switching from this:

To this:

 (I tend to tie just a few extras of each pattern to be sure I don't run low and have enough to give a few away)

The season of weather and water dependent fishing opportunities is upon us, a time of doing our best on prophesying the arrival of fresh winter steelhead in our favorite runs and pools.  It will be a time of connecting with my regular winter fishing friends and re familiarizing myself with my winter rivers.  I'll be mentally shifting gears from the visual summertime routine of twitching and swinging wakers to the tactile experience of the winter dry line swing with wet flies on heavy irons (and not so traditional modestly weighted patterns like MOALs, marabou intruders, and Samurai's - a marabou/rabbit strip pattern).  Giving skaters a go in the afternoons will be part of my routine this winter as well.  Bill McMillan has told me that a degree or two rise in water temperature during midday to early afternoon can cause winter steelhead to become active enough to rise to the surface, even in relatively cold water.

Wishing you all a wonderful winter steelhead season.  May many chrome encounters come your way, I'd love to hear your stories so feel free to comment on here anytime.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Dry Spell

Seems like steelhead fly fishing blog posts are supposed to be exciting, heroic stories of fish caught and lots of them at that.  I love when I have experiences that warrant those kinds of fish stories, but my reality is that I often go through dry spells with days, weeks, sometimes months between solid connections with steel.  In fact I'm right in the middle of a good dry spell right now.  It's been at least a couple months since I've experienced a solid hookup with a steelhead and several weeks since I've raised a steelhead to the surface.  This can seem dismal and hopeless, especially considering that I'm out fishing at every opportunity throughout the year, but the inner vision of a steelhead grabbing on the surface keeps me persisting with my efforts during the summer/fall season.

Sometimes my dry periods are due to my stubborn choice of sticking with dry line techniques.  For instance, in the winter, even though it can be tough to keep the faith while fishing with a dry line and heavy irons when my buddies who are competent sinktip fisherman are fishing circles around me, my persistence is unwavering.  In the summer, most folks are fishing dry lines anyway, but for some reason, I insist on making a tough game tougher by fishing surface flies almost exclusively, even over my local hatchery steelhead.  Again, when my more realistic fishing friends prudently go to wet flies when the skaters aren't producing and start getting fish, I'm still out there persisting after the surface grab.  But then again, some of my fishing buds (won't mention names, but Craig, Tony, Cory, Keith, etc know I'd be talking about them) are just fishy anyway, often out-fishing me at my own dry line games.

Steelhead on the fly is a tough challenge any way you look at it, a game that separates the casual from what can be a very dedicated and obsessive crowd.  While being able to withstand long periods without fish can seem virtuous (in some twisted way), it remains a worrisome condition that in our day and age, modestly competent fly fisherman (myself included of course) can fish with dedicated persistence and go empty handed for the great majority of the time.   In the summer and fall, I am blessed to fish over wild steelhead on the North Umpqua along with my opportunistic local jaunts after hatchery summer runs.  Thus far, I've yet to find any kind of consistency on the NU even after fishing it for the past 4 years and my backyard river, the Middle Fork Willamette gives up surface steelhead very sporadically at best, and this year has been especially poor with the low returns.

No surprise that my inner vision of what steelheading should be came out of my repeated readings of Dry Line Steelhead with Bill McMillan's depictions of surface fishing techniques that came out of his fishing experiences on his beloved Southwest Washington rivers - rivers that were already in decline at the time of his writings.  As I described in a prior post, I was fortunate that my early surface steelheading dreams came to life on the Bulkley River, BC in 1995, when I was first able to actually experience surface steelheading like I read about in Dry Line Steelhead.  I am both blessed and cursed by these early influences and experiences in that they have embedded a mental picture that I continually seek to see repeated at just about any cost - even in the face of repeated and prolonged skunkings.  I often feel like an old man stubbornly holding to the good old days.  Most folks will just do what it takes to get a fish and happily get on with things, but I remain trapped in my own self-imposed and confined definition of success as I just can't let go of those images that give meaning to steelheading for me.

Yes, there are a few places that produce fishing like the old days, with good numbers of fish and little fishing pressure, but such places are getting harder and harder to find and/or require travel and expense.  With greater numbers of fisherman like me seeking quiet places out and with the internet, there are really no secret places anymore and I am not affluent enough to afford to maintain a yearly itinerary at various steelhead lodges in BC.  My reality involves fishing well known rivers, over dwindling stocks of wild steelhead (or only hatchery steelhead), with fishing pressure ever on the rise.  Therefore, it's not surprising that aggressive steelhead on the surface can be an extremely rare prize for me to encounter.

While this post sounds more like a lament, I continue to feel blessed that I have experienced some magical days when my crazy mental picture is fullfilled - when aggressive steelhead come to the surface in summer or when that line comes tight on a dry line grab in winter.  The beauty of these moments keeps me going in my unwavering faith that I will experience them again.

A nice bright winter hen that grabbed a MOAL in March

Hatchery steelhead do take skaters, somtimes: 

A nice Deschutes buck, the fly: #6 steelhead caddis

A memorable early December dry line buck

First winter steelhead taken on a traditional Winter's Hope

First winter steelhead taken on a skater!

Reminiscing helps during dry spells!!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Harmony's first boat ride

I took my 7 month old grand daughter Harmony for her first ride on my drift boat yesterday.  Her parents TJ and Stephanie decided to come along too.

I even rowed smoothly enough for Harmony to be able to take a nap up front

It was another perfect fall day with cool overcast conditions.  TJ got a decent rainbow on a wooley bugger while I busted out my old Sage 9140 brownie for old times sake.  The long rod allowed me to make casts from the rowing seat while not getting hung up on stuff and giving TJ room to cast from the bow.  Of course I fished my skater with confidence, especially in spots that have produced fish in the past, but my internal vision of steelhead coming up to attack my skater never materialized.  Oh well, such is the life of the long suffering surface steelheader - self-inflicted punishment is part of the deal.

All in all, it was a blessed day with my precious little granddaughter, my son TJ, and daughter in law Stephanie.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Fall Steelheading Pics

Since I have not been doing a great job of hooking steelhead lately, I figured to post up some photos which capture the beauty of my favorite steelhead season:

Quiet Places

Craig throwing a long line
Frozen rods at camp

Adrian getting it done with his Reid Cane

Fishing with Craig