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Friday, May 31, 2013

2012/2013 Winter Steelhead recap

Since I am new to this blog thing, some of my posts will be retroactive.  I just wanted to take a moment to reflect back on this past winter steelhead season.  My winter steelhead season usually starts in early December on the Oregon coast.  My favored winter rivers tend to be in the small to medum size range.  During winter drought conditions, I sometimes hit some bigger rivers as well.  Winter steelheading is so weather dependent, I find myself constantly glued to weather forcasts and trends in flow levels on my favorite streams.  Winter also means more driving since my local waters don't really contain viable runs of winter steelhead.

My winter season got off to a good start with a solid hookup on my first outing in early December 2012 that resulted in a strong run across the pool and then my tippet parted, probably due to having broken off a fly on a snag earlier that day and there being unseen abrasions causing the break.  Can't remember when I broke off a fish before that.

I got another hookup the following weekend on one of my "dryline intruders", tied like Ed Ward's, but employing a simple tinsel body to allow the fly to sink more effeciently on a dryline.  I made a bum cast where my Rage head landed in a pile due to my running line tangling, when I began gathering my slack running line and came tight to the head, I felt solid resistance and then saw chrome breach the surface.  Just as I looked back to my friend Craig Coover, who was fishing above me, my line went slack.  Thinking the hook pulled out, I just retrieved my head back and when I made another cast, I felt nothing at the end of my leader.  I found that my Maxima butt section broke off at the 30lb section!  Two hookups and two consectutive break offs.  I vowed to check my tippet more often and change my butt section each season.

At the end of December, I had a small window of opportunity when my wife Wendi wanted to go to play Bingo and made a deal that I could fish if I went with her.  I hurriedly dropped Wendi off for the big bingo game and then I blazed off to the river for a quick couple hours of fishing.  I was fishing a newly acquired 7wt single hand glass rod and promptly broke it in when I brought my first dryline winter steelhead to hand for the season.  This fish grabbed a simple black/blue marabou intruder with medum lead eyes:

My luck continued on my next outing in early January 2013, when I fished with Craig Coover.  Craig got a nice fat buck in the first pool we fished:

At the next spot we fished, I got this buck on a red/or MOAL fished broadside in a flat above some rapids:

Craig walked back to me just as I landed this fish, then he busted out his phone and showed me a pic of an identical looking buck that he had just got in the pool below.  We traded spots, and in the same place where Craig hooked his second fish, I hooked yet another buck that looked identical to the one I just landed.  I got a look at the fish after a couple strong runs when it flashed on the surface.  It took off and after a couple more strong runs, the hook on the MOAL pulled out.  We called it a day after that and we both felt quite satisfied.

It seemed that in the remainder of January and February, I was getting consistent reports from Craig and Keith Tymchuck about them making contact with fish.  It definitely shaped up to be good winter steelhead season for us.

In early February, I started being able to talk my friend Tony Torrence into coming out with me on some of my winter outings.  A wonderful highlight was a day in early February when Tony came out with me and he went 3 for 3!  I couldn't believe it when he told me these were the first three winter steelhead he has ever caught on a swung fly.  After Tony got the first two fish, he graciously tried to talk me into going through first on one of the last pieces of water we were fishing that day.  I remember telling Tony "nah, you go through first, I gotta change my fly, go make it a 3 for 3 day".  Tony started in and I fished in a pool above him and after a few minutes, I hear his brand new 4" Hardy Perfect screaming again.  This big beautiful hen was the end result of the battle Tony won:

Tony was unstoppable on the next several trips out and he didn't go home without a fish story very often.  Tony got into tying some beautiful married wings and gave me one:

It seems winter is the time that brings me together with my fishing friends.  Keith Tymchuck (Moethedog on Speypages) and Craig Coover have been my regular winter fishing companions.  This year Adrian Cortes, a phenomenal classic Atlantic Salmonfly tyer who ties "in hand" (you'll know him as Fshnazn on Speypages) joined me for a few winter outings as well.  Along with being a talented tyer and one of the nicest guys one could meet, Adrian is a mighty man of God and I greatly enjoyed our rich discussions about our common foundation with Jesus Christ as our savior during our drives to the river and while fishing.  I began communicating with Adrian through Speypages and Westfly and we quickly realized we had common ground in our faith and love for dryline steelheading.  Adrian is seen below tying on one of his incredible classic married wings:

With the exception of a nice buck that I hooked and lost on a 5/0 Winter's Hope in late Feb and the small steelhead I got on the surface in late March, the latter half of my winter steelhead season slowed down as far as catching went.  All in all, it was a blessed time as I was able to enjoy the splendor of God's creation, often in the company of my wonderful fishing friends.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Early Summer Steelhead

The transition from winter steelhead to summer steelhead is often a tough one for me.  I usually manage to get a few winter steelhead each season using my favored dryline methods swinging Bill McMillan's Winter Hopes or other lightly weighted flies, and as noted in my previous post, I also do some surface fishing for winter steelhead, especially when the water warms in spring.  During the volatile conditions of winter, each freshet brings the anticipation of fresh fish arriving and new opportunities coming along with them.

The 'tweener period when the winter steelhead season ends and when summer steelheading kicks into gear can get me stir crazy.  The days of keenly watching weather and river levels and anticpating the ideal drop in winter rivers is over, but the consistent conditions of summer have not arrived yet.   My local flow, the Middle Fork Willamette from Dexter Dam to Eugene, is often running high in April, May, and June.  Fishing during the early stages of the local summer run is usually spotty due to the low numbers of steelhead just beginning to trickle into the river.  Being that my favorite local fly runs are only 10-20 minutes from my home in Springfield, I begin fishing my homewater pretty regularly starting in April, despite the low odds of finding an early fish - the sign of a true fanatic.  At this time of year, the summer steelheading on the North Umpqua - my other favored summer steelhead river, seems so far off, since realistic possibilities don't really start there until after the 4th of July.

As the name of this blog suggests, I don't loop on a sinktip very often.  I do own a couple Skagit heads, and a small assortment of tips, but I probably spend a total of about 37.87 minutes fishing a Skagit/tip setup each year.  So this means, even during the high flows of winter and spring, I am swinging flies on a dryline.  I just love the challenge and pleasures dryline fishing provides.

Anyway, my spring fishing efforts at catching one of my local hatchery summer runs this year has been typically frustrating, despite my persistence.  I was reflecting back to last year, when I was luckly enough to get two early summer runs below Dexter dam in April with just a few hundred steelhead counted over Willamette falls - literally like finding a needle in a haystack.  I have yet to as much as get a grab, much less raise a fish on my homewater so far this season.

Due to the slow fishing with my local steelhead fishery, I decided to head towards the coast on 5/17/13 to try a change of scenery.  Steelhead would be moving quickly through the lower sections of the river I was fishing, but I figured fishing couldn't be worse there than what I was experiencing close to home.

For the past two seasons, I've been fishing fiberglass single handers almost exclusively.  However, I chose to fish a nice classic run that allowed me plenty of room to use a full grown spey rod - my DECHO 12'6" 6/7 and long belly line (Airflo Dela Long 6/7).  I actually made one pass through with a waker on one of my single hand glass rods with only smolts showing interest.  I went back through with the two hander and tied on my version of a fly that Tony Torrence (of Caddisfly Blog fly tying video fame) gave me.  Tony tied his Samurai on a tube and I just loved the color blending and movement of the fly and also because it turns out to be a good sinking dry line fly.  My version was tied on a shank - with a brass eyes, purple rabbit strip and black marabou.

I started at the very top of the run and was getting used to casting the two hander and long line.  My casts were coming together well enough and the long belly line allowed a nice back mend to let the fly sink before coming under tension on the swing.  About a quarter of the way down the run, my peaceful rhythm was interrupted by a solid yank on the line just a bit after the fly started swinging across.  I either lifted the rod or pulled toward the bank (hard to remember in the heat of the moment) and the fish took off running.  After a couple short runs, the fish began running upstream and towards me.  When I got tight to it, the fish then began boring down to the bottom and put up a stubborn fight.  I didn't know for sure what was on the end of the line until I had the fish nearly on the beach and realized I had a bright hatchery hen, with her stubbed dorsal fin clearly visible.

I laid this fat hen on the beach and snapped a few photos with my rod alongside the fish as I caught my breath and reveled in the reality of  finding a fish in spite of the small odds.  I excitedly called a couple of my friends (Craig Coover and Keith Tymchuck) to give them a "live" report and to taunt them while they were still at work - that's the kind of friend I am.  I also called and texted Tony Torrence to report on my success with one of his fly patterns.

That same afternoon, I did a quick evening float on the Middle Fork Willamette with Craig Coover and despite the slow fishing I'm reporting here, Craig casually gets a nice buck on one of his original marabou bugs.  Craig is one fishy guy.

In the meantime, I'll continue with persistent efforts at trying to catch my first local summer run for the season.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Winter Steelhead on the Surface

Having committed Bill McMillan's writing in Dryline Steelhead to memory all these years and having been blessed to have some ongoing communication with Bill as well, I have been determined to someday get a winter steelhead on a surface fly. Bill has noted that steelhead metabolisms and activity levels seem to begin a steady rise at around 44 degrees with a peak between 48 to 58 degrees - the prime range to try surface methods, regardless of season. I have given surface methods for winter steelhead a try over the past few seasons when conditions seem favorable, such as when water temps are at least 44 degress, at reasonable winter flows and with reasonable clarity.

With the lower than average steam flows and mild, warm spring weather we have been having in Oregon, I figured I'd tie up some fresh foam wakers and give them a try during what seems like an ideal window of opportunity. I've managed to raise, but not hook winter steelhead on the surface in prior seasons.

Well, it seems the stars lined up when I was out on my favorite Oregon coastal stream on 3/30/13. I started off at the head of a little run and after hooking into a little smolt, I continued down and had an aggressive grab as my waker came across the main flow into the softer inside water. At first I wasn't sure if it was a nice sized cutthroat, but after a few headshakes and short runs, I knew it was a little steehead. She wasn't a big bruiser, but just a perfect, yet petite late running hen that had not spawned yet (anal vent not distended). My first winter steelhead on the surface and it felt good. The water measured a balmy 51 degrees on this clear spring morning (raising to 55 degress in the afternoon).

After photographing the fish I continued down and had another steelhead charge at my fly twice on the same swing but I could not hook it. It felt like fishing for summer steelhead, except there are no summer steelhead on this river!

I knew getting winter steelhead on the surface could be done, of course this has been accomplished by others, but it does take a leap of faith to put the big wet flies away and tying a waker on and going with what can seem like small odds. I also kept hearing stories of folks who were getting thier indicators eaten by steelhead this year so I took that as a cue to try surface flies.

Of course, now that I have accomplished my goal of getting a winter fish on top, my confidence is up.  Bummer is I continued to fish surface flies for the remainder of the winter season with no further success on top.  Next winter I will start skating earlier in the season when the greater bulk of the winter run is in.