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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.

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