Cast after cast, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, even month after month, my efforts on my homewater has seemed futile this summer. I did a solo float in my pontoon boat today and fished with some renewed hope due to the overcast/drizzly weather and also due to being the new owner of a beat up, but functional Hardy Perfect 3 7/8 trout model (narrow drum). This reel appealed to me since it makes a great match with my vintage glass rods that I love.
This little Perfect had a couple issues upon arriving in the mail the other day - the winding plate was slightly bent and there was a minor bind when turning the reel, probably due to an imperceptable bend in the frame. This reel had seen some better days, but after getting it for what seemed like a fair price and it being my first Perfect, I quickly addressed the issues that this reel came with. I bent the winding plate back into shape by putting it along the edge of my kitchen counter and carefully pushing down on the opposite side, done. The slight bind was cured by simply winding the crank back and forth repeatedly until the spool and frame ground against each other to the point there was enough clearance for the reel to operate smoothly. Sending the reel to Archuleta was not in my budget and I just wanted to fish the thing, so I was glad my home remedies did the trick and cost me nothing but time.
I got an early start this morning and stopped at almost every likely looking spot from the put in down to about 3/4s of the way to the take out, where I wound up ending my day. Under the overcast conditions and ideal water level, I fished surface flies with confidence, but after getting about halfway through the float, I started to get that sinking feeling that just another fishless day was shaping up. I got desperate and looped on a fast sinking poly leader along with a lead eyed Samurai on my old Sage 9140 brownie and 460grain AFS head - talk about going to the dark side! The setup cast ok, but my heart was not into it, especially being I was compromising my self-imposed (most say insane) dryline ethic. This routine lasted for about 15 minutes
I continued down to another spot that Tony Torrence and Matt Siegmund showed me. It was a fast chute that eventually converged with another riffle. Of course, I went though with a foam waker on my Fenwick with the Perfect on it.. The upper section is fast with a narrow inner seam, some water with potential to hold a fish. I continued down to where the chute and the riffle converge. My waker was at the dangle when I started to daydream, just as I was about ready to strip in for another cast. When I glanced back at my fly, I saw that a fish had exploded at the fly. The water displacement of the rise told me this was not one of the many trout I was coming across that were trying to impersonate steelhead, this was the real deal - my first steelhead risen to the surface on the Willamette this year.
I stepped back upstream a few steps and worked my way back down using the the same yellow/orange waker that raised the fish. By the time I was a few feet past where the rise came, there was no sign of a repeat performance by the fish. I walked back up and tried a green butt waker in a smaller size, still nothing. I initially thought to try a small wet called a "Yogi", invented by my friend Keith Tymchuck, but realized I left my #6 wets in another box. As I continued gazing into my box, a fly given to me by Tony Torrence called out. It was a beautiful blue/purple fly tied with possum hair, blue mylar, and blue/purple hackles. When a tyer as talented as Tony Torrence gifts you with some of his exquisite original creations, you might be inclined to just want to put them on display, but Tony intends for his flies to be fished, so I tied the blue/purple fly onto my #8 Maxima tippet with a double turle knot and went to work.
Walked back up with Tony's fly and fished it with confidence as I have had multiple experiences when Willamette steelhead will refuse to come back to take a surface fly, but will then come back to take a wet fly swimming in the surface film. I fished down and still no grab when I got to the area where I thought the rise initially came. I continued fishing down reasoning that the fish could have dropped further down along where the two flows converge. After a few casts, my line came tight and the unmistakeable electric yank of a steelhead followed. The fish burrowed down with some bulldogging tactics, came upstream easily for a bit, then took off on a long run nearly into the backing. I recovered line, all the while absorbing the learning curve of fighting my first steelhead on a Hardy Perfect. The mechanics of applying pressure on the exposed spool face to slow the fish down was all new to me, but I was totally loving hearing that Perfect scream. Landing the fish was tough since I was actually on a mid river bar with no bank to drag the fish up on. I managed to get the fish into shallow water, confirmed it was a hatchery buck, and after a few failed attempts, got my fingers in the gills and put my stringer on the beast to ensure it would not escape it's future destination - my dinner table.
After going so long without a fish, I'm feeling temporarily redeemed and validated. Getting to hear my new Hardy Perfect scream for the first time was also a great bonus. I'm hoping this fish is at least the beginning of a lukewarm streak rather than the beginning of another dry spell.