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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

First Surface Steelhead for Summer 2013

I'll say it again, it's been tough going for me on my local flow this summer.  The hot, dog days, huge rubber hatches, and lower than average numbers of  summer steelhead over the falls has made the Willamette seem more like a huge, moving swimming pool rather than a place to chase steel.

Despite the difficulties, it was a time to fish, so I gladly accepted an invitation form Cory Dixon to hit some evening spots after work yesterday.  Cory is a friend I made through the Westfly board back in 2009 and we have recently reconnected and decided to get some river time in.  After navigating past droves of rafts, kayaks, tubes, and swimmers at the ramp, we shoved off in Cory's 19' sled and we were able to hit multiple spots up and down from the put in  before darkness set in.  I quickly realized the advantages of a sled compared to my lowly pontoon boat - being able to move quickly from spot to spot, no shuttle - quite a nice deal.

We started at a nice run upstream.  Cory offered me the choice of water so I headed to the upper section of the run as I tend to do because of my dry fly tendencies.  I had previously floated past this water in my pontoon, but never really fished it until then.  Cory pointed out structure that has held fish for him.  I fished my way back down towards the sled with no steelhead encounters.  Cory walked back up to the top of the run and got in above where I started.  A few minutes later, I heard Cory yell over to me that he had a fish on.  Sure enough, being the fishy guy he is, Cory picks my pocket with a hairwing wet.  He lands the fish, a cookie cutter hen of about 28" that would have been sitting in water I had just skated over.  Sometimes getting a few inches under the surface makes all the difference.

We jetted down to another run that I'm familiar with and gave it a few casts before moving on to another spot.  In the next run, the sun was shining directly upstream into my face, but at the back of any fish that might be holding there.  Cory graciously pointed out holds in this innocous looking piece of water that has produced for him.  Knowing of my dry fly problem, Cory insisted I go through first and he would follow with a wet.  As I studied this water, I realized how fishy it actually looked.  As I worked down into the heart of the run, a steelhead come up twice to my green butt foam skater before the fly settled straight below on the hang down.  I was pleasantly surprised to raise a steelhead under the unlikely conditions.  I made another cast, but the fish wouldn't come back. 

I got my wits about me and changed to a #6 McMillan Steelhead Caddis with an orange body.  I put a riffle hitch on the fly and made a cast to the same spot where I raised the fish.  I could barely pick out the drab fly gently skating across the moderately choppy surface, but I was able to visually follow the fly tracing it's arc while it swung across-  no grab came on that cast.  I figured to reel a couple strips of running line back in, just in case the fish moved closer to me.  Cory patiently waited to continue fishing down as I went through my fly changing/comeback routine.  I made a few more casts until I was back to my original length of line, still no fish.  I resigned myself to the fact that the fish was probably one of the Willamette's common, one time risers.  I turned to Cory and told him I'd leave that fish for him to pick up with his wet fly. 

Rather than changing back to a foam skater, I continued fishing down with the Steelhead Caddis to avoid further delays for both of us moving through the run.  On my next cast past where I initially raised the fish, a perfect head and tail rise came to the riffle hitched fly and the fight was on.  I think due to the 65 degree water, this fish didn't exactly make my Hardy Perfect scream it's guts out, but hey, I'll take a dry fly steelhead whenever I can get one!  I managed to beach this little hatchery buck, which was just a bit smaller than Cory's hen.  It was so satisfying to see the little steelhead caddis lodged in the upper jaw of that steelhead. 

It was interesting to note that if this fish was indeed the same one that initially come up for my foam skater, that it had dropped back down in the run about 5-10'.  The same thing happened with the last steelhead I got just over a month ago where the steelhead ended up getting hooked further down in the run after the initial rise.

After landing my fish, we jetted to another beautiful run, fished it with great anticipation until near dark with no fishy feedback and called it an evening.  We couldn't complain of two steelhead landed on a hot summer day that seemed more suited to tubing and swimming than steelhead fishing.  I was very appreciative of Cory guiding me into my first dry fly steelhead for the summer and showing me new water.  I reflected on how cool it is to see how uniquely different each of us approaches the same stretch of river with our individual perspectives and styles of fishing.  I also realized that for a guy like me who catches so few fish with my chosen methods, that every single fish caught is a blessed event (even worthy of becoming blog fodder), never mind that this kind of celebration of individual fish taken on dry line methods may seem  pitiful to those who catch steelhead with more regularity.  I will say that for me, having to work so long and hard for the rare surface steelhead encounter makes the reward sweet.

                                                             Two for the table.


  1. Nice post Todd. Fun evening, thanks for going.


  2. Thanks again Cory, it was a great luxury running to spots in your sled and it was very generous of you to put me in some great water while you shared your hard won knowledge of where those Willamette steelhead live. Feel free to let me know if you need a warm body to take up some space in your sled again!