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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Memorable Late Season Surface Steelhead

At this time of year, I'm typically trying hard to get one of my local hatchery summer runs to fully commit to a surface fly, but the past several years of living in close proxmity to my homewater and fishing it hard has revealed to me that even under ideal flows and water temperatures, these fish don't really start rising to surface flies until August, with increasing surface success coming through the fall months.  Not surprisingly, October is my best month for surface steelheading near home and surface fishing holds into November if the Corps don't open all the gates at Dexter dam and raise the river to unfishable levels.  The earliest I have hooked and landed one of these hatchery summer runs on the surface has been on July 1, 2010.  I've raised a few to the surface in June, but never actually hooked into a surface steelhead that early in the season. This tendency in my local steelhead's behavior is not too surprising since fall is generally the best time to get steelhead on the surface in most areas, but it's no secret that fisheries with wild steelhead can yield surface success throughout the summer.  Because of this fact, I tend to take periodic trips to the North Umpqua throughout the summer and fall, even if it means braving the heat and summer crowds down there.

As I write this post, I'm anxiously preparing for my first North Umpqua adventure for the 2013 season.  The plans include a gathering of some old and new friends:  Craig Coover and Keith Tymchuck will be joining in, along with Adrian Cortes, Aaron Ostoj, and Marc Williamson - director of the Christian Fly Fishing Roudup board.  We will find some campsites and hit the river hard for several days with some mid-day fly tying and great fellowship thrown in for good measure.

As I sit here anticpating my first North Umpua trip for the year, I started reflecting back on a memorable late season surface steelhead that I got on November 6, 2010, here's the story:

I had been feeling very blessed that the Willamette was producing surface steelhead into November that year. I hooked 3 and landed 2 the week prior. I had  devised a fly that was basically a stimulator with a foam lip in the front to make it wake on the swing and I'd been getting recent hookups on this fly. The "stimuwaker" had definitely been productive. I didn't know if the stiff elk wing produced a realistic october caddis profile that triggered a strike response or just coincidence that I had been fishing this fly when willing steelhead were present in water I have happened to be fishing.

I had a very pleasant surprise on Sat, Nov. 6, 2010.  Our family had made plans for all of us to  spend the weekend at the 7 feathers casino in Canyonville (yahoo). Shaun, my son in law, and I decided to make the best of things so we decided to fish the North Umpqua. Shaun was anxious to get back to the North Umpqua after our previous trips out there that summer. But I have to admit, my level of enthusiasm was a bit less due to it being late in the season and anticipating water temps in the low 40's-marginal conditions for the surface fly. Plus, I've been told that by this time of year, the majority of NU steelhead have ascended Steamboat creek and other tributaries.

We arrived in the fly water before daylight and with there being no crowds, we had our choice of water to fish. Shaun and I pondered where to start fishing and considering the late season conditons, I impulsively decided that we should start at the campwater. The Mott bridge parking lot was deserted. Shaun started at one of the upper pools and I decided to start at a pool below him. The water appeared low enough to make it bearable to wade and fish the pool I desired.  As I waded to my casting position, I almost took a spill, but was able to right myself before falling in. With a sigh of relief, I got into position and started fishing. Of course, I gave the stimuwaker a shot. After a few casts, the fly came swinging through the chop in the middle of the upper run and was slowly tracking through the slow/shallow inside cushion of water when a steelhead boiled at the fly. It would not come back after I let the fly continue swinging to the hang down so I made the same cast and the fish came back and grabbed the fly. I felt a pull on the line, but no hook up. I made a few fly changes and the fish would not come back, it must have felt the hook.

I continued down the run and encountered another fish. This one also boiled and missed the fly. On the next cast, the fish came back and grabbed the fly. I lifted the rod, felt a few headshakes and the fish was off.

As I moved down the run, I wondered if I might encounter a third willing fish. My answer came a few casts later as a steelhead came up with a confident rise and was instanly making my reel scream. Luckily. this fish did not leave the pool, but it put up a powerful fight with strong runs back and forth across the pool. I was finally able to pull the fish into a quiet spot along the bank and beheld a beautifully colored and thickly built buck about 32", maybe 12-13lbs. I noted that part of his jaw was missing, as seen in the photo below.  I was able to get a few photos, and when I tried to get one last full length shot, the fish flopped and headed back to the river with the stimuwaker still firmly hooked in it's mouth. As I grabbed my rod, the leader snapped at the fly. Water temp was 46 degrees, the coldest water I've gotten a US surface steelhead in so far and a great day of surface steelheading by any standard.

This was a pleasant late season suprise on the North Umpqua! The fact that this fish came in what seemed unlikely conditions with the odds stacked against me made it a memorable fish.  The North Umpqua is definitely a place that can leave one with memorable experiences in the midst of God's creation, memories that warms the soul, even years later.

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