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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Loaded Run

When one pursues steelhead on the surface, it is often the case that long periods of blank hours/days of casting can take place between grabs.  Every now then, conditions come together to provide the unique window of opportunity that cause steelhead to look up.  I had a memorable day of surface steelheading recently, which was great after all the skunkings I had this season.

I typically work four ten hour days a week so fridays are usually my fishing days.  I had an unexpected opportunity to do even more fishing than my usual friday when my lovely wife tells me one recent saturday morning, "you have a free weekend, go fishing" so, I did as I was told.
Upon arriving on one of my favorite pieces of water, I noted that the run just looked perfect.  Of course I'm fishing surface flies all day, so I have one of my #6 Green Butt skaters on the line. When I get to the lower section of the run, a steelhead explodes at the fly near the dangle. I keep twitching, but no come back from the steelhead. I make another cast, nada. I changed to a yellow/orange skater, still nada,  I changed to a riffled steelhead caddis, nothing.   I tied the GB skater back on, made a couple casts as I continued down the run and a steelhead explodes on the skater again.  I keep twitching the fly, feel solid resistance, and the fish is on. I  feel some headshakes, then on the first run, while I am enjoying the rush that comes from the electric energy having of a steelhead at the end of the line, the hook pulls out..........dang!

I wondered to myself "what's the chances another fish is in here??" I continued fishing down, a couple casts later, a steelhead explosion comes again, but no hookup. Another cast, nothing. One step down, cast, another explosive rise comes to the fly and the fish is on.  I get some  some throbbing headshakes, thrashing on the surface, and as the steelhead starts to run, fish off!!   Can't remember if I was able to see the fish on the rise or just after it got hooked, but it looked like a good one, maybe 10lbs.

By then I was a mess of nerves, but it was no time to stop fishing!   I made another cast and another steelhead exploded at the fly, but no hookup resulted. Another cast, one more rise, again, no hookup. Another cast, nothing.   Next cast, the fly swings around and as the skater settles at the hangdown, a steelhead comes up and gulps the fly, fish on!   I'm never confident of hookups on the hang down, but this steelhead seemed to be hooked solidly and after easily coming in for a bit then giving a few nice runs and bulldogging, I was able to drag her into the slower shallows up higher in the run. I had her at my boots and tried to get a hold of her, then she flopped over and broke the tippet and got away. She was about a 28" hen with a bit of color, just a beauty of a steelhead.  Darkness was approaching and it was time to call it a day after about 30 minutes of blissful, fast-paced surface steelhead action.  It was with the greatest reluctance that I left that run.  I would bet that if I had more time, I could have raised more fish on a second pass.
Besides a couple days I experienced in BC, that was some of the best surface steelheading I've ever had.  It seemed the overcast weather and impending thunder storm got those steelhead looking up.  It is certainly true that such a weather change in summer gets steelhead active and on the bite.  The consistent, explosive rises from those steelhead certainly indicated aggressive responses and such rises were so exciting to see.  I felt like Christmas came early this year.   It also seems my little Hardy Perfect has been a lucky piece of fishing equipment for me since I've purchased it.
That day was the kind of fishing day I live for - aggressive surface grabs from steelhead stacked in a single run - a day that will live in the memory for a long time.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Living For the Surface Grab

I definitely live for the surface grab.  During summer and fall, if I'm not out fishing, I've got images of surface- grabbing steelhead on the brain.  I have a tough time fishing a wet fly during the dry fly steelhead season since I want to maximize my chances of experiencing the next surface attack from a steelhead whenever I am out on the water. 

It's tough to describe the excitement that comes from the sudden bulge of water at your skater and the open-mouth explosion that follows.  Sometimes you get a more subtle gulp and your fly is gone or sometimes you get the toilet bowl flush followed by a screaming reel.  In slower water, I've had steelhead come from 10' away as I watched a wake coming to my fly and then being punctuated by the heart stopping shark attack grab.  I also remember a few surface steelhead from last season, again in slower water, that slowly came up, gulped the fly, and as I mistakenly waited for the line to come tight expecting the fish to turn with the fly, the fly just bobbed back to the top and continued skating - should have set up more quickly on those!  You never know what to expect when a steelhead comes to the surface to grab your fly, but one thing is certain - it's the most exciting sight in all of steelheading to me. 

Often times steelhead come up short for the fly with a big bulging explosion of water.  If one's nerves hold up, one will continue allowing the fly to swing without jerking the fly away from the fish.  Many times the steelhead will come back multiple times before the end of the swing, leaving one a frazzled mess of nerves.  Again, it is important to let the fly sit for several seconds at the dangle and every now and then the steelhead will grab with the fly hanging directly below - unfortunately the hooking on the hangdown is usually the lowest percentage hookup due to there being no angle left in the swing to put the fly in the corner of the steelhead's mouth.  However, some steelhead are so aggressive, they will literally overtake the fly and be hooked solidly.  In fact, I'm surprised at how many deep hookings I've encountered with fishing surface flies for steelhead.  Luckily most of these deep hookings were on my local hatchery fish so they were bonked anyway, but these deep hookings indicate to me a pretty aggressive response, even coming from pellet heads.

Those steelhead that come up and miss the fly and keep coming back can be the most fun.  These player fish afford one multiple opportunities to get a steelhead on the hook.  Once you get a steelhead to come up to your fly, it's anyone's guess what the ultimate outcome will be.  A hookup could come on the next cast with the same fly and same length of line.  Other times, shortening up and working back to the fish will bring it back.  Sometimes changing to a smaller skater or a riffle hitched muddler or steelhead caddis will get the fish hooked.  Probably the surest, but my least favorite way to get a player hooked is to go back with a small, sparse wet fly.  This method usually eliminates the visual element of the grab that I seek so dearly so I save the small wet fly closer as a last resort.  Sometimes, after changing flies multiple times, I've given up on the fish and as I continue working down the run, a steelhead comes up and grabs my fly within the next few casts.  I think that a fish that has been risen to the top may startle itself and then drop down the run a few feet, or who knows, I may just be encountering a whole different fish that was holding lower in run as I move down. 

Speaking of players, I recall one particular steelhead that I raised in the shallow, upper section of one of my favorite local runs a few years back.  This fish lunged at my skater on the dangle, just before I started stripping in for the next cast.  I allowed the fly to sit still and the steelhead came back again.  I would sway my rod toward mid stream and back and ended up raising this fish 10-12x!  I was able to prepare myself to drop the rod on several of these rises, allowing the skater to be sucked into the steelhead's mouth, but somehow, I could never hook this fish!  I'm assuming this was a hatchery steelhead since non finclipped summer steelhead are very rare on the Willamette - whatever the case, this was probably the most nerve wrecking player I've ever encountered.

As of late, steelhead on my home water have started to look up.  I've raised several to the top and hooked and lost one last week.  I don't know what causes the switch to go on with my local hatchery steelhead, but I don't typically start raising these fish to the top until late summer at the earliest.  I've continued to make efforts to raise steelhead to the top on my outings to the North Umpqua, but the NU has been a tough nut to crack for me this year.  I've raised a total of one steelhead to a skater so far for the season down there.

My friends have been much fishier than me with most of them them raising and hooking steelhead on top much more regularly than me.  Such is this game of random rewards we play.  On the upside, I have been tying a green butted skater that my friends seem to like so I've been regularly having these flies picked out of my boxes - good thing, I'd rather give my flies to friends than lose them to  branches along the river.  The irony is that these flies have not been raising/hooking steelhead unless I put them into the hands of my friends.  The reports have frequently been "hey, I hooked/raised a steelhead, by the way, with your green butted skater".

Here's Cory Dixon with a steelhead caught on top:

There's that fly in the mouth:

Cory also reported that he also got a steelhead on a yellow/orange version of my skater on his first pass on the Deschutes last week.  The guy is unstoppable.  I'm just glad my flies work for those who recieve them.
I spent a wonderful day on a beautiful river with Ty Holloway on 8/9/13.  We sought surface grabbing steelhead, but ended up just being content with having a great time on our favorite water:


Conditions seemed perfect for some surface activity with overcast in the morning and more overcast in the afternoon., but just being out in God's creation is always enough.   Fishing with Ty was a pleasure.  We had an easy paced and relaxing day, sharing water and taking in the beauty of the North Umpqua.  Ty is a young man that totally gets it about chasing surface steel.  He is easy going, non-competitive, respectful of the resource, and great company.  Ty works at the Caddisfly shop in Eugene where he guides and provides quality customer service.  He and brother Clay have also begun thier own guiding business, check them out: