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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dry Line Fellowship

Just got back from spending a great couple days on the water with my good friend and brother in Christ, Adrian Cortes.  It was a glorious time of enjoying the beauty of God's creation as we marveled over our majestic surroundings and mused over all of the blessings in our lives including our wives, children (and granchildren for me), and the wonderful opportunity to pursue our favorite fish.  While Adrian and I reflected on our greatest blessing of all - being saved by God's Grace, we also stood in wonder that God orchestrated our friendship through our postings about steelhead fly fishing on internet message boards!

Adrian has also developed into a dedicated dry line steelheader in recent years, so it always great to have his company being that we speak the same crazy language!  Adrian may be even crazier than me in that he ties incredibly beautiful classic Atlantic Salmon flies (in hand), and actually fishes them!

I fished a few pools before Adrian arrived on day one.  I managed to raise a fish to my green butted skater that would not come back despite my best efforts.  Adrian arrived by mid morning and we got situated with a campsite, then hit a familiar riffle.  This run fished nicely and with the lower angle of the September sun, it was mostly in shade even in mid day.  This was among the reasons that we both agreed that fall is our favorite steelheading season along with the cooler weather, the beautiful changing colors of the surrounding foliage, and most of all - steelhead grabby on the surface.

Adrian gifted me with this gorgeous Blue Charm, probably the nicest one I've seen:

Adrian's Blue Charm sitting atop his classy Reid cane rod:

Photo courtesy of Adrian Cortes

I decided to show Adrian the runs that I had already fished before his arrival since he had not fished these particular runs before.  At the first run, I made sure I laid out "Todd's rule" which is that whenever I show a friend a new run, they go through first.  Adrian hesitated, but I stood firm.  As Adrian worked his way down to the lower part of the run, I started in at the top.  As I began casting, I noted that Adrian was just past where I hooked and lost a nice steelhead a few weeks ago. 

After  I made a few casts, I notice Adrian's rod bowing and bucking.  At first, I couldn't tell if Adrian had a nice sized trout on, but by the increasingly powerful tug of war the fish was giving him, I knew it had to be a steelhead.  This steelhead didn't make long runs, but stubbornly fought in close.  Upon landing the fish, we found it to be a hatchery hen of about 8lbs with one of Adrian's classy wet flies lodged firmly in the corner of the jaw.  The fly pattern: the "Magic".  We were surprised that Adrian got a hatchery steelhead in an area primarily populated by wild steelhead.

Adrian gave me some background on his successful fly:

As far as the fly, it was the "Magic" a recipe I followed although in a low-water style from 1884. Here is what William Murdoch had to write about this pattern:

"Regarded principally as a grilse lure, is a first-
rate clear water fly, and used more generally in
dull than bright weather. It is, however, a good,
fair all-round killer. WM describes this fly as
“one of our own patterns”."

The Magic,  Photo courtesy of Adrian Cortes

In one of the next runs we fished, a run that is also fairly new to me, Adrian raised a steelhead to his skater, right in front of a mid-river rock in the tailout of the pool.  The steelhead gulped at the fly and missed, then Adrian saw the fish porpoise upstream after the rise.  Good to have confirmation that a newly "discovered" spot holds fish as suspected.

We continued on fishing a few more runs and as evening approached we selected a particular run for it's easy wading, an important consideration with the fading light at dusk.  I started up high and Adrian got in midway down and would fish to the bottom.  As I worked through the upper section, I struggled to track my fly through the choppy flow compounded by the low light level.  I was getting into the heart of the run, anticipating a surface attack when.....I hear Adrian holler with his Reid bamboo spey rod bent over with a good fish on!  I reeled up and started down towards Adrian to take photos and give encouragement (hopefully being helpful).  Adrian tells me that a good sized fish literally attacked his skater and was immediately off to the races.  I hear Adrian's old Dingley screaming and in the dimming light, saw the fish make a few jumps.  We were figuring a very nice sized steelhead was the cause of all the commotion coming from Adrian's equipment and also the reason for the sudden spikes in our adrenaline.  The fish fought downstream at first than it slowly came upstream, once making the quick "steelie turn", temporarily tricking us into thinking the fish was lost, then as Adrian reeled to take up slack line, the fight resumed as the fish bored upstream, seemingly at will.

No palming rim or exposed spool face on Adrian's Dingley - no problem, Adrian applies pressure to the inside spool to slow the speeding fish down:

As the fight wore on I thought to grab the trout net I had in the trunk of my car to at least get the head of the fish contained so I could attempt to tail the fish when it got close to shore.  I was relieved that Adrian still had the fish on when I returned to him.   The fish was tiring and Adrian was able to lead it into a perfect place for me to use the net to help corral it in.  Just as the large fish got close enough for me to take a swipe with the net, the hook pulled out.  I tried going after the fish as it slowly swam off and it was then that I saw a broad, slightly bronze side and realized this was no steelhead, but a chinook salmon!  The broad sided fish looked to be at least 15lbs and seemed to be in good condition considering it was probably a springer, and quickly approaching spawning.  The fact that this Chinook aggressively took a skater (a green butted model that I gave Adrian) and fought with speed and acrobatics, fooled both of us to assume it was a steelhead of a lifetime.  Nonetheless, we high-fived, and were overcome with gratitude for such a unique, exciting encounter with one of God's wondrous creatures.  A Chinook salmon attacking a skater and fighting like a steelhead - definitely an experience Adrian and I will treasure.

Back at camp, we ruminated over the wonderful day we just had.  Adrian was still coming down from the adrenaline rush of hooking and fighting the Chinook.  He actually felt disoriented from the experience and it took a bit for him to get his bearings on what he needed to get done to settle in for the evening.  We just continued to reflect in amazement over the blessed day we had shared.

Dinner consisted of gourmet meals of the the "just add hot water" variety and we joked about how distorted a steelhead fly fisherman's priorities can become!  We buy the best equipment we can afford (or not afford), obsess over flies, lines, techniques, theories, and the mad pursuit of the mystical steelhead, yet we live like animals in camp in order to get every last minute of fishing in for the day.

Day two began with hitting the same runs we started on the day before.  It was another gorgeous fall day that ended up turning bright and warm, not what the weatherman had forecast (occasional showers throughout the day) .  At the run where Adrian raised a fish the day before, he hooked up while fishing one of his Jock Scotts.  The fish took higher and further out in the run than the fish he rose previously.  The fish grabbed solidly, started to take line, then was off as Adrian began sweeping his rod to the bank.  More confirmation of the fish holding properties of this new run.

At the first run, I ended up taking a dunking, not while wading through treacherous waters to reach for a prime steelhead lie, but while jumping up to grasp an overhanging branch to trim with my pruning saw, heroic stuff.  We continued to fish our way downstream as we enjoyed the warming day.  I showed Adrian a few more spots.  The forecast rain showers came late in the afternoon and it was time for me to leave so I could catch a few minutes with my little granddaughter before she went to bed that evening.  I stopped Adrian off back at his rig and we said our goodbyes and congratulated each other on a memorable trip.  Adrian continued on to fish another run before leaving the river to return home.  He later emailed me the following report:

"After you left yesterday, I fished one last run in the rain. Went through it with dice. Had enough time for another run through with a wetfly and had no action but it just felt so calming to be out there at that moment. The light pelting of the rain on my hat brim...the low clouds embracing the treetops...the gurgling of the river...remembering how much I enjoy well-executed snakerolls. I neared the end of the run, threw one more successful snakeroll as far as my technique would let me: A bald eagle rose from the treetops flying away downstream and a singular bright yellow maple leaf fluttered down from the opposite bank signaling to my senses that it was time to reel in. I just felt in tune at that moment."


  1. Sweet Piece, thanks for sharing, let me know when you get back down this way!

    1. Thanks Nate! I'll definitely let you know when I get back to the Rogue, had a great day with you this past winter.

  2. Nice work boys! Great post Todd


  3. Thanks Mark! Hope to catch you on the river sometime.

  4. Nice post Todd...!
    got to start fishing some of those classic flies:)

    1. And i was on the NU a week before you and it was 98deg!
      Nice you got the classic fall weather i was hoping for-

  5. Doug,
    Thanks for your comments. Yes, Adrian's classic's are simply beautiful. If I could tie like him, my flies would all go in shadow boxes!! I hear you about the hot weather on the NU, pretty miserable when the heat is on down there. I still love the North no matter what, but I am a Hawaii guy who hates the heat and bright sun! Hope to meet you on the NU someday.


  6. I was there during that same time period.. what car were you in?? and where did you camp?

  7. Rob:
    We were in my venerable 1990 gold Honda Accord with dented rear quarter panel. We camped at Susan Creek. I meant to check in with you before we went because you mentioned that you were going that week. I got caught up in the moment and forgot. What vehicle were you in?? We must have passd each other, I recall seeing some WA plates around.


  8. white ford ranger with a white canopy , we were at Susan creek as well site 24

  9. Rob: We were in 22!! You could have heard me snoring in my tent! Wished I would have remembered you were going to me down there, we could have met up.