Search This Blog

Friday, November 29, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

Early Winter Steel Recon

November is one of those tough "tweener" months for a steelheader like me.  Conditions on my local flow is volatile during November with periods of the river being blown out by early winter rains or levels being bumped for no apparent reasons by the Corps.  When levels are stable enough, I'm able to get surface steelhead up to Thankgiving and beyond, but that hasn't been the case this season.  While I have had a few surface hookups in water temps as low a 44 degrees on the North Umpqua in early November, the water is often too high and cold for surface steelheading during this timeframe.

For some folks, November could be seen as a good month to take some time off from fishing, maybe do some other things like yard work, home improvements, hitting the honey-do list hard, etc - I have done some of those things, but my inner voice that says "you'll never get a fish if your line's not wet" just never stops.  I recently took a couple very early trips to chase after the unlikely encounter with a front running winter steelhead.  One of these trips involved friends Steve Turner, Adrian Cortes, and Aaron Ostoj coming my way with Steve's Clackacraft in tow.  Steve traveled from his home in Ridgefield, WA and Aaron met up with him at his home in the pre-butt crack of dawn hours and they picked Adrian up from his home in Beavercreek on the way down to meet me in Springfield.  We spent a couple wonderful days on the water, floating in Steve's gorgeous Clackacraft on day one and we bank fished on day two.  Steve even let me share rowing duties in his newly reconditioned Clacka and I proceeded to bang it into in a rock in the only stretch of moving water for miles.  Steve had a beautiful new set of Sawyer composite, counter-weighted oars that made rowing a pleasure.

While it was no surprise that we didn't enounter any steel during our two days of fishing, we had a wonderful trip spending time together, sharing in our common bond as brothers in Christ, and having the opportunity to get our winter steelhead rod/reel/line setups dialed and mentally shifting to the rhythm of winter steelheading.

When amongst these guys, I'm in some pretty fast company.  Adrian and Aaron are top notch classic Atlantic Salmon fly tyers and they both tie their magical creations in hand.  Just take a look on the "hooks, feathers, and floss" board on Speypages for a glipse at some of their talent.  Aaron also happens to be the proprietor of AO Feathers, a premier supplier of exotic fly tying materials for those classic Atlantic Salmon flies and beyond.  Aaron also dyes alot of his materials in house and all of his materials are only of the highest grade and carefully selected. Check out Aaron's wares at:

A glimpse into Aaron's fly box:

Perusing Adrian's fly wallet:
(Photos courtesy of Steve Turner)

Steve is a master behind the camera.  I have been an amateur, self-taught photographer and Steve's compositions inspire me to take my snap shooting to a higher level.  Thanks to Steve sharing his amazing photos with me, I've been yearning to purchase a used, outdated Nikon DSLR body so I can make use of my old Nikon AF lenses from my film shooting days and hopefully take some better fishing photos.  After our trip, Steve emailed me some of the photos he took while we were out on the water.  Among the photos that I really liked was one of a guy casting - the composition was perfect, all the elements and background came together for a perfect shot with the line in the air during a single hand speycast, the only thing "wrong" with the photo  - the caster in the pic is me!!  Geeze, for Steve to get me to like a photo that I appear in, now that's talent!  Steve's website:

AO enjoying a light hearted moment on the water

Steve's cool photo of amateur caster with outdated glass rod:

Fly tying master Adrian Cortez (Fshnazn)

Aaron and Adrian humoring each other while the guy with glass rod works down a run.
(Photos courtesy of Steve Turner)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Switching Gears

Now is that time of year when I am switching gears between fishing for summer runs and preparing for the fun ride of winter steelheading.  I'm about ready to fully leave behind the worst summer steelhead season I've had so far.  Finding rising steelhead was tough and I did not bring one fall steelhead to hand - very disappointing when I am typically able to raise my local hatchery summer runs to the surface with some regularity in Sept, Oct, and Nov on my homewater.  Unless the Army Corps brings the river level down soon, my surface steelhead season is over on the MF Willamette as it is currently running too high for any more surface steelheading until  fresh summer runs arrive next season.

Switching from this:

To this:

 (I tend to tie just a few extras of each pattern to be sure I don't run low and have enough to give a few away)

The season of weather and water dependent fishing opportunities is upon us, a time of doing our best on prophesying the arrival of fresh winter steelhead in our favorite runs and pools.  It will be a time of connecting with my regular winter fishing friends and re familiarizing myself with my winter rivers.  I'll be mentally shifting gears from the visual summertime routine of twitching and swinging wakers to the tactile experience of the winter dry line swing with wet flies on heavy irons (and not so traditional modestly weighted patterns like MOALs, marabou intruders, and Samurai's - a marabou/rabbit strip pattern).  Giving skaters a go in the afternoons will be part of my routine this winter as well.  Bill McMillan has told me that a degree or two rise in water temperature during midday to early afternoon can cause winter steelhead to become active enough to rise to the surface, even in relatively cold water.

Wishing you all a wonderful winter steelhead season.  May many chrome encounters come your way, I'd love to hear your stories so feel free to comment on here anytime.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Dry Spell

Seems like steelhead fly fishing blog posts are supposed to be exciting, heroic stories of fish caught and lots of them at that.  I love when I have experiences that warrant those kinds of fish stories, but my reality is that I often go through dry spells with days, weeks, sometimes months between solid connections with steel.  In fact I'm right in the middle of a good dry spell right now.  It's been at least a couple months since I've experienced a solid hookup with a steelhead and several weeks since I've raised a steelhead to the surface.  This can seem dismal and hopeless, especially considering that I'm out fishing at every opportunity throughout the year, but the inner vision of a steelhead grabbing on the surface keeps me persisting with my efforts during the summer/fall season.

Sometimes my dry periods are due to my stubborn choice of sticking with dry line techniques.  For instance, in the winter, even though it can be tough to keep the faith while fishing with a dry line and heavy irons when my buddies who are competent sinktip fisherman are fishing circles around me, my persistence is unwavering.  In the summer, most folks are fishing dry lines anyway, but for some reason, I insist on making a tough game tougher by fishing surface flies almost exclusively, even over my local hatchery steelhead.  Again, when my more realistic fishing friends prudently go to wet flies when the skaters aren't producing and start getting fish, I'm still out there persisting after the surface grab.  But then again, some of my fishing buds (won't mention names, but Craig, Tony, Cory, Keith, etc know I'd be talking about them) are just fishy anyway, often out-fishing me at my own dry line games.

Steelhead on the fly is a tough challenge any way you look at it, a game that separates the casual from what can be a very dedicated and obsessive crowd.  While being able to withstand long periods without fish can seem virtuous (in some twisted way), it remains a worrisome condition that in our day and age, modestly competent fly fisherman (myself included of course) can fish with dedicated persistence and go empty handed for the great majority of the time.   In the summer and fall, I am blessed to fish over wild steelhead on the North Umpqua along with my opportunistic local jaunts after hatchery summer runs.  Thus far, I've yet to find any kind of consistency on the NU even after fishing it for the past 4 years and my backyard river, the Middle Fork Willamette gives up surface steelhead very sporadically at best, and this year has been especially poor with the low returns.

No surprise that my inner vision of what steelheading should be came out of my repeated readings of Dry Line Steelhead with Bill McMillan's depictions of surface fishing techniques that came out of his fishing experiences on his beloved Southwest Washington rivers - rivers that were already in decline at the time of his writings.  As I described in a prior post, I was fortunate that my early surface steelheading dreams came to life on the Bulkley River, BC in 1995, when I was first able to actually experience surface steelheading like I read about in Dry Line Steelhead.  I am both blessed and cursed by these early influences and experiences in that they have embedded a mental picture that I continually seek to see repeated at just about any cost - even in the face of repeated and prolonged skunkings.  I often feel like an old man stubbornly holding to the good old days.  Most folks will just do what it takes to get a fish and happily get on with things, but I remain trapped in my own self-imposed and confined definition of success as I just can't let go of those images that give meaning to steelheading for me.

Yes, there are a few places that produce fishing like the old days, with good numbers of fish and little fishing pressure, but such places are getting harder and harder to find and/or require travel and expense.  With greater numbers of fisherman like me seeking quiet places out and with the internet, there are really no secret places anymore and I am not affluent enough to afford to maintain a yearly itinerary at various steelhead lodges in BC.  My reality involves fishing well known rivers, over dwindling stocks of wild steelhead (or only hatchery steelhead), with fishing pressure ever on the rise.  Therefore, it's not surprising that aggressive steelhead on the surface can be an extremely rare prize for me to encounter.

While this post sounds more like a lament, I continue to feel blessed that I have experienced some magical days when my crazy mental picture is fullfilled - when aggressive steelhead come to the surface in summer or when that line comes tight on a dry line grab in winter.  The beauty of these moments keeps me going in my unwavering faith that I will experience them again.

A nice bright winter hen that grabbed a MOAL in March

Hatchery steelhead do take skaters, somtimes: 

A nice Deschutes buck, the fly: #6 steelhead caddis

A memorable early December dry line buck

First winter steelhead taken on a traditional Winter's Hope

First winter steelhead taken on a skater!

Reminiscing helps during dry spells!!