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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.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

North Umpqua Gathering

Finally putting this late report together about a wonderful trip that I helped organize on the North Umpqua (NU for short) in mid July 2013.  The plans begain with Adrian Cortes and I talking about taking a trip to the NU.  Adrian thought to invite fellow in-hand salmon fly tyer/feather merchant Aaron Ostoj, then Marc Willamson (president of the Christian Fly Fishing Roundup) was added to the list along with my regular fishing friends Craig Coover, Keith Tymchuck, and Tony Torrence.  Group emails went back and forth and the plans came down to Aaron and Marc going down on Sunday, with Adrian and me going down on monday, and Keith and Craig going over on tuesday.  Tony was not going to able to make it due to scheduling issues.

I went over early Monday morning, leaving my home in Springfield at around 3am (insanity?).  I arrived at the river at daybreak and hit a few of the lowest pools in the fly water with no signs of fish.  I continued up to the campwater and fished a couple more pools before catching up with Aaron and Marc at the campground and was able to to get a campsite right next to them.  Aaron reported that he raised a fish to a muddler the day before in the campwater, but couldn't get it to come back.

I got my tent setup and and settled into a mid-day break as we waited for late afternoon for the evening fishing session to start with shadows on the water.  Aaron came over and took out his fly tying kit which fits in an old cigar box as he set out to tie a "Golden Olive", a traditional Irish pattern,  in hand:

Talk about amazing skills!

We set out at around 3:30pm to hit the evening session.  I guess I was a bit over anxious as sun was still on most runs, so we started at one the popular access points in the lower fly water that I recalled came into shade early.  I ran into long time NU guide Tony Wratney and we chatted and got caught up on the current fishing conditions.  I think Tony knows all the spots where fish live on the NU so I took as many mental notes as possible and we exchanged skaters.  The next spot we hit was a popular riffle, then we headed to another spot where I put Aaron and Marc in another shorter choppy riffle and I hit the tailout of the pool below.  I managed to raise a fish, midchannel in this tailout, and while my adreanline and hopes were high, two fly changes and repeated casts would not bring this fish back.  Adrain arrived monday evening and got his one man tent set up as we got caught up and discussed our plan of attack for the following morning.  Talks of a 4am wake up call and starting low in the fly water came together.  Adrian had just purchased a beautiful Reid cane spey rod, a 12' 6/7 wt, and he was anxious to put it through it's paces on one of the most famous steelhead rivers.

4am Tuesday morning came quickly and three fanatics - Adrian, Aaron, and I emerged from our tents and ready to chase steel.  I cooked a quick breakfast of bacon and eggs and we were off.  "Nevada Bill" was at Famous, so I showed Aaron and Adrian the flats and we proceeded to hit a few lesser fished runs.

 In one of these spots, I was chatting with Adrian as he was fishing a skater in the lower half of the run.  I was standing on a gravel bank a few feet above the water and as I glaced at Adrian's skater coming across, I saw a steelhead of about 8lbs casually tracking the skater from below.  I told Adrain about this and he would have had no idea that a fish was following his fly from his vantage point.  Subequent fly changes and repeated casts didn't bring the fish back, but Adrain did feel a pluck at a wet fly on the handown so the fish may have settled in right below him.  We fished til about 11 am then returned to camp to cool off.

Keith Tymchuck and Craig Coover showed up and grabbed another campspot together.  As we visited, "Nevada Bill" came over to talk.  If you fish the river much, you will see this guy around - he is in a red Chevy pickup/w camper shell, with Nevada plates.  He stays in Idleyld for 4 months each year and fishes the NU daily during that time.  Bill went on to tell us that he had gotten into 3 fish since 6/20/13, including one he got that day in one of the lower fly water pools.  He revealed that he fishes a riffle hitched muddler.  He shared his opinon that "chugging" skaters puts down fish and has ruined the river.

After a bit, I noticed that I had gotten a text from Tony Torrence - he was making it down after all.  I texted back our camp spot and he arrived a bit later with Ty Holloway who works at the Caddisfly shop.  I introduced everyone to each other and it was great having us all together.  Tony and Ty would be spending the night at the Dogwood motel and they would check in with us periodically.

After our midday break, we set out for the tuesday evening session.  Aaron and Marc would take a break and Adrian and I would get out in my Honda and Keith and Craig would set out together in Keith's truck.  Tony and Ty would be checking in at the Dogwood then hitting a few evening spots.  I took Adrain up to one of the famous campwater pools and after fishing through the upper sections, I stopped along the trail on the way back to the car to see if any steelhead were holding in the tailout.  I spotted one fish alongside a rock in the tailout and offered Adrain to fish to it while I spotted for him from above.  I helped guide Adrian's swings until he was putting his wet fly right in front of the fish multiple times, no dice.  I suggested Adrain change his fly - again multiple swings right in front/over the fish, nothing.  Adrian did feel a tug at one point which could have been the fish nipping at the fly, but no hookup resulted.  The fish never spooked from it's position so perhaps the bright conditions discouraged this fish from making a full committment to the fly.

I showed Adrain a few more pools just below the campwater and in the middle fly water until evening approached.  Neither of us raised any fish, but Adrain was having a wonderful time experiencing the NU for the first time and I was enjoying sharing my little bit or river knowledge with him.

At camp that evening, we compared notes and found that Craig Coover had a fish charge at his skater twice and then on his third cast, the fish jumped out of the water, taking his skater on the way down!  The fish, which appeared of decent size, gave Craig a good battle before coming unpinned.  Craig had a witness as Keith attested to seeing it all unfold.  Well, that was all the encouragement the rest of us needed.  Before turning in for the evening, more fish stories were told and  a few of my foam skaters were given to my friends who give me the honor of actually fishing them, even despite their own high caliber tying skills.

Alarms go off at 4am Wednesday morning and Adrian, Aaron, and I emerge for another morning assault on the river.  Bacon and eggs were cooked again and we jumped into my trusty Honda and hit the water by daybreak.  Neveda Bill was in his usual spot so we split up into the two pools below. 

After hitting the lower pools, we decide to head to the campwater to look around, especially since Adrian is brand new to the river and Aaron has just recently started fishing the NU.  It is mid morning so I figured "Station" would be open and it was.   We negotiated the tricky wade out to what is probably the NU's most famous of pools.  I put Aaron and Adrian through first to split up the little run and Aaron hooks into a half pounder sized steelhead.

We hit a few more the the famous campwater pools before calling it good for our morning session.  Back at camp, it was time to compare notes again.  Tony and Ty came by and Tony had "the look".  I'm like "ok, Tony, tell me the story"...  Tony recounts that he was fishing one of my foam skaters at daybreak and a fish charged at his fly but he didn't see it.  Ty was watching and had actually seen the explosion at the fly so Tony tries again, but the fish wouldn't come back to the skater.  Tony goes back with a small purple muddler and the comeback fly does the trick.  Tony feels a sold pull on the fly and gets a few headshakes before the fish is off.  Tony is totally jazzed and determined to get his first topwater steelhead.

After breaking camp, I bid goodbyes to my good friends and hit one last pool, a new one to me, on the way home.  Not surprisingly, I just got casting practice in a new spot, but on the drive home I reflected on the blessed time I had with a wonderful group of friends on one of the most beautiful rivers in God's Great Creation.  I also enjoy solitary fishing, but our first NU get together was very special and likely to become an annual or bi-annual event!

Adrian and Keith continued on until the following day, thursday.  They fished a couple spots together before splitting off to fish independently.  Keith had hooked into a good fish on a muddler which came unpinned and in another spot, Adrian later emailed that he had a fish come up to a foam skaker I had given him that took a few clicks off his Dingley, then was off.

Just this past week, I got a text/call from Tony that he landed is first dry fly steelhead on the NU - congratulations to Tony on what I hope is an event that will change his fishing for good!  I think he may understand my conviction with fishing surface flies a bit better now.  Tony was fishing with Craig Coover and Craig proceeds to hook into two more surface steelhead and unfortunately both got unbottoned after a good fight.  Wished I could get Craig's fishy mojo to rub off on me - think I need to start smoking some of his cigars.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Foundations - A Tribute to Bill McMillan

Everybody's gotta start somewhere....

My interest in fly fishing began when I was a middle school-aged kid growing up on Kauai, HI in the mid seventies.  I had no direct exposure to fly fishing, but my curiosity was piqued by articles I read in magazines like Fishing World and Field and Stream as well as the occasional clip on fly fishing seen on TV.  The tackle and flies used and the surroundings where fly fishing took place seemed so mystical to me. 

At the time, my grandmother had an opportunity to purchase a few books at a discount from some publishing house and she purchased titles like The Practical Fly fisherman by AJ McClaine, AJ McClaine's Flyfishng Encyclopedia, and Ray Bergman's Trout.  I was very grateful for my grandmother's generous gifts and  I poured through these books and learned as much as a budding fly fisher displaced in Hawaii could.  Turns out, these books were perfect for a person just learning to fly fish although they were a far cry from what the beginner has today with DVDs and videos on Youtube that provide quality instruction on just about anything.  Interestingly, as I look back on those early readings on fly fishing, I recall that the "Umpqua" chapter in Bergman's Trout stood out among all the writing about classic fly fishing for trout.  I didn't even have any ready access to fly fishing for trout so the idea of fly fishing for steelhead seemed to be on a higher realm and even further removed from my reality.

I ended up purchasing a heavy Shakespeare glass fly rod and mismatched level line from a sporting goods store in California when our family took a trip to Disneyland and Yosemite National Park in 1976.  When I got home I started to learn fly casting from the illustrations and text in McClaine's fly fishing encyclopedia.  Surprisingly, I was actually able to get the basic mechanics of fly casting together from the static instructions in McClaine's book, but it was apparent that the heavy Shakespeare fly rod and level line were not doing me any justice.  I later ended up ordering a Fenwick FF705 (7' 5wt) glass fly rod, 1494 Pfleuger Medalist fly reel, and DT5F AirCel fly line from Cabela's.  When these items arrived I quickly assembled them and realized the joy of fly casting with balanced equipment.  I tried fly fishing on some local bass ponds and even in one of our high mountain streams that actually contain rainbow trout (a very limited fishery, but yes rainbow trout on Kauai!), but having no mentor or fly fishing role models on Kauai to help me along, I eventually got frustrated and discouraged and I gave up my fly fishing dream and returned to fishing with conventional tackle for my local game fish.

Fast forward to 1988.  I graduated from college at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1986 with a degree in Elementary Education, but before getting a "real job" I decided that I needed to get the bum musician phase out of my system first.  I was a drummer in various club bands playing hard rock and heavy metal music in the Honolulu and Waikiki areas.  I happened upon hearing of a band from Oregon that was playing in a club near the Honolulu airport.  They were in the middle of a six week engagement and their drummer quit on them and returned to Oregon, complaining of the hot stage lights and long sets.  Not wanting to give up their gig in paradise, the band starting auditioning local drummers so I auditioned and was lucky enough to get the drumming seat.  I had a great time performing with this group and they liked me enough to ask me to return to Oregon with them at least until they found a permanent drummer there or for me to continue on with them if I felt like it.  This was way before 9/11 so I was able to fly to Oregon with my new band mates by using the former drummer's plane ticket (that the band had kept since he abandoned them).

After arriving in Portland, Oregon, I continued to live the life of the bum musician and through the course of that journey, I met Wendi, who would later become my wife (we married in 1991).  I eventually tired of the "feast or famine" instability of the band life and settled into family living with Wendi and her two daughters who were 3 and 5 at the time.  We rented a duplex in Beaverton and I worked at the Epson Computer plant in Hillsboro.    Wendi's dad and step mom lived in Bend so we would make periodic trips to visit them.  By that time, I had been fishing for trout and steelhead with conventional gear and having some decent success on catching trout with Mepp's spinners and several steelhead on drift gear.  Our trips to Bend involved traveling on Highway 26 and we would cross the Deschutes river at Warm Springs and travel along it's length for a couple miles.   I would always notice guys fly fishing the "guardrail flat" and my interest in fly fishing was renewed.

I went to the Larry's Sport Center in Beaverton and purchased a few flies and a new fly line for my  Fenwick 7' 5wt that I had brought with me from HI.  We camped in the Warm Springs area in the summer of 1989 and one evening, I took out my old Fenwick with a #16 hare's ear nymph tied to the end of 5x tippet.  I didn't know what I was doing, but fish were rising aggressively on the surface and not knowing any better, I tossed the nymph downstream in front of risers and let the fly sit.  To my surprise, I was actually able hook a couple of those spirited resides with my accidental technique that probably resembled emerging caddis pupa.  The next morning, I  tried a #10 yellow stimulator and caught my first trout on a dry fly - I was totally hooked at that point!  With my early fly fishing successes, my course was set and I would seldom use conventional gear from that point forward.

Despite the great fishing I was experiencing in Oregon at the time, I eventually felt the pull of living closer to family, so plans were made to move Wendi and the girls with me back to Hawaii in 1990.  In the months preceding my return to HI, I had developed an interest in fly fishing for steelhead and I made a few feeble attempts at steelhead fly fishing after viewing Lani Waller's famous 3M Steelhead fly fishing video series.  I was especially intrigued with the footage of steelhead coming up for a dry fly. 

During the time that I lived in the Beaverton area, I regularly frequented the Kaumann's Streamborn fly shop in Tigard and while browsing for fly tying materials and other fly fishing accoutrements, I found myself repeatedly drawn to the book Dry line Steelhead by Bill McMillan, a book that stood out to me among all the other fly fishing titles on the bookshelf.  Due to the limited budget of a struggling guy working a minimum wage job at the Epson computer plant,  I held off on purchasing Dry line Steelhead so I could purchase the bare essentials to keep me fishing.  I continued perusing through the book on my regular visits to Kaufmann's and caught glimpses into a steelhead fly fishing methodology that ran counter to what one was commonly taught through the steelhead fly fishing culture of the time (sink tips in winter and often in summer, wet flies, etc).  Not much discussion about shooting heads with crimp on weigths (as taught by Lani Waller on parts of his videos) in Bill McMillan's book!  I loved the idea of fishing a floating line even during winter and dry flies during summer/fall.

I arrived back on Kauai with Wendi and the girls in August 1990.  I ended up getting a "real" job, not as a teacher, but as a Child Welfare worker (the actual thought of managing a classroom of kids day after day ended up terrifying me).  After getting settled back into island life, the reality of fishing for steelhead at most a couple times a year set in.  My steelhead dreams stayed alive and to help me out, my dear wife purchased Dry line Steelhead for me for Christmas in 1991 as part of a mail order of fly fishing goodies from Kaufmann's.  I was thrilled to receive the book I longed for since the time we lived in Oregon.  I read and re-read Dry line Steelhead and felt an instant connection with the methods being discussed and I even somehow felt a connection to the man behind those writings, even though I had never met him nor had any thought that I would ever meet him in the future.  Most importantly, I learned about significant conservation issues and my eyes were opened to the negative impacts of intensive hatchery management on most of our steelhead rivers.  Up to that time, a steelhead was a steelhead to me, whether wild or hatchery, and I didn't realize that hatchery steelhead could be harmful to native stocks.  Bill was ahead of his time when he brought this controversial information to light to the fishing public.

I continued to attempt fly fishing for steelhead on family vacations to Oregon when we visited Wendi's family, but under the constraints of being the father of young children (my son was born in 1992) and the time limitations of being on family vacations, I, not surprisingly, did not find any success in hooking a steelhead on a fly.

Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai in September 1992 and dooming predictions of future hurricanes hitting Kauai again sooner rather than later prompted us to move to Montana!  In May 1993, we arrived in Bozeman, MT, where Wendi's mother and step dad lived.  I got totally immersed in the superb trout fishing on the Gallatin, Madison, Yellowstone, and Missouri.  We made a few trips to Oregon and I of course continued to attempt fly fishing for steelhead with continued failure.  We struggled under the tough economy in Bozeman so we again returned to Kauai in late 1994.

A magazine article I read in Fly Rod and Reel just before leaving Bozeman prompted my interest in the Bulkley River, BC and it's free rising steelhead, a paradise for getting steelhead on dry flies.  A plan was hatched and arrangements were made for me to fly to Smither's to meet up with my father in law Jim and his friend Toby in late September 1995.

I arrived at the Douglas Motel in Telkwa several hours before Jim and Toby were due to arrive.  What was I supposed to do but go fishing!  I got my license from Maxine Douglas and took off on foot to a run in town.  I had a brand new Sage 9140-4 brownie that I had just built from components purchased from Angler's Workshop in Woodland, WA.  I was just learning to speycast and had a Cortland DT9F single hand rated line spooled on an Orvis Battenkill 10/11 disc reel to use with the rod.  Little did I know that this line was a very poor choice for a beginning speycaster, but then, spey line choices were very limited in 1995.  At the first run I fished, I was managing to get reasonable spey casts out and actually raised a steelhead within my first half hour of fishing to a modified Waller Waker that I had tied.  I had the writings of Dry line Steelhead etched in my head and actually managed to at least do nothing when the steelhead came up to the waker.  It would not return on subsequent casts so I finished out the run and hit another run downstream with no result.  Nearing dusk, I returned to the run where I raised the fish.  As I got to the spot where the steelhead came up earlier, a friendly native boy named John came by and started chatting as I fished.  He asked if he could have one of my flies and as we spoke, he proceeded to cast his lure right over my fly line with his spinning outfit!  Just then, a steelhead boiled at my fly early in the swing, then it came up again and missed the fly, then when my waker was near the dangle, the steelhead came up and took the fly solidly.  The steelhead leaped and ran several times, giving me a spirited battle.  I managed to land the beautiful wild hen of about 8lbs and John helped me snap a few photos (of course on film in those days).  I marveled at hooking and landing my first steelhead on a fly, on a dry fly no less!  I felt like I skipped past the evolutionary steps of sinktip/wet fly fishing that some go through before even trying surface fishing for steelhead.  At that moment, I felt nothing but joy and gratitude for what Mr. McMillan taught me through his book.  My course as a die hard surface steelheader was set at that point!

The remainder of that week on the Bulkley provided 5 more steelhead hooked and landed on my modified Waller Waker.  I managed to raise several more steelhead but could not get them on the hook.  Hooking and landing my first six consecutive steelhead on surface flies would prove to be my best string of hooking and landing steelhead to date.  My current hooking to landing ratio is more like 60-75%.  The aggressive surface responses of those BC steelhead brought my steelhead fly fishing dreams to life, just as I had visioned them through reading and meditating on the writing in Dry line Steelhead.  While getting 6 steelhead in a week of fishing in BC is not spectacular by most travelling fly fisherman's standards, each encounter with those surface grabbing steelhead stood out as a special event to me and worth more than greater numbers of steelhead caught otherwise.

After returning from that first trip to the Bulkley, still brimming with excitement and gratitude for the wonderful fishing I experienced which provided my initiation with surface steelheading, I thought to write a letter to Bill McMillan through Amato Publications to thank him for the inspiration he provided me through his writings and to ask him further questions about his methods.  To my great surprise, I received a letter from Mr. McMillan a couple weeks later!  More surprising was that Bill didn't just provide brief cursory, superficial remarks to my letter, he warmly provided thoughtful responses which he obviously put some time into.  I was truly impressed by Bill's humble and unassuming manner conveyed in that letter. 

My beat up copy of Dry line Steelhead, held together by binding glue and packing tape:

Some chapters which left a profound influence:

I remained on Kauai until early 2009.  During that time, I took 5 more trips to the Bulkley and made regular trips to Oregon to fly fish for steelhead.   I actually managed to get more steelhead on surface flies and continued to fish them with strong conviction even considering the time limitations of being on vacations far from home.  I just didn't want to catch a steelhead any other way.

After living in Hawaii with my family for nearly twenty years, I continued longing to return to Oregon.  We purchased a home in Springfield in late 2008 and moved in early 2009.  I got a Child Welfare job with the State of Oregon with all the stress that goes along with it.  But, here I am, living in steelhead country with the McKenzie and Willamette in my backyard and the North Umpqua and coastal rivers a couple hours away.  I've been living the dream, typically fly fishing for steelhead several times a week, often some part of consecutive days during the summer/fall.

Since late 2008, I've been blessed to maintain email communications with Bill McMillan and through these communications, we have become friends.  I met Bill in person at the Steamboater's winter event in 2011 and was again able to visit with him at the Federation of Fly Fishers Fly Tying and Fly fishing expo in Albany, OR this past March where he was promoting his and son John's current book "May the Rivers Never Sleep". 

It is great thing when a person's hero or mentor lives up to the vision we have of them - this has certainly been the case with Bill McMillan.  Bill continues to be the humble, unassuming person in that letter I received in 1995.  When speaking to Bill you would never sense any bit of celebrity status coming from him, instead you would be greeted with warm, sincere conversations.  We regularly have spirited discussions about our respective fishing experiences and of course we also talk about current issues impacting our beloved wild steelhead.  Bill has even accepted some of my crude flies, fished them, and caught steelhead on them - a high honor for a purely functional tyer such as myself!

Bill has worked tirelessly in scientific study in the name of protecting wild steelhead.  Even though Bill retired as the president of the board of the Wild Fish Conservancy in 2011, he continues to be actively involved in ongoing studies on wild salmonids, especially in the Skagit basin.    Bill has generously shared his scientific documents with me and I will posting them here in the near future.

In summary, the obvious point of this long post is to pay tribute to Bill McMillan.  As my blog description states, my fishing life is truly inspired by Bill's writings, methods, and conservation work.,  thus my fishing  style and ethics can be traced to this singular source.  I fish a dry line almost exclusively.  I prirmarily fish surface flies in the summer and fall and continue with the dry line throughout the winter and spring, using heavy irons or lightly weighted patterns.

Many thanks to Bill for all he has contributed to the sport of steelhead fly fishing and for his years of  dedicated scientific study aimed at educating fisheries managers and the public alike in the name of protecting wild steelhead.  Most of all, I am so thankful to have Bill as a friend and mentor who has far exceeded the visions and expectations any student of steelhead fly fishing could have - for this I am ever grateful.

Todd Hirano
Springfield, Oregon
July 6, 2013

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.