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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Fishy Friends

This winter season has been a lean one for me thus far.  Things seemed to be off to a good start with a very early winter run taken on the dry line and lead eyed Samurai fly caught on November 29, 2013, "Black Friday".  I also had another fish hooked and lost that same day.  I felt optimistic with these early hookups, but my hopes for any kind of consistency proved to be misguided!  I fished my favorite buckets in my favored runs throughout December without so much as a grab.  This slow trend continued into January with the sustained cold, dry weather and low water conditions, until I got a little buck in the tailout of a pool in mid January which took a small Winter's Hope.

In the meantime, while I wallowed in my dry line misery, my friend Keith Tymchuck has casually gotten into steelhead consistently from early December onward to the present time, including several multi fish days.  Whether high water, low water, freezing weather, mild weather - Keith kept getting fish when no one else could!  Keith is a fishy guy anyway and one consistent catcher of steelhead on the swing, but he has been extra mystical this season with his consistent reports of fish pulled out of water and conditions that have been very difficult for the rest of us.  To top it off, Keith fishes the shortest hours out of all of us.  Keith is a very dedicated to his family so he is typically done fishing by noon, yet he fishes circles around me.

Craig Coover has been my steady fishing companion, especially this season, as his schedule has opened up with his recent retirement this past year.  How I envy such freedom and flexibility!  In my case, work does provide a distraction from fishing for sure.  Craig and I both live in Springfield and thankfully, Craig prefers that we drive to the rivers in his cushy newer model Toyota 4runner.  This is a welcome luxury compared to my beat up 1990 Honda Accord.

Craig and I often meet up with Keith on our winter rivers and it is always a great pleasure and blessing to share water with these guys.  All three of us have a casual approach to our fishing and have no problems sharing water with each other, with competition never entering the equation.

Craig is also a very fishy guy.  He tends to casually catch steelhead on the swing with fierce consistency throughout the year.  Craig's winter season got off to a good start with a large buck caught in early December, but then our subsequent trips to the river together typically wound up with both of us coming up empty.  However, with the sustained wet weather coming on from early February onward, Craig has resumed his fishy ways with multiple steelhead hooked/landed this past week including a two fish day.

A couple saturdays ago was my first day back on the water since Wendi's heart surgery.  It was great to get together with Craig and Keith again.  As Craig and I drove over to the river, we anticipated meeting up with Keith at our usual starting spot.  I commented to Craig that I bet Keith got into a fish before we got there.  Upon finding Keith at the first run, indeed, he reported that he got a mid sized hen in the tailout, a fish that had possibly already spawned.  As we shared water over the remaining course of the day, Craig got into two steelhead, one in the same spot where he hooked up a couple days prior and the second came from a new lie he found on the far side of one of our favorite runs.  As for me, I fished hard with the dry line and enjoyed the mild conditions, even experimenting with trying to skate up a winter fish, but with no encounters with steel, I was content to enjoy a great day with good friends in a beautiful place.

On this particular day, because, not unusually, I was the fishless guy, Keith and Craig did their best to put me into a fish.  They had me going through spots first and Craig even pointed the rock to stand on and where the bucket was in one of his newly discovered fish holding lies.  I fished through this short run confidently twice.  On my first pass I tried a simplified General Practioner tied on a 5/0 hook, then I made a quick second pass with a sparse dry line intruder.  Each time as I approached the bucket that Craig pointed out, I tensed with anticipation as my fly came through the nice soft zone which fished the dry line swing nicely.  As I was nearly completed with my second pass, Craig mentioned that he would walk downstream to fish the marginal water at the bottom of the run.  I encouraged Craig to hang on and just fish through his bucket when I was done so he could clean up after me since I didn't get a grab.

I took a convenient position on some shoreside rocks to get a slightly elevated vantage point so I could watch Craig fish his water.  I was able to note subtleties in Craig's presentation, such as how he made shorter casts which were more square to the current than the casts I was making.  I was mesmerized as I watched Craig's line swing into the soft, inside flow.  On one of these casts, I was looking right at the junction of Craig's running line and Skagit head and it suddenly came tight and Craig was fast to his second steelhead of the day.  I was in a perfect postion to take a couple photos and some video.  When the fish came to shore, Craig commented that it looked like the same hen that he landed a couple days before.  Even after I made two confident dry line passes through this water, Craig still came through and picked my pocket!  Luckily, we're always happy for each others successes, so I didn't hold Craig's thievery against him.

So the moral of this story is if you are a dedicated dry line winter steelheader and you have good friends that are fishy and very competent in fishing Skagits/Tips, you will probably spend a lot of time watching your friends hooking and landing steelhead while you trudge away with your chosen method.  Looking loosely at my winter data for the past few years, my fishy, sink tip-equipped friends outfish me at a ratio of  at least 3 or 4 steelhead to each one of my dry line caught steelhead.  No matter what, one who swings with a dry line in winter will be passing over steelhead that would be susceptible to other methods.  The incident described above of Craig picking my pocket is not the first time when my friends fishing a Skagit/sink tip set up has picked up steelhead when coming through behind or after me.  However, every method has it's limitations - for instance there are slots that hold steelhead that a Skagit/tip can't effectively fish, but an egg/indicator or float/jig or drift gear would get the fisherman's offering in the zone.

Why would I deliberately stick with a method that catches fewer fish??  Maybe insanity??  When examining my own motivations, I realize that while I love to hook steelhead, I guess I love hooking them using my chosen method even more.  Even though I am making a tough game even tougher, I think it is too late to change the inner vision of success that is stuck in my head.  Thankfully, my friends know I'm nuts and they accept me for who I am - the crazy Asian fishing the single hand cane rod, dry line, and big irons (sometimes skaters) in winter while seeking the rare steelhead aggressive enough to come off it's lie for a fly presented on the dry line.  It can be rough watching or hearing of your buddies getting all the steelhead using saner methods while I go fishless, but I get almost as much enjoyment seeing my friends getting fish, plus I get to take photos and video since Craig and Keith aren't much into photography.  In fact, they never send photos of all the steelhead they say they catch when I am not with them - maybe their stories can't be trusted after all - but then I have too much eyewitness testimony to doubt them.

Keith doing what he does:

Craig doing what he does:

Craig picking my pocket: