I was watching my latest design foam skater coming across on a fast swing through the chop made by the flow pushing for the far bank. I was giving the fly movement with steady, but modest twitches that pulsated rather than "popped" the fly on the swing. Just as my fly approached the softer seam where the main flow converged with the softer inside water, a chrome form launched across the surface, taking my skater on her way down. It was an "idiot proof" surface grab - no time to contemplate not jerking the fly from the fish - she had the fly solidly in her jaw instantaneously with no room for error on my part. I love when this happens!
My antique winch was screaming followed by airborne steel sending my heart racing. My chrome prize gave me several reel-melting runs, putting my old English made clicker to the test. This particular vintage reel has no palming rim (still relatively new to me) and I found it easy to use finger tension on the inside spool to apply drag on the running steelhead. There's no sweeter sound than the scream of old English click/pawl reels with a hot steelhead on the line.
This steelie fought aggressively and I feared for her loss at any moment during the fight. I knew I'd end up releasing this rare prize, so losing her during the fight would be fine, but I love seeing these fish up close once in a while and getting a photo when possible. As I held onto my rod with the steelhead giving me her best, I took a breath and just relished in experiencing the moment I had waited for, in being able to experience the electric power of a majestic fish. It's the excitement of the surface grab and raw energy of a strong running steelhead that keeps me casting for as long as it takes to get my fix. With their powerful runs, acrobatics, and speed, these fish are able to elicit a delicious sense of excitement and fear at the same time - it's a sensation that just never gets old or ordinary.
The run I was fishing didn't have any convenient gravel bar beach and I was using a 12'6" two hander to add to the difficulties. I was somehow able to get this strong fighter to shore and I marveled over a perfectly formed hen in the 9lb range. I got my wish and was able to get an up close look at a rare blessing and got the photos I'd hoped for. I went for one last photo and she decided she'd had enough, turned for the river, and was gone with no help from me. The barbless hook had fell out of the hen's mouth, giving her a clean release.
As I stood back and took it all in, I praised God for the blessing of experiencing a moment of perfection in the midst of His creation. I was overcome with a feeling of gratitude for the opportunity to chase after these incredible chrome fish in such a beautiful setting - life is good. It's amazing how a single steelhead encounter can bring on such profound meditations and reflection from a fisherman overcome with a passion for surface steelhead!
As the title of this post alludes to, I got the fish described above when going through the same run on a second pass. I don't typically go through runs in summer and fall more than once while fishing a skater. I figure if I did not raise any steelhead to the top in one pass, then there arent any steelhead in the run willing to come to the top. Very rarely, I'll make a second pass with a wet, but most often I move on to new water looking for a surface grab.
On the day I got the above steelhead, I had spent time in camp revising my foam skater design even further. I slightly altered the tie in of the foam pieces in hopes of having a skater that will stay on top, even in brutal, heavy flows. My prior design skater stayed on top most of the time, but when the line/leader gets caught in strong downward hydraulics, the fly would get sucked under and spin underwater until bobbing back to the top. I attempted to stabilize the foam lip to prevent the skater from going in most water textures.
During the evening session, I took out a yellow/orange mini skater I had tied with the new revisions. I was pleased that while going through the run on my first pass, that the little skater stayed on top most of the time. I didn't get any grabs on that first pass, but I wanted to try a green butt colored skater with the new revisions. Just so happens, I had that fly rigged on my 12'6" Echo Classic so I decided to make a second pass to test out my other skater. As I struggled to cast the longer rod with sidearm casts under overhanging branches, I managed to get the head and three strips of running line out, which was a perfect working length of line for the run. When I got a little ways down the run, the steelhead grabbed, obviously in water I had already fished through with the smaller yellow/orange skater.
I have wondered what triggered that steelhead to grab a skater on a second pass. Maybe using a slightly larger, dark colored fly made the difference? Maybe using the longer rod gave a slightly different casting angle that the fish preferred? Maybe I just happened to get the right swing over a specific lie on the second pass? I've definitely got more questions than answers here, but I think I may fish runs with a skater more than once in the near future.