I recently took a trip to Skeena country and while I am still floating on a cloud from having a grand time there with two great friends, I managed not to get too spoiled from my dreamy week in BC (blog post on that trip still in the works).
Since returning from BC, I haven't missed a beat on my beloved homewater, the Middle Fork of the Willamette. As noted in my prior post, I just started tying my skater in the purple/black color scheme and also since returning, I bought my third - yes third, Cabela's TLR switch, the 11' 7wt. Why would I want yet another of these switch rods when I already had the 11' 6wt and 11'6" 7wt? I'm not sure myself except to say these rods have totally got me buying into the utility of switch rods. The 11' 7wt is obviously 6" shorter than the 11'6", but it has a markedly different feel to it - in my subjective descriptive terms, "lighter in hand, livelier". Nonetheless, I love all three of these inexpensive jewels and am having a blast in the switch rod realm.
Of course, wanting to play with my new toy, I've been taking it and my new purple/black and black/blue skaters out on my homewater. Thankfully, my homewater has been doing a great job of helping me come down from my high from my recent trip to Skeena country. As noted on my prior post I got a 28" buck before work last thursday on the TLR switch and black/purple skater combo in my favorite bank fishing run a short drive from my home. Some other surface steelhead successes have continued to follow and I have been enjoying the ride while it lasts!
I went on a short local float with Tony Torrence this past friday and in the first run, Tony and I split things up with me being dropped off at the top and Tony fishing mid to low. As I got into the "armpit" or top inside corner at the head of the run, a little hen came up and gulped my black/blue skater in the chop made by the basketball sized rocks in the shallow water. I brought this little gal to hand and she made her way to my cooler.
We fished a few more runs with no action, then we came to a nice run that comes around a bend. Again, the dry fly guy gets the top and Tony probed the lower section with a skagit/tip. I was tight to some bankside brush so I was working on crisp, cack handed single speys with a shallow D-loop to avoid snagging the obstructions behind me. I got a bit frustrated when, despite carefully watching my D-loops, one of my short casts got tangled in some shoreline vegetation. After uprooting some brush to get my fly loose, I went back to work. After a few more casts, I had my Rage head and a couple strips of running line out.
It was midday by this time and the sun was high in the sky under bright, clear conditions. I persisted with my new black/purple skater anyway, but I had to deal with the glare on the water and the sun in my face, making it literally impossible to see my fly on the water, no matter what color foam I would have tied to the top of my fly.
I told myself that I'd "listen" for a rise, if indeed one were to come. A few casts later, I got my wish. I heard a quick splash at my fly and thought I was able to see a disturbance on the surface. Before I could contemplate what had happened, my Hardy was screaming and a chrome form was seen leaping out of the water - a large chrome form! I got the rod switched over to my left hand so I could start reeling against the fish with my right hand. I made some headway after two more jumps and a few more blistering runs. I worked my way to shore and eyed a little gravel bar that would make a convenient area to beach what was probably a mid teens hatchery buck. As I got the beast close to shore, the hook pulled out.............
My heart was pumping over the thrill of battling a creature possessing such power. I think that as I get older, losing a grand fish at the bank is still never easy, but I find myself feeling more gratitude than disappointment in these instances. After all, that steelhead gave me the thrill I was after, what more could I ask for? Steelhead have truly blessed me beyond measure. I cannot even begin to give back a fraction of what steelheading has given me. Even though I would have loved to have gotten my hands on that fish, I don't need to subdue every hatchery steelhead I encounter. The experience is much more precious than fillets in the freezer.
With what appears to be the making of some decent fall surface steelheading on my local ditch, I have become even more flakey and irresponsible than I normally am - neglecting things like housework, yard work, car repairs, cleaning the garage, etc., in frantic efforts to get on the water at any given opportunity.
This past sunday, I had a small window of time to fish before going to church to rehearse with the praise team. I hit my favorite run at first light. I started off with my purple/black skater, but I couldn't see it in the glare so I changed to a black/blue skater with orange and white visibility posts. As I got to the bottom of the run, my skater came into the hang down and a steelhead gulped it down. I came tight to the fish and after a minor tussle, I worked my way away from the bank to gain leverage on the fish. I ended up with an average size hatchery hen that I managed to get pulled up on shore and as I went over to retrieve my prize, the steelhead gave a flop and got back into the river and took off. No fish cleaning duty this time.
As I continue to shirk adult responsibilties, I squeezed in an evening session after work today. I hurried to my reliable spot and again, down low in the run, my purple/black skater was approaching the bottom of the swing and I noticed a bulge behind my fly. Just as my heightened senses deciphered the subtle sign, a quick, aggressive attack came to the fly and my Hardy Marquis was growling at that instant. Apparently, the steelhead took the fly on the turn and the noisy reel even got the attention of Brad, who lives in the house on the banks of this run. The steelhead took about 10-15' of line and just as I was figuring on how to transfer the rod to my left hand, the hook pulled out.
So as of now, I've hooked into 5 steelhead in the past 4 trips out to my local water. Not bad for a guy who persistently skates flies over these hatchery steelhead. I am a wild steelhead advocate, but gotta admit that these local hatchery summer runs provide at least a distant semblance of being on a BC river (adding some poetic imagination doesn't hurt).
I encourage anybody who fishes for these hatchery summer runs to give surface fishing a try. The cooling conditions of fall make for the best surface steelheading of the whole year and the remainder of the fall season could be good. Winter steelheading is right around the corner and I'll be fishing wet for most of that time so why fish wet now when my local steelhead are looking up!