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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Fly's Significance

by Adrian Cortes

Having recently returned back to Oregon from a steelhead trip of terrific proportions, I find myself attempting to reconcile my extraordinary experiences on a magnificent river and the day to day drama that is required by life. I am not complaining but grateful to have enjoyed something so noteworthy, however, so brief.  The challenge lies in the transition to also relish in what I have in the present. My daughters are getting older and their conversations are colored with names of school friends, and who did what, and guess what she did, and also sprinkled with "Minecraft" vocabulary such as "blocks"/"creeper"/"soul of light". I face a dilemma that I am sure will find its own course and I must be content with the journey.

With that preface completed and no one else to share my BC steelhead experience, I will indulge myself with the memory of my first BC steelhead:

I was accompanied by two wonderful steelheaders and friends in Steve Turner and Todd Hirano. Both gentlemen were strangers to me just a few years ago but for some reason God weaved His tapestry so that we could take this journey together. I will skip the fantastic beginning of this trip and will fast forward to the significance of my first steelhead on our destination river. On our way up to Skeena country, we planned to stop by James Reid's Bamboo Rod making shop in Vancouver, BC. James gifted me with some vintage English irons and I was more than ecstatic to tie some dressings on them.

With the BC rivers being known for dry fly steelhead, I planned to tie up a pattern by Harry Lemire called the Greaseliner. Mr Lemire is an icon of the sport and one who inspired me to tie flies without a vise. I only met Harry briefly at a tying event and shortly thereafter found out that he had passed away from illness. Somehow, I clung on to the spirit of Harry's tying and made it an enjoyable effort to tie classic patterns without a vise. Well, that Greaseliner pattern found its way to the hooks gifted to me from James Reid. I tied my first Greaseliner in hand while on the drive up to Skeena country, but I did not know how it would fare on our destination river.

The first day on the river float found us experiencing beautiful surroundings of evergreens with the autumnal splattering colors of aspen, cottonwood, and alders. Hudson Bay Mountain towered on the horizon as we drifted on. Bald eagles and ospreys screeched their disapproval of our intrusion as the gauntlet of crows harassed those regal birds of prey. But we weren't there for sightseeing, we were on an adventure to angle for the finned unicorn of these majestic rivers. Todd and Steve had already hooked steelhead on a dry and wetfly respectively, while I had just a pull on a Jock Scott. While we floated a stretch of water, Todd mentioned that he witnessed Harry Lemire fish one of these runs when Harry was still wading the rivers. That was all I needed to tie on the Greaseliner.

The sun was high on the water, Todd was at the top of the run fishing the faster chop which he enjoys fishing. Steve took the lower chop where it transitioned into the seam (truly fishy water). I took the lower run with a downed tree resting near where the water formed some sort of a tailout. Now before one was able to get a full head of flyline out, Todd had already hooked up and landed a nice fish on his skater at the top of the run. That just amped up the intensity level of my angling. After congratulations and quick pictures of Todd's fish, we all settled back into our positions. I stripped enough line out and fired a cast directly to that downed tree. The fly was roughly 10 feet above it and swung to the hangdown untouched. With a few steps downstream, I launched another single spey. The Greaseliner sat bobbing on the surface waiting for the slack in the leader to straighten from the current to get it skating. Approximately 5 feet above the downed tree, the fly started its surface wake. I wasn't expecting much this early in the game, so when a steelhead crashed on that Greaseliner I am sure my heart went into conniptions.

Of note to those that do not fish for steelhead on the swing, one does not set the hook when a steelhead takes. The proper angler reaction is to wait until the fish starts taking line off the reel and then to smoothly swing the rod to the bank. Well I didn't even have this chance. The fly was gone, the line never straightened from the weight of a fish, and obviously the old vintage reel was as quiet as a church mouse. What the heck just happened, I screamed in my head. I could still see the ripples on the water, I raised my arms up in perplexity then I dropped them to my knees in anguish, of course holding on to my rod this whole time. I looked upstream to my buddies and yelled I just had a huge take. They both had that look of What? I can't hear you. Did you get one?   That all-too-familiar searching expression that elicits the I-can't-hear-you-pal-because-I'm-upstream-aways-and-the-river-is-loud reaction.

Nothing to do at this point but to keep fishi....wha?! Why's my line taking off?! Well I'll be! There's still a fish on this line! The line tightened up to the Dingley reel and then the old winch started screaming. Lovely! After a brief battle with jumps and runs, a beautiful hen came to hand. She glistened in the sun and showed off the few spots that she had on her back. Oh, was it glorious. My first BC steelhead caught on a skated dry pattern originated by Harry Lemire and tied in hand the old way on an old vintage iron. She was released back to her lie and this to me was an event worth celebrating. A toast with my steelhead friends ensued with fine single malt and coffee.

In regards to the steelhead take, all I can theorize is when that fish crashed on that Greaseliner, she went straight back down to her lie with the fly in her mouth. In the meantime, I was on the bank with all the angler gyrations of a missed fish. Little did I know that the current was slowly taking the leader downstream gradually lodging that Greaseliner in the fish's mouth. When that hook stuck, the surprised hen ripped line off upstream and captured my attention once more.

I have retired that Greaseliner just like I do with all my significant flies. And I hope to be able to tell this story to all who would be interested in a personal quest that was achieved. Many more fish were taken on this trip with such extraordinary grabs that more notes will have to be written. But for now, that first Greaseliner hen on one of Harry's runs deserves a toast.
A Greaseliner tied in hand on the river
A Greaseliner tied in hand on the river
Greaseliner that took my first Bulkley steelhead after the fish release
Greaseliner that took my first BC steelhead after the fish release
The first and last time I met Mr. Lemire, a fine angler and exquisite tyer
The first and last time I met Mr. Lemire, a fine angler and exquisite tyer

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