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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wild On the Willamette

A quick fishing story...

I had a small window of time to fish today between the time I got off from work at 5pm, until 7pm, when I'd need to leave the river for my men's bible study.  Of course I'm always prepared for any opportunity to fish, so my waders, rod, reel, and flies were already in my car.

I got suited up and hit my fav little run.  I started a bit higher than usual, just to be sure to cover all the holding water.  I made casts and extended each one until I got my Rage head and nine strips of running out as my working length of line.  I had just started stepping down and a rise came to my #6 purple/black LW.  The size of the rise said steelhead to me.  This steelie actually made a second grab at the fly on the same swing before the skater settled at the dangle.  I made the same cast and the steelhead came up again and missed.  I made another cast and the steelhead came up yet again and this time it had the fly.  The line came tight and I held on, feeling a few headshakes, anticipating the reel to bark and any moment.  Instead, the fly popped out of the fish's mouth, fish off.  I was disappointed that I missed an opportunity.

I figured that there was no way that fish would come back after feeling the hook.  However, I remembered a story told by my friend Mark Stangeland, of a steelhead he hooked/landed after it had previously come to his fly and pulled 10' of line from his reel.  I thought, well, anything's possible.  I took a few steps upstream and reasoned that if nothing else, another steelhead might be laying near the one I hooked into.  As I got back to the zone, another rise came!  The steelhead missed the fly again - same fish??  I got the idea to pull one more strip of line before making the next cast and I would hold a loop and release it if the steelhead came to the fly again.  The next cast went out and in the same spot, a steel form came up and I was ready - the loop was dropped and the line almost immediately came tight as the steelhead made it's first run.  Hey, this loop dropping thing can actually work!  The steelhead gave a spirited battle despite the absence of reel melting runs as she fought mostly in close.

I managed to get this beautiful hen to the bank and as I reeled in to get a hold of her, for some reason I thought to be sure her adipose was missing as she was such a perfectly formed fish.  To my surprise, this steelhead had an adipose fin!  I got a few photos and by the time I was done, she set off on her way with a flip and as she swam off I noticed a blue tag near her dorsal, probably indicating she had made it to the hatchery at Dexter and been recycled downstream.

After landing this steelhead, I went back up and started in again.  With only five strips of running line out, another steelhead came up for my skater, in water I had already covered.  This steelhead came back after the fly multiple times and several fly changes could not put this player on the hook, but lot's of fun nonetheless.

It is believed that non-finclipped summer steelhead on the Willamette are either "misclips" or feral offspring of hatchery parents that have successfully spawned in the wild.  I tend to entertain the possibility that these "wild"  steelhead are remnants of a run that had been there all along.  Why would there never have been a wild summer run on the upper Willamette??

So, I just got a "wild" steelhead on the Willamette - a hatchery fishery - and just last week, I got my second hatchery steelhead of the season on the North Umpqua fly water - a wild steelhead fishery.

"Wild" Willamette Steelhead:

Hatchery steelhead on the NU:

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