We decided to take a float further upriver on this day. We put in just after dawn and as we began our drift, we were able to take in the beauty of this special place, breath the cool morning air, and our hearts collectively felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to God for allowing us to enjoy this wonderful experience together. We were truly in Steelhead Paradise!
We somehow fell into a formation that almost became standard for most of the trip - I'd hit the top/head of the run, Steve grabbed middle, and Adrian grabbed the bottom. As I walked to the top of the run, a nice steelhead rolled/splashed in the middle of the run - a good sign for Steve. Sure enough, not long after Steve started in, fish on! Steve got a nice steelhead on his beautifully tied Undertaker. After landing the fish, he went back to his position but this time he decided to try a surface fly. Steve had been fishing a green butt Little Wang, (size 6, no flash) and this beautiful hen just attacked the fly. Steve brought this beauty to hand and we were actually able to get our talented photographer in a few pics.
|Fish on! Photo by Adrian Cortes|
|Early morning delight. Photo by Adrian Cortes|
I went back to the top and continued down and just as I got to the bend in the run, a little hen attacked my new black/blue skater and she got off right at the beach. It was a perfect one salt steelhead of maybe 4lbs.
As I continued down, I approached the section of the run where the flow straightens out, breaking in from the bend, and I raised multiple steelhead to my skater, but could not get them to stick! These fish were coming up with a porpoising/gulping kind of rise and I kept missing them. In retrospect, I should have dropped the rod or dropped a loop when these fish came up, especially once they were located by their initial rises. When these steelhead stopped rising to my skater, I tied on a beautiful Undertaker that Steve had tied and gifted to me. On the very next cast with the wet fly, the line came tight and my Hardy was making a joyful noise. Steve helped me land this steelhead (a hen, maybe 5/6lbs) and we found that it was actually hooked in the belly. I'd bet the steelhead took the fly on the swing, got hooked in the mouth, got unhooked during the fight, then got snagged in the belly as she turned away. Seems unlikely that I would have foul hooked a steelhead in the belly on a wet fly swimming in the surface film.
Adrian fished through the bottom of the run without incident, so he rotated to the top and lashed on a Blue Charm that he had tied on the drive up. In what appeared to the same area where I hooked my small hen, Adrian hooked into his biggest fish of the trip that gave him a strong fight before the hook pulled out as the steelhead was getting closer to shore. Adrian was thrilled as this was his first steelhead hooked on a Blue Charm.
|Bent Cane! Photo by Steve Turner|
|A loaded run|
By the time we had each completely cycled through this wonderful run, we accepted that these steelhead were done with our games as no more rises or grabs seemed forthcoming. It was tough to leave a run that had been so generous to us, but we still had the whole remainder of the float ahead.
At the next run, Adrian raised what appeared to be a steelhead near a midriver rock but no comebacks from that fish. Steve and I fished through the remainder of this beautiful run with no chrome feedback so we moved on.
We came to another run that I called out for and Steve and I started in while Adrian took a break to tie up another greaseliner. As I came into the heart of the run, a steelhead came up with an aggressive rise my skater, but my best comeback attempts were unsuccessful.
We decided to take a lunch break at a big, beautiful pool. We had seen a steelhead roll on the far side of the pool, but when we pulled in, we realized it would be way out of casting distance. After eating, we got into our normal formation. The run was in full sunlight on this clear day. As we were just about done fishing this large pool, Adrian hooked up on one of his classic Atlantic Salmon wets in the slow, bottom section of the pool and got to greet the buck below:
|Adrian's buck taken on a Blacker #4. Photo by Steve Turner|
|Classic Salmon Fly success. Photo by Steve Turner|
We continued down and came to an island. A sled had just gone powering through the channel on river right, but this channel had a better head of water going through it than the other channel and it looked fishy, so we stopped even in spite of the disturbance just caused by the sled. I remembered how steelhead can become rested fairly quickly after boat traffic goes through a run and some have written that sleds going through runs can actually stir up steelhead. It was time to test out this theory.....
I took the top, this time Adrian took middle, and Steve took the lower section. As I was getting settled into fishing the upper corner of the run and getting to the nice seam where the faster water met the soft inside water, I heard a watery explosion coming from downstream. When I looked over, I actually saw a very aggressive steelhead that just attacked Steve's skater all the way down at the bottom corner of the run! Just as it registered of what had just happened, a second explosive rise came to Steve's fly as it came to the lower third of the swing. Amazingly, this angry steelhead didn't get hooked on either of the two aggressive rises.
|Steve in the surface steelhead attack zone. Photo by Adrian Cortes|
After a few more casts, this steelhead would not come back to Steve's skater, so he walked back up to the boat to fetch his box of skaters, which he had forgotten to carry with him. He selected a rusty colored skater that looked similar to the Bulkley Mouse style of fly. Steve went back down to his position and when his fly got into the zone, "his" steelhead returned with another explosive rise and this time, Steve's fly found purchase in the steelhead's mouth. A breif battle followed with the hook pulling out of that aggressive player.
In the midst of Steve's steelhead encounter, Adrian encountered several players as well. Adrian tells the story here:
I recall watching Steve raise a glorious surface crash about 75 yards below me as he fished Todd's surface skater. One of those surface I attacks that I envy so much: water spraying everywhere followed by the expected reaction of the angling party in a unified "Whoa!". My recollection on the sequence of Steve's surface commotion is a bit hazy, so he would be best to inquire about that activity. This much I know, Steve was coming back up the bank to exchange some flies with Todd for a possible comeback attempt to the fish that he raised.
With Todd and Steve exchanging surface flies right behind me, I raised a steelhead on the last quarter of the swing. That steelhead chased down the Grease Liner like a bat-outta-hell. One of the neat things I cherish about surface steelheading in BC is that if you are fortunate enough to fish with your buddies, odds are great that you will visually encounter each other's surface steelhead attacks. And that's what was cool about this specific hook-up. Well that fish missed that initial slash to the fly and not surprisingly I exclaimed "Whoa!" (my exclamation with the dual purpose of being unable to contain my glee and also to notify my buddies that 'Hey! Check this out...I can get surface action, too!"). The rod tip was never raised and I'll be a monkey's uncle if that fish didn't come back 3 more times to that Grease Liner on the same swing finally hooking itself in what seemed like inches of water right next to the bank. That was a moment of awe and pure joy representing the aggressiveness of these wild BC steelhead.
I played that steelhead for quite a while as it zigged and zagged with the fury of a trapped animal. As remarkable as her take was, her release was anticlimactic as she jettisoned off to safer water without us handling her - the hook popped out near the bank as she was nearing the end of her fight. It would have been nice to tail her, but that is a formality that I can overlook seeing that I am addicted to the surface crush. I raised two more steelhead in that run with the same Grease LIner. Both of those fish felt the hook briefly and made a short racket on ye olde Dingley reel before spitting the hook.
As far as Steve's fish, he went back down to where he had first raised the steelhead and I believe proceeded to stimulate another surface crash with another pattern from his fly box. But that is not my story to embellish. Interestingly, what is remarkable to me about those BC steelhead runs is that you can pretty much call where a steelhead will rise and there is a good chance of that happening. I've tried "calling" those shots down here on our rivers in the Pacific Northwest and success rarely happens for me. I guess wild BC steelhead can make one an instant expert in steelheading...I don't quite yet know if that is a good thing or a bad thing.
|Adrian hooked up at Treasure Island. Photo by Steve Turner|
|Adrian in action|
Oh yeah, so seems the theory about steelhead not being phased by boat traffic or maybe even stirred up by boat traffic proved true on this day!! With all the action that Steve and Adrian had at this run, we came to give it the nickname "Treasure Island".
|Last run of the day. Photo by Steve Turner|
We fished a few more runs before realizing that we needed to make some time to get to the take out before dark. Adrian had another pull on his greaseliner at the last run of the day, but didn't hook up. Thanks to Steve's GPS we were able to time our drift so we wouldn't get caught in the dark. What did we do without such technology in the old days??
All in all, the steelhead were very active to the surface this day!!
We all fell into that comfortable routine of preparation, angling, breakdown, tying/toasting, crashing, waking-up to do it all over again. By day 2, I personally developed more confidence in the surface fly than ever before, that it was almost a surprise when a swing would end without some sort of activity. Admittedly, my goal of fishing vintage Atlantic Salmon patterns I tied for this trip was seriously hampered...I truly believe that these BC fish cannot accept that surface disturbance and WILL go out of their comfort zone to try and destroy that surface fly. Thus, the wetfly ended up staying clipped in the Wheatley for I had more confidence in the waked swing.
|Have rods, will fish. Photo by Steve Turner|
|Road trip ties. Photo by Adrian Cortes|
|Spirits and Flies - Adrian's Classics. Photo by Adrian Cortes|
|The Black and Blue Little Wang - approved by BC steelhead. Photo by Steve Turner|
We tried yet another different drift on this day. I had gone on this float in the past and knew of at least a couple productive runs through it's course.
|The start of another great day. Photo by Steve Turner|
It would turn out to be a day where I would fish many beautiful pieces of water with no result. Not the first time for such an event to occur for me and never a loss or disappointment in such a beautiful place.
It turned out that this stretch was the busiest one we floated for some reason. Of course there was plenty of good water to fish and we even got to fish a run I knew of that produced fish for me in the past. I didn't recognize it at first due to the lower water this year, yet it still fished nicely, but seemed to be fishless, for us at least. Adrian had an across the river conversation with a fellow who went fishless for four days and then got two steelhead that morning.
We came to a run that went around a corner and Adrian had a good pull on a General Salmon Fly that didn't stick. Steve was fishing around the corner and reported that he had a fish come up with a massive rise to his skater. He hooked into the fish, got a few thrashing headshakes and it was off.
We saw a guy fishing below us that seemed to have waded halfway across the river, that hooked into multiple fish. We also witnessed another fellow that was hooked up to a nice steelhead in another run downstream as we drifted by.
All in all it was a tough day of fishing for us, but still another great day in paradise.
|Enjoying the rhythm. Photo by Steve Turner|
|Waiting..... photo by Steve Turner|
On this day, we decided to float the same stretch that was productive for us on day 2. We stopped at the first run just below the put in, where we had all the action on our prior float - it's loaded again...........
We decided to rotate our positions in this run so Adrian took the top, I got the middle, and Steve took the bottom. Just as was the case a couple days ago, a fish rolled and splashed. as if on cue, in the middle of the run - I had that feeling.... On my first or second cast, a fish exploded on my skater and was off to the races. After a quick paced fight with some head shakes and short runs, this little fighter gets off, maybe a 4-5lb fish.
I continued on, getting more line out and started gently twitching my skater. I couldn't really see it in the early morning glare, but I heard a rise, kept twitching, and found a fish on and running. This nice buck came tight, went airborne and abruptly broke off at my loop knot. I'm not sure how this happened except to surmise that there was some sharp edges in the eye of the hook. Evidently, the steelhead didn't know that he got free because he jumped again further downstream, probably trying to spit my skater from his jaw. This looked like perhaps a low to mid teens steelhead, a buck, judging by it's darker silhouette that could seen in the arch of it's jump.
With my adrenaline still flowing and my heart beating in my throat from the excitement of hooking and losing perhaps the largest steelhead that I've hooked on the surface, I managed to settle back into my rhythm. I made a few more casts and a fish came up with a jack in the box kind of rise - the
line briefly tightened, then nothing. At that time, Steve was walking up after fishing through the bottom of the run. I told him I just lost my third fish, then I cast again, and surprisingly the steelhead came back and gulped the fly down and took off. This fish bulldogged and made short, stubborn runs, eliciting sweet sounds from my Hardy Perfect. I ultimately landed him, a buck that measured 33", again, validating my new blue/black skater.
|Living the Surface Steelhead Dream. Photo by Steve Turner|
|The luxury of having a fishing bud to help with a quick measurement. Photo by Steve Tuner|
|Perfection...... Photo by Steve Turner|
|The release. Photo by Steve Turner|
|Live long and prosper. Photo by Steve Turner|
A few minutes later, Adrian hooked up down low on a riffle hitched muddler, a fly given to him by his friend John from Idaho. He nearly landed this fish and then the hook pulled out. After fishing through the bottom, he went to the top and hooked/landed a little buck on one of the black/blue wangs that I gave him.
|Love at first sight. Photo by Steve Turner|
As we floated down, we saw a huge 6x6 bull elk along the river. We floated slowly towards it and Adrian got a quick shot as it took off up the bank.
|Majestic animal heading for cover. Photo by Adrian Cortes|
After a few minutes, Steve brought the boat around to the lower section of the run. Adrian hooked up again shortly thereafter, and again, got a good fight out of the fish before it also freed itself.
Steve started in low and the next thing I knew, a steelhead was thrashing at the end of his line. This nice hen gave a scrappy battle and Steve landed this beautiful steelhead that grabbed a green butt little wang (one with no extra flash, as Steve prefers).
|Steve utilizes his underwater housing on his Nikon digital SLR for this cool shot of his steelhead. Photo by Steve Turner|
After settling back into my position in the upper part of this long glide, I approached a spot where I noted some subtle wakes in the midst of the otherwise smooth flowing run. I was fishing one of my green butt skaters with an inverted hook due the wind blowing some leaves onto the water and also to see how well this skater would do in hooking up with a steelhead, if given the opportunity.
As my skater swung over this area which apparently contained some rock structure below, a steelhead came up with a gulping rise, but missed the fly. I went back a few times with the same fly with no result. I switched to a greaseliner that Adrian gave me and figured with the success he had been having with this fly, it would be a no-brainer on the comeback. I took a couple strips of running line back onto the reel and worked my way back down to the steelhead's position. As my cast swung over the rippled surface, my nerves tensed, but nothing happened. I changed to a smaller "micro" version of the green butt wang tied on a Mustad 3906 #6 wet fly hook. Same comeback routine, same result - no response from Mr. Steelhead. At this point I figured to go to a wet fly in the film to "close the deal" on this steelhead. I chose a #2 Yogi that my friend Keith Tymchuck gifted me with several years ago. I shortened up and worked back down and figured a pull was surely forthcoming................ well, I might have gotten a slight tap on the dangle of one of my casts, otherwise, nothing definitively steelheadlike happened with the Yogi.
By this time, I was about done messing around with trying to get that steelhead to comeback. For all I knew it may have continued migrating upstream or died of boredom while watching my parade of flies going over it. On a whim, I tied on a #4 Black/Blue wang which just happened to have been the very first one I created as I sat along the banks of the North Umpqua several days prior. I was about ready to move on as there was a lot more water to cover in this large run. I didn't bother shortening up, I just went back with my 10 strip cast and as my black/blue creation skated over the subtle ripples that marked where the initial rise happened, the steelhead broke the surface film with a bulging rise and was soon causing my Hardy to make a sweet sound. A few runs and surface thrashes later and I had the steelhead over towards the bank where Steve and Adrian were able to assist me with getting a grip on the steelhead for some celebration and photo ops.
|Hooked up to my comeback Steel... Photo by Adrian Cortes|
|In the "Happy Zone"........ Photo by Adrian Cortes|
|The result of persistence with the comeback. Photo by Adrian Cortes|
|Comeback flies - Mr. Steelhead finally decided to eat the Black/Blue Wang. Photo by Adrian Cortes|
|Every fishing trip calls for healthy snacks, chips anyone?? Photo by Adrian cortes|
We moved to one last run before taking out with no further action for the day. We concluded the day feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the wonderful fishing we were able to experience in this special place. We couldn't have imagined a more perfect day - fishing in beautiful surroundings, the fellowship of great friends, and unforgettable surface steelhead encounters. The rises and hookups we encountered would live long in the memory and yet the pace at which we were receiving these blessings was where each and every rise from these wild steelhead required enough effort and persistence as to keep them from becoming too commonplace and taken for granted.
|Adrian couldn't figure out why the tip of his thumb turned black until he realized it was from rubbing off the leading on his Dingley after fighting so many steelhead! Photo by Adrian Cortes|
|Adrian baptizes himself at the end of a memorable day of surface steelheading bliss.|
Day 5, the final chapter
We floated our favorite drift on this day. As we put the boat in, we sadly realize that "our" favored loaded run is taken!! A guy has a fish on in "our" bucket as we float by. Bah humbug... oh well, we'd try to find fish elsewhere.
We fished a couple spots including an innocuous looking flat that we'd seen a fellow fishing in prior days. This run was more interesting than it looked which one would not have realized until actually stopping there and wetting a line. Adrian ended up raising a steelhead in the lower section of this water on a black/blue wang. The fellow that we had seen fishing this water was traveling via jet ski. This was the first time I'd seen anyone using a jet ski to get from run to run and it turned out that this guy was a very friendly and helpful fellow named Ed.
On this day we came upon "Jet ski Ed" at another innocuous run and got to chatting as we slowly floated by. Ed had mentioned that he had hooked 3 fish in the other spot a couple days ago so we asked how he was doing this day. He noted that his back hurt and Adrian asked if it was from fighting too many steelhead and Ed remarked "no, it's from being on the wrong side of 70". Ed then suggested that we pull in and fish the bank opposite of him. He noted that there is a nice trench running all the way down along there. This is the kind of thing that casual visiting fisherman like us would never have picked out otherwise.
Ed assured us that he wouldn't mind the across the river company, so we pulled in as he suggested. The fact that Ed told us that he has returned to Skeena country every year for the past 25 years gave us confidence that he knew what he was talking about. We already got that sense when we fished Ed's other spot earlier in the day. The "featureless" glide Ed had been fishing actually had more depth and structure than we realized when we floated past it previously. Fishing that run shed light on just how much one can discover if one is allowed to fish a given watercourse long and often enough and we surely wished we could spend a greater part of our existence up that way!!
As we got into formation in our new found run, we discovered that Ed was true to his word, this was fishy looking water that swung great. We also knew that we were in line with Ed's methods as he had asked us "you guys skatin'??" and he informed that all he does is skate a riffle hitched buck bug. It was pure joy to watch Ed's relaxed and confident style of fishing.
As I began walking upstream to my typical position, I found myself wanting to keep going and going as the water kept looking better and better. I noted a midriver rock and Ed simultaneously yelled across to me "be sure to fish around that rock, it fishes good". I continued up until I was a ways above the rock in some nice choppy riffle water. I feel most confident in broken water for some reason - maybe a sense of security that the bouncy water will hide all my casting and other blunders.
As I worked my way down, a rise came to my fly just as I began to strip in for the next cast. I dropped the strip of line and the steelhead rose again, but missed. I drew the rod back upstream a bit and the steelhead rose yet again and I was able to time dropping the rod on the strike. As I drew the rod back, I felt tension and the fish was on. I initially stripped in line to keep tension on this fish and realized this steelhead was not exactly a monster. I got him on the reel and he gave some stubborn bursts in close and I was able to land yet another one of these small, but perfect one salt steelhead.
Smaller steelhead have seemed unusually abundant on this trip and I hope it is a sign of a strong run of larger steelhead in the future.
|One salt steelhead|
We hit our "lunch run" next. Steve raised one down low in the run, but could not elicit a comeback.
|Peeking at Adrian's fly box|
|Underwater shot of Adrian's Greenhighlander - irresistible! Photo by Adrian Cortes|
|Steelhead on the freebird. Photo by Steve Turner|
|The release. Photo by Steve Turner|
|Take that, evil human! Photo by Steve Turner|
|Freebird prototypes. Photo by Adrian Cortes|
|Blessed Friendships! Photo by Steve Turner|
For those equipment junkies out there:
Steve's setup (used most of the trip): Sage One 6126, Bauer Rogue reel, and SA Scandi Extreme head.
Adrian's setup: JM Reid Summer Run - 12' 6/7wt cane rod, 4 inch Dingley lined with a Vector Ballistic.
most used - 11' 6wt Cabelas TLR switch (an 80 dallah rod), Hardy Perfect 3 7/8 narrow drum, 350 gr Ambush head, Rio Powerflex .030 running line
My second setup: 11.5' 7wt Cabela's TLR switch (another 80 dallah rod), SA System 10 (same as Hardy Marquis Salmon 1), 390 grain Rage head, 25lb Ridge running line. Hand tied Maxima Leaders.
Briefly used: Original Echo Classic 6126, 4" JW Young Beaudex, 390 Airflo compact Scandi
Even on the big water we fished, I found my two Cabela's switch rods to be totally adequate for the casts I was making. I continue to be amazed that how those inexpensive TLRs perform. Goes to show that one doesn't have to spend tons of money to have fun in this sport.
Coffee: Seattle's Best
Chips: Lays and Ms. Vickies