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Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Comeback Fly

I've had a looong dryspell... no steelhead to hand since mid January, and to make matters worse, I'm a guy that gets out regularly and persistently. After millions of casts go unanswered, I start to question my skills, my abilities, and even my manhood. Something had to give.

On friday, 6/20, I had my usual day off to fish. I'd planned to float and with no one available to join me, it was to be a solitary day of fishing. At the put in, there were a couple boats ahead of me, so rather than squeeze in behind and feel rushed, I decided to take my time and fish a piece of water above the put in until the other boats got downstream some ways.

The water I was fishing has some good rocky structure in it with some soft, shallow inside water. It was overcast so in the low light conditions I could not get myself to try anything but a surface fly to begin with. As I got in the area where the structure starts, my skater came into the shallow, soft inside water in the wake behind some of the submerged rocks. I saw a gulping rise come to the fly, but felt nothing on the line. Just as I was contemplating that the rise looked like a steelhead, the fish came up again and rolled at the fly with it's back and dorsal visible - positive ID. I made another cast but the fish would not come back. I moved back up a few steps and changed to a riffle hitched muddler, still nothing. Back up again and now I tied on a fairly large feather wing wet fly tied by my good friend Tony Torrence. Just as I got past where the fish came up to the skater, my line came tight and I could feel the headshakes of the steelhead. I got a few nice runs out of this average sized hen of about 27". I landed her on the bank and took a few photos. After a long dry spell it felt good to have a fish on the other end of the line.

I proceeded with my float after fishing through the remainder of the run and with a fish in the cooler so early, I was hoping to encounter another steelhead to make for a multi-fish day, but it was not to be. I guess I would have been ahead of the game if I had just went home without launching my boat!

Tony had given me the fly that got this fish when I was visiting him at his home this past winter.  I noticed it sitting on his bench and mentioned that it was an eye catcher.  He says, "here, take it, I'm  not happy with the proportions".  I'll glady take any of Tony's prototypes that don't make his grade, anytime!

With just a few hours to fish before heading out on family activities, I got to the same water at first light, hoping for a repeat of the day before. When I got to the zone in the lower structures, my anticipation was high, but no encore performance in the fishy spot. I went to the top of the run and fished all the way down with no positive feedback.

I had about an hour left and decided to get in my car and drive to another nearby bank spot. I'd seen gear guys get fish in this spot multiple times and wondered if the holding lies could give up a fish to surface methods.

I started about 50yds above where the gear guys fish and fished my way down. By the time I got to the bottom of the run, it was just before 9am and I had a cast or two before it was time to go. As my fly came past some ledgerock structure, I lost sight of my skater in the chop and I then saw the porpoising rise of a nice steelhead with a bit of color across it's side. I waited for the line to come tight, but the fly just continued swinging into the dangle. I stepped back a few steps and fished back through again, but like yesterday's fish, this one wasn't willing to break the surface film a second time. I stepped back up and took out my box of OPs (other people's flies gifted to me) and decided to tie on a sassy little Blue Charm Adrian Cortes gave me on the NU last fall.

As I got back to the position where the fish came up originally, I made my cast and as the little wet fly swung past the ledgerock, the line stopped, snapped tight, and the steelhead was airborne and screaming line from the old clicker in an instant. The splashdown of the steelhead was loud enough to startle a couple gear guys who had just showed up to fish directly below me. This was a hot fish that took off up and down the run a couple times and gave a stubborn, bulldogging fight that for a moment, led me to question whether I had a steelhead or small Springer on as the fight was reminiscent of Adrian Cortes's grand battle with a surface grabbing Chinook last fall. I was able to step back up a rock bank and got the steelhead on the beach about 15 minutes later. It was so satisfying to see the little blue charm lodged firmly in the corner of the jaw of that 30" buck.

This is fairly early for me to be raising my local hatchery summer runs to the surface and it was interesting to note their one-time only willingness to break the surface going after my skaters with success only coming with a wet fly to close the deal. With most sane folks still fishing sinktips, I was glad to get a couple fish with my preferred dry line/surface methods.

Adrian's beautiful Blue Charm that he gifted to me last September in the jaw:

With the excitement of suddenly getting two steelhead in two days after such a long slump, I was reflecting back to the similarities of getting my first local summer run last year and this year: both occurred on the same day - 6/20; both were raised to a skater, then hooked/landed on a wet fly tied by my friend Tony Torrence; and both were taken using new used reels I had just obtained and hoped to be tested out by steelhead (last year was with my Hardy 3 7/8 Perfect, this year was with a 4" JW Young Beaudex).

I've also been going through a temporary shift equipment-wise.  I've been using my two handers again since late spring, mostly because they are handy when I am floating solo in my drift boat.  I'm able to anchor at spots and cast/swing from the rowing seat and I do like how they cover big water.  As I get back to fishing the NU come early July and as the flows on the Middle Fork Willamette continues to drop over summer, my old glass sticks will be coming out.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Spring Compromises...........

I haven't posted in a while because my fishing adventures have been largely unremarkable and life has provided interruptions in the form of things like having to rebuild the Rochester Quadrajet carburetor on my 74' Bronco and attending to the multitude of other little issues that come with trying to keep a vintage 4x4 on the road.  In the end, I'll  do what needs to be done to keep my faithful early Bronco running, especially since it tows my driftboat around this time of year.

 As my winter steelhead season came to a close in late April,  I reflect back on great days on the water with good friends, but it was a lean season that afforded plenty of time for casting practice, perfecting the dry line winter swing, and field testing the wonderful JM Reid 8592 prototype (wrap up review to come).  It's been a time of contemplating life as a halfway competent fly fisher who has been catching very few fish for whatever reason.

As I've transitioned into my spring fishing routine on my local waters - the Willamette/Middle Fork Willamette and McKenzie, my focus moved to trout fishing and the outside chance at an early spring salmon or hatchery summer steelhead.

I have to confess feeling like a hypocrite at this time of year.  The reason is that as a guy who has a blog with a title "Dry Line Steelhead", springtime on my local rivers is the time when I find myself rationalizing and making compromises...... a time when.....gasp.....I'll sometimes actually talk myself into looping on Skagit heads and tips, even T-14 and big intruders for periods of time.  I use reasons like high water, low numbers of fish over the falls, the need for big flies to have a chance at a springer, etc...  Don't know why I beat myself up like this when I go to the "dark side", when honestly, a properly balanced skagit/tip setup is actually smooth and pleasurable to cast.  As John Gierach wrote "once priorities are established, they must be maintained" (paraphrase) so I probably feel a sense of loyalty to the dry line methods and the man who inspired them in me. so swaying from them leaves me feeling unsure.

A few years ago, my "experiments" with a skagit head/T14/intruder actually resulted in a quick payoff in very high water that was barely wadeable.    On a day in mid June, I hooked into a heavy fish that I soon realized was a small spring salmon.  I was able to beach the fish on a small patch of shoreline that was was not underwater and as I eagerly anticipated having salmon for dinner, I was actually dismayed that I found this to be a rare MF Willamette springer with an adipose fin so had to release it!  The very next day, with the same skagit/T14/Intruder, with the water level just a hair lower, I hooked into another hot fish, this time a chrome hatchery hen of about 30".  For whatever reasons, I have not hooked another salmonid on the skagit/t14/intruder combo since Spring 2010.

 Springer 6/10

The same Skagit/T14/black and blue intruder did the trick on this hatchery summer run:

 As I continue seeking my first hatchery summer run or springer for the season, I've managed to occasionally break up my intense pursuit of anadromous species by taking my daughter Yolanda, son-in-law Kanoe, and 7yo grandson KJ to Leaburg lake with my driftboat to catch hatchery trout on power bait.  This a good way to regain perspective on what fishing is all about.