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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Blessed Friendships

I gathered with some good friends on a favorite summer river a couple weeks ago for what is becoming an annual summer steelhead rondi.  I looked forward with much anticipation to gathering with my buds from "up north".  Adrian Cortes and Aaron Ostoj had arrived a day before me and got two campsites for our little crew of steelhead fanatics.  Steve Turner would drive down from Ridgefield, WA to catch up with us for a quick overnighter and morning session.

On the first day that I arrived, I caught up with Adrian and Aaron on one of the lower river pools. My alarm had gone off at 2:30am and I had left my home in Springfield by 3am, arriving at the river by about 4:50am - only steelheading could cause such maddness. The report was that the evening before, Adrian has raised and hooked a nice summer run on a green butt skater in the tailout of a pool further upriver.  After some line was coming off the reel, the hook pulled out, but very encouraging news to hear.

We split up water down at the area where we met.  After fishing through, we parted ways with  Adrian and Aaron hitting spots and I took off solo and hit several pools before the summer heat set in and we would meet back at the campground.  After fishing through my morning session, I headed for camp and I got my tent set up and settled in for a midday break.

The evening session was uneventful for me, but I was able to become familiar again with some of my favorite pools on this special river.  Back at camp that night, we compared notes and Adrian reported that he raised and hooked a steelie in the lower section of a big pool where some nice bedrock structure provided some cover.  He saw the surface attack and the steelhead was pulling line from his antique clicker.  He said he waited about ten seconds before hollering over to Aaron of the news of having a fish on.  Just moments later, the fish got unpinned.  However, raising and hooking 2 steelhead in two days is considered good fishing in my book.  Adrian's the top rod and on a hot streak.

Steve Turner arrived that evening and the talk of steelhead gulping skaters on top filled our discussions.  Steve, Adrian, and I have a upcoming trip planned for a BC river in mid Sept so our anticipation in planning for that trip was also in evidence.  It was decided that Steve would fish with me the following morning as we would cruise the river in search of steelhead in my beater 1990 Honda Accord.

The 4am alarm came too soon, but of course coffee needed to get made in time for us to head out at first light.  Steve is brand new to this river so it was fun to show him some of what I have learned of this special place over the past 5 years or so of fishing it each summer/fall.

I chose a pool which was an "easy wader" to start the morning, with the dim lighting of dawn.   I tried to get Steve to go through first, but he insisted that he wanted to sit back, learn about fishing the river and take photos.   I kept trying, but was unsuccessful in getting Steve to budge from his plan.  As I worked down the run, Steve kept even or below me on the bank as he took shots with his Nikon.  Towards the bottom of the run, Steve and I were chatting and I was just beginning to strip in for my next cast and rod got pulled down and jerked a couple times, evidently from a steelhead grabbing the skater at the dangle.  It was over as quickly as I realized what had happened, with my rod and line going limp.  As I stripped in, I noticed there was no resistance at the end of my tippet.  Sure enough the unseen steelhead pulled my fly right off my leader by breaking one of my bloot knots at the 8lb Maxima section.  I've been having a bad streak of breaking off fish right after the grab on this river - this one was probably at least the fourth steelhead that has done so to me down here.  I've got to do a better job of checking my knots.

We headed to another pool and while fishing short casts and watching my skater come into the transition zone between the fast main flow and inside water, a steelhead came up and gulped my waker down.  This guy gave a decent fight, but I soon realized he was a little "half-pounder" sized steelhead of not more than 20".  I won't complain though, every steelhead I encounter is special.

We fished a few more pools and then we came to one I wanted to show Steve.  This run does not get fished very often, judging by the overgrowth we encounter in getting down there.  I misjudged the angle of the sun in relation to this run,. so by mid morning, it was in full sunlight.  I was finally able to convince Steve to fish this run first since the light for photography was then poor.  I pointed out the casting station to Steve and point to lies where Adrian hooked up to a steelhead on a Jock Scott and a spot where Adrian raised one to a skater last year.  I tinkered with my fly boxes as Steve made casts and extended his line.  When I looked up, I saw Steve making a cast to the far side and the skater swung across a choppy seam.  The white post I tie on my skaters was clearly visible in bright light conditions like this.  The skater comes through the seam and is promptly attacked by a steelhead.  I think both Steve's and my jaws dropped at that moment and surprisingly the steelhead didn't get hooked on that rise.

I showed Steve a few more pools before completing our morning sesstion.  We met back at camp for lunch break before Steve left to return home.  Aaron and Adrian broke camp and we visited for a bit, looked into each other's fly boxes and I was even gifted with an exquisitely tied Jock Scott from Aaron, who like Adrian, is a very talented tyer of classic salmon flies "in-hand" (no vise).  I was able to give a few more of my foam skaters to the guys as well.  I think since the guys may not use as much foam and deer/elk hair in their classic salmon flies, that they are willing to accept my crudely tied patterns.  I was honored to share my patterns with my friends and that they've actually raised/hooked fish on them.

I also showed off the flies gifted to me by Mike Papais (see my prior blog entry) and we continued to talk about this swell fellow who we have yet to meet face to face.  I fished Mike's flies a fair amount during this trip and Adrian borrowed one of Mike's patterns to swing as well.  Mike's flies look absolutely great swimming on the swing.  I was able to try some of the smaller patterns as comebacks to rises that could have been steelhead and I fished some of the larger patterns as a primary presentation on some runs.  Surprisingly, I just got  several trout and a 14" half pounder size steelhead on Mike's flies, but it is inevitable that these gorgeous gifts will get me a steelhead at some point.

Aaron's fly box:

In Hand Masters:

Flies from Mike Papais:

Rarely caught in front of the lens, Steve Turner fishing a run in full morning light:

Steve raised a steelhead right here:

Steve Turner shared the series of photos below from the morning he fished with me.  Steve is a master of light and composition.  His incredible talent is evident here - too bad his selection of male models was limited to a scrubby steelhead fanatic from Springfield (me)!

Steve has become enamored with this special place after his first visit.  He returned this past week to spend a few days on the river.  Steve and I were able to gather again last friday, when I was able to meet up with him for the day.  He insisted on me fishing runs first, even though he is the one that is new to the river.  I tried, but couldn't argue Steve out of his kind and generous nature.  Steve did the driving that day in his luxury new F150, so it was a day of traveling in comfort for me.  Steve also treated me to a wonderful lunch.  I feebly tried to reciprocate Steve's kindness and generosity with more flies and pointing out more spots on the river.  It turns out Steve did a great job of sniffing out surface steelhead on his own during his stay.  He raised and hooked a hot steelhead in a non-decript run that he found on the evening before I met up with him and he hooked into a similar 5/6lb range steelhead at a new spot we fished together  that morning.  Both fish got unpinned, but the thrill of the surface grab and hookup is never soon forgotten.

Thanks to all of my fishing friends for wonderful days on the river and great companionship that reach far beyond fishing.

Blessed by His Grace,


Sunday, July 27, 2014

4 O' Clock Steelhead

Sometimes the best time to go fishing is when you can........

I had a small window of time to fish today between running errands with Wendi after church and watching my granddaughter Harmony while her parents head up youth night.

Left the house a little after 3 and headed for a favorite stretch of river close to home.  By the time I started fishing, it was about 3:30pm with mostly sunny conditions and a bit of a hazy overcast going.  Not the best timing to fish for steelhead on the surface, but I had to try anyway.  I first fished the nearshore side of a nice looking channel and as I looked over, wondered how it would fish from the mid river bar I could see.  I waded back up, started at the top and fished from the mid river bar, casting towards shore.  This is nice choppy, riffly stuff and as I got down where the mid river bar starts to deepen, I'm watching my GB skater, aka "little wang" come across and gulp, fish on.  Not a rip snortin', reel screamer, but this little buck gave a decent tussle.  Fortunately my skater was lodged firmly on the upper jaw and I was eventually able to lead him to a little gravel bar and beached him.

I was fishing one of my old glass single handers today:  the Fenwick FF857 - 8.5' 7wt, 7wt Ambush line, and my old SA system 8 (Hardy Marquis 8/9).  It was fun casting that Ambush on the glass single hander.  The seam is narrow enough that the single hander was entirely adequate with a "9 strip" cast.

I need to buy a couple of those cheap stringers so I can keep a hatchery steelhead alive and fresh until I'm done fishing.  With no stringer or cooler with ice close by, I had to head for home right after getting the fish.  No complaints, got to bonk one and then spend time with my cute little granddaughter.

I'm truly blessed to have surface steelheading 10 minutes from my house - life is good!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wild Reverence Press Release

FYI -- the movie Wild Reverence is finally available for viewing on Vimeo.  See below for Shane's email, the movie link, and a description.

John McMillan

From Shane:

Greetings All!

I am excited to announce that after two and a half years I have officially made “Wild Reverence” available for public viewing.  It’s been an exciting spring as I have been on tour screening the film across the west coast and getting a great response with very engaged audiences who want to change the status quo.   I can honestly feel the paradigm begin to shift toward a positive future for wild fish and more ecosystem based management of our natural resources.

I have an extensive tour lining up this fall.  And I will be hitting the road  mid. Sept. into Nov. (more details on the tour coming shortly)  I felt it was important to make the film available now and begin to spread the wild word a bit.  My primary goal of this film was to present the massive amount of information I had learned over the course of several years in an unbiased manner through my personal journey.   I would be eternally grateful if you would help spread the word of the film.   Thanks for all your support in this amazing journey!  It’s all of you that give me great hope for the future.

Here is the official link.

Thank you kindly,

Monday, July 21, 2014

Second Pass Steelhead on Top

The rise came suddenly and unexpectedly....

I was watching my latest design foam skater coming across on a fast swing through the chop made by the flow pushing for the far bank.  I was giving the fly movement with steady, but modest twitches that pulsated rather than "popped" the fly on the swing.  Just as my fly approached the softer seam where the main flow converged with the softer inside water, a chrome form launched across the surface, taking my skater on her way down.  It was an "idiot proof" surface grab - no time to contemplate not jerking the fly from the fish - she had the fly solidly in her jaw instantaneously with no room for error on my part.  I love when this happens!  

My antique winch was screaming followed by airborne steel sending my heart racing.  My chrome prize gave me several reel-melting runs, putting my old English made clicker to the test.  This particular vintage reel has no palming rim (still relatively new to me) and I found it easy to use finger tension on the inside spool to apply drag on the running steelhead.  There's no sweeter sound than the scream of old English click/pawl reels with a hot steelhead on the line. 

This steelie fought aggressively and I feared for her loss at any moment during the fight.  I knew I'd end up releasing this rare prize, so losing her during the fight would be fine, but I love seeing these fish up close once in a while and getting a photo when possible.  As I held onto my rod with the steelhead giving me her best, I took a breath and just relished in experiencing the moment I had waited for, in being able to experience the electric power of a majestic fish.  It's the excitement of the surface grab and raw energy of a strong running steelhead that keeps me casting for as long as it takes to get my fix.  With their powerful runs, acrobatics, and speed, these fish are able to elicit a delicious sense of excitement and fear at the same time - it's a sensation that just never gets old or ordinary.

The run I was fishing didn't have any convenient gravel bar beach and I was using a 12'6" two hander to add to the difficulties.  I was somehow able to get this strong fighter to shore and I marveled over a perfectly formed hen in the 9lb range.  I got my wish and was able to get an up close look at a rare blessing and got the photos I'd hoped for.  I went for one last photo and she decided she'd had enough, turned for the river, and was gone with no help from me.  The barbless hook had fell out of the hen's mouth, giving her a clean release.

As I stood back and took it all in, I praised God for the blessing of experiencing a moment of perfection in the midst of His creation.  I was overcome with a feeling of gratitude for the opportunity to chase after these incredible chrome fish in such a beautiful setting - life is good.  It's amazing how a single steelhead encounter can bring on such profound meditations and reflection from a fisherman overcome with a passion for surface steelhead!


As the title of this post alludes to, I got the fish described above when going through the same run on a second pass.  I don't typically go through runs in summer and fall more than once while fishing a skater.  I figure if I did not raise any steelhead to the top in one pass, then there arent any steelhead in the run willing to come to the top.  Very rarely, I'll make a second pass with a wet, but most often I move on to new water looking for a surface grab.

On the day I got the above steelhead, I had spent time in camp revising my foam skater design even further.  I slightly altered the tie in of the foam pieces in hopes of having a skater that will stay on top, even in brutal, heavy flows.  My prior design skater stayed on top most of the time, but when the line/leader gets caught in strong downward hydraulics, the fly would get sucked under and spin underwater until bobbing back to the top.  I attempted to stabilize the foam lip to prevent the skater from going in most water textures.

During the evening session, I took out a yellow/orange mini skater I had tied with the new revisions.  I was pleased that while going through the run on my first pass, that the little skater stayed on top most of the time.  I didn't get any grabs on that first pass, but I wanted to try a green butt colored skater with the new revisions.  Just so happens, I had that fly rigged on my 12'6" Echo Classic so I decided to make a second pass to test out my other skater.  As I struggled to cast the longer rod with sidearm casts under overhanging branches, I managed to get the head and three strips of running line out, which was a perfect working length of line for the run.  When I got a little ways down the run, the steelhead grabbed, obviously in water I had already fished through with the smaller yellow/orange skater.

I have wondered what triggered that steelhead to grab a skater on a second pass.  Maybe using a slightly larger, dark colored fly made the difference?  Maybe using the longer rod gave a slightly different casting angle that the fish preferred?  Maybe I just happened to get the right swing over a specific lie on the second pass?  I've definitely got more questions than answers here, but I think I may fish runs with a skater more than once in the near future.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Blessings from Mike Papais (GR8LAKES FLYER on Speypages)

The great thing about Speypages is that it gives the opportunity for like minded spey fanatics to share with each other and connect through a common bond in our passion. Since I began membership on the board in 2008, I've become friends with several great guys on there, including the incredibly talented Mike Papais. I've been impressed with Mike's mind blowing tying and even more so, his kind and generous spirit in his postings. Mike always has kind words and encouragement for others. Through PMs and emails, Mike and I have become friends beyond just talking about fishing and flies, even though we are separated by geographic distance and have never met in person yet.

I posted a fishing report on there a few weeks ago where I shared my excitement over a couple of my rare successes in raising some local hatchery summer runs to skaters and then getting them on comeback wets. In reading my post, Mike felt called to respond to an opportunity to extend a very generous offer in gifting me with some of his incredible hairwing wets, tied in hand. Of course, this was an offer I could not refuse!! Mike asked me of sizes I liked and went to work as his mood inspired him. I was amazed that in less than a week's time, Mike was PMing me that he had the flies tied and ready to mail off to me. The artistry and precision that goes into tying such beautiful flies in hand is one thing, but getting a handful of them tied in a short time is beyond amazing.

These flies arrived just in time for a thorough field test as I am heading to a favorite summer river for a "mancation" this week with fellow speypagers Adrian Cortez and Aaron Ostoj (also hoping Keith Tymchuck can also join us for an evening session).

Mike, thank you so much for gifting me with these beauties, but most of all thank you for your friendship and your kind and generous heart.

(Please forgive my poor photos, they don't do Mike's artistry any justice, but just wanted to be sure to lift Mike up for being such a wonderful friend)

By His Grace,

Attached Images

Friday, July 11, 2014

First Skater Hookup - 2014

Had my usual friday off today and another solitary day of fishing.  With the number of boats I've been seeing floating my home water lately, I didn't even bother hitching up mine and figured to just bank it and start at a popular bank fishing spot until it got too bright and hot.  The plan was to fish through the popular run then hike down, continuing to fish other minor runs accessible on foot.  I arrived at the river at first light and a gear guy pulls up at the same time and walks to the run and fishes the top.  Oh well, I started midway and fished down.  Getting to the lower section, I think I may have rolled a steelhead with my skater, but no come backs from this fish - maybe its was a trout.

I fished through the popular run and the minor runs below - hiked quite a ways down.  It was nice, peaceful and quiet down there, not a soul around and boats don't typically come through the area I was fishing.   By mid morning, a nice overcast set in, I was encouraged.

When I hiked back toward the car, the main run was totally barren, so I fished through it again, confident with the low light of the overcast - still nothing.

By 11:30 or so I decided to drive down to another bank spot.  I got a steelhead in this water a few weeks ago, but wanted to try higher up in this run.  I waded into the upper riffle and fished my way down into the ledgerock structure in there.  I was into a nice rhythm with cack handed single speys on my vintage glass rod and 3 7/8 Perfect - gear I hadn't used it a while but busted out just because I love fishing this combo.

Sometimes I wonder if I just have too much gear to choose from.  I have an array of old glass single hand rods and a few more modern two handed rods to choose from.  Sometimes I have irrational worries about certain pieces of equipment feeling neglected if I don't get them out once in a while.  From a practical standpoint, for the size of my homewater, it is best fished with my 12'6" two handers, but today, I was just in the mood to able to hear the Perfect scream again. 

Well, about a third of the way down into the edges of the ledgerock, I got my wish.  I was watching my new/improved/more sparkly waker coming around on the swing and it suddenly disappeared in a quick rise.  The line instantly came tight, but at first I wasn't sure if it was a big trout or a steelhead.  The weight of the headshakes and powerful runs that followed ID'd the fish - steelhead.  It gave a few powerful runs up and down and across the ledgerock and after a few minutes, as I drew the fish closer to the bank, I had what looked like a hen in the 9-10lb range with just a hint of color.  I eased my way to shore and she gave another blistering run, almost taking out all my running line.  I regained line and when I had her in sight again, she gave one of those thrashy, twisty things on the surface and the line went limp...............  I felt that weird combination of disappointment, gratitude, and laughter all at once and I looked up at my now weightless terminal gear.  My sparkly skater wasn't even harmed, no teeth marks on the foam or anything, which makes me wonder if I just had hooked into some skin on the outside of the mouth of the steelhead. 

Green butt skater tweaked for 2014 (red krystal flash added behind wing, funny how little details can add more confidence)

She's out there somewhere:

I was also using a smaller sized skater today, this one was tied on a Mustad #6 9671 equivalent (2xl streamer hook).  I've typically been fishing skaters tied on #4s, but with the short rises I had on those two steelhead I got on comeback wets a few weeks ago, I've wondered if these hatchery steelhead will more confidently take a smaller fly.  (I am recalling that I've actually taken a  good number of our local hatchery steelhead on skaters tied on 6's and even 8's)  Today's fish seems to give more evidence to that theory, but one hookup this season is too small of a sample size - guess I've just gotta keep fishing!  

I'm just thankful that these local  hatchery steelhead DO come up to take skaters once in a great while - fishing skaters on Willamette valley streams is not the best way to catch good numbers of these local pellet heads, but in my opinon, it's the most fun way to get them, one just has to put a lot more hours in for each fish, not a fair trade off for many.

Oh well, the moral of todays story is you can't bonk em' all.  I quit fishing by about 2pm and the overcast tempted me to continue on, but sometimes a guy's gotta say enough is enough, plus I have mechanical work on the old Bronco waiting (rear brakes and front wheel bearings).  I just felt thankful to have had the thrill of hooking into that surface grabbing steelhead, especially after all the hiking and casting I did this morning.  I just love the scream of that Perfect!