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Monday, September 29, 2014

Willamette Steelhead Looking Up!

I recently took a trip to Skeena country and while I am still floating on a cloud from having a grand time there with two great friends, I managed not to get too spoiled from my dreamy week in BC (blog post on that trip still in the works).

Since returning from BC, I haven't missed a beat on my beloved homewater, the Middle Fork of the Willamette.  As noted in my prior post, I just started tying my skater in the purple/black color scheme and also since returning, I bought my third - yes third, Cabela's TLR switch, the 11' 7wt.  Why would I want yet another of these switch rods when I already had the 11' 6wt and 11'6" 7wt?  I'm not sure myself except to say these rods have totally got me buying into the utility of switch rods.  The 11' 7wt is obviously 6" shorter than the 11'6", but it has a markedly different feel to it - in my subjective descriptive terms, "lighter in hand, livelier".  Nonetheless, I love all three of these inexpensive jewels and am having a blast in the switch rod realm.

Of course, wanting to play with my new toy, I've been taking it and my new purple/black and black/blue skaters out on my homewater.  Thankfully, my homewater has been doing a great job of helping me come down from my high from my recent trip to Skeena country.  As noted on my prior post I got a 28" buck before work last thursday on the TLR switch and black/purple skater combo in my favorite bank fishing run a short drive from my home.  Some other surface steelhead successes have continued to follow and I have been enjoying the ride while it lasts!

I went on a short local float with Tony Torrence this past friday and in the first run, Tony and I split things up with me being dropped off at the top and Tony fishing mid to low.  As I got into the "armpit" or top inside corner at the head of the run, a little hen came up and gulped my black/blue skater in the chop made by the basketball sized rocks in the shallow water.  I brought this little gal to hand and she made her way to my cooler.

We fished a few more runs with no action, then we came to a nice run that comes around a bend.  Again, the dry fly guy gets the top and Tony probed the lower section with a skagit/tip.  I was tight to some bankside brush so I was working on crisp, cack handed single speys with a shallow D-loop to avoid snagging the obstructions behind me.  I got a bit frustrated when, despite carefully watching my D-loops, one of my short casts got tangled in some shoreline vegetation.  After uprooting some brush to get my fly loose, I went back to work.  After a few more casts, I had my Rage head and a couple strips of running line out.

It was midday by this time and the sun was high in the sky under bright, clear conditions.  I persisted with my new black/purple skater anyway, but I had to deal with the glare on the water and the sun in my face, making it literally impossible to see my fly on the water, no matter what color foam I would have tied to the top of my fly. 

I told myself that I'd "listen" for a rise, if indeed one were to come.  A few casts later, I got my wish.  I heard a quick splash at my fly and thought I was able to see a disturbance on the surface.  Before I could contemplate what had happened, my Hardy was screaming and a chrome form was seen leaping out of the water - a large chrome form!  I got the rod switched over to my left hand so I could start reeling against the fish with my right hand.  I made some headway after two more jumps and a few more blistering runs.  I worked my way to shore and eyed a little gravel bar that would make a convenient area to beach what was probably a mid teens hatchery buck.  As I got the beast close to shore, the hook pulled out............. 

My heart was pumping over the thrill of battling a creature possessing such power.  I think that as I get older, losing a grand fish at the bank is still never easy, but I find myself feeling more gratitude than disappointment in these instances.  After all, that steelhead gave me the thrill I was after, what more could I ask for?  Steelhead have truly blessed me beyond measure.  I cannot even begin to give back a fraction of what steelheading has given me.  Even though I would have loved to have gotten my hands on that fish, I don't need to subdue every hatchery steelhead I encounter.  The experience is much more precious than fillets in the freezer.

With what appears to be the making of some decent fall surface steelheading on my local ditch, I have become even more flakey and irresponsible than I normally am - neglecting things like housework, yard work, car repairs, cleaning the garage, etc., in frantic efforts to get on the water at any given opportunity.

This past sunday, I had a small window of time to fish before going to church to rehearse with the praise team.  I hit my favorite run at first light.  I started off with my purple/black skater, but I couldn't see it in the glare so I changed to a black/blue skater with orange and white visibility posts.  As I got to the bottom of the run, my skater came into the hang down and a steelhead gulped it down.  I came tight to the fish and after a minor tussle, I worked my way away from the bank to gain leverage on the fish.  I ended up with an average size hatchery hen that I managed to get pulled up on shore and as I went over to retrieve my prize, the steelhead gave a flop and got back into the river and took off.  No fish cleaning duty this time.

As I continue to shirk adult responsibilties, I squeezed in an evening session after work today.  I hurried to my reliable spot and again, down low in the run, my purple/black skater was approaching the bottom of the swing and I noticed a bulge behind my fly.  Just as my heightened senses deciphered the subtle sign, a quick, aggressive attack came to the fly and my Hardy Marquis was growling at that instant.  Apparently, the steelhead took the fly on the turn and the noisy reel even got the attention of Brad, who lives in the house on the banks of this run.  The steelhead took about 10-15' of line and just as I was figuring on how to transfer the rod to my left hand, the hook pulled out.

So as of now, I've hooked into 5 steelhead in the past 4 trips out to my local water.  Not bad for a guy who persistently skates flies over these hatchery steelhead.  I am a wild steelhead advocate, but gotta admit that these local hatchery summer runs provide at least a distant semblance of being on a BC river (adding some poetic imagination doesn't hurt).

I encourage anybody who fishes for these hatchery summer runs to give surface fishing a try.  The cooling conditions of fall make for the best surface steelheading of the whole year and the remainder of the fall season could be good.  Winter steelheading is right around the corner and I'll be fishing wet for most of that time so why fish wet now when my local steelhead are looking up!


Thursday, September 25, 2014

New Skaters

I've recently been tying my Purely Functional Skater design (dubbed "Little Wang" by my fishing buds) in blue/black and purple/black recently.  I just started tying the blue/black right before heading to BC last week and a few BC steelhead seemed to like it (a future post is in the making on that wonderful trip). 

Since coming home from BC, I've also tried tying my skater in Black/Purple and a 28" hatchery buck gave his nod of approval during a short morning session before work today. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Summer Days

As summer has progressed slowly into fall, I've been reflecting on some great times on the water.

In early August, I had a wonderful few days on the water with my good friend Keith Tymchuck.  Keith and his wife Jennifer and daughters Blair and Bailey spent several days camping along the North Umpqua.  Keith kindly saved a campspot for me and Wendi joined for a couple days as well.  I met up with Keith for the evening session on the day of my arrival and we fished each morning and evening for the next three days.

Keith reported that our friend Craig Coover went over and joined him the day before I arrived for an overnight stay.  Apparently Craig raised a steelhead at dark at one of our favorite runs.

Keith and I fished pools between the lower fly water on up to the Camp Water each day and got blanked for the first couple days.  On day three, we hit some new water that I was able to show Keith.  On one of these runs, sun was on the water so I put one of Mike Papais's wets on, the sunny rat.  About mid way down the run, I had a good pull, could not get it to come back.  Keith fished over the spot, still nothing.

On our last evening session, we started at a run new to us.  Keith showed me this spot and we really like it.  A good stretch with two nice runs.  I started at the shorter top run, fished through then got into the second run and fished short casts on the near side of the chop.  As I started getting into the heart of the run,  a steelhead came up with a quick gulp and fish on.  This is a tough spot for landing fish with no gravel bar or sloping bank.  I got a good  scrap from this little hen, probably in the 4-5lb range.  I had her up to shore and was about to grab her tail and she was off, a perfect release.  We fished a few more spots to close out the eve with no further action.

The following day, we debated on whether to start at either of two favorite runs.  We gambled on going for one of them first then doubling back to the other, hoping to get both before they were occupied by other fisherman.  We did get the one run at first light and Keith went through first and I hit the pocket water above before going in behind Keith.  When I got to the first exposed rock, I put my cast right in front of it and the current pulled my skater downstream along the wake along the side of the rock.  A steel form appeared and casually gulped the skater.  The line came tight as the current pulled the belly against the fish.  I kept my rod still, waiting for the fish to turn after feeling the pointy thing it it's mouth......instead, I then felt the tension on the line being released as the fly somehow slid out of the fish's mouth - dang!!

I went back with a smaller skater and a small wet, nada.  Keith came up and fished over the spot, still nothing.  Oh well, it was a great thrill seeing that steelhead come up for the fly, it looked to be in the 9-10lb range.  Funny thing is, I just happened to be at an angle where I was able to see that fish come to to fly, but the actual rise was very subtle.  I wonder how often this happens on fish we don't see??
Keith and I then took off for the other run we were hoping to get - funny story here- we approach the pull off and see another SUV coming from the opposite direction.  Keith puts his left blinker on and pulls in.  Just then the SUV puts it's blinker on and pulls in as well.  Come to find out it's a couple guys I know who are friends of friends.  We ended up just telling them to take the run, but we were a bit disappointed at missing the opportunity to fish the run.  Oh well, no point in competing for water.

Keith and I then ended up closing out the morning's session at another run that is new to us.  Glad we did.  I had fished this water in full sunlight in the past, but it's a whole different deal with shadows on the water.  What a beautiful dry fly run!!  Starts off as a gentle riffle, then comes into nice bedrock structure in the lower end.  The flow is gentle enough that it is pretty much a self mender and my skater was easily visible most of the time.  I could see a shark attack coming at any moment.  Alas, no such thing happened, but Keith and I were thrilled that we discovered this beautiful piece of water that will be more fully explored on future trips.  This run reminds me of some runs on BC rivers.

All in all, a wonderful trip and Keith was kind enough to chauffer me around the whole time, plus he kindly held my campsite for me.  Wendi come over friday night so we got to visit with Keith and his wife Jennifer and daughters Bailey and Blair.  Our friend Mark Stangeland and his family came over to visit one of the days as well.  Mark said he's had a good season so far, hooked/landed a good number of  steelhead so far, lost a few more, and getting his clients into fish regularly as well.

 (An evening on the Willamette with Tony Torrence)

The surface bite on the Willamette had slowed down in August for some reason, hope that changes soon.  However, I took my son in law Shaun on a float on a sunday in late August and he hooked two steelhead on wets on a dryline.  One was on a #2 Yogi (Keith's fly) and the other was on a #2 peacock bodied green butt skunk given to me by a guy Stephan from Germany that I met in BC in 1999.  The one steelhead was brought to hand, then it slipped out of Shaun's hands, swam between his legs and broke off.

The other one got off due to Shaun's new Echo Ion reel jamming.  Shaun had also just bought one of the Cabela's TLR switches for $80, the 11'6" 7wt and broke it in nicely.  I also bought the same rod the week prior, so now I have two 80 dollar Cabela's rods.

In the latter part of August into September, I continued with trips to the North Umpqua, often on solo ventures.  During one of these trips,  I ended up going over on a  thursday evening.  I fished a favorite run until dark.  Right in the sweet spot, a steelie explodes at my skater and misses.  Same cast, nothing.  Changed to a smaller GB skater, shortened up a few strips and when I worked back out to the same cast  length, the fish explodes at the mini skater and misses again.  Same cast, no comeback.  I changed to one of Mike Papais's flies, the undertaker.  Shortened up and again, at an "8 strip" cast, I feel a good yank at the fly but no hookup.  I was bummed figuring that the fish either felt the hook on the grab or felt the resistance on the other end.  Ah well, I cast again and as the fly came out of the chop, yank,..... fish on.......  At first the fish kind of did some short runs and came right in and when it got in close, it started to get serious about putting up more resistance.  Just as I was starting to think about things like how I was going to beach the fish and imagining a photo of a steelhead with Mike's fly in it's mouth, the hook pulled out.  Turns out the steelhead actually bent the hook on Mike's fly!  I think Mike's fly was so juicy that the steelhead really chomped down hard on it. A bad word may have came out of my mouth, not sure, no one else was around, but I was actually happy that I encountered what I assumed was a steelhead within my first 20 minutes of the trip.

(Mike's Undertaker was so juicy, a steelhead chewed it up and bent the hook)
I grabbed a campspot since Wendi said she might come over friday eve.  It was nice to have a break from sleeping in my car.  I pitched my tent in the dark and cooked a quick gourmet dinner of a pair of brats.

The next day, I fished several favorite runs and discovered a couple new spots.  It seems exploring is sometimes worthwhile and gives a break from fishing the same old places.  Nice day, no fish.

The following morning, I made a quick couple passes through a favorite run before heading back to help at a church event.  No morning steel materialized.   I ended up doing some pruning work the day before during mid day.  I went back down to a favored run, tied my pruning saw to a stick and cut down and pulled down some of those annoying branches that keep catching our lines/rods when we forget to make a low, sidearm cast.  Folks may appreciate my manicuring next time down there.

On the day before leaving for my trip to BC, a morning's fishing proved uneventful, but with the longer shadows with fall approaching, I was still able to find a pool with a bit of shade remaining at noon.  I was daydreaming when I heard a rise as my fly come into the bottom half of it's swing.  Turns out the rise was to my fly!  A little hen was pulling against my vintage glass rod with my Green Butt foam skater in it's mouth.  I landed this little beauty and measured in at about 21".