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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Purely Functional Skater (aka Little Wang) Step by Step

I started tying the first versions of my current skater in the fall of 2012 and I've been honored and humbled that there are folks out there that like my pattern and have asked for step by step tying instructions for it.  I apologize to those who have waited on me for so long - I'm such a steelhead fanatic that every spare moment of my time is spent taking advantage of those windows of opportunity to fish so it is only now that I have finally gotten around to putting this together.   I also apologize that this is coming out after the summar/fall skating season has ended for most of us.  This "tweener" time between summer steel and winter steel, has finally given me some forced down time from fishing to keep my word on finally getting this step by step done.  Hopefully, folks can start tying their supply of skaters for next summer!

My Pentax point and shoot sucks and with it's built in flash and not being able to utilize natural outdoor lighting, the photos exhibit harsh contrast, annoying shadows, and hot spots, but I hope they will suffice for now to get the tying steps across.

My skater was born out of the necessities of of pure function, so efforts to create a pattern that stays on top and has good visibility were the key goals in it's conceptualization.  Over time, the pattern continues to evolve and I continue to tinker with colors, visibility posts, flash, etc.  This pattern is one that lends itself to many color combos, but I'll just use the purple/black/green butt version in this SBS.

Materials list:

hook:  Mustad R73 (9671 equivalent), 2xl streamer hook.  The Tiemco 5262 or other similar hook can be substituted.  I most frequently use size 6's and 4's.

tail:  Moose body

thread (rear half):  white 3/0

Flash:  purple holographic flashabou, over tail and cross wrapped up front

butt:  florescent green floss, use a single strand

tinsel:  Lagurtan fine oval silver

body:  purple globrite floss

Foam shellback/lip:  pink 2mm foam, cut into a tapered piece approx 1" x 3/8" x 3/16"

Flash ball:  Large purple cactus chenielle (distributed by Hareline)

Thread (front half):  140 denier black gelspun, for strength in tying down the elk hair wing

Wing:  Black Cow Elk, select a patch with as straight hairs as you can find.  Too much curvature in the hair makes tying down difficult.

Rear facing visibility post:  yellow 2mm foam, cut into a rectangular piece about 3/8" x 3/4".  Cut a V into one side.

Front facing visibility post:  orange 2mm foam, cut to approximately 3/16" x 1/8" x 7/8"

This is not a difficult fly to tie, but it is labor intensive, so be patient in learning to tie it.  Even when I'm on a roll, I can take 20-30 minutes to tie each one.

So here we go - hope you have fun with this one and even get to experience seeing it disappear in a surface steelhead attack sometime!

Materials laid out

I start by flattening the barb and putting a slight dropping bend in the hook using needle nose pliers. 

Putting the bend in the shank is probably not a big deal, just appeals to my sense of aesthetics

Start the white 3/0 on the rear half of the hook.  Wrap until even with the barb of the hook.  This marks the body proportions I use on this fly.

Stack a small bunch of moose body, measure so that the overall length of the tail is equal to or slightly longer than the body length.  Trim butts even at the mid body point.  I also take a couple loose wraps around the base of the moose, at the rear of the fly, just to help keep the tail fibers gathered together

Add four strands of holographic flashabou on each side of the tail if desired.  Trim even with the tips of the tail.

Tie in the butt using one strand of floss.  Tie the floss down until it is a bit short of the tail.  Wind the floss to the tail and then back onto itself making sure the floss covers the white thread underneath.  This is the purpose of using white thread here, to give the floss a bright underbody.  A minor detail, but who knows, it might make a difference.

Tie in tinsel rib

Tie in two strands of purple floss in front of the rear body section.

Wind the floss to the butt then wind forward, being sure to cover the white thread, tie down.  As you can see, I left a bit of white thread showing, but I'm not too much of a perfectionist so will let it slide and hope the steelhead don't care too much.

Wind the tinsel forward.  I like to make 5 wraps for some strange reason.  tie down securely.

Cut a tapered piece of pink foam about yey big.  (This piece is 1" x 3/16" x 3/8").  This size works for both size 4s and 6s and will ultimately be trimmed in the end.

Tie pink foam in by the tip.

Tie in the the cactus chenielle by it's core, right in front of the foam.

Take three tight wraps, tie off.

Cross wrap 8 strands of purple holographic flashabou in front of the cactus chenielle.

Pull up on the flashabou and cut to even them out.

Cut a clump of black cow elk about yey big, Remove fluff and guard hair and even tips in a large hair stacker, set aside.

Tie off the white thread and start the black gelspun to facilitate tying down the elk.  Wind the gelspun back until it is right in front of the cross wrapped flashabou.

Carefully gather the black cow elk from the hair stacker.  Holding the clump in the right hand, evenly distribute the hair around the perimeter of the hook, making sure there is roughly an equal amount of hair on top and bottom.  Measure the hair so the tips are even with the bend of the hook as seen above.

Carefully transfer holding of the hair by the tips to the left hand, being sure to also gather the flash as well.  Take the thread and make a couple soft wraps around the hair and slowly tighten down with firm pressure.  The object is to flare the hair in place, not to spin the hair around the shank.  Make another wrap or two at most to secure the hair down.  DO NOT LET GO OF THE TIPS OF THE HAIR WITH THE LEFT HAND AT THIS POINT.  KEEPING A HOLD OF THE TIPS SERVES AS A GUARD WHEN THE BUTTS ARE TRIMMED IN THE NEXT STEP BELOW.

While still holding on the the tips of the elk with the left hand, grab your scissors and roughly trim the butts of the elk down.

At this point, snug down on the gelspun a bit more, push back on the trimmed butts, work the tread to the front of the butts and make a few wraps behind the eye of the hook.  Trim the butts very short/flush and the hair on the bottom can be trimmed flat at this point as well.

Evenly part the top section of hair with the closed tip of your scissors to allow the pink foam to be brought through.

I make an upward facing pinch in the pink foam and make a couple soft wraps and slowly tighten down.  Be careful not to apply too much pressure or the thread will cut through the foam.

Cut a piece of yellow 2mm foam 3/8" x 3/4" for the rear facing visibility post.

Cut a V into half of this foam piece.

Upward pinch on the yellow foam before tie down.

Tie down with 2-3 wraps, tighen slowly, again careful not to apply too much pressure. 

Cut a piece of orange 2mm foam for the front facing visibility post.  I cut this one to approximately 1/8" x 3/16" x 7/8"

Tie the orange foam down with the wider side on the bottom, 2-3 wraps as seen above.

Work your thread under the fly and around just the eye of the hook, make a couple wraps.

This part may be a bit tricky for some - At this point, hold the foam back while making a whip finish, then follow up with making a second whip finish around the first one to secure everything.  Since head cement would not hold very well to gelspun, I have resorted to this double whip finish routine.  I typically do the whip finishes manually without a tool, but I have been able to use a whip finish tool as well, it's just a bit clumsier.

Cut off the gelspun close to the eye.  This is what fly looks like at this point, the foam lip still needs a trim.  You'll note that some white thread is showing.  I could have afforded to have pushed the elk wing closer to the chenielle when I tied it down.  Again, I'm not a perfectionist and am not about to tear this fly apart as I don't think Mr. Steelhead will mind.  It's all about pure function!

Foam lip trimmed, this about what I like it to look like.

Side view

Top view - BC here I come!  Oh darn, that's next fall....

Other flavors - black/blue, purple/black, green butt, October caddis, yellow/orange

A few extra flies

I have been finding that the orange/yellow color combination for the visibility posts are probably the most easily seen under varied conditions.

I hope this SBS may help ease us into the winter season!  Please feel free to comment with any questions or ideas you may have regarding my weird fly!

Wishing you all a blessed Thanksgiving and holiday season,


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Surface Steel: A Blessing And A Curse

By Adrian Cortes

A short story for you gents that may be mildly entertaining (emailed previously to a steelhead circle of friends). That September trip to BC, as beautiful and meaningful as it was, has left me with this cursed void that is seemingly filled only with the crash of a surface steelhead. Having our Todd Hirano report on his successes raising fish on the Willamette has fed to this laser-like focus of begging these steelhead to come up to my offerings. When I'm stuck close to home, the Clackamas has been my reluctant acquaintance to somehow share her summer hatchery fish to a surface angler.

To be perfectly honest, if it wasn't for Todd's encouragements I would have limited confidence in raising hatchery brats to dries. However, having the BC steelhead freshly imprinted in my mind, what could I lose by skating on the Clack? Preaching to myself the self-justification of already knowing the feel of a wet fly "take" on a Clackamas steelhead, I had to raise the bar with the surface hatchery steelhead challenge ("had" being the operative word because I used up my "multi-day fishing passes" that my wife in her limited generosity handed out. I would rather angle wilder anadromous rivers if given the opportunity).

With the wonders of Autumn in the air, it was time to fish the local river (which was now devoid of the summer's rubber hatch fiasco). It wasn't long before I raised steelhead on my home river. Surprisingly, I raised quite a few steelhead, but only one had connected to a Red Sparkle Green Butt Little Wang...and on the last cast of the session. A nice hen that put up a spirited fight in fast water. She was disposed of properly and enjoyed by the local church pastor who had time to prepare the fish.
With the immediate action that I encountered on the surface, I asked myself: Why can't I be like Todd and fish on workdays after my shift? (I work night shifts in the hospital). I could spare 2-3 hours before I crashed to bed in preparation for the next shift. So that's what I've started to do on certain days. This surface fish action is quite an addiction. Truth be told, frustration reared its ugly head...not because I didn't raise fish, but because these hatchery steelhead would slash on my fly and would miss the hook never to come back. Bulging wakes, splashy rises, chasing down the fly...but there it was: my fly continuing to bob on the surface...unmolested.

To my chagrin, a local angler whom I met last year, swinging the opposite bank with a wetfly of his own design went 3 for 5 in nearly the same amount of time I was on the river. Another man's success tempting me to ditch my personal challenge. And yes, I tried the comeback techniques with no success. As inspiring as was Todd's 5-fly-comeback steelhead in BC, a guy can only change flies so often before he's down to his leader butt or left to his last strand of patience. I made the false assumption that these Clackamas brats, while moving to a dry fly, will not come back if they miss...pure laziness. Or so, I thought. 

These hauntings bugged me throughout the work week. Yesterday, viewing the river levels after the rains we had 2 days ago, I thought "It's perfect". Off I went to the river soon after arriving home from work. No time for the cane rod on these brief jaunts...I had to make use of every available minute afforded to me and taping up the cane/breaking it down would not be ideal. A plastic rod (no offense for I respectfully jest to my peers) paired with a semi-vintage Hardy's St. John winch will suffice. Pulling in to my destination 12 minutes away, I first swung the tertiary and secondary holding areas with nary a look from steel. Dean Finnerty's Steelhead Skater that Todd gave me was the fly of choice. Wading across mid-river to the primary lies, I noticed a brighter hen steelhead actively working the current...the snafu: she was above where I had waded in. Drats. I had to see if she would play with an upstream dead-drift cast. With the same Finnerty's Skater, I cast upstream above that steelhead and she actually moved up to look at the fly with some interest! But I quit after that...I was in no shape to mess around on that faster flow of water...especially after being up all night working a shift.

Carrying on with the same skater, I covered all the primary lies with nothing to show. Man, was I bummed. It was perfect as far as conditions go. I only had less than an hour left. Dare I fish a wet? Reluctantly, I opened up the Wheatley Box (that I purchased from Keith) loaded with Atlantic Salmon wetflies. Kelson's Black Jay caught my fancy. The line was lengthened covering the same primary lie and I felt a quick yank in the nice slow swing. "That was steelhead", I thought to myself. I recast after the hangdown. Same amount of line, same swing arc and...Viola...same fish.  This time he took solid and acted out the usual acrobatics that frightened steelhead tend to portray in tailouts.

​Now, I'm not being an ingrate (or maybe I am), but it was at this moment while fighting this angry buck that I wished he had grabbed a surface fly; or that at least he was bending a cane rod. There's that curse...what is wrong with me? The fish was caught proper on a dryline with a vintage wetfly pattern - fighting quite well for a hatchery fish. Interestingly, there I questioned the whole event...glancing at my watch, unsatisfied, and contemplating do I have enough time to tie on a skater?

The curse.

A Black and Blue Little Wang found its way to my tippet and calmly twitched through the same tailout. When it got to the hot zone, a steelhead showed itself and bulged across at the fly without breaking the surface tension of the water. Am I to be hosed again with these "One-time Charlies"? The hangdown came soon enough without any activity. Shortened casts and recasts with the same fly produced nothing. Minutes left to spare, I pulled out my new favorite...the Greaseliner.
You know that feeling, gents. That indescribable knowing of a fool-proof plan. For me the combination of the fish showing itself to the Little Wang, the perfect weather, and the Greaseliner as the comeback was gonna seal the deal. Forgive me for this (for I was born in the 70s with a childhood in the 80s and I know Harry Lemire would probably be shaking his head at the following actions), but I turned my point-and-shoot camera on and excitedly adjusted it to the video setting. The digital display flashed 47 seconds left to film on the SD card. Now or never, Mr. Surface Steelhead. I just knew....

...First cast, same lie, filming with one hand, rod in the other...quiet hangdown. Lengthened one strip...cast, fumbling the camera back out of my waders, rod in the other hand employing the skating twitch...and boy, I giggled on the inside. I have attached the video clip (hope it works for you, if not let me know) and while it is no GoPro-steelhead-guide-surface-grab on the famed North Umpqua, it was quite a hoot for me.

Dry Fly Comeback Steelhead Eat from Adrian Cortes on Vimeo.

The fish were dispatched properly and filleted for friends. I bring back memories for myself so I can sit through another grueling shift in the hospital, but this time with a smirk in my head.
Thanks for bearing with me on this long if I could only get them to crash my fly like they crash Steve Turner's flies...

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Dropping the Rod

I've gone through various phases in the course of my journey with surface steelheading.  Needless to say, my surface flies have continually evolved over time and I think will always continue to change as I am always tinkering with ways to make a better mouse trap.  Another aspect of my surface steelheading that has continued to evolve is my technique of hooking into the rare steelhead that I have managed to raise to a surface fly.

In the beginning of my surface steelheading journey (early to mid 1990s), due to my inexperience, I just concentrated on being able to do nothing when a rising steelhead finally came to the surface.  I would hold my rod at a fairly low angle while making "straight" swings (ie., the days before "twitching" became fashionable).   I actually managed to hook and land my first 6 surface steelhead in BC in 1995, by just "doing nothing" on the rise.

I probably continued the "do nothing" routine until about 2006, when I read Dec Hogan's book "A Passion for Steelhead".  Dec described holding a 30-36" loop of line during the swing and letting the steelhead pull this loop out before sweeping or lifting the rod.  I used this method until maybe 2010.  I can't really say that I experienced having a steelhead pull the loop out very many times as some steelhead don't immediately turn.  I wasn't really sure if this method was helping my hooking/landing percentages so I went back to the "do nothing" routine where I would not hold a loop and just held the line to cork whether fishing wet or dry.

 From 2010 until just recently, the "do nothing" routine seemed to be serving me well enough.  However, over the course of the past summer and fall steelheading season, I have been extremely blessed to have been able to experience some of my best surface steelhead fishing to date.  It didn't hurt that a trip to BC was in the mix.  However, I've also had better than average surface fishing on my homewaters in Oregon.

After returning from our trip to BC, both Adrian and I have both had some periods of great surface steelheading on our respective homewaters and it's been fun having emails going back and forth as we each found surface steelheading bliss to help ease our withdrawls from BC.

I have been fortunate to have some local water that, at times, can provide some predictable surface activity from the local anadromous inhabitants.  On one of the runs I fish, I noted certain specific lies that tended to hold steelhead that would kindly oblige to attacking pieces of foam swinging overhead.

In one of my prior posts, the one about the "Wild" Willamette steelhead, this was a steelhead that was aggressive enough to come back to the fly multiple times.  It was while fishing over that fish that Bill McMillan's writings about giving slack or dropping the rod to a rising steelhead  came back to mind.  Since I had the location of that steelhead pegged because of it's repeated rises, I knew where I could expect another rise to come so I was able to prepare to drop a loop of line to the steelhead on the next rise.  On the following cast, the steelhead obliged and dropping the loop of line resulted in a solid hookup and a landed steelhead.

During a subsequent outing, I managed to raise another steelhead to one of my foam skaters that I missed.  On the comeback attempt, I ended up using one of Adrian's Greaseliners that he tied during our BC trip.  This time, when the Greaseliner came back into the strike zone, I had my rod held high and nearly vertical.  I planned to drop the rod if a strike were to come.....  The steelhead came back on cue with a quick, bulging rise and my response was timed where I dropped the rod just after seeing the rise.  I didn't immediately feel weight so I slowly swept the rod to the bank and the fish was on.  The result:  another steelhead hooked and landed with the help of immediate slack given on the rise.

I wondered if I could manage to drop the rod on a steelhead on it's initial appearance so I continued with the habit of  holding the rod tip high with a vertical or near vertical orientation during the swing.  Of course, now that Ive been prepared to drop the rod on the rise, the local surface fishing slowed down for some unknown reason.....  After what seemed like an eternity, and several skunky outings, a steelhead responded to my "experiment".  In the middle of my favorite run, a steelhead come up with a "jack in the box" type of rise and I managed to drop the rod just after the appearance of my favorite fish.  I didn't immediately feel weight so I slowly swept the rod to the bank and it was fish on.  Another hatchery steelhead hooked, landed, and bonked.

So far, it's 3 for 3 with giving slack/dropping the rod on the rise.  While this is a very small sample, I realize that I should have listened to Bill McMillan's writing a long time ago!  I'm praying that I'll have another opportunity or two to "practice" my newly learned surface steelhead hooking technique before winter weather blows out my local ditch.

Now that I am practicing the "dropping the rod routine", I'm wondering how many more steelhead I could have gained a solid hook hold on.  I'm thinking of those steelhead locally and in BC that have come back to the skater repeatedly and "missed", that I could have hooked into more efficiently by dropping the rod on the rise.  I remember in my initial communications with Bill McMillan (nearly 20 years ago) about hooking into surface steelhead, that he mentioned his opinion that the vast majority of steelhead rises involve steelhead fully intending to take the fly and that "misses" are usually our fault for not providing immediate slack on the strike (actually our miss, not the steelhead's).  I guess I'm a very slow learner!

Although hooking into more steelhead "sooner", ie., hooking up on the initial rise or on the next follow up rise sounds great, I have to say that seeing steelhead come back to a skater repeatedly is a lot of fun!  Keeping the line tight throughout the swing often accomplishes having steelhead "miss" the fly and coming back after it.  On one hand, I'd like to be more successful at hooking and landing steelhead, but seeing those repeated rises is hard to give up.  For now, I'll see if I can get better at hooking into the surface steelhead I do encounter and maybe have a more informed opinion in the matter after a just a few more hookups!
Dropping the Rod did this guy in.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Returning to Steelhead Paradise Part 3 - Loaded Runs

Day 2:

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!

Paradise Found
 As we rounded a corner, we eyed a great looking run as we floated down.  I think all three of us were thinking "this looks good, should we fish it??"  We were not far from the launch and had tons of water to cover, but again, my impulsive side came through as I asked Steve to pull in so we could give this spot a shot.  Luckily my request came just in time for us to pull in at the lower section of this run before we would have had to pass it up.

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!!

Adrian concludes:

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

Day 3

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.

At the very first run, a nice long one, Adrian briefly got a hook up on his greaseliner.  This is such a gorgeous run that fishes a skater so nicely that I couldn't believe that I couldn't raise a steelhead through there.  Steve came up empty as well.
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
Keeping an eye on the prize.  Photo by Steve Turner
Waiting.....  photo by Steve Turner

Day 4:

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
Our game plan was to cover water more quickly so we took off for "Treasure Island", the name we gave to the run where Steve and Adrian had all the action a couple days ago.  Adrian raised a fish on a greaseliner, hooked up and nearly landed it before the hook pulled out.  No other action here, but Steve and I saw a cow moose and  her calf cross the river and walk up the bank.

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
We continued down and fished another promising looking run that started at a slight bend in the river.  I started at the bouncy top section and was loving that water.  Adrian continued around the corner into this huge, wide, soft glide.  I could see that he was "feeling it" with the water he was fishing and he waved me over to come join him.  As I got around the corner to start in above him, Adrian hooked up on his greaseliner.  After several good runs and a scrappy tug of war, that fish got off.

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.
Wearing out the leading on the Dingley by fighting surface steelhead photo IMGP0089_zps9d583842.jpg
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
When I made my way down to the boat, we compared notes and Adrian informed that he raised a steelhead down low in the run.

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
Green Highlander
Underwater shot of Adrian's Greenhighlander - irresistible!  Photo by Adrian Cortes
We hit a couple more spots new to us then we hit the "Treasure Island" run.  I decided to try the other channel.  When I was done and got back around, I found out that Adrian hooked and landed a nice buck up high in the run on a prototype fly we had named the "freebird".
Steelhead on the freebird.  Photo by Steve Turner

The release.  Photo by Steve Turner

Take that, evil human!  Photo by Steve Turner
The story on the "freebird":  On the evening of day 3, I had been at the vise tying up more of my foam skaters and Adrian started making "tying requests" such as "hey, can you tie a Wang, but with out foam??".  Huh??  How do I tie a foam skater without foam??  What Adrian conceptualized ended up being somewhat of a merging of the little wang with the greaseliner.  The fly ended up with natural Elk tied in front of the black elk and a topping of white skunk hair for visibility.  I am continuing to tinker with the design of this fly and am close to being satisfied with the version I have recently come up with.  The name "freebird" came to mind for the fly because as I sat there with Adrian making "tying requests", it reminded me of my days as a drummer in club bands in the late 80's and it seemed that the most requested song from our typically drunken (no, Adrian wasn't drunk) audiences was "freebird" by Lynrd Skynrd.
Freebird prototypes.  Photo by Adrian Cortes
 We finished off the trip at the long glide that produced my most memorable comback steelhead the day before.  We confidently got into our positions with much anticipation as this had been among the "loaded" runs we had encountered.  We fished as determined as ever as we knew this was our "swan song".  I approached the gentle rippled spot that produced my comback episode and nothing happened.  Adrian fished his hot zone with no result.  Steve fished his sweet spot down low with no response.  As we reeled up and gathered at the boat, we reflected on the most perfect and blessed trip that could only have been orchestrated by our God, the creator of the universe, and to Him be the Glory!
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.

My setups:
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