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Monday, May 18, 2015

Trout Skating Binge

With the unusual winter we have had and with the numbers of steelhead coming over Willamette Falls being so small, I have been on an extended bender of trout fishing this spring.  Typically, soon after winter steelhead season ends, there is sufficient numbers of steelhead coming over the falls to stir my little brain with thoughts like "it's possible, it could happen!"  I have caught a summer run as early as mid April a few years ago, but chances for success are small in the beginning of the summer season.

This year has been especially grim, with only 978 steelhead over Willamette Falls at the time of this writing and that number gets divided between four rivers - the North Santiam, South Santiam, McKenzie, and upper Willamette/MF Willamette here in Eugene/Springfield.

With such poor chances at an early steelhead, I've resorted to trout fishing, but I've still been seeking to do it "my way".  That is, by fishing miniature versions of my foam skaters on a twitched swing, just like I'd fish for steelhead, but on a smaller scale.
McKenzie Green Caddis Skater, #10

I wrote of my early experiments with skating for trout last month and I experienced some early success, which was encouraging.  I've continued my exploration with trout skating by tying smaller skaters dedicated for trout fishing and I devised a version of my foam skater in a McKenzie Green Caddis color scheme.  I tie this fly on a little #10 Mustad 9671 (2xl) hook.  I happened to have a small stock of these hooks that i purchased when I was visiting Montana over 10 years ago.  We had stopped at a Walmart (I think in Bozeman) and they had packages of 25 hooks on sale for a quarter each, which means I probably have a 100 or so of these hooks on hand (again, pack rat syndrome).

I've been fishing the McKenzie and MF Willamette with my miniature skaters and have been having a great time bringing trout to the surface.  Some of our local cutthroat, planter rainbows, and hatchery steelhead smolts have been eagerly attacking my newest foam creation.

On my recent trips to the McKenzie, I have been hoping to get into some of the river's redside rainbows, the McKenzie's famed native trout.  When I was out last sunday evening, I was in the midst of raising and hooking planter rainbows when a quick, snappy rise was followed by a surface explosion and a broadsided rainbow stripe as a reside attacked my little skater.  My line quickly tightened on the rise, then my rod bounced back as the fly came out of the fish's mouth.  After a quick rush of adrenaline, I started to wonder if I should be setting up on these trout with their quicker rises rather than waiting for the fish to turn like I do with steelhead.

On a float down the McKenzie this past thursday, along with planters and smolts, I managed to raise several redsides to my skater, one which looked to be of good size in pool near the takeout, but solid hookups were elusive.

While floating the McKenzie with my friend Craig Coover this past saturday, the usual rainbow planters made their appearances to my skaters and as usual, I questioned to myself why in the world ODFW thinks a blue ribbon river like the McKenzie needs to be planted with hatchery trout.  I do my part and harvest as many of these mutants as I can.

In a pool that we came to where my other friend David Bayles saw one of the 978 steelhead roll on thursday, I anchored the boat and Craig and I decided to give this pool a good going over.  I took the head of the run and Craig took the lower section.  As I got into the upper third of the run, I encountered more planters, then a larger rise came and the distinct rainbow stripe told me that a nice redside came up for my little green skater.  This fish managed to get hooked solidly and I succeeded in getting this chunky little fighter to the beach for a quick photo and to celebrate my first redside landed on my foam creation.
McKenzie Redside with Skater in mouth

As I continued down, another nice reside came up with a quick rise, but escaped the point of my hook.  A few more planters appeared before the end of the day and I ended up harvesting a couple of them for dinner and to get them out of the system.  These stocked trout are planted only as low as the Hendrick's bridge but manage to get washed miles down river so they are often encountered in the lower sections of our floats.

My prolonged foray with trout fishing this year as also prompted further experiments with my trout tackle.  I really love the Wulff Ambush lines for single hand spey casting, but I have not been able to afford the $80 a piece price tag to match my 9' 4wt and 9' 5wt rods so I've been making do with what I have on hand.

I've tried uplining my trout rods 2 line weights with good results.  I've fished my 4wt with a WF6F Cortland 333 line and I've set up my 5wt with a SA Mastery Bass bug taper in 7wt.  This uplining by two has made it much easier and pleasurable to spey cast my trout rods with my little foam skaters.

I also feel that these outfits will serve well enough as "crossover" setups in the unlikely event an early steelhead appears and wants a small skater.  I've landed steelhead with ease on the 9' 4wt before and I tend to fight steelhead aggressively with the lighter  outfits and have had no problems landing them this way.  I was inspired by Frank Amato's articles in Salmont Trout Steelheader magazine on using 4wts on the Deschutes back in the late 80's.  Since my local steelhead are primarily of hatchery origin anyway, I can use my light tackle with a clear conscience.

I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to try skating for trout during the Salmonfly hatch on the Deschutes a couple weeks ago.  I had planned my first return trip to the D in several years and my plans happily coincided with a trip that Mia and Marty Sheppard were planning as well so we got together for a weekend of fishing and camping on this wonderful high desert treasure.

I am thankful to Marty Sheppard and Mia Flora Sheppard for a great time on the water. It was so awesome to see them again and to be able to hang out with both of them, their daughter Tegan and thier dog Cedar. I was also able to meet thier friend Curtis Cisznek, a pro snowboarder and talented young fly fisher from Bend.

My "skating for redsides during the salmonfly hatch" experiment was largely unsuccessful aside from a few rises and one hard grab. It took dead drifting an old school yellow stimulator to finally bring a legitimate redside to hand, but I was so blessed to experience such a beautiful place with the Sheppards. My heart was filled with gratitude for the Sheppards's kindness - they made my long awaited return trip to the D a memorable one!

Their 7 year old daughter Tegan says to me: "My daddy's beard is whiter than yours......" Considering that I have 10 years on Marty, that makes Tegan my new best friend! She also played a tough game of "war" (the card game).

Tegan feeling the evening chill

Marty and I talked a lot about fishing, his and Mia's guiding lives, and how we are both profoundly influenced by Bill McMillan.  An interesting thing I took away from chatting with Marty is his affinity for very small flies for early return steel on the D.  He likes 8's and even #10s, dry or wet!  When I showed my little #10 trout skater to Marty, he said "I'd fish that for steelhead".

I've been pondering what Marty was talking about with preferring small skaters... so of course, I'll be busy tying more 8's and 10's!  I'll be sure to put some in the mail for Marty, before his skater season starts!

Marty at the Helm

High Desert Paradise

Cedar taking in the view

Morning in Trout Camp

A Woman's Best Friend

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