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Sunday, August 30, 2015

One Timers

Fisherman's Log:  Sunday, August 30, 2015.
Conditions:  Overcast/drizzle
Water Temp:  58 degrees
Species:  Summer Steelhead
Location:  Favorite Oregon River
Method:  Skating Foam Flies
Equipment:  11' 6wt Cabela's TLr, Hardy 3 7/8 perfect, 360gr Airflo Rage, Hand tied Maxima Leader, #4 Chartreuse/Purple wang skater.

I've been getting out regularly after summer steelhead since early June.  While it's always great to be out on the water and taking in the beauty where our favorite gamefish draws us to, the fact remains that I've been having a tough summer season.

With Wendi's weekend plans coinciding with mine, we were able to arrange for our schedules to allow us to both get out to enjoy the respective things that we love - bingo for Wendi and steelheading for me.  It turned out that I was I able to hit the water friday, saturday and today.

I drew my typical blank days on friday and saturday, but things changed a bit today.  I was optimistic with the overcast and drizzly weather as fall is now in view, but my optimism was tempered by the reality of the skunkitis I can't seem to shake off.

I decided to fish runs that I have not been hiting lately as I have gotten into a rut of fishing the same water, even when this strategy has not produced.  I got to a promising run before first light and I sat in my car and dozed off for a few minutes as I waited for daylight.  As I sat there, I pondered over how it seems that the days get shorter more quickly than I realize during this time of year and maybe I don't have to get up so darn early anymore.

I was woken as a car sped by and I idly wondered if that was another fisherman heading to another promising run.  When there was enough light to see in the overcast morning, I lazily got into my waders and gathered the stuff I'd need for the day's fishing:  rod/reel, box of skaters, wheatly clip box containing wet flies gifted to me by friends (or OPs - flies from "other people"),  waterproof point and shoot camera, cell phone.  The box of wet flies is brought along just in case I ever raise a steelhead and need a little sparse wet fly on the "comeback".

The first run fished beautifully in the dim light of dawn.  I was reminded of how nicely this piece of water swings a fly and I also remembered a few years ago, when I stopped my friend Terry Robinson off to fish this spot while I fished a run above and when I returned to pick Terry up, he told me the story of a steelhead that almost pulled his rod out of his hand when it came up for his skater.

I started in the smooth upper section of the run and felt anticipation as I neared the area of Terry's episode of almost loosing his rod to an angry steelhead.  I fished to the bottom of the run and while I was able to get some decent cackhanded single speys out and some nice swings, no steelhead were impressed.

I briefly fished a couple pools upstream, then worked my way downstream over the course of the day.  When I stopped at the pullout of an obscure run that is a bushwhack, downhill slog for one casting station deal, I realized the effects of drinking coffee on my digestive system and decided to head for another spot where an outhouse is close by.  I figured if the runs by said outhouse were open by the time I got done with my "paperwork", I'd fish them.

I got my paperwork assignment done and went out to hit the near-by runs that were open.  These runs had surely been fished earlier in the morning, but on a day like this, you never know when new fish may move in, so I fished the first run with all the confidence a hard luck steelheader could muster.

This pool is a well known producer, but it has yet to produce as much as a single definitive steelhead rise for me.  I worked by way down to the very bottom of this juicy tailout and an unmistakable bulge of water appeared at my fly as a steelhead rolled at my skater.  While the steelhead didn't actually try to take my fly and I didn't get a clear view of the fish, the nature and amount of water displaced on the rise left me confident  that it was not a trout.  I went into "comeback mode":  made the same cast - 0, shorted up, tied on a riffle hitched greaseliner - 0, shorted up, tied on a smaller green/purple skater - 0, shorted up, tied on a small, sparse riffle hitched wet  - 0!!  I went back through with the skater I started with, still nothing, so I finally moved on after giving that fish the best comeback effort I could.

I fished the other runs downstream and came up empty so I drove back to the run I had planned to fish when nature called.  Not surprisingly, it was still open so I took the usual treacherous decent down the bank and slogged my way to the single casting station.    I have raised and hooked into steelhead in this spot before, but I can't say it has given me any consistency.  It has given up rewards often enough to be worth the occasional visit and today was the day, since I haven't been down here in awhile.

I worked my Rage head out and for some reason, found myself using compact double speys rather than my typical cackhanded single speys.  I didn't seem to remember the huge boulder upstream from me that made cackhanded singles difficult today.  I wondered if that boulder had recently fallen into the water or if I had been making adjustments with my casting and forgot having done so.

By the time I was casting the Rage head plus 8 strips of running line out, my fly was reaching near the far bank and I was getting into the "zone".  There is a submerged boulder alongside an exposed boulder where I have gotten rises before.  Apparantly, steelhead occasionally like to rest alongside that submered boulder.  As my skater swung towards the hot zone, a current caught the line and leader and accelerated the cross stream  swing of the fly.  In an instant, I saw the broadside rise of a buck steelhead of maybe 7 or 8lbs.  This steelhead still had some brightness to him with the rainbow stripe still a faint red.  I let the fly continue to swing past the exposed boulder in case my steelhead decided to follow the fly - it didn't.

I went through my comeback routine and same parade of fly changes with no results.  I was thrilled to encounter a second steelhead on this day, but very puzzled with the one time appearance of this fish.  I wondered what would cause these fish to only rise once.  Maybe they are on the move and no time for "seconds"??

With limited time remaining before having to stop fishing by the "2pm emergency closure" (thanks ODFW, but no lethal water temps around here since early July!!), I had a couple runs in mind to finish out the day.  The first of the two is a nice bouldery run with nice structure at the bottom.  As I approached the rocky structures in the bottom of this run, I braced for action as it seems that this is a day that steelhead are willing to rise and I was hopeful to find a steelhead that would actually eat my fly.  No such luck in this locale so I left for my "closer".

I had just over a half hour left to finish out the day at this last run.  I have hooked and landed steelhead in this often overlooked locale (including a hot, mid teens hen in Sept 2011), but I wondered if this year's low water has made it less appealing for steelhead to hold in.  As I got towards the bottom of this run, I watched for a dimple on the surface that seems to indicate some kind of bottom feature that has drawn rising steelhead to hold there in some of my happier moments.  I simultaneously watched for shoreline features that confirm that I am in the zone that I want to be in.

As I watched for the surface texture I was looking for and also surveying the landmarks on shore, I felt like I was starting to get past where I have raised steel in the past.  My skater was coming through the wake of water that signals the structure I've been watching for and the rise comes - a bulge of water at the fly, but no actual take.  I looked at my watch:  1:45pm.  It appeared that the steelhead followed the fly a few feet as I saw another more subtle bulge under the fly.  I let the fly swing all the way in and waited a couple seconds.

Since this steelhead appeared to have followed the fly after the initial rise, I was bracing for the grab on the next would have been nice, but no, it didn't happen.  Nor did it happen after I went back with a smaller skater, riffled grease liner and sparse, riffled green butt skunk (thanks to Tony Torrence).  By the time 2pm hit, I was still left with the question - "what da...".  I was hoping to close out the day with a bent rod, but raising 3 steelhead to the surface in day's fishing is nothing to complain about, God is Good!

The trill of raising steelhead to the surface is always worth all the time and effort it takes to make it happen.  It can be tough to keep the faith when there is no feedback from the prize we seek, but even during lean times, I try to maintain focus and consistency with my casting and presentation since these are things I do have some control over.

I am thankful for the feedback the steelhead gave me today because it is what I needed as I prepare to leave for BC with friends Adrian Cortes and Steve Turner this next coming weekend.  Consistent casting and presentation are always critical with surface steelheading and I look forward to the pleasant rhythm of skating for steelhead on the big, broad runs of BC rivers.

My favored vitange Perfect sitting on my $79.95 Cabela's TLR.

My chartruese/purple skaters and comeback flies


  1. Todd, that was a great read !!
    It inspires me even more to try to raise a steelhead this fall ....

  2. Thanks Mike!! Glad to hear you got some inspiration from my story to skate for steel this fall. I bet the time is quickly approaching. Best of luck and let me know how you do - looking forward to hearing your story!

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