|Back in Steelhead Paradise! Adrian Cortes photo|
Of course, the fun times that Steve, Adrian, and I had in BC last year produced a series of blog posts and I was blessed when Zack Williams, editor of e-mag Swing the Fly (coming in print soon!), approached me about having an edited version of our story published in Swing the Fly. The collaborative efforts which included my amateur writing (with excerpts by Adrian), Steve's and Adrian's beautiful photos and even a few of my photos made it to the pages of Swing the Fly. Zack did a great job of editing my ramblings and he was magical with the layout of the photos. It was quite the thrill and honor to see our story published.
The past year went by quickly, even considering our levels of anticipation to return to Skeena country. Last year's trip went so smoothly that Steve, Adrian, and I were able to establish ourselves as a "Steelhead Assault Unit" - a compatible group of fanatics who are able to travel together on a long road trip in pursuit of surface steel without getting on each other's nerves.
The chances of such compatibility seems rather remote when you think about it. A long road trip is the ultimate test of 3 individual steelheaders' ability to put up with each other in close quarters for a significant period of time. Annoying character flaws could come to the surface that could ruin a trip, but apparently I've done a good enough job of hiding the worst of mine (or at least Steve and Adrian haven't let on about how difficult I am to get along with). I had only met Steve last year and never went on a a road trip with either Steve or Adrian before, so they really took a gamble on me.
Speaking of character flaws, Adrian and I came clean right off about how we both snore terribly, just ask our wives, so we ended up sharing a room again (ummm, separate beds of course) so Steve could get some sleep. The strange thing is I never hear myself snore and I haven't heard Adrian snore so it could all be a hoax, this snoring thing. Otherwise, it really is a blessing how the three of us get along so well and we just thoroughly enjoy each others' company on the road and on the river. Our temperaments just mesh together so well and our days on the river are always easy and relaxed. I couldn't ask for a better set of travel companions for such a trip.
|Hotel room shared by snoring steelheaders. Adrian Cortes photo|
Our journey to BC last year allowed us to establish some routines so our plans for this year came off without a hitch with the exception that we made different arrangements for lodging. We again purchased our fishing licenses online, which is a great convenience. I realized my passport expired in May so I went into our local post office to purchase the cheaper passport card as I don't anticipate flying (rather than driving) to Canada anytime soon.
Anxious emails and facebook messages went back and forth among us as the day drew near for us to gather at Steve's home to travel north. Our plan again included a stop to visit Bill McMillan on the way and Bill graciously accepted our request to stop by to see him.
As I gathered my tackle and packed the Steelhead Taxi for the drive north, I pondered my game plan for this trip. My strategy would be to go with "big rods for big water". I decided to go back to my bigger two handers - my old Sage 9140-4 "brownie" and Sage 8136 IIIe. I'd be throwing 54' Delta Speys on these rods and I would be pairing the 9140 with a JW Young 1535 and the 8136 with a Hardy Marquis Salmon 2. While these setups are not as gigantic as what the Clearwater and Spey O Rama crowd use, I would at least be closer to matching my tackle to suit the water being fished.
I fished my Cabela's switch rods most of my trip last year and did fine, but another part of the reason for going back to the bigger rods was to celebrate several "firsts". This year is the 20th year since my first BC trip in 1995 and during that trip I got my first steelhead on a fly which was also my first steelhead on a dry fly and my first steelhead taken on a two handed rod - the 9140 brownie. This also marks 20 years since I've owned that old Sage 9140 brownie, and ownership of that rod spans the time on my clock as a two handed caster - I think I'm finally starting to get the hang of it! I was also hoping to get a "20 year steelhead" on the old, reliable 9140.
Adrian and I arrived at Steve's home as planned and we loaded into Steve's F150, again with Steve's beautiful Clackacraft in tow. As we made our way north on I-5 we realized that we were encountering the heavy traffic associated with a holiday weekend. It wasn't long before I was regretting the amount of coffee I drank on the way up as my bladder was telling me to plead with Steve for a pit stop at a restroom. As it turned out, there were no convenient exits with gas stations in the stretch we were crawling through, so I made due with a drainage ditch alongside one of the exits, ahhh what a relief!
We we were running about an hour behind schedule, but when I called Bill McMillan to let him know of our unexpected delay, he was still agreeable to accommodating our visit. We indeed arrived at Bill's home about an hour late as we had figured. After warm greetings, we sat with Bill in his den, the "Inner Sanctum" and got caught up with the latest steelhead talk. Adrian had been tying more classic Harry Lemire flies and he gifted Bill with a couple - a Thompson River Caddis and a Greaseliner. As Bill looked over Adrian's flies, Bill noted that Harry had given him some of his flies and Bill remarked that Adrian's greaseliner looked just the way Harry tied them. On a darker note, I offered Bill some of my latest "stinger wangs" and he smiled and accepted those too.
|Bill McMillan looking over and commenting on Adrian's Greaseliner. Todd Hirano photo|
We ended up continuing our visit on the beach looking out on Bill's home steelhead run on the mighty Skagit River. As we chatted pink salmon would periodically porpoise and splash. Talk also touched on the current situation with the wild winter steelhead run on the Skagit and current managment. Bill reminded of his belief that the current management is backwards in that the early winter season should be closed and the spring catch and release season should reopen. Bill explained that the above scenario would make more sense since the early return segment of wild Skagit winter steelhead is very small due to years of overharvest and intensive hatchery management, but the later return segment of the run is much healthier, in comparison, at this time.
A blessed time spent with Bill McMillan as we sat along his homewater:
|Adrian Cortes photo|
|Adrian Cortes photo|
|Steve Turner photo|
|Todd Hirano photo|
|Bill McMillan, a great friend, mentor and steelheading icon. Todd Hirano photo|
We got back on the road, survived the border crossing and spent nearly twenty continuous hours on the road as we swigged coffee, tied flies, and traded driving shifts as we traversed north past Vancouver and up the Frasier Valley.
|A midnight pit stop for gas, coffee, and taking a leak. Todd Hirano photo|
On day one, we floated one the the popular stretches, one that we went through on our first day last year as well. We stopped at familiar spots with great expectations. I started to get my casting ironed out with the longer rods/lines and when I was lucky, I'd even get a decent cast out every now and again. It felt good to see the "long" line roll out on the big runs we fished.
|Every now and then, I'd get a decent cast out|
Adrian Cortes photo
|We saw these beautiful creatures every day. This spectacular shot was taken by Steve Turner with his Nikon DSLR, 400mm f/4 and 1.7x teleconverter, right Steve??|
|Another beautiful shot by Steve Turner. Adrian firing line out with a spectacular fall BC backdrop.|
I walked down, taking the bottom third, Adrian took middle, and Steve took the top. I moved through quickly since this is a big. broad run where steelhead could be sitting just about anywhere. As I was starting to make my way down, a fellow in a pontoon was floating by and yelled over and asked me if I was fishing some foam skater that I had designed and I said yes and the fellow mentioned about meeting me on the North Umpqua at some point in the past - small world. Unfortunately, I didn't remember who the guy was.
|Steve making some great casts up high in the run. Todd Hirano photo|
|Fish on! Todd Hirano photo|
|Adrian validates the Thompson River Caddis. Todd Hirano photo|
|Headshot. Todd Hirano photo|
|Adrian's Thompson River Caddis. Adrian Cortes photo|
Adrian explained that he had been fishing a riffle hitched Thompson River Caddis and raised the steelhead but didn't hook it. Adrian then unhitched the "TRC" and went back through and the steelhead grabbed his fly in the film.
We continued through the float with no other action and with being near the end of our drift as we fished our last run, we were comfortable pulling into the take out close to dark.
We spent our second day fishing through the float that was most productive for us last year. We stopped at all of the runs that were loaded during our prior trip. Our anticipation for surface grabs were high.....but we found none. The three of us did not raise a single steelhead this day.
|Misty morning awesomeness. Adrian working through prime real estate at first light. Todd Hirano photo|
|Steve and Adrian starting the day. Todd Hirano photo|
|Steve's custom engraved Hatch reel sitting on his Burkheimer. Photo by Adrian Cortes|
|Adrian captured this image of me with my favorite fly silhouetted against the river that has captivated my soul for the past 20 years. Adrian Cortes photo|
|Got Mud?? Leslie Flint photo|
|Going down the river. Leslie Flint photo|
|One of many beautiful runs strung together on this float. Adrian Cortes photo|
As we stopped at each run through this float, our hopes ran high with every piece of water looking so good. I fished my foam/hair creations with supreme confidence as I watched them skate though fishy looking seams throughout the day.
The day was uneventful, steelwise, until were about 3/4's of the way through the float. We came to a run with some nice structure in it as we noted boils formed by big boulders. Steve was coming through with a freshly tied muddler gifted to him by Mr. Cortes. Steve was also going "retro" on this trip as he was fishing an old school Sage 6126-3, Delta Spey line, and classy, brand new Hardy Taupo. Steve was fishing his muddler damp in the film when he got a solid grab halfway down the run with a great fish solidly hooked and running.
|Steve with a bruiser on the line. Todd Hirano photo|
|The end game of Steve's encounter with a crazy, angered steelie. Todd Hirano photo|
|A Toast to Steelhead Blessings!! Todd Hirano photo|
|Steve taking five after battling the hook straightening steelie, unwittingly getting photobombed by my foam skater to the left of him. Adrian Cortes photo|
On day four we again floated the "2014 loaded run" stretch of river. We had the chance to speak to the fellow we referred to as Jet Ski Ed that we ran into last year. We had chatted with him at his camper and found him to be an interesting, yet opinionated fellow. He talked of Echo and Sage rods as being "clubs" and that all one needs is a riffle hitched buck bug to catch steelhead on this river. However, Ed also generously gave tidbits of information on some of the runs we were about to fish and he spoke about fishing into the very bottom section of a run he described to us.
When we got to "Ed's run", we certainly found Ed's advice to be sound. The lower section of said run didn't look like much when we had passed by it in the past, but on this day, we put our lines in the water there and found the lower section to be very fishy. Unfortunately, we found out too late that we didn't fish the run far down enough. After we had fished as far down as we thought we should have, we got in the boat and continued floating through. As we floated past where we had stopped fishing, we noted several steelhead, including a nice big one, laying just above the lip of the tailout, in water we assumed to be too shallow to hold fish.....wrong!
|A guy can only take so much. When little branches start catching your D loop, it's time to bust out the pruning saw! Adrian Cortes photo|
|Ms. Vickies - chips of champions! There I go passing on the bad habit of eating junk food on fishing trips. Adrian Cortes photo|
|Greaseliner tied in-hand, streamside by Adrian Cortes. Steve Turner photo|
|Streamside fly tying jam session. Look at this guy's intensity - lighten up Adrian, it's just fishing! Steve Tuner photo|
As we were approaching the take out, we saw a group of anglers gathered on the bank alongside a large, walk in run. Just as we got past this group of anglers one of them yells out "Adrian??" We realized this was Peter Pettos and his friends. Pete is a steelheader/fly tyer from Ontario who has been communicating with Adrian via Instagram and Facebook. Also in the group was Larry Halyek, also of Ontario. Larry is a fellow I've communicated with through Speypages and Larry had contributed to my blog with a story on Dry Fly Steelheading in the Great Lakes. Also in this group was Allison Oliver, a California native who is currently a resident of BC, and Pete's friends PJ and Stevie. Steve Turner pulled back on the oars and we were able to pull in about 50 yards below and we then walked up along the bank to meet up with Pete and company.
PJ had just gotten himself a CF Burkheimer 15'2" 8wt before coming on this trip and he kindly allowed Steve and me to test cast it. Steve fell in love with the rod and planned to purchase one before returning to BC next year. I loved the rod as well, but with the meager earnings of a Child Welfare caseworker, all I can do is dream of owning such equipment. Luckily, I'm content with my array of "cheapskate" gear.
We later met up with this group at a local establishment for dinner and drinks that evening and we had a great time visiting and talking dry fly steelheading. Like Adrian, Pete is a dedicated fisher of the greaseliner. However, Pete has a different take on going after steelhead on the comeback. Pete related that if he raises a steelhead to a greaseliner and the steelhead won't comeback to the same fly on the next couple casts then "too bad, the heck with em" and moves on. No multiple fly changes in seeking the comeback for Pete.
PJ bought us all a round of shots before dinner, and not being much of a drinker, I downed my drink and my throat burned and my face got hot for a few seconds as I regained consciousness and went back to jabbering about surface steel. We had a great time visiting with this group as we marveled at the unique niche of people us steelheaders are.
On day five, we fished the same stretch of river yet again. We had the boat in the water just after dawn and we hit the first run we come to just after the put in. This had been the most generous run we fished last year and thus far it had not given up a single rise. As I fished through the lower half of the run, I kept hoping that today would be the day when a few steelhead moved in to the holds we found them in last year.
|The fresh start of a new day. Adrian's D loop caught by the lens of Steve Turner.|
|Hope runs through Adrian's line............... Steve Turner photo.|
|Covering water. Steve Turner photo|
|Finally, a surface steehead to hand for me. Steve Turner photo.|
|Keep em' wet. Steve Turner photo|
As I continued down, I found that the water deepened as I came to a corner down low in this run. I noted that this section swung really well and I felt like steelhead could hold down there, even though we had never seen anyone stopped there fishing before. As I contemplated the potential of this water, I realized that I had made my way pretty far from Adrian and Steve and it was just then that they arrived in the boat to catch up with me. I apologized for getting so far away from them and when they arrived I described how I felt like this water could hold steelhead. Adrian agreed and we decided to continue fishing through this water.
|New Found Water. Todd Hirano photo|
|Steve and me celebrating hooking my "20 year steelhead" on the ole 9140. The steelhead escaped the net, but raising and hooking them counts for me anymore. Adrain Cortes photo.|
|Chartreuse and Purple Stinger Wang did the trick. Adrian Cortes photo|
|Big rods for big water. Todd Hirano photo|
|A view from the office. Todd Hirano photo|
We continued through the float with no other steelhead action and Steve finally allowed me to give him a short 15 minute break on the oars as we neared the take out. As we loaded the boat, the familiar feelings of saddness in ending a week in paradise came over us, yet we felt so greatly blessed for being able to enjoy a week chasing after surface steel in the midst of God's glorious creation.
|My 15 minute shift on the oars for the week. Adrian Cortes photo|
Overall, we experienced slow fishing on this trip, but being with great friends on a great adventure to steelhead paradise was more than enough to leave us with great memories of wonderful times fellowshipping on our favorite steelhead water.