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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Winter Transition

After having a mediocre summer/fall season of surface steelheading, I have settled into my winter steelhead visions with the typical hesitation and saddness that comes with the reality of leaving consisent surface fishing conditions behind.  The tumultuous ups and downs of the winter season is upon us and finds my car pointed in the direction of the coast.

I always come to terms with the change in season soon enough and find my excitement for winter fishing rekindled as I gather my boxes of winter dry line flies and ponder my rod/reel/line choices for the season.  I reminisce over past seasons as I mentally prepare my game plan for the cold, wet season ahead.  Will this be a season that will yield hookups on my favorite Winter's Hopes?  Will I be able to raise/hook a full sized winter steelhead on a waker this year?

As I headed out on my first winter trip a couple weeks ago, I rejoiced in the hope and optimism that comes with life as a steelheader.  Each season brings anticipation of the possibilities that lay ahead; each trip to the river could provide anything from an epic, multi-hookup day to perpetual skunkings, to anything in between.  Regardless of the outcomes, steelhead fly fisherman tend to be a group that appreciates being out on rivers for much more than how many or how often the elusive chrome unicorns are encountered.

We have had winter water levels in our rivers since November so I have been anticipating some early winter steelhead being around on my favorite winter stomping grounds.  I theorized that the good flows over the past month should have encouraged steelhead to ascend their home rivers ahead of schedule.  I have made two winter steelhead trips thus far and there have been no indications of any early winter steelhead being around in waters where I have been tossing my flies.  None of my friends have heard of any winter steelhead caught on our home rivers yet either.

It is still early in season and in the spirit of a steelheader's optimism, I will continually get out over the course of the season with great anticipation of seeing how things will unfold.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Waker Of The Month For December 2016 - The Pink Panther

The Pink Panther

This month's waker is another version of my pattern that came about through a request from my friend Steve Turner.  Steve was planning for his first trip to the Dean a couple years ago and so he contacted me to request some pink versions of the Little Wang in a large size.  Steve had a trip booked through Jeff Hickman's Kimsquit Bay Lodge on the lower Dean in late July/early August.  Jeff had been telling Steve that the ocean bright lower Dean steelhead would aggressively take large pink flies so Steve asked me to tie up a few monster versions of my skater in all pink.

Knowing of the aggressive nature of Dean river steelhead and also knowing of that strain's ferocious fighting characteristics, I decided to tie more than just a few flies for Steve: I decided to gift him with a dozen of the big pink wakers, just in case of break offs and just in case Steve decided to share a fly or two with other fisherman.  I had tied those early versions on size 2 Mustad 9672 hooks which are an old school 3xl streamer hook.

Steve is such a generous guy that he did indeed end up sharing some of those flies with other fisherman at the lodge.  He was ultimately left with just a few remaining flies from the dozen I gave him.  He got a nice coho and raised a steelhed on the pink panther on his first trip and he hooked into a nice Dean steelhead on the pink panther on his most recent trip this past summer.  One of the guests that was at the lodge with Steve a couple years ago hooked and landed a nice Dean steelhead on the fly as well.

Steve recently requested more pink panthers, but this time he asked for me to try tying them on tubes as he wanted to share some with a renowed steelhead guide who intends to go after winter steelhead with them.  My friend Tony Torrence gifted me with some hooks and pink tubes so I could beging tying prototypes of my first tube wangs.  The pink panther pictured above is the result.  I have tied the rear half of the fly on the stinger hook itself and the front half of the fly is tied on the pink tube.  I burned a hole in the bottom front of the tube so the leader goes in from the bottom of the tube.  Early field testing finds that this pattern skates well.  Further field testing will reveal if winter steelhead will show some interest in this pattern - stay tuned!

I am so thankful whenever Steve requests flies from me as his requests have brought about new versions of my pattern and his fly requests give me a rare opportunity to reciprocate, even if in a small way, Steve's kind-hearted generosity.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Big River

The Big River.  Photo by Todd Hirano
  (This is a retroactive post from nearly a year ago, November 2015.  Time flies when you're having fun and fishing at every opportunity, finally got this one done)

Sometimes things come together in a way that just happen to line up good fishing opportunities in the mix.  My in-laws Jim and Barb Jones recently retired and decided to move to a town that is a hub for at least 3 great eastside Pacific Northwest steelhead rivers.  When Wendi and I made plans to visit Jim and Barb this past Thanksgiving, you can bet that there was more on my mind than turkey, stuffing, and gravy.

The scheming began with texts and phone calls going back and forth with Jim.  After he and Barb got settled into their new digs with a new house built, lawn installed, furniture bought, and wrangling with the contractor over with, Jim had time to focus on more important things, like learning to spey cast and becoming more familiar with the steelhead nirvana he found himself immersed in.

Jim had been asking me about a good spey outfit to purchase to get started with so I suggested a 12'6" Echo classic and 390 Airflo Compact Scandi head.  I still own the original Echo classic and the same Airflo line and found it to be a very easy setup to learn on and a good all around kit.  I also put some of my skaters in my trademark Altoids cans in the mail to get Jim started before my arrival.  I wasn't too long after that when Jim texted to let me know that he got a 30" hen on a sinking poly leader and lead eyed fly, a great start for a beginning spey caster!

Up to then, Jim had been hesitant to get into fishing with the two handed rod.  His trips to steelhead country were limited when he lived in Montana and he was wary of starting fresh with learning a whole new style of casting and fishing.  Now that Jim is living in the middle of steelhead country, taking up the two hander seemed inevitable.

As Jim and I continued planning in anticipation of getting together over Thanksgiving, I recalled when Jim and his friend Toby met up with me in BC for our first trip to Skeena country in 1995.  That was a trip that sealed my fate as a dry fly steelheader and two handed caster.  I was glad to see signs that Jim was starting to lean towards being taken by the affliction of steelheading as I know it - its always great to have more like-minded company in this strange niche I am part of.

In the course of planning my trip east, I contacted Zack Williams, renowned steelhead guide and editor of Swing the Fly.  Zack had previously mentioned to contact him if I ever got out his way, so I figured this was a good opportunity to do so.  I emailed Zack asking for any advice on fishing the area rivers he would be willing to provide me.  In response, Zack went far beyond offering advice, he offered to take Jim and I out for a day and to even get us out on his sled, depending on where we ended up fishing.  Of course, this was an offer I could not, and would not refuse!

As the departure day came upon us, we loaded into Wendi's 2006 Chevy HHR, which is a far cry from my dreaded "steelhead taxi" (1987 Chevy Spectrum).  Unlike the steelhead taxi, Wendi's car doesn't smell like wet boots and waders,and doesn't have empty sandwich baggies, cookie crumbs and stray potato chips strewn about it.  Somehow, my fishing gear didn't look like it belonged in such a sanitary environment, but I got over it and we went on our way.

We travelled north on I-5, then east on I-84.  As we drove through the evening, we encountered some heavy traffic in areas due to all the Thanksgiving travelers doing the same thing as us - heading off to spend the holiday somewhere away from home.

We arrived in town at around 1am and got mixed up with how to get to Jim and Barb's home so we called Jim and he was gracious enough to drive down from his home so we could follow him back to the house.  Wendi and I got settled in for bed after a quick tour of Jim and Barb's beautiful new home that was built in a new subdivision on a hill overlooking the river valley.

After sleeping in for a bit the next morning, I got busy with important things, like eating a huge breakfast that Jim and Barb cooked up for us, then figuring out how to get an out of state fishing license on Thanksgiving day.  We found that a couple gas stations carried fishing licenses, being an area where fishing is an important recreational activity.

Having the fishing license out of the way was a relief in that we would not have to worry about scrambling the next day when we were scheduled to get out with Zack Williams.  While Jim helped out with preparing Thanksgiving dinner, I made some feeble attempts to give him some spey casting lessons on his lawn, between him checking on the thanksgiving turkey cooking on his grill.

I also occupied some down time before and after thanksgiving dinner by tying more skaters on Jim's luxurious tying desk so I'd have a few to gift to Zack the next day.  Jim's tying area was notably cleaner and neater than the smoking crater that I typically tie in.

We enjoyed a wonderful thanksgiving dinner where we all ate well and considered all that God has blessed us with so abundantly.  After dinner, we cleaned up and set aside some turkey for making sandwiches for the next day's fishing.

We met up with Zack Williams the next morning at a local diner for a hearty breakfast.  This was a little local joint where everyone knew each other, except us - we felt like outsiders overhearing personal conversations among this tight knit group of locals.  This was my first in person meeting with Zack and it was great to put a face to the name.  We talked of the local fishing conditions, Zack's guiding business, and of course Zack spoke excitedly about how he was working hard to get Swing the Fly in print.  This is a big undertaking that Zack has ambitiously taken on with some inspiration coming from those old classy, glossy issues of Wild Steelhead and Salmon Journal.  In fact Zack has been able to consult with editor Tom Pero about strategizing and potential pitfalls to avoid in such an undertaking.  Zack's vision was to have a publication that would be of such quality that would be worthy of collecting and cherishing.

After breakfast, we followed Zack to the put in.  As we drove along the river to the put in, I was amazed at the size of the runs I was looking at.  This water was several times bigger than my typical homewaters. I was intimidated and awed all at the same time.  This is the land of guys who wield long belly lines and 16' foot rods and I could now see for myself water where such mega sized tackle would be right at home.  (Zack is actually a talented competition spey caster who has traveled to compete in Spey O Rama in San Francisco for the past few years)  I would "make do" with my Sage 8136 and 9140, but I wondered if my little rods would make a dent in the potential water to be covered.

During the drive, I also noted Jim's truck thermometer reading outside temps in the high teens in places then going up into to the low twenties when we approached the put in.  I questioned the accuracy of the temp readings I was seeing, but when we arrived at the put in and as I wadered up, I felt the bitter cold and realized the sub freezing temps were a reality.  Surface steelheading didn't seem like the optimal mode of operation, but knowing myself, I'd still have to try.........

Zack Williams on a guide's day off.  Photo by Todd Hirano

Pate manning the bow and directing us to surface steel.  Photo by Todd Hirano
  We got into Zack's sled with Zack's faithful dog Pate manning the bow.  We didn't travel far to make our first stop.  We stopped at a mega sized run that formed about 100 yds below the put in.  As I surveyed this water, I realized that my longest casts would just barely reach the inside edge of the seam!  This water was so big that little bays and indentations along shore formed as we worked our way through this run.  This was beautiful water and I enjoyed stretching out casts as far as I was comfortable with my 9140 and 8136.  It felt like I was barely making an impression in covering this expansive run, but I got into a decent rhythm and the ole' anticipation set in as I watched my black and blue skater (aka the "Celestial Skater) swinging through promising looking holding water.

Never mind about ice forming in my guides and on my line.  Using a Delta spey line helped with it's "longer" head and reduced stripping.  It's funny how a few years ago the 54' heads on Deltas were considered short lines.  As time goes on, lines have gotten shorter and shorter.  I thought my Ambush lines were very short, but now we have even shorter lines, like those Commando heads.
Iced guides were the norm for most of the day.  Photo by Todd Hirano
 As I was figuring out my routine with fishing this unfamiliar venue, Zack kindly helped Jim with some spey casting instruction.  I was so thankful for Zack's patient instruction with Jim, since Zack is a professional after all, and I'm just an everyday goof who fishes a lot and my Spey instruction probably leaves much to be desired.  I was filled with admiration as I watched Zack and enjoyed being in the midst of his company as his generous spirit was demonstrated throughout the day.  He is a talented steelhead guide who was on a guide's day off, but who remained in "guide mode" anyway as he graciously accommodated Jim and me.

We had no takers in that first run so we headed downriver to another expansive run on the other side of the river.  I hit the upper corner of this run and Jim and Zack split the lower sections.  By the time I walked to the top of the run, Jim and Zack were little specks in the distance.  I enjoyed the water I was fishing and I was even able to reach the seam a bit easier this time as the fishy currents ran closer to shore.
The sun came out and warmed the day above freezing for about an hour!  Photo by Todd Hirano
 Zack mentioned that in the cooler conditions of late fall, that he had been fishing wet flies on a dry line and finding good success, however since he was fishing with me this day, he would also fish a skater as he knew of my quirky tendencies.  I have a way of being a bad influence on people.

I was happily working my way down the run and noted that the day was starting to warm and there was less ice forming in my guides.  After a while, I saw Zack walking back up towards me.  By the time we caught up with each other, the day was bright and it even seemed the air temps got just above freezing!  As I chatted with Zack, I thought he had come up to tell me we were ready to move on to another spot, but instead, he calmly told me that he raised a steelhead to the surface in the water he was fishing.  When I asked if he was just resting the fish before going back to cover the fish for comeback, he said "no, you are".  See what I mean about Zack staying in "guide mode" even on his day off??  He wouldn't take no for an answer and insisted that I walk back to his position to put one of my skaters over his fish.

When I got back to where Zack raised his steelhead, he put me in the exact spot he had been standing at and even pointed out the exact foam line to cast to so I could put my fly over the lie his fish lived in.  Surprisingly, it didn't even take a very long cast to cover this lie and as I lengthened my casts and got to where I needed to be, Zack pretty much called it when he said "he should be right about there", and sure enough a nice steelhead came up and lunged at the fly.......and missed.  I made a few comeback attempts and no reruns from this steelie.

The remainder of the run still looked great to me so I quickly worked my way down towards what passed as the tailout of the run.  I lengthened my casts a bit and continued down at a brisk pace to cover as much water as I could.  Jim and Zack were taking a break as I continued in my mad pursuit.  I happily noticed that air temps had definitely gotten above freezing with no more ice in my guides - sweet relief!

As I approached the tailout, I watched my foam creation coming across on a broadside swing in full sunlight when a steelhead suddenly came up and ate my fly in a quick rise.  This little gal was on instantly and went off making some short runs as I overpowered her with my old Sage 9140.  She fought gallantly against my 14' stick and after a brief battle, I was able to lead her towards shore where Zack was able to grab a hold of my leader to tail her.  Just as Zack was about to get a hold of her, the hook popped out and she was off.  I was thrilled nonetheless, to be raising and hooking steelhead on the surface in conditions most would not bother to be out in, much less be skating flies in.  Sometimes insanity pays off!
Hooked into cold water surface steel.  Photo by Jim Jones

We motored upstream to another beautiful run and by the time we fished through and I was nearing the limit of the water I could safely wade through, I noticed that Zack and returned to the sled and also that it was lunch time.  As Jim and I approached the sled, I was anticipating eating those turkey sandwiches made from the Thanksgiving leftovers when I noticed Zack was hunched over and steam was rising around him.  As we got closer, we realized Zack had busted out his Coleman stove and he was grilling fresh burgers for all of us.  Thoughts of turkey sandwiches were set aside as the aroma of freshly cooked beef filled the air.
Zack grilling burgers in the subfreezing conditiions.  Burgers tend to taste extra good when it is 28 degrees out!  Photo by Todd Hirano
Again, Zack continued in guide mode and we are grateful for the luxury he was affording us.  Fresh burgers never tasted so good as we munched on our unexpected high end lunch fare as the day had begun to cool after the brief "heatwave" that must have been up to 33 degrees.

During our lunch break we inquired with Zack about his guiding business and he explained that he had moved closer to the eastside steelhead rivers several years ago as the Olympic Peninsula rivers he guided on had become so crowded.  He still does some guiding on the OP rivers, but only during select times.  In the few years he has been guiding on the eastside rivers, he notes that his guiding calendar is pretty full, mostly with repeat clients.  He noted that he has received a golden endorsement from Poppy of the Redshed and Poppy has sent many clients his way.  However, it is very evident, that Zack's easy going, polite, and generous ways make him a pleasure to fish with where repeat clients are just about a given.

After lunch, Zack motored us to a few more great looking runs on this expansive river.  We finished off the day at a big water run that involved wading on and through a serious of bedrock reefs.  It seemed that a rise would be inevitable for one of us, but none came.

By the end of the day, I realized that Zack had been using a 12'6" 6wt spey rod the whole day, one made by a manufacturer that he reps for.   I was suprised by Zack's tackle choice due to the big water we were fishing and especially since Zack is a tournament caster who has been competing at Spey O Rama each year.  His 15' Bruce and Walker sat in the boat all day and he never used it.  Maybe he was just too gracious to cast the big rod and make Jim and me feel inadequate!

Zach trailered up his sled and we bid him farewell as we thanked him for a special late fall day on a beautiful river.  Jim and I were so blessed to have been graced by Zach's knowledge of the water, easy-going companionship and being spoiled by a first class steelhead guide during his precious late season window of personal fishing time.
Last run of the day.   Photo by Todd Hirano

The next morning found Jim and me driving back to the river with the game plan of hitting as many bank spots as we could.  We again braved sub-freezing air temps in the low twenties as we subliminally questioned our own sanity for being out in such conditions.  We started the day by accessing the same run that we hit with Zach first thing the day before.

I started as high as I could in this large ledgrock run.  I was fishing my Sage 8136 and making the biggest casts I could to reach the inner seam of the main flow of this large run.  As I made my way to the point where my black and blue waker was swinging into the top of a bay along the shoreline, a steelhead came up with a gulp and then immediately made a jump.  I saw the form of a modest steelhead buck in the 5lb range as it leaped clear out of the water.  Upon it's landing, the hook pulled out.  I stood there laughing to myself as it was about 8:30am on a cold day with ice in my guides and I just had a surface steelhead attack.  I'd never experienced rising steelhead in subfreezing air temps before this and I was just amazed with what had just happened.  I wondered if these eastside steelhead adjust to cooler temperatures like BC steelhead, which are known to remain active to the surface in much cooler water than most of our lower 48 steelhead.

Black and Blue Celestial Skater gets a cold water grab.  Photo by Todd Hirano
 Jim and I were able to find plenty more water accessible by road over the course of the day.  The day remained cold, yet pleasant and enjoyable despite remaining below freezing for it's duration.  We found the large runs enjoyable to fish and I could not help but imagine what the fishing would be like on this river earlier in fall.  Of course, my mind turned to making plans to return to this big water paradise in mid to late October in future seasons, when conditions would be milder and steelhead would more active.  Does this kind of scheming ever end?  As a steelheader dedicated to the game of eliciting those exhilarating surface rises, the pondering of possibilities never stops....

Jim disappears in the distance of this expanisve run.  Photo by Todd Hirano

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Waker Of The Month - November 2016 - The Octowang

Every serious surface steelhead enthusiast needs October Caddis colored flies during fall.  I have been tying my pattern in the burnt orange color scheme for a few years now.  I decided to post my most recent octowang, even being a month behind.  The fly pictured is tied on an old stock Mustad 3906, size 6.  The small, short hooks seems to hold steelhead well.

I have still been seeing a few October caddis fluttering about and there is still some time for more surface action before the season of deep wet fly fishing starts.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Fall Surface Steelhead Chronicles 2016/Ninja Magic

I've been posting some short stories on social media on my fall surface steelhead fishing so thought to share them here (in reverse chronological order).  You may note that the Ninja has been getting more than it's fair share of action.  The tiny black wang has changed my surface steelhead game this year.  Any more, the 4s and 6s I used to use look like B52s!:

Cabela's Tlr rods went back on sale and I had some Cabela's gift cards on hand from my birthday....get where this is heading??
I grabbed not one, but 3 more TLRS! I added the 9'4wt, 9'6wt, and the 10' 8wt to my collection of these awesome budget rods.
Since I already have a 6wt Ambush on hand, I took the 9'6wt out this evening. The rod cast the Ambush line beautifully and the #10 Ninja flew out with ease into my favorite evening flow.
The overcast and rain didn't stop me as I got into the rythym of my new setup. As I got to taking my last cast in the bottom of the run, a spirited hen came up with a brisk, confident rise to the little black fly.
As with other hookups I have been getting with the small wakers I have been fishing, the hook held surely and securely. After several strong runs and a strong fight, I had my prize on the bank.
Interesting to note that the rain and color of the water didn't discourage this gal from finding my miniscule fly.
It was nice to have a steelhead break in one of my new cheap skate specials so quickly!
Gotta love the abundance of fall!

Skating in the rain...
Got out for a very short morning session today, I had enough time to fish just one run. I was surprised that the storm only bumped the river a tad, thank you Army Corps for holding back some water!
In anticipation of some wind, I left my current favorite 9'5wt TLR behind and grabbed my 11'6wt tlr with 350gr Ambush instead.
I tied on one of my "Octowangs" (October caddis wang) which was built on an old Mustad 3906 size 6 hook and sporting bright foam posts.
I started a the top of this favorite run and found no players in buckets that produced rises in the past. I continued to the lower section of the the run and wondered if the slight bump in the flow could provide a better chance of steelhead holding there.
My time was just about to expire when a quick, explosive rise came to my octowang as I was twitching it across on it's swing.
The steelhead was instantly on and proceeded to provide an exciting fight with several strong runs and even a couple jumps. A beautifully colored fall hatchery buck soon graced the short gravel bar nearby.
The small, short Mustad 3906 hook proves it's worth in holding onto steelhead once again.
As I took photos and admired my rainy day prize, I thanked God for the blessings He provides me through the thrills of surface steelhead.


Sometimes I get what I hope for....I drove for several hours and contemplated if it would be worth the effort just for a day trip. I got my answer within my first hour of fishing when this beautiful native hen came up and gulped my Ninja and gave a fun fight on my 9'5wt TLR. As I noted before, when using trout gear, fight the steelhead aggressively and there is no harm to the fish. Took me about 5 minutes to get this gal in.
This steelhead actually came to my fly 3 times, she lunged and missed the fly on her initial appearance, she then came up a second time, nabbed the fly and gave a quick pull. I didn't think she would come back a third time after feeling some weird resistance when she tried to eat my fly, but of course, I had to try. Sure enough, on the next swing, she came up with a confident gulp and was on.
The Ninja was tied on a #8 Mustad 3906 (s80) hook. I am becoming convinced that the small, short hooks do a better than average job of holding on to Steelhead. It's like tying a skater on a trailer hook.
The Ninja has been a game changer!


Skating for steelhead with trout gear (in this case a 9'5wt) is frowned upon by some, but in my opinion, if one uses the usual steelhead tippet (8# or 10# Maxima) and the steelhead is fought aggressively, using the power of the lower section of the rod, steelhead are landed as quickly or even more quickly than with heavier spey or switch rods. I enjoy the light weight of the trout class single handers and the Ambush lines make single hand spey casting easy and fun.  Evening session produces this hatchery brat. 9'5wt TLR, 5wt Ambush, #10 ninja. Figured to get a shot before this storm hits.

 This spunky hen ate my Ninja tied on a #8 Mustad 3906 (S80). She grabbed with the afternoon sun at her back. Feeling blessed.....and redeemed! Tis the season for tiny black wakers.

Ninja Magic!!

Decided to try something different, tied on a waker and got this wild Willamette hen on #10 ninja. This skating thing is kinda cool...

Evening session hatchery hen, she gulped down my black and blue Celestial waker in choppy water, couple strong runs had my 3 7/8 perfect screaming. A few casts later and another steelhead came up to play, on the first run, hook pulled out. Love Fall!! This the best time of year for skating. If you have never given surface steelhead a fair shot, now is the time!

Just returned from a wonderful trip to Steelhead Paradise with @adriancortessteelhead & @stevturn & Tony Torrence. Fishing was tough for the most part, did not seem like a lot of fish were about. My fishing partners were finding a few steelhead and we were especially thrilled that Tony hooked a couple on his dee fly and he encountered multiple steelhead on surface flies, bringing him a step closer to the surface steelhead obsession known to Adrian and me.
The fishing was especially tough for me. I raised a few to my crazy foam contraptions but none showed full commitment. By the time we were on our last run of the last day, I had still gone without hooking a single steelhead over the course of the week.
Just before the end of our time in paradise, Steve hooks and lands a beautiful hen on a muddler. By the time I made my way down to the guys for a toast to Steve's steelhead, I had accepted that this was to be a trip where the blessings of being in God's creation and the fellowship of wonderful friends was beyond sufficient.
Just then, the guys unanimously insisted that I hit Steve's spot for a few minutes before finishing out our trip. I obliged to the kindness of my friends and after several casts an explosion comes to my "Midnight Special" wang.
I was able to land this beautiful buck after a strong fight - a dramatic ending to an amazing week.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Waker of the Month- October 2016- The Ninja Wang

The idea of an all black wang has been previously suggested to me by the likes of James Reid (Canecaster) and Josh Browning, but a prototype black wang never came to fruition until just recently. Adrian Cortes (Fshnazn), Steve Turner and I were making the marathon drive home from Skeena country a couple weeks ago and I had my tying kit on my lap, as usual, during Steve's driving shift. I was tying more of my foam contraptions when Steve requested that I tie an all black wang for his immediate upcoming trip to the Deschutes. I got to work and Steve provided the specfics: size 8 hook, two strands of black krystal flash on each side along the tail and behind the wings, black wool body, black krystal flash rib, black cactus chenielle thorax, black foam lip, and black foam wang posts. When the first prototype emerged from my vise, it was passed around and we felt like the fly had fishy written all over it so I tied another one to provide Steve with a backup, just in case the Deschutes steelhead tried to take one away from him. Steve immediately came up with a name for the new fly: The Ninja. Adrian (hold the foam!) even requested a Ninja for himself as well, but he wanted his tied on a size 10 hook. I have been experimenting with tiny versions of my fly this year and along with the occasional trout, I had a 30" range steelhead grab my yellow #10 Stimuwaker the day before we left for our BC trip. When the tiny black wang came off my vise we again agreed that the wee wang looked pretty tasty. I tied another one for Adrian to have a back up and I also tied a couple more for Steve to take with him on his D trip. A couple days after returning home from paradise and re-entering real life, Adrian reports of getting two aggressive surface grabs to the Ninja, landing a nice hen. (post a pic, will ya Adrian??) I had a local float planned with Tony Torrence (Riverman) last friday and I realized that I did not tie up any Ninjas for myself. I tied up a couple each for Tony and me the evening before our float, again size 10. During our day of fishing, Tony had 3 aggressive rises to the Ninja, landing a spirited hen in soft shallow water. I fished my local flow a couple mornings ago and had a small wild Willamette hen come up for my #10 Ninja with a confident gulp and the little hook held nicely in the roof of the mouth of my valiant little prize. This has been the season of the wee wang. I have been tying these little flies on Mustad 3906Bs (S82) #8 and #10 and on the Mustad 3906 (s80) #8 and #6. It's funny to think that I used to tie gold ribbed hare's ears and the like on these hooks. 

Happy Fall Surface Steelheading to all - now is the time to fish flies on top!


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Waker of the Month - September 2016 - Gold

This month's waker was previewed in prior posts, but wanted to feature it here anyway.  My friend Rick Fielder showed me the value of gold when I fished with him on the North Umpqua in late July.  He proceeded to hook into a nice buck in the first run that we fished, then he had another steelhead chomp down so hard on his skater to close in the gap of his bomber hook.

One can't argue with success, so following that trip, I stopped at the local fly shops to gather materials.  I grabbed some gold krystal flash, gold diamond braid, and gold ice dubbing and went to work.  The value of gold proved itself to me immediately with a rise and a good hookup on my first outing field testing the gold waker.

Just as with Rick's waker, I used yellow foam for the shellback/lip and then I elected to use white and orange for the visitility posts.  It turns out the bright colors on top are very visible near dusk in areas where the surface of the water is dark.

Rick mentioned that gold is a key fly color on rivers that he fishes so he incorporates gold in many of his patterns.  I'm glad that I learned the value of gold from Rick's experiences with gold flies.

The fall season is upon us with shorter days, overcast weather and cooling air and water temps.  Tis my favorite time of year!

Wishing you all a wonderful fall season and abundant rising steelhead to feed the need.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Lee Lashway playing hookie
I recently spent a wonderful day on the famous North Umpqua river with fellow surface steelhead enthusiast Lee Lashway.  Since Lee and I began connecting through my blog last year, I have had a negative impact on his work and eating habits. Lee ended up shirking off a couple meetings so he could fish with me this day and his healthy diet gave way to Lay's potato chips and  Chunky Chips Ahoy cookies that I always take with me to the river.

We got a reasonably early start, leaving town at 4am and arriving on the river just after first light.  We hit some of our favorite runs until the day developed into it's normal summer routine turning bright and hot by late morning.

My good friend Keith Tymchuck was camping on the river so we stopped in at his campsite for a lunch break and to compare steelhead notes.  It turns out we were all having the same degree of success on the river, that is, no love from steelhead all around.  No grabs or rises for any of us.  Not unusual on this often finicky body of water.

Lee has been a long time member of the Steamboaters and has served on their board for a number of years.  Through this association, Lee has been close friends with Frank and Jeanne Moore.  After lunch, Lee and I drove over to the Moore's log house above the river to see if they were home and up for a quick visit.

As luck would have it, Frank and Jeanne were home and they welcomed us with the graciousness and kindness they are known for. Previously, I had briefly met Frank and Jeannie at the Steamboater's winter event in 2011 when Bill McMillan came to speak.  Frank commented on how Bill McMillan is a wonderful man.

Our conversations ran the course from North Umpqua steelhead, to the immensity of what Frank and Jeannie have meant to the North Umpqua basin and beyond.  I mentioned having listened to Frank's Ted Talk and having seen trailers from "Mending the Line" and being deeply touched by his conveyances of the value of marriage and his love and dedication to his wife Jeanne, whom he always speaks of with much love and adoration.  He said "she's a great girl".

We talked about fishing of course.  I mentioned having heard that Frank's favorite summer flies were small muddlers.  He confirmed that he liked to fish muddlers in size 8 and 10, surprisingly on a dead drift!  He noted that he often used a dead drift presentation because "after a while we all now where these fish lie".  He recalled hooking some steelhead with just a few feet of fly line out of his rod tip, on very short casts.

Frank reminisced about the old days and told us that "when the fish were in, there could be 10-15 steelhead in each pool".  He mentioned about double digit steelhead days, just in the campwater, in the years after WWII.  I surmised that if the river historically held that many steelhead at one time, then it is very far below it's carrying capacity today.  I think of such things when I can go day after day of fishing numerous runs and pools that could potentially hold large numbers of steelhead.  I often wonder "How can so much great holding water be seemingly empty so much of the time"??

I looked around the Moore's living room and saw the banner from when they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.  Many historical North Umpqua photos could been around the home as well.  Their home was much like a museum of this special place loved by so many of us.  My eye was drawn to the photo of the "plank pool" (the Station) with the plank actually there - must have been before Frank pulled it out.
Jeanne and Frank Moore's 70th wedding anniversary banner.

The plank at Station

I talked of some runs that I have been fishing and like and described them to Frank and blurted out what I thought the name of said runs were.  Frank stated that each of the runs on the North Umpqua have a proper name and the names I was told were incorrect.  Live and learn.

Frank told the story of when Roderick Haig Brown came to visit and fished the North Umpqua and he proclaimed his belief that steelhead don't feed in freshwater.  Frank later caught and kept a wild winter buck whose belly was filled with many tiny insects so he sent the steelhead's entrails packaged in dry ice to Roderick Haig-Brown as proof of a steelhead feeding in freshwater.  Mr. Haig-Brown later conceded that some steelhead do indeed feed in freshwater.

We appreciated the Moores' accommodating our visit with out notice even though they are known to tell folks to come by any time.  We did not want to overstay our welcome so we tried to keep our visit brief.  I got a few pictures with the Moore's and said a quick prayer with them before heading off.

A visit with Frank and Jeannie Moore is good as Gold.  Photo by Lee Lashaway
 When we stepped outside, Frank showed us his famous trout pond.  Numerous steelhead sized rainbows swam about happily in their safe sanctuary.

Frank's Rainbows

The Original Steelhead Taxi, Frank's VW
 After leaving the Moore's home, Lee and I decided to brave the early afternoon heat and fish one last run before heading back to Lane county.  We hit one of the lesser fished runs that is a tough wade in typical North Umpqua style.  In maintaining normality, we didn't find any signs of willing steelhead and left the river by mid afternoon.

I arrived home by about 5pm, went into my house, fed our dog, then I remembered that new local piece of water that yielded a rise for me the other day.  I was tired, but I am also a guy who often "just can't get enough".  With the frustrations of fishing the "empty river" that day, I decided to jump back into the Steelhead Taxi for an effort at some evening redemption on my local flow.

I arrived at my homewater in no time, jumped back into my waders and went back to my new found spot.  No one else was about fishing and I felt thankful to be afforded solitude close to home.

I began at the top of the fishy section and after a few casts, I was back in the zone where I raised a steelhead a few days prior.  I carefully fished the section where the two mid river breaks form the cushion of soft water that yielded the recent rise to my new gold waker.  Apparantly no one was home this day as my waker swung through this water without any interruptions from rising steelhead.

I continued down, still optimistic for a rise, but still unsure as I was still new to fishing this run.  The full potential of this water was yet to be discovered.  As I worked through the run, I continued to note surface indicators of good structure below and enough depth for steelhead to feel secure.

As I neared the end of what looked like promising water, the currents slowed, but still fished my fly nicely.  I continued to survey the water and was adjusting to the slower swing afforded by the softening flow.  I was making casts straight across since the surface textures invited a broadside swing.

As I watched my waker coming toward the end of a broad swing, a soft, but substantial  gulp came to the fly.  As I did nothing and held on, my line tightened with a slow solid back and forth pull.   I simply kept my line tight and transferred the rod to my left hand  and began reeling tighter to the steelhead with my right hand.  The steelhead did some stubborn tug of war with a few short runs.  Not a reel screamin' steelie but he gave a strong battle nonetheless.  The optical illusion of water originally made this steelhead appear to be much smaller than I realized it to be when I got him in close.  With no convenient gravel bar to beach the fish, I was able to put my rubberized Cabela's sun gloves on which gave me enough grip to tail the steelhead.  I got a few photos of my hatchery prize and headed home shortly thereafter since I did not have a cooler nearby on this warm day.

More Gold.  Hatchery buck taken on my new gold waker.
After a tough day fishing the North Umpqua, I was feeling blessed and redeemed by my two golden encounters.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Last Cast

Waiting for an evening rise.

Got out for an evening session after work with low expectations due to the summer heat we are experiencing.  Afternoon/evening water temps have been getting into the high 60's - not the best conditions for bringing hatchery steelhead to the surface on my local ditch, but my motto is "the best time to fish is when you can".  It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Upon arriving at the river, I got out of the steelhead taxi to suit up and realized that I left my waders at home...  I then figured maybe today was the day to wet wade, then I remembered that my fishing license was in my waders.  I could have chanced it and fished anyway, but just my luck that OSP would decide that today would be a good day to check licenses on random Asians.

I drove back to the house and grabbed my waders and was back at the river in about 20 minutes - nice to have a homewater so close by where there is a chance to get steelhead to come to the surface.

I was armed with a couple new items to test out;  a brand new Cabela's TLr 10' 7wt (on sale for $59.95!  A gift from my dear wife, "just because") and my latest gold wang modeled after my friend Rick Fielder's skater.  Rick showed me the appeal of gold this past weekend when he hooked into a nice buck and also had another steelhead clamp down hard enough on the fly on the grab to smash in the gap of the hook and bend the shank sideways as well.
Newest toy from Cabela's - $59.95 of pure joy...

Rick Fielder's gold skater, note the bomber hook that got the gap smashed in by Mr. Steel
My version of gold

Sun was still on the water and I was on river right, so I walked to some new water that I had never fished before.  As I waded into this little run, I was intrigued by the structure and depth of the water.  It was also nice to be in shade so I could stay cool in the heat, maybe if I felt good, the steelhead felt good in there too.

As I got about halfway down this new found run, I noted some bottom structure causing two breaks in the current with a sandwich of calmer water between them.  My single hander and Ambush line were the perfect medicine in these tight quarters.  I cast just past the mid stream break and as the flashy gold skater came through the chop, the broadside olive back of a steelhead suddenly appeared as it slashed at the fly.  I kept twitching and felt nothing so I let the fly settle to the dangle.

I tried a tiny #10 yellow stimuwaker on the comeback - zip, then a black bodied McMillan Steelhead Caddis-riffle hitched - 0, then a #2 Yogi - nada, then a midnight special - nope.  Back to the gold wang - still got a goose egg so I just continued down through the run and drew a blank.  I was still delighted to have discovered new water in my backyard, more options for future trips, and a nice little spot that seems to rarely get fished.

I also drew a blank in the next couple runs but I enjoyed the rhythm and feel of my new rod and I was also encouraged by raising a steelhead on the gold wang.

I had about 20 minutes of daylight left when I hit the last run for the evening.  By this time, an annoying breeze kicked up that was blowing diagonally towards me from the side.  This made my casts collapse, even as I used the short fighting butt to turn the single hand rod into a mini switch to help with cack handed single speys.

I fished over sections of the run that held promise in the past, but no one answered doors when I knocked.  As I neared the bottom of this run, my hopes just about ran out with the annoying side wind and low light level that basically left me fishing blind.  Not even hardy twitches on the waker helped me locate it.

I decided to make the obligatory last cast.  There was a brief lull in the breeze and my line went out somewhat straight into the darkness.  I blindly twitched my fly as I would be preparing to reel up to get home.  Near the end of the swing, I heard an explosion and my line instantly came tight with fly line peeling out of my vintage SA System 8 (Hardy Marquis).  As I idly joked with myself "I think that's a steelhead", a 10-12lb form leaped from the water and landed with a splash.

As I reeled to recover line, I continued to feel weight, but my line stopped.  I pulled back and no give or pull from the steelhead.  I played out some slack and still nothing.  I figured my steelhead must be tangled in a rock or log or got off and left my line caught up on some unseen object.

It turned out to be the latter.  I kept jerking on my line and it came free with my fly still attached.  There was some slight fraying on the tippet, but no other damage aside from my hook needing to be sharpened.  I reeled up and headed for the car with a great sense of fulfillment with the surface encounters I was blessed with under less than ideal conditions.  I glanced at my watch and was reminded that the long days of summer are slowly starting to get shorter as it was nearly full dark by 8:45pm.  The glory days of fall are around the corner, yet at my age, I don't want to rush time and am reminded to treasure the present.

I suppose I am a bit superstitious and assume certain pieces of equipment have more mojo than others.  Raising two steelhead and solidly hooking one of them while using my brand new Cabela's TLr single hander for the first time does draw that tendency in me to think that some inanimate object can have some magical power to lead me to steelhead.  I even thought of the reel I was using and realized that for some reason, while using it, I have raised/hooked/landed a disproportinate number of steelhead relative to some of my other reels, and I don't even use it constantly - mojo??  I guess a guy can tend to think in weird directions when steelhead encountered are few and far between.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Waker Of The Month - August 2016 - The Midnight Special

The Midnight Special is my latest color blend with my common pattern platform
I kept looking at the black cactus chenielle at my local shop and finally decided to buy some and create yet another color blend for my crazy fly.  I thought that including some purple would set off the black cactus chenielle nicely.

Frank Amato's Night Dancer came to mind so I ended up including purple cow elk wings, red Krystal flash in the tail and black Krystal flash behind the wing.  I couldn't resist adding a green butt as well.

This color blend brought steelhead to the top in short order.  I raised a local steelhead to the top the day after I tied my first rendition of the Midnight Special and I just raised several more this weekend on a more famous river to the south.

Unfortunately, the steelhead I have encountered have continued to be Teflon mouthed one timers.  Luckily, I am happy enough whenever I can bring steelhead to the surface,  regardless of whether I hook them.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Teflon Surface Steelhead

Today, July 3, was an easy going day where I slept in, tied some flies (Celestial Skaters) and helped with just a bit of housework before getting out for a pleasant afternoon/evening of fishing from the bank on my local flow.  I got on the water by about 4pm and my game plan was to stay on river left to stay in the shade until evening approached when I could switch over to runs on river right.

I started off at a favorite run and started at the very top and worked all the way down until this big glide forms a tailout above an island.  As I got lower in this run, the afternoon shadows lengthened across the river and the old anticipation came back as I recalled years past when I consistently found steelhead scattered about this flat.  In this kind of water, my waker is plainly visible, and likewise the rise of a steelhead is unmistakable, with the smooth flow breaking into mayhem when the bulge of water comes and the fly disappears in the next instant.  Those old images replayed in my mind, but by the time I got to the bottom of the run, reality set in that I have not risen a steelhead in this water for the past several years.  I have wondered why this stretch of perfect skating water could provide incredible surface fishing one year and then never again since.

I got in my car and drove across the river to fish another favorite run.  The low angle of the late evening sun was now shining directly towards me as it started set behind the tree tops on the opposite bank.  I held up my hand to block the glare from my eyes so I could track the silhouette of my fly's namesake "indicater post" during it's cross stream path on each swing.

I would occasionally lose visual contact with my fly as it tracked through choppy currents in the low light conditions and blinding glare, but I managed to monitor the general location of my waker as I caught occasional glimpses of it's vertically mounted anatomical feature.

I fished through the run anticipating surface grabs in all the likely holds, but no players made an appearance during this session.   I wondered if my local hatchery subjects would begin occupying their typical stations in multiple places in this run as the season progresses.

As dusk approached,  I considered calling it a day but I impulsively decided to hit one last spot to fish into evening's darkness.  At the top of this short run, I have leaning branches at my left shoulder so I began with miniature double speys.  As I worked my Scandi head plus 7 strips of running line out, I began stepping down.  The sun was behind the treeline on the opposite bank by now and I was enjoying the soft glow of evening.  In the soft light, my waker silhouetted nicely against the mirrored surface of this quiet glide.

As I worked  my way down, I was full of anticipation as I made swings along a beautiful seam that led to a soft cushion above the tailout.

As I negotiated around a leaning branch,  my casts began reaching the soft cushion.
  As I watched my fly coming into the fishy zone, I realized that I had chosen an ideal run to fish at last light. I just felt like I was in the right place at the right time.

My senses were full of expectation as I made my last few swings of the day.  I watched my fly coming through the final quarter of a swing and just knew that if a steelhead was going to come up to eat my freshly tied Celestial Skater, this is where it would happen. .

Suddenly, the rise came like a miniature parting of the Red Sea as my waker disappeared into the abyss of dark water.  I simply waited and felt solid weight pulling in the next instant.  My vintage Hardy began playing out line with that classic English growl.  My heart probably skipped a few beats as I began sweeping my rod towards the bank.  Just as I felt the power of the steelhead, the hook pulled out.

I stood there dumbfounded as I yelled out "dang" to no one in particular.   I made my last few casts by the time dusk set in and concluded that the steelhead I briefly encountered felt the hook and didn't have any company.

Some rises just stand out in my memory and the encounter just described is one that will replay in the gray matter for a while.  It is moments like this that keeps me in hot pursuit of the next rise.

This summer has been a strange season thus far.  That is, strange in a good way.  Since getting my first surface steelhead for the season on June 23, I have been raising steelhead to the surface on most of my outings since then.  This is the first year  that I have encountered my local hatchery brats coming to the top so consistently this "early" in the season.

Unfortunately, the steelhead I have risen have been one timers - one rise and no more comebacks.  Out of these risers, I had one that started to pull line from my Perfect, then got off and on a couple others, I felt a brief pull after the rise with no hook up.  It's as if these steelhead are made of Teflon because I can't get them to stick!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Skater Of The Month - July 2016 - Celestial Skater

Celestial Skater

It seems that no fly selection is complete without using a black/blue color combo.  I began tying my skater using the black/blue color scheme in September 2014 and not surprisingly, the fly found almost immediate success.  My black and blue fly went with me to our trip to BC in Fall 2014 and BC steelhead promptly gave the fly their nod of approval.  Upon returning to Oregon after that trip, my local steelhead continued to show their approval of the black/blue "Little Wang" as well.

I posted pictures of the fly on Speypages and got supportive responses from members.  I ended up sending a few of my flies to Mike Papais (GR8LAKES FLYER) to reciprocate his generosity in sending me a fine selection of hairwing wets, of course, tied in hand.  Upon receiving my gift of flies which I typically ship in an Altoid tin, Mike's daughter Celeste was fascinated upon seeing the look of my strange flies and said to her father:  "Hey daddy , those look like they're wearing life jackets , the salmon will think they're helpless and you'll get one for sure " .......  Because of Celeste's child-like faith in my fly, with Celeste's permission, I decided to name my fly after her.

This is just further validation that black and blue is just a magical color combo on steelhead for some reason.  The composition of this pattern continually lends itself to endless color combos  I have even been seeing postings of folks tying their own versions of this fly and I am just amazed and honored by the renditions I have seen of my humble fly.

My local steelhead continue to be looking up with fish raised on almost every trip lately.  This has been the earliest that I have encountered consistent surface responses by my local anadromous quarry.  However, these steelhead are currrently in "one timer" mode - they come up once and either they are hooked on that rise or if they miss, they won't come back.  Will be interesting to see when these steelhead start getting into comeback or player mode - I just love the excitement of steelhead coming back to the surface multiple times and giving me extra chances at a hookup.  My nerves are totally on edge and my senses on high alert during such exciting times.

Wishing you all an blessed skater season!


PS:  I was reminded on one of the fly fishing forms that my fly is actually a waker, not a skater.  Wakers push a v-wake in the surface and skaters are typically hackled flies that ride on the surface by hackle tips making a more subtle disturbance.  Bill McMillan discussed these differences in Dry Line Steelhead as well.  As our steelhead fly fishing culture has evolved, the two terms have been used interchangeably and I am guilty of deferring to using the terms skater and skating when my fly is actually a waker, that wakes.  The semantics are not a huge deal to me, but I also want to respect history and tradition in our sport.

Top view

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The First

Jim Jones fishing a promising run.  Todd Hirano photo
My in laws Jim and Barb Jones were in town visiting from Idaho, so plans were made for me to take a day off from work and take Jim out on the Willamette on thursday June 23, 2016.  The weather was perfect with overcast conditions and chances of a shower forecast for  the day.  Jim had asked about how the fishing has been and I told him that steelhead were being caught on gear and wet flies on tips, but no steelhead taken on top yet.  By common logic, I suggested that if Jim actually wanted a chance to catch a steelhead, he could fish wets on a dry line, but then Jim tells me "I only brought your flies with me" - I tend to be a bad influence on people...

We a had a full day to float so I planned to put us into a stretch of river that would give up plenty of options of runs to fish.  I was honored that Jim trusted floating down the river with a guy who recently sunk a drift boat, but Jim is the fellow who taught me to row back in 1994, so I owed him a day off from rowing.  I lost my front seat compartment in my boating accident so we made do with using a lawn chair for the front seat.  This actually works out pretty well since it gives more space to maneuver around when getting in and out of the boat.

We put in just after dawn and found that we were the third boat to go down the river, judging by the two other boat trailers parked at the put in.  We got aced out of the first two runs that I would normally stop to fish, but no big deal since we had a lot more water ahead of us.  We continued on through the normal channel that I take when coming to the first split in the river.  A short time later, we came to the dreaded area where I sunk my boat in late May.  Even with the lower water level, I still pulled my boat over alongside the island and walked it through by the anchor rope as the root wads still present a dangerous obstacle.

As we floated below the island we scanned the water for objects that I lost during by boating accident, including the aforementioned seat compartment and back pack containing two JW Young fly reels and several Rage heads.  No luck in finding any of my stuff, so we continued on to the next classic swing run about a half mile downstream.

As we came around a bend, I thankfully saw that the big run that I like was open.  I pulled in and we got to fishing.  Jim started below the boat and I walked to the very top of the run to start at the top corner or water I call the "armpit" of the run.  I was fishing my original 6126 Echo Classic with a old school Rio AFS head and when I have the head and a few strips of running line out, I am in the zone were a nice soft cushion of water forms on the inside of the main flow.  I watched my foam fly swing into the soft shallow water where multiple wakes form, indicating basketball sized rocks scattered about.  As my waker comes near the dangle, a quick, but substantial rise comes to my fly and I feel a quick pull on my line.  My waker disappears from sight for a few seconds and then bobs back to the surface.

I am confident that this encounter was with a steelhead and I was hopeful that my quarry did not feel the hook on the rise.  I made the same cast with no result, then I changed flies several times, ultimately going to a small wet and still no comeback.  I am thrilled with encountering my first surface steelhead rise for the season and am not surprised that my steelhead would not comeback after the one rise as this has been my typical experience with the early season steelhead on my homewater.

I continued down the run and when I was standing even with the boat, another steelhead came up with a splashy rise to my waker on a broadside swing.  I followed with the same comeback routine and got the same result:  no comeback steelhead.

We stopped at a few more minor runs before coming to the midpoint of our float.  I wanted to time things so we would have enough opportunity to take advantage of the prime water in the lower half of the float.  By about 11:30am, I wondered if we would have too much time on our hands to get through the runs in this lower section so on a whim, I decided to stop at a run formed by a little island.  I have not hooked any steelhead in this water for probably 5 years, but figured we could kill a bit of time at this "secondary" locale.

I took the top of the run again and Jim fished the mid section.  I opted to use my Fenwick 8' 7wt glass rod with a 7wt Ambush line to take advantage of fishing the short game at the armpit of this little run.  I got the Ambush head and a few strips of line worked out and watched by baby blue waker coming over the dropoff noted by a color change in the bottom.  As the fly came into the choppy flow on the inside of the dropoff, a quick, trouty rise came to the fly.  I didn't think much of it and made another cast.  In the same area, in only about a foot of water, a bigger rise came to the fly and my line instantly tightened and my little glass rod soon had a good bend in it.  This steelhead gave a stubborn, yet powerful fight, making short bursts, but mostly fought in close.

I kept steady pressure on the fish, using a low rod position and clamping down on the palming rim on my old Hardy Marquis.  When I got the steelhead close, I backed up on the island until I had my prize flopping on the small gravel bar.  Of course, I do this knowing these are hatchery steelhead and I would never drag a wild steelhead onto the bank.
In my happy place, single handed surface steelhead!  Jim Jones photo

Jim and I got a few photos and I took in the blessing of getting my first surface steelhead for the season.  This was a day when it paid off to be prepared with a cooler for chance of harvesting a steelhead.  After putting my fish in the cooler, I had Jim go through the top again, in case another active steelhead was around.  When Jim got down past where I parked the boat, he later told me that he raised a steelhead, but did the trout set and missed him.
Finally......... Jim Jones photo
True to form, my first day of encountering surface steelhead came during the third week of June.  If I'd listen to my own data and experience, I would only start fishing surface flies for my local steelhead in mid June, but the crazy voices in my head still have me fishing on top starting in May.

We continued through the float with much anticipation due to the surface activity we had been finding, but as luck would have it, no more steelhead came to our flies as we fished the remaining runs with a few light rain showers gracing us later in the afternoon.  The anticipation of the grab was satisfying enough and I was glad to have Jim with me on a day that steelhead were looking up!

Perfection.   Todd Hirano photo

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Waiting For the First

Early mornng on the Willamette with Lee Lashaway
 As the winter steelhead season came to a close in April, I’ve since been eagerly watching the steelhead counts over Willamette Falls to monitor how the summer steelhead season is shaping up.  So far so good!  Over 10, 000 steelhead have ascended the falls as of this writing.  Even divided among 4 rivers, the odds keep getting better, with  200 to 300+ summer steelhead coming over each day as the current pattern suggests.
We had a very poor showing of summer steelhead last year, with just shy of 4,000 summer steelhead over the falls for the entire season.  My theory is that the extreme heat we experienced last summer created a thermal block which made it impossible for typical numbers of summer steelhead to make it up to our rivers.  We had weeks of water temps over 70 degrees in my area.   I’ve wondered if some of last year’s run turned around and went back to the ocean due to the extreme heat and may be coming back with this year’s run, bigger and meaner!  It will be interesting to see if more 3 salt steelhead turn up in angler catches this year.
I began the summer season with a few casual bank fishing trips to local runs and found no signs of early steelhead around.  I did my first float trip on May 20, 2016 and took my new friend Rick Fielder out in my drift boat.  Unfortunately, I crashed my drift boat into a root wad and sunk my craft on that trip which is a whole other story to tell.  I was fortunately able to recover my boat a few days later and have taken several more floats down the Willamette since, managing to keep my drift boat floating and away from root wads.  This has been an unusually dangerous year for boaters with a total of at least a dozen boats being sunk between the Willamette and McKenzie.  Many trees have fallen into the river and familiar paths to take while floating the river are not too familiar any more.  This, coupled with the high, fast water has even thrown experienced boaters into bad situations.  Fortunately, I have only heard of gear being lost in these incidents thus far.  The take home:  wear life jackets, scout sketchy spots, line your boat through if necessary, and be sure to get info before launching of hazards to avoid.  Better yet, go through with an experienced boater first or a buddy with a sled to get a good read on the lay of the land.
The water levels have just recently been dropping into more typical summer levels which makes floating the river a little easier and opens up more water that swings a fly well.  I continue with my method of maintaining one “constant” among all the other variables that come with steelheading.  That is I pretty much fish a skating fly all the time.  I have experimented with other variables, such as floating different stretches of rivers and fishing several new runs.  I’ve also continually tinkered with my gear as I rotate through various set ups on each trip out.  One day I may have a single hander and a switch, other days I bust out the long rods and Delta Spey lines.  A guy knows when he has too much stuff when the decision of which setups to use on a trip causes some stress and anxiety.
As each summer season comes along, my goal is always to find out what it takes to get steelhead on the surface and to learn more about the conditions and other factors that promote the kind of steelhead behavior I like to see.  Since I moved to Oregon in 2009, I have noted that for whatever reason, I have not encountered my local hatchery summer runs really starting to come to the top until late mid/late June.  I have wondered if this has to do with numbers of steelhead in the system, water levels, salmon fishing crowds, etc??  Water temperatures are definitely in a favorable range by May, but I have yet to raise one of these local steelhead to the top in May.
My recent outings to the river have been pleasant excursions spent becoming reacquainted with my local homewaters.  The fluid grace of  the cast, the hypnotic rhythm of the swing and the intent focus on the cross stream path of my skating fly keep me filled with anticipation of encountering my inaugural surface steelhead of the season.  I will keep the faith as I continue waiting for the first…..
A day spent floating the river alone.