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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


  1. Sounds like a really good day. Thanks for the great entries.

    1. Thanks Stephen, it was a great day. My local steelhead continue to look up. I have been raising fish on almost every outing lately.