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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.

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