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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.