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Monday, December 4, 2017

Skater Of The Month For December 2017 - Tweaks

For past couple months, I have experimented with "tweaks" to a couple of my existing color blends.  In the top photo, I took the all black Ninja and added a red butt and green flash and green rib.  I like how the red and green provides a nice contrast with the black fly.  I have fished this fly a few times with only trout rises thus far.  Further testing with fish present is needed.

In the middle photo, I added a green butt to the Ninja as I visioned Kaufmann's "coal car" wet fly that is all black with the green butt the only point of contrast.  This version of the Ninja accounted for the one hookup I got on my BC trip this fall, and the one local steelhead I landed in September.

In the bottom photo, I took the natural/purple/green wang that I called the Royal Green and added an orange butt and purple UV flash.  The orange butt and purple flash adds a pop factor the the natural hued fly that appeals to my eye.  No approval from steelhead yet.  Hopefully field testing next year will give this fly some much needed validation.

Winter steelhead season is now upon us and I have officially gotten  my big irons and other subsurface dry line winter flies out.  I took my first winter steelhead trip on 12/1 and while no steel like tugs were encountered, it felt good to be back in my winter playgrounds.  Of course when mild winter condtions are encountered, I will still give the floaters a try.

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and a Merry Christmas.  May chrome gifts appear when you are out on the rivers.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

BC 2017 In Pictures

Another year has quickly passed by and the time came for my annual trip to Steelhead Paradise this past September.  Steelhead returns have been dismal in most of our west coast streams and the Tyee test fishery likewise predicted poor returns for the Skeena system as well.  The regular assault team consisting of Steve Turner, Tony Torrence, Adrian Cortes and I remained committed to making the trek north, come what may.

On day one, we put in at the top of our favored float.  A steady drizzle accompanied us for most of the day, however the river remained fishable and we remained hopeful.  Over the course of the day, the river began to show a bit of color, but I remained optimistic that the river would remain fishable in the coming days.  No surprise that none of us got into steelhead and the only fishy encounter came as a good tug to Tony's wet fly fished on a tip.

Our Limo, complements of Steve Turner!

Tony tossing a tip in a rising river

A perfect dry fly run
Tony got a pull on his wet, right there...
Rick's Gold, ready for action.

Island Life. 

On day two, I realized that my optimism was misguided!  We arrived at the same put in to find that the river was blown.  Several other fisherman arrived and the collective dismay could be felt.  Adrian ran into a fellow named Max that he had met and fished with on the Deschutes in June and we ran into another fellow named Carlo Ng who recognized Adrian and me through social media.  I was flattered that Carlo liked my pattern enough to tie his own versions and on which he had found surface success.  l ended up sharing a few flies with Carlo as we collectively prayed for fishable conditions in the coming days.  We had heard that the Kitimat river had flooded and washed an RV downstream.  We later heard that the entire river system we were on was blown, including it's headwaters.

We decided to accept the day as a loss in terms of fishing, so we returned to our motel.  Tony had actually opted to take the day off to rest up for the remaining days of our week and turns out he made the right choice!  He had just gotten up when we returned and didn't seen terribly surprised to see us.  The guy must own a crystal ball and knew that this day would probably not be the best bet to be out in.

Adrian and I tried to reconcile our time by tying flies in an effort to stave of the pain of missing a day of fishing after driving 20 some hours to get here.  As we idled around, we tried to come up with a game plan for the coming days.  Looking for water that dropped more quickly seemed like the general idea.

It was on this day that I got on a weird kick.  When we went to lunch at a cafe in town, and for some random reason, I decided to eat an elaborate salad consisting of organic greens and a bunch of stuff I could not identify.  It was actually pretty good.  I think in a strange way of rebelling against the adverse conditions, I ended up eating salads at almost every meal for the remainder of the trip to punish myself.  I'm sure my body was wondering what happened to all the red meat, fat, and carbs I regularly consume as a lifetime junk food junkie.  My friends no longer recognized me.

A blown river

These will stay dry on this day

Tony had the right idea to sleep in.

One trick pony
 Day three found us on a smaller neighboring river that was still running a bit high, but on the drop.  This was our first visit to this river and we fished from the bank on a recon mission.  I found this river to have numerous dry fly runs that just called for the surface presentation.  I spent the day watching my unorthodox skater swinging across beautiful runs with just casting practice and character building to show for it.  We schemed a plan for the next day as we sniffed out a put in and take out for a reasonable day's float.  We were able to get a hold of a local contact who was willing to help us with a shuttle (Thanks A!!) and we were set.

A great place to start the day

Steve casting bullets into the morning currents

Steve and Adrian have a plan

Beautiful country

Day four found us putting our pontoons in on a river that was in perfect shape, running at a perfect level with good clarity.  As we made our way downstream, I suggested that Tony call out runs for us to fish as he is better at pacing our way down the river.  I tend to be a "hoarder" and if up to me, we'd end stopping at every little piece of water that looks even remotely fishable.  As we worked down, Tony suggested we cover some ground since this stretch is a bit long for a day's float.  As we approached a nice tailout, we contemplated whether to stop when we saw a nice rise in the middle, which helped in our decision making process.

Tony graciously insisted that I put a skater over the rise first and if no hookup was forthcoming, he would go over with a wet.  I hurriedly got into position, got my casts lengthened into the zone and worked down to where the rise appeared.  As I watched my skater coming across low in the tailout, a bulge of water appeared at my fly, then after a few feet, the bulge appeared again as the fish followed the fly.  Another bulge came at the dangle but no eat.  The comeback routine with changing flies and shortening up brought no results either.  Tony went through with his wetly and still no connection.  By then Steve and Adrian arrived and pulled in so they would not disrupt our water.   Adrian decided to give the riser one last opportunity to show itself, but still no cigar.

We continued on through the float an enjoyed a mild day with lots of great water before us.  In one side channel we floated through, we flushed several large steelhead off their lies.  Of course this piqued our interest and we pulled over and fished through the water and got no satisfaction.  In a pool below, Tony spotted a couple more steelhead holding.  At the end of the day the net result for our group was zero rises (aside from the bulges at my fly which may have been a pink?), zero grabs, and zero hookups.  Nonetheless, we were happy for the conditions which forced us to explore this water for the first time.
Morning huddle

Adrian zeroing in

Tony fishing over an area where steelhead were spotted

Closing out the day

Day five found us back at the larger river as we had gotten reports that it was running on the high side but fishable.  As we floated down, we indeed noticed that this would be a different game where runs we normally fished would either be changed or unfishable.  We stopped at either soft nearshore cushions or traditional runs that "spread out" nicely with the higher water.

By midday, none of us found any players.  Steve had rowed ahead to stake out a nice gravel bar that would serve as our lunch stop.  Our typical lunch fare of ham sandwiches (or wraps), cheese, Ms. Vickies chips, cookies, beer, etc, emerged as we took a break from our determined efforts to find a needle in the haystack.  After lunch we decided to split up our lunch stop water with Adrian hitting the lower section, me grabbing middle, and Tony fishing the top just below where we pulled in.  Shortly after we got settled into our rhythm, a voice was heard proclaiming "got one!" - Tony's!  Tony had been fishing a light tip with a McNeese styled wet and found his prize where the river drops off as it sloped away from the bank.  The beautiful hen gave a wonderful account of herself with spritely runs.  Tony landed the beautiful and rare steelhead with photos and high fives to go around.

As we approached the lower section of the float, Tony decided to let the "hoarder" call out some water.  I saw a nice nearshore break so we pulled in.  I figured to split this run with Tony, but he felt like taking a break and had me fish the short run on my own.  I had my 11' 8wt Cabela's TLr switch, 450 grain Ambush and #6 green butt ninja as I worked down the run.  This set up was working very well in cutting through the afternoon winds and this run didn't call for long casts with the seam running about 60' off the bank.  From his vantage point provided by the front seat of our pontoon, Tony was also able to track the black post on my fly as it contrasted nicely from the silver/grey glare provided by the overcast.   At the lower part of the run, the flow softened nicely and my skater swung perfectly through the currents.  As I was meditating on the pleasure of this perfection, a steelhead launched across the surface and muched my fly near the dangle!  Tony saw the rise as well and both of our attentions intently focused on the events at hand.  Tony yelled over "you got him??", I had just gotten tight to the steelhead and yelled "yep!". I finally felt life on the end of my line and the adrenaline rush was overwhelming after going through the week with no action.  I switched the rod over to my left hand and began reeling tight to the smallish buck as he was about to take off on a run.  Just as I was visioning getting a closer look at this beautiful steelhead, tension was lost as I realized that my vision got free.  The conflicting emotions of disappointment and gratitude came over me as I chalked it all up as part of the deal with this game that I love.

Tony and I split up a beautiful, long run just above the take out as we closed out the day and our trip.  This run was big and broad and just called out for a longer rod.  My Sage 9140 Brownie came back out with a 54' Delta Spey.  It was a pleasure stretching out with longer casts as my little black skater cut through the bouncy seams.  I fished with great anticipation of a closing steelhead rise, but it was not to be.  The joy of the rhythm was more than enough.
Set up for the final session

Group shot of Non Resident Aliens

Misty Morning hop

Feeling hopeful

Steve and Adrian beating Tony and me to some good water

Steve and Tony having a lunch hour fly conference

Adrian is a pusher of Vienna Sausages

Tony hooks up.

It's alive!

Keep em wet


The release

The fly, a McNeese inspired pattern of Tony's

Adrian in the zone down low

Closing out the day

Love my 9140 Brownie and big water

It was a trip of scarcity as to fish catching was concerned, but rich in friendship and fellowship.  Adrian, Steve, Tony and I had a wonderful time hanging out with each other.  We also were able to connect with BC friends including Will Bush who is an incredible tyer of classics and rep for Lagurtan; Aaron Lowe who is an awesome long rod (16'6" B and W) long line caster and tyer of the fishiest/buggiest small flies around, Allison Oliver who is now the Skeena region steward for the Native Fish Society and all around fishy gal, Katy Watson - Will's girlfriend, fishing guide, adventurer, Spey O Rama competitor, talented tyer, and passionate steelheader.

Of course we plan to return to Steelhead Paradise next year, God willing, with prayers for the recovery of wild runs in the Skeena system and beyond.  I am hopeful the current trends are just a low point in steelhead population cycles and that the resiliency of these mighty fish reigns.

Skater of the Month for November 2017 - The Rodeo Clown

This month's incarnation of my skater pattern was inspired by Mr. Allan Melville of Ontario, Canada.  I have been in contact with Allan through social media and just before my friends and I set off on our trip to BC in September, Allan messaged me with pictures of his version of my fly.  Allan wanted feedback on his proportions and material selection for the wings.  As we went back and forth, I noticed that the color combination Allan was using looked great.  I had bought some orange cow elk for wings and had not figured on a color blend to make it work.  Thanks to Allan, I now have a recipe that makes the orange wings pop.  I shamelessly stole Allan's design and like the result.

On our second day in Steelhead Paradise, we were forced to take a day off from fishing due to blown rivers.  I hurriedly pulled materials out that mimicked Allan's fly.  I tied that pattern in sizes ranging from 4 to 10 and shared a few with my companions as we anticipated dropping rivers in the coming days.  We all agreed that this version of my fly looked promising.

The following day found us exploring a smaller river system and the first run we fished was near some rodeo grounds.  I anxiously tied on and fished the lastest configuration of the LW and fished this water with confidence.  No surprise that with the low returns, there was no steel feedback, but seemed a couple trout wanted to crush it. 

With the colorful personality of this fly and having fished it for the first time by the rodeo grounds, it got the name "Rodeo Clown".  No steelhead on this fly yet, but just a matter of time...

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Mini Muddler: Small Dry Fly Offerings for Steelhead by Adrian Cortes - Skater of the Month - October 2017

The Canyon glowed a golden hue as the afternoon sun stretched its final rays. Many would call this time the magic hour, but the long day on the river had taken its toll on the angler. This morning's fresh optimism had waned. The day's angling accounted for only one surface rise many hours ago and with nothing else to show for all the effort; any small adversity seemed exaggerated this late in the game. The wind seems more petulant, the shoulders ache and sag, the boots weigh 2 sizes too large, and the wading mimics a drunken stagger. A steelheader's resolve and fortitude are tested as the takeout is within sight - the rig promising the comfortable pair of flip-flops, a cold beverage, and a warm meal. Just a few more forlorn casts into the swirling wind and he can officially call it "the old college effort"...but his stubbornness wins over.  "All it takes is one hit, and the game changes. Finish out the inning...", he mutters under his breath. 

Around him the the river starts coming alive with insect activity. Evening caddis have moved their swarms away from the bankside brush to dance with their partners over the water. This has got the resident trout excited with the anticipation of their evening meals. All this drama takes place under the angler's nose, peaking his interest. Perchance, the unicorn of trout: the sea-run steelhead has also found a rekindling of its natal attraction to such miniscule insects. 

He surveys his collection of dryflies and his eyes rest on a Mini-Muddler which he received in a fly exchange from a fine tyer. He has already landed steelhead on the home pools with this pattern, but this is a big river - will such a wee fly even draw attention? The reality is daunting to even this point...the angler has tempered his optimism with the reports of meager steelhead returns to the region this season.  But for whatever logic or reason, the sz 8 hook is tied on to the tippet with a Garroutte hitch. 
The Mini-Muddler (above) as tied by a fellow steelheader from BC. Notice the low-water style and also how the Garroute hitch orients the tippett to exit the hookeye at an angle.

Shortened casts find their way quartering downstream. The Mini-Muddler does the duty, slicing through the slicks and at times bobbing down and up as the micro currents wrestle the leader. Having forgotten the weary joints so annoying just a short tad ago, our fisherman smiles as this new distraction has him gripped with the tunnel vision of a surface attack.  More line is stripped out and casted. Beyond 50 ft, the fly gets lost in the distance until it nears the bank where it's easier to track. Experience has taught him that sometimes a keen eye will lose sight of a surface fly, but being aware of the line swing helps locate the general zone of where the fly will be. 

Above is an example of how a successful pattern inspires a tyer to to replicate the Mini-Muddler with natural materials as he attempts to tie it in hand at a ball game. 

The line swings almost parallel now to the bank, placing his fly near the dangle...then a large boil materializes in the calm near-shore water accompanied a half-second later by a quick yank on the bamboo rod. Then slack. Obviously, senses are heightened but was that just a daydream? The concentric waves dissipating over the surface tell the tale: something of significant size just broke the surface tension. The steelhead dry fly "comeback" protocol ensues : repeat casts and shortened casts to tempt the steelhead back to the surface. Without changing his position and about 5 casts after the initial attack, our angler succeeds in moving the fish back to the surface in the same area with a toilet flush-type of attack. The game has changed dramatically - the Mini-Muddler has gotten on base and in scoring position. 

This story ends dramatically, but it was another teammate (fly) in the batter's box that hit the game-winner on this particular steelhead's comeback event. Nevertheless, it was the tiniest dude on the team that got called out of the box to infuse energy into the game. With more than a speck of hope, Mini-Muddler swung big and made waves skidding into scoring position. Rally caps came out and the stadium became alive again as the opposing team got angry and tried to swipe at the little guy. 
While not titled "muddlers", McMillan's Steelhead Caddis have that muddler style head that is just so fishy...especially if tied on small hooks next to the river.

Take a moment to consider tiny patterns for big steelhead. In this era of flash and substance,  small demure patterns become forgotten. In talks with some of steelheading's finer anglers, it shouldn't surprise us that relatively small patterns have been a mainstay in their arsenal.  A sz 8 thru a sz 10 downeye hook either leader-greased or Garroutte-hitched is a fine platform for a small tuft of hair lashed muddler-style. As a caveat, you may not always get the dramatic surface eat as in our example (steelhead may tend to eat a tiny offering as if it were rising gracefully to a mayfly),  but you will get an "eat".  Again, confidence is the key...even when you can't spot the fly - keep it fishing. 
Little fly, shark chase, big fish.

Put him in coach, he's ready to

Another bottom-of-the-ninth wee Steelhead Caddis tied low-water style with the mini-muddler style head.

Teammates in the dugout. They're small but they're ready to prove their mettle. Rally caps on.

Monday, September 18, 2017


I just returned home from my yearly trip to BC and our group experienced some tough fishing due to blown rivers and poor steelhead returns.  Thankfully, my wonderful group of friends made for a memorable trip filled with fun and laughter as we commiserated over the tough conditions and explored alternatives to our typical plans when we go north.

Being a guy who can never get enough river time and also wanting to seek redemption, I ventured to my local homewater this morning for a quick session of surface steelheading before work.  With the shorter days of Fall, my session would amount to just shy of an hour before I needed to head into work by 8am.

With all the gear I own, I sometimes agonize over which set up to use when I hit the river.  Being that I was still in the mood to swing a big rod after stretching out on the larger BC rivers, I decided to take my old Sage 9140 brownie back out even though my local flow does not necessarily demand a 14' rod.

With the cloudy overcast, it took some time for light to fully illuminate the river.  I fished mostly blind in the first piece of water I went through.  With limited time, I hurried through and headed to the other run I wanted to hit before leaving.

Just before my brief time on the water was up, a beefy 32 inch buck decided to come up and attack the #6 green butt Ninja wang that was tied to my 8# Maxima tippet.  It was a quick gulp that I saw in the periphery of my vision, instantly followed by a screaming Hardy.

This tough guy made several powerful runs and was soon into my backing.  Several powerful bursts ensued with my click/pawl reel singing as I went back and forth recovering fly line and backing.  I eventually managed to bring this prize to the bank and found the Ninja hooked in the tongue of this solid hatchery buck.  The tongue hooking may have contributed to the angry fight that his bruiser put out.

Being I was still on my BC high, the choice of long rod, with Hardy Salmon 2, and Delta Spey 7/8 made for enjoyable casting and swinging.  The hefty steelhead felt great pulling on the big rod while making my Hardy sing a sweet song.

It has been a very long time since I have had a steelhead fighting on my line, but it all came back to me as I battled this raging steelhead.  It's been a season of scarcity and the long blank periods with no steelhead made this encounter stand out in time.

It is ironic that I travel a thousand miles each fall to chase steelhead in BC  when I am sometimes able to get into them 10 minutes from home.  I am thankful to be reminded of God's goodess as every good and perfect gift comes from above.