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Friday, July 21, 2017


Winter steelhead taken on waker in February.  Photo by Todd Hirano
The old adage "Persistence Pays Off" seemed to have been tailor made to suit the game of swinging flies for steelhead.  Those of us caught up in the passion of this game know all too well that it can take hours, days, weeks, months, or even years to encounter the magical prize we seek.  The beauty of steelhead and the brilliant wonder of the river environments they inhabit instill passion and romance in our souls that runs deep and for many, forever becomes part of our lifestyles and dreams.

Swinging flies for steelhead has surely taken hold of me and for over the past 25 years, images of steelhead grabbing surface flies continue to distract my attentions in my daily life.  We all come to steelheading from different backgrounds and experiences and as some may know, my primary influence has been Bill McMillan and his book Dry Line Steelhead.  I have come to fully embrace dry line fishing and often credit Bill for the traditions and ethics he has passed onto me.  In his humility, Bill considers himself merely a conduit between the traditions and values of his mentor Roderick Haig-Brown and me, but of course we all know Bill's contributions to our sport and his life's work in steelhead conservation are monumental.

As a disciple of dry line steelheading, I have come to realize there are many times where I have to extend an extra measure of patience and effort because there can be long, blank spaces between steelhead encounters while employing my chosen methods.  There are many times where I question my own degree of persistence when I am reminded that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of.........insanity.

During the winter season, my buddies who are very skilled at fishing sinktips, catch steelhead all around me while I stubbornly adhere to fishing the dry line and heavy irons, come what may.  During summer and fall, I fish surface flies pretty exclusively, even when my floating offerings are ignored and other guys are getting steelhead on wet flies.  I have somehow arrived at a place where I am not happy unless I am encountering steelhead on my own terms.

There have been times when I have been mistaken for being snobbish when I am actually just stubborn and single-minded.  These traits are not the best tools to have if one actually wants to catch steelhead.  For me, finding joy in the methods I love are more important than being efficient at catching as many steelhead as possible.

Being a long-suffering steelheader does have rewards:  those sometime long stretches of great days on the river with no steelhead encounters have a way of creating a wonderful framework around those special times when a steelhead rises to attack my surface fly or when that strong, unseen pull comes during to my deeply swung fly in winter.  Those fishless stretches on the river really make the hard won prize stand out in time and leaves a lasting imprint in my memory.  It is like looking at a photograph where the main subject brilliantly stands out from a beautiful background.  You could say there can be benefits to catching fewer fish!

My character flaw of unrelenting persistence has sometimes taken me in unusual directions.  I have found myself pursing goals where success seems only remotely possible.  For instance, just because I knew that Bill McMillan and a few others have found success in bringing winter steelhead to the surface, I decided to make this a goal for myself.  I often feel odd when I am out on winter rivers twitching my foam wakers across runs when every other sane person is fishing sinktips.  However, my crazy efforts have actually brought my dreams of taking winter steelhead on surface flies to reality on a couple occasions.

Winter and spring in coastal Oregon rivers often bring moderate weather with water temps in the mid 40s to low 50s so it doesn't seem too unrealistic to expect surface responses from these winter steelhead.  I typically manage to raise a few winter steelhead to the surface each season and I managed to hook and land two winter steelhead to waking flies thus far.  One of these steelhead came during late March and the other in late February.  Both of these steelhead were smallish in size, but big in the thrill factor.  I am continuing to pursue winter steelhead on surface flies and hoping for larger specimens in the future.
Winter steelhead taken on a waker in March.  Todd Hirano photo.
On my most recent trip to Skeena country this past fall, I found conditions that fully tested my ability to persist with my preferred method in spite of  difficult conditions.  My friends and I were optimistic of finding good fishing with the positive projections of the Tyee test fishery.  However, I encountered a very tough week of fishing.  My friend Adrian Cortes hooked and landed several steelhead that were willing to take his Greaseliners and Thompson river caddis.  My friend Tony Torrence managed to get into a few steelhead on small buck bugs.  My other friend Steve Turner got into a couple steelhead as well, but over all, it was fishing where every single rise and hookup was duly earned among our group.

Over the course of the week, I raised a few steelhead to my favored foam wakers but none would commit to the fly and by the time we were fishing the last run on the last day of the trip, I had not sunk a hook into a single steelhead.  As I rounded the corner on the large run we were fishing, I heard some hollering and realized that Steve had gotten a steelhead low in the run on his muddler.  I hurried my pace to catch up with the guys as they were toasting to Steve's steelhead.  By then, I had come to accept that this was to be trip where I would be content to conclude my time in paradise with the abundance of wonderful friendships in a beautiful place.

By the time I reached the guys, I congratulated Steve and was about to load up into the raft when my friends unanimously voted that I needed to fish Steve's spot because there might be another steelhead there.  Of course, I obliged to the kindness of my friends and after a few casts in, a steelhead aggressively erupted on my fly and my Hardy was singing a sweet song with a feisty buck cartwheeling with a majetic BC river as the backdrop.  This was truly a moment of perfection.  I was able to put my hands on this beautiful gift from God as Steve and Adrian took some photos.

As we rowed to the take out, my heart was filled with the greatest sense of gratitude and satisfaction.  I was struck with how that single steelhead on my very last cast made this trip unforgettable.  My passion for getting Steelhead to rise sustained me, even through a week of many unanswered casts in water that had produced multiple hookups in past trips.  The tenacity that I have developed from my dedication to dry line methods continues to remind me that indeed, persistence does pay off.

Last Cast Steel.   Photo by Adrian Cortes

Note:  This story appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Swing The Fly.  Many thanks to Zack Williams for publishing my work.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Skater Of The Month - July 2017 - Grey Caddis

Spring and early summer yields catches of hatchery rainbows on my local stretch of the McKenzie.  My grey caddis wang did these mutants in as I do my part to get rid of these inferior fish that have no place on a wild river like the McKenzie. 

Grey Caddis and October Caddis versions of my skater.

Side view of the grey caddis wang, tied on a size 10, Mustad S80 hook (3906 equivalent)

Late spring and early summer are the in between time that has me dusting off my trout gear.  This year is looking to be pretty dismal as to the hatchery summer run on my local rivers so I have embraced an extended period of chasing trout.

I am still a surface nut, even with trout, so I have a tough time even resorting soft hackle wets fished in the film.  It's tough being a wanna be purist as I have difficulty  escaping my self imposed visions of what constitutes beauty and grace in fishing.

 Since I figure trout are like small steelhead, I approach fishing for them as if I am skating for steelhead, but on a miniature scale.  I use my single hand rods in 4, 5, and 6wt and most often load them with appropriate Wulff Ambush lines.  On a couple of my older rods, I removed the butt caps and fabricated a lower handle to convert them into trout switches.

I also downsize my favorite foam skater accordingly and go with natural colors.  I have been tying my trout skaters on size 10 Mustad S80/3906 hooks. I notice alot of grey hued caddis during this time of year so I have tried tying my fly with grey yarn for the body and medium dun cow elk in the wings with black Krystal flash and black cactus chenielle.  The little grey skater has been well received by my local trout.

I have been having a blast seeing trout attack my skaters with aggressive surface attacks, again it's steelhead skating,  mini version.

For some reason I have yet to find redsides on the Deschutes to be receptive to skating methods, but closer to home, the redsides and cutthroat go after my tiny skaters with gusto.

If you haven't given trout skating a shot, you should, it's not all about steelhead, or is it?