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 cast...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 play...today.
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.