|A Peaceful Place. Photo by Todd Hirano|
Sometimes the best laid plans take unexpected turns. After recently surviving a week in Disneyworld, I was anxious to get back into the swing of things. As the weekend neared, another roadtrip was schemed. Plans included meeting up with a new friend made through social media (Surface Steelhead tends to bring fanatics together). This kind fellow recently discovered the thrills of surface steelhead and he was offering to show me around his homewater, a difficult offer to refuse. As the weekend approached, I was reminded of an appointment on my end which had me leaving town at midday rather than at the pre butt crack of dawn. It also turned out that my new friend had prior commitments that he had forgotten about so this became a solo venture.
I hit the road, but as I got a ways into my multi hour drive, traffic became an issue as well. Thoughts of arriving on the river by mid afternoon were reduced to the possibility of getting to a run just before dusk. With the traffic delays, I thought of just getting settled in for the evening and setting my sights on fishing the following day, but the voices in my head never stop, saying things like "you might as well drive up there anyway, get the lay of the land, maybe even wet a line if there is a bit of daylight left". Upon arrival at the river, it turned out that I was left with about a half hour of daylight to select a run to fish on a river I had only once briefly fished in 1997. I had no real memory of the layout of this river so I was largely dependent on intel messaged from my new friend.
In the dimming light, I managed to scope a run that seemed to look fishable, but I had no sense of it's possibilities. I was not even sure I had arrived in an area my new friend had described. I quickly fished a riffle leading into a bend pool and found as supected, that the flow quickly eddied out due to swirls formed by the inside of the bend. I reeled up and surveyed the flows upstream.
With light quickly fading, I jumped in my rig made a quick run a couple hundred yards upstream. There appeared to be a narrow run with the main flow pushing along the far side. The upper section seemed fast so I fished through quickly until I arrived in the lower half of the run. The river widened and the flow spread out. I was barely able to discern that there was good depth until the bottom began to rise near shore. I saw some potential with this water but I felt the urgency of my time running out.
As I hurriedly fished down, I could periodically make out the white foam post on my fly. At dusk with my fly no longer visible, I heard a splash near the end of a swing followed by a pull. I was barely able to make out the surface disturbance in the near darkness. After a second, it registered that I had encountered a steelhead, but I also know that often, when a steelhead feels unusual resistance from a tiny object waking in the surface, suspicions are raised and the game is over. Never mind logic, another cast was made and in the same nearshore locale, another surface splash was heard and barely seen, followed by another firm pull. My fly continued to the dangle as my system tensed with excitement and anxiety over whether this steelhead's second unusual encounter with a unmovable purple and black bug would have surely taught a cautionary lesson about going after weird flies. The next cast went unanswered by Mr. Steelhead and I thought that my chances for a hookup went down the tubes. I pondered my next move and figured a fly change would be difficult at best in the near darkness, so I decided to shorten up my cast by one strip, or about 3 feet. The next cast went out with diminished hopes, but as my notorious foam fly swung from the deeper main flow towards the nearshore rise, the steelhead came back with another splashy rise, followed by a firm pull, but this time, what followed was a screaming 3 5/8" Perfect.
The steelhead took off on a series of runs and I initially thought it was a typical sized fish, but when it seemed to be able to do whatever it wanted, I realized it might be above average in size. At one point the steelhead came toward me and my line totally went slack. As I was recovering line, I resigned to feeling the sting of a lost fish, then the line suddenly came tight again and the fight resumed. Consistent side pressure with my 10'6" 5wt switch ultimately got this beautiful steelhead to hand.
I was in awe at the sight of the broad shoulders and length of this steelhead that was larger than those that I normally encounter. I was extremely happy to find success in such a small window in unlikely circumstances. Some days, I am surpremely blessed by these kinds of incidents and never take them for granted!
(I had fished the river the following day at a more leisurely pace with no success but had a chance to take water temperature readings. My thermometer read 44 degrees in the morning and 45 degrees in early afternoon. This was a warmer day than the day before, so the steelhead encounter described above would have occurred in water temperature no warmer than 45 degrees, considered relatively cool for surface fishing. Sometimes steelhead like to break rules and persistence with the surface fly pays off.)