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Friday, November 5, 2021

The Giver And The Maker

The quest for steelhead on a dry fly has been an inescapable passion that has held me in it's grip for the past three decades. Among the joys of this journey has been becoming friends with like minded souls who share the common obsession with getting steelhead to rise; those that speak the same language where a special bond is made.

I became friends with Rick Fielder in 2016 after he reached out to me through my blog Dry Line Steelhead-Oregon. I realized that Rick was living in Idaho, but was originally from Oregon. I quickly knew that we spoke the same dry fly steelhead language and that Rick had a remarkable history of dry fly steelhead experience.

Rick decided to make a trip to Oregon in May 2016 to meet up in person and to fish my local homewater, the Middle Fork Willamette. We launched in my drift boat and not long into our float, I managed to get hung up in a root wad. The boat went down in seconds and we were fortunately able to climb onto the root wad until help arrived. I guess nearly getting us killed during our first fishing trip sealed our friendship.

Fast forward through subsequent safer fishing trips in the ensuing years and our circle of common fishing friends ever expanding, we are coming through the pandemic and experiencing diminishing steelhead returns. We weather through the ups and downs of fishing and life with the help of an ongoing text thread that includes Rick Fielder, Adrian Cortes, Rick Harrington, Bucky Buchstaber, Mark Stangeland, Lee Lashway, Jeremiah Bawden, Keith Tymchuck, and Tony Torrence. This text thread was initially set up by Adrian for "event planning ", but took a life of it's own and continues to this day. Stories are told and life is shared in this special platform.

So one day, in the text thread, Rick says "hey Todd, what do you think of bamboo?" I'm thinking that Rick was going to suggest a rod that I should start saving for. It was late and I went to bed after reading that message.

The next morning, I saw that our text thread was going again so I opened it up and found that Rick has posted a picture of two identical David Reid cane rods. The text below the picture read, "the rod on the left is yours". I re-read the text a few times and it started to sink in that Rick was gifting me a David Reid 11'6" 5/6 Fall Run cane rod!

Rick mentioned that he was getting himself a retirement gift by ordering a cane rod from David Reid and he decided to order the same rod for me as well. He had David utilize English Oak from Rick's father's farm for the reel seat and handles.

I was also in communication with David Reid directly a few days before he put the rod in the mail to me. We discussed lines for the rod and he talked of how he was blessed with being part of this surprise gift that Rick was presenting to me.

As things turned out, Rick and David planned a trip to come fishing for steelhead in Oregon a couple weeks later and I was able to spend a day with the giver and the maker of this special rod. It was blessed Fall day, with perfect overcast, but no dry fly steelhead showing. The company and fellowship were more than enough as Rick and I celebrated breaking in our twin cane rods.

David shared insights on rod design and he was interested in where I would land as to line matches and casting feel with the 11'6" 5/6 Fall Run. It turns out that I found myself "uplining" to get the load that I liked. An older Rio AFS 460 gr 37' was nice as well as the Beulah Elixer 33' 450gr. My favorite match on this rod has been the Beulah Aerohead 510gr @47'. This could be due to the longer line phase I have been going through.

As I thanked Rick yet again for this generous gift, he mentioned that our friendship had helped to rekindle his passion for dry fly steelhead during a time when life was providing distractions. I am truly blessed when my dedication with dry fly steelhead can provide encouragement and inspiration to others. 

- Duke Ellington

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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Dry Fly Steelhead On The Wetfly Swing Podcast

I had the wonderful opportunity to talk about my favorite subject on the Wet Fly Swing podcast. Thanks to Dave Stewart for having me on!

Monday, July 5, 2021

Bivisi-Bomber Step By Step

Chartreuse Explosion Bivisi-Bomber

It's been a while since I have posted here so I figured it was about time to put up a step by step  on tying my latest surface steelhead pattern, the Bivisi-Bomber.

I developed this pattern in the fall of 2019 as I went through a phase where my goal was to come up with a steelhead dry that used all natural materials, but that stayed on top consistently, and was highly visible.  My unconventional and deviant pattern,  the Little Wang, has proven itself many times over, so I was ready for a new challenge and my buddy Adrian Cortes may have given me a complex with his in hand, traditional,  all natural tying.

I had experimented with Bombers and found that I could get them to stay on top sometimes, but they often bobbed under.  Due to my tendency to want constant eye contact with my bug on the surface,  aka the dry or die mentality, the bobbing bomber frustrated me.  

I realized that with my goal of "holding the foam", I needed more stiff surface area at the front of the fly to keep it riding on the surface. My thought naturally went to incorporating cow elk into the pattern as it is the stiffest and highest floating natural material that I could think of.   

As I pondered how to incorporate cow elk into a bomber, the idea came about to cinch down a bunch of cow elk at the front of the fly, squeezed between the spun deer hair body and forward facing split wings of calf tail.  I was hoping that the stiff butts of cow elk pushing forward against the calf tail wings would provide the rigidity needed to keep the fly planing across the surface under tension.   The cow elk would also add more visibility and contrast to the pattern. 

A couple prototypes were quickly whipped up just in time for an evening session on my local ditch. As I had hoped, my newfangled contraption floated like a cork and waked like a champ under tension.  I was thrilled that I had finally achieved my goal of devising an all natural pattern that wakes consistently without relying on foam or glue.

Of course, over time, I have come up with numerous color variations in tying this pattern along with some additional color combos that have been requested by folks who have bought flies from me.   Most recently,  I have added hot butts of fluorescent yarn to my Bivisi-bombers and once a guy starts doing that, these flies seem naked without them...  Anyway,  you get it, the possibilities for color blends on this pattern are endless so for those who tie up their own renditions of this fly, show me what you come up with.  You can email me at and I could post up your versions of the Bivisi-bomber. 

Materials list:

Hook:  Mustad S82 (1xl, nymph hook) or the Gamakatsu bait hook with shank Barbs flattened, or your favorite bomber hook.  I typically tie these flies in sizes 6 & 4.

Thread:  100 denier Veevus gel spun, typically black

Tail:  Squirrel tail, color of your choice

Hot butt: fluorescent wool yarn,  I most commonly use chartreuse or orange 

Body:  spun deer, trimmed to a tapered shape, flat on bottom. 

Front facing wings:  calftail or squirrel tail, split and divided. 

Over wing:  cow elk, color of your choice. (Nature's Spirit has been the best source of cow elk that I have come across,  good quality and good selection of colors).

Body hackle:  appropriately sized saddle hackle.  Whiting Wooley bugger packs have been perfect  - nice long hackles and lots of feathers in the size range needed for this pattern. 

In the step by step below, I am tying the "Bleached Blonde" version of the Bivisi-Bomber, but as mentioned, color combos are endless so have fun with this pattern.


1.  Start with a tight base of thread, starting from the eye, down the shank just past the hook point, then back to a position just behind the hook eye.  To prevent the thread and materials from spinning on the hook shank, I roughen the hook shank with an emery board prior to laying down the base of layer of thread.  I love gel spun thread for it's strength,  but it can be slippery stuff.  Applying zap a gap to the base layer of thread can also help prevent the body from moving on the hook shank after the fly is completed.

2.  Take a bunch of calf tail or squirrel tail and place in a hair stacker to get the tips as even as possible.  Measure the length to be a bit short of the length of the body.  Tie in the bunch of hair facing forward, leaving just a tiny bit of space behind the hook eye.  Because of the need to push materials forward, this pattern calls for "crowding the head".  Cut the butts about halfway down the body in a slant and tie over the butts and back to the front.  Part the hair in half and put some figure 8 wraps through the hair to split the wings.  Alternately wrap up each wing post with 5-10 thread wraps to reinforce the divided wings.  Figure 8 a couple more times to lock down the divided wings and push them forward.

3.  Take a bunch of squirrel tail and place in hair stacker to even the tips.  Measure the tail to be equal to the length of the body.  Tie down and cut butts where they meet the butts of the forward facing wings.

4.  If desired, tie in the hot butt at this point.  Tie in the flourescent yarn starting at the end of the butts of the forward facing wings, and to the end of body, wrap thread forward.  Take 3 wraps forward with the flourescent yarn and tie off, cutting the yarn even with the starting point.

5.  In preparation for tying in the deer hair body, take masking tape and tape over the forward facing wings and tail, if desired, for protection when the time comes to trim the deer hair body.

6.  Tie in deer hair with bunches about  a half inch in diameter, remove underfur and spin / flare each bunch on the shank starting just in front of the hot butt.  I typically end up using about 4 bunches of deer, packing each bunch tightly against the other.  Maintain firm thread tension once each bunch is spun/flared around the shank.  Add deer until you are at a point just behind the forward facing wings, leaving a little room for tying in the body hackle and over wing.  At this point, I do a manual 4 wrap whip finish at the point between the deer hair and the forward facing wings.  This keeps the thread secure while I trim the body in the next step:

7.  Trim the deer to the tapered shape as seen below and trim the bottom flat to keep the hook gap open.

8.  Select a saddle hackle sized appropriately to the size of the hook.  I like Whiting Wooley bugger packs for the hackles on these flies due to an abundance of appropriately sized hackles for these flies and their luxurious length.  Strip off some of the webby section of the saddle and tie in by the stem, right behind the forward facing wings.  Then take your thread and spiral wrap through the spun deer body to the point just in front of the hot butt.

9.  Spiral wrap the saddle hackle through the spun deer body to the point just before the hot butt.  Take a wrap around the tip of the saddle and spiral wrap forward through the body hackle to the front of the deer body to secure the body hackle.  Trim the tip of saddle hackle and trim the stem of the saddle as well.

10.  Take a bunch of cow elk, remove underfur and place in a hair stacker.  Measure wing to be even in length to the body.  Take 3 firm wraps around the cow elk, seeing that the butts run between the forward facing wings.  Bring thread forward and take 3 wraps behind the hook eye.  Then, while pulling upwards on the butts of the cow elk, do a 5 turn whip finish, then do another 5 turn whip finish to ensure everything is secure.

11.  Gather the butts off the cow elk and pull upward.  Trim the butts of the cow elk so they will just short of the length of the foward facing wings.

12.  Remove tape, cut off thread and take in the view of your completed, labor intensive dry fly steelhead killer that will stay skating, sans foam, for guilt free surface fishing.

Top View:

Bottom view:

Completed Bleached Blonde Bivisi-Bomber:

Some other versions of the Bivisi-Bomber:

Orange Butt, Oregon Duck Bomber:

Celestial Bivisi-Bomber:

Green Butt Skunkbomber:

Rodeo Clown Bomber:

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Confessions Of A Gear Junkie: Going Through Phases

Ever find yourself having a hard time trying to decide which set up (rod, reel, line) to choose when you are heading out on your next surface steelhead excursion?  As a dry fly steelhead fanatic who also happens to be a pack rat, I have come to be a 56 year old equipment hoarder with self-imposed, yet unnecessary complexities in choosing what to wear for the day as to equipment.  This is akin to women who have an amassing of clothes and shoes who just can't decide what to put on each day.   Sometimes I envy the inherent simplicity of being a newbie to this sport.  When I first started out in fly fishing I had a single fly rod, reel, and line so the choice was easy.  Similarly, when I got into two handed casting in 1995, I had just my single Sage 9140 brownie, Orvis Battenkill reel, and DT line.

Of course as time went on and my experience and passion grew, I realized that I needed new setups for certain situations.  For instance besides a general purpose 9' 5wt for trout, I also needed a 4wt for dry fly fishing, lighter/shorter rods for small streams, a 9' 7wt for streamer fishing, etc.  I actually started off with a 9 1/2 foot 8wt Sage RPL for steelhead in the early 90's before getting into the two handed game in 1995.  My two hand rod collection continued to grow with a Sage 8136 IIIe being added to the mix in 2004 and then the trend towards shorter/lighter two handers resulted in the 6126 Echo Classic and 6126 Decho being added to the fold around 2008.

I went crazy for old single hand Fenwick glass rods around 2011 to 2012.  I was combing through ebay constantly as I built up my collection of these classic rods.  I had great fun returning to single hand casting.  The use of Wulff Ambush lines made single hand spey casting on these glass rods an absolute blast.  These setups worked quite well both for summer and winter steelhead.  It was fun to be doing something that no one else I knew  was doing (I do seem to enjoy being different).  It was also during this timeframe when I fully converted over to vintage click/pawl reels.  Hardy's and JW Youngs became the mainstays of my reel collection.
Vintage Fenwick at work

In 2014, I discovered the inexpensive, yet great performing Cabela's TLR line of rods.  I stared off with the 11' 6wt switch and was so impressed with the performance of this bargain priced rod (purchased on sale for $79.95), that I continued watching for sales as I continued purchasing the majority of the other TLR rods in the line up.  My collection ended up including everything from the 11'6" 8wt down to the 9' 4wt. There were times when these rods were on sale for as low as $59.95.  I felt badly for purchasing all these big box rods rather than saving for a single high end rod by our well known custom builders, but I was having too much cheap fun.

By late 2018, Cabela's came out with trout speys and when the 11' 3wt Vector went on sale at my local Cabela's, I promptly picked one up.  Of course I routinely use "trout tackle" for steelhead so this rod promptly went to work after dry fly winter steelhead.  I caught heat on social media for proclaiming that I intended to fish for winter steelhead with this light rod, but I reminded folk that light gear can be used for steelhead as long as appropriate steelhead tippet is being used and the steelhead is fought aggressively using a lot of manual drag on the reel and a low rod position, using the power of the lower section of the rod.  I proceeded to raise, hook, and land a bright, 8/9lb winter dry fly steelhead on December 30, 2018 using the whispy rod - elapsed fight time: 5-7 minutes.

Dry Fly Winter steelhead on 11'3wt 

The ll'4wt Cabela's Vector went on sale in March 2019 and it was promptly purchased as well.  I was having a lot of fun fishing with both of these trout speys so of course, I continued fishing with them through the remainder of the summer/fall season.  Summer steelhead up to 12/13lbs (on the 11' 3wt) were raised, hooked, and landed with these rods with no problems at all.  I found OPST commando heads with 10' floating steelhead tips to work very well with these light rods.

Dry fly steelhead on 11' 4wt Vector 

As the above paragraphs illustrate, I have quite the amassing of equipment!  As I tend to keep accumulating equipment, my collection just continues to grow.  I envy friends who do well with the self discipline to sell some equipment if they are buying new equipment.  I don't' often sell stuff because I worry about the regret I may have if I let go of something I should have held on to.  Every now and then I hear of those folks with the better self discipline, who have regretted selling a rod or reel that they wished they had kept.  Those situations just confirm why I need to continue my sick hoarding behavior.

So, what's  the problem with all these rods, reels, and lines coming out of my ears?  Well, sometimes I nearly have an anxiety attack trying to decide which rod/reel/line combo I should use for a coming day's fishing.  I have worries about equipment going too long without being used, thus being wasted; and I also seem to attach human emotions to equipment - worrying about stuff feeling neglected.  All irrational stuff:  I probably need a good therapist, maybe even meds.

What I do find happening is that I seem to go through phases.  If there is certain setups that I am just having fun with, I keep using them.  Like when glass rods were the flavor of the day for a couple years, or when those TLRs were the thing because I couldn't believe I was having so much fun for so little money.  Or the trout spey phase where I was once again proving to myself that I could make trout class gear work for steelhead.

With the low water conditions of last fall, I went back into Long Rod/Long Line mode since the broad stretches that abound in these conditions allow for big D loops with lots of space for the bigger setups to shine.  Among my other longer rods, my 1st two hander, the 24 year old Sage 9140 brownie, has come back out from oblivion to reenter the rotation of gear I have been using.  The vintage rod still casts a Delta or Beulah Aerohead like butter and is still such a pleasure to fish with.

I just love having a wide array of gear, even despite the space it all takes up.  I have been able to manage my anxiety over which setup to use by defaulting to what my mood leads me to, secondary to what river conditions dictate.

Due to the sheer amount of time that I spend on the water, I am able to  transition pretty readily between setups that are radically different from each other.   On a fall trip to a desert river I alternated between my 11' 3wt with a short head and my 15' 10/11wt with a long line.  At other times,  I may fish a single hand rod one day, then a switch rod the next,  then a long rod with longer line after that.

It is generally good advice for beginners to become proficient with a given set up and casting style before moving onto another setup and casting style.   I have found it very useful to have learned to cast various rod/reel/line combinations over the years as it adds to my fun and versatility with my fishing.  Spending lots of time fishing and casting keeps me somewhat in the groove where I can adjust to using a single hand rod one day, then going to one of my longer rods with a longer line the next or anything in between.  It is a true blessing that life (and my wife) allows me to maintain a regular diet of river time.

In July of 2019, an unbelievable deal literally fell into my lap. I was in the market for new waders as my frequent forays to the river was wearing my bullet proof Simms G3s to shreds.  My birthday was coming up and my dear Wendi informed that she would gift me with new waders to celebrate my 56 years on earth.  I had just submitted my special order form to Simms for new custom made G3s, when I received a message from a friend who was wanting to unload a new in box set of Simms G4s, a  like new Winston 7129 BIIITH, and a gently used Sage 6129 VXP, all for less than what my replacement G3s were going to cost.  I quickly canceled my order with Simms and promptly went over to my friend's home to take delivery of my new treasures.

The G4s fit perfectly and were brand new as advertised.   I wasn't in the market for more rods but since I had two more in hand,  I had to at least test cast them.  I took the Winston out for a quick test drive and instantly became enamored with the unlikely acquisition of such high end gear.  I could not help but find humor in the irony that the high end stick I was holding was worth more than the combined value of the dozen or so bargain rods I had purchased over the past several years!

The Winston cast effortlessly and beautifully.  It has a buttery smooth action and lots of reserve power.  It's as if it was telling me, "we can take it easy, or we can kick butt if you feel like it".  My friend told me the rod has mojo as he got a winter steelhead on the North Umpqua the first time he used it.  I  suppose he was right about the mojo as I got a dry fly steelhead within an hour of taking possession of the rod.

Breaking in my first Winston 

In February 2020, I ended up with another Winston when my good friend Tony Torrence gifted me with his 13'3" BIIX 7/8wt as a token of friendship. I was in awe of this generous gift from my dear friend and I could not believe that I was in possession of another high end rod in a short time.

Of course,  this Winston was taken out the very next time I was on the river. I was totally blown away by the way this rod cast and came away feeling like the 13'3" BIIx was probably the sweetest two hander I'd ever cast.

About a month later,  I happened to notice that a Winston 14' 8/9wt BIIX was on sale on Speypages classifieds for a reasonable price.  With how sweet the 13'3" BIIX is, I was betting on the 14'er being similarly appealing.   Well, I didn't quite have enough mad money on hand so I hurriedly tied up more of my zany surface flies and put them up for sale.   Thankfully,  there are people who are actually willing to pay for my crazy ties and I had enough funds to purchase the rod in a short time.

The immediate field testing of the 14' BIIx confirmed my bets on it being a great rod.  So clearly,  I have re-entered a long(er) rod phase.  With my homewater being on the medium/large scale, the longer rods actually fit in well and allow me to cover more water.

To take the irony of a cheapskate owning three Winstons within 8 months even further,  I continued on an impulsive buying spree.  I continued in a frenzy of tying and selling more of my Steelhead dry flies (blame the pandemic and lock down insanity).   Over the course of the next month or so, I added more toys to my collection: 
- 3 3/4 prewar Perfect (a very nice vintage reel)
- English made dark faced Hardy Salmon 2 in pristine condition
- Hardy made Scientific Anglers System 11 (a unique reel, 4 inch diameter,  falling between the Salmon 1 and Salmon 2)
- used 8/9, 52', 575gr Beulah Aerohead line.
Prewar 3 3/4" Perfect. The long foot calls for electrical tape.

Signs of maddness

Unique 4"  Hardy made SA System  11

OK, I think I'm good with equipment.....for now.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

What Really Matters?

Lee Lashway tight to a steelhead on a clear November morning.  Todd Hirano photo
As I have grown and hopefully, gracefully matured as a middle aged adult who chases steelhead with dry flies, I like to think that all the time I spend on rivers has taught me things beyond the simple act of trying to catch a fish.  It has been said that some fishermen go through an evolutionary process:  at first, just being able to catch a fish,  to trying to catch as many fish as possible, to trying to catch the biggest fish,  to trying to catch the most difficult fish, to catching fish on methods that bring challenges and satisfaction, etc.

I suppose I have gone through evolutionary phases myself - from catching tilapia on a cane pole, bobber and worms as a child in Hawaii,  to catching various gamefish on conventional gear, to learning to fly fish for trout and bass, to entering the strange and unlikely reality of chasing steelhead with dry flies.  I have thought that I reached the end of my evolving journey when I began achieving continued success with surface steelheading,  but I am realizing that I am continuing to grow and learn in this journey.

For instance, I have been having a love/hate relationship with social media in recent times. I was initially hesitant to engage in Facebook to begin with because I saw so much self absorption, arguing, and trivial crud being posted every day. I mean who really cares about what I am about to eat, where I am , who I am with and how many ways people can argue about politics?  Some folks seem to worry that the world will forget what they look like so they post selfies every day.

Well, after my Facebook account sat mostly dormant from time I opened it in 2010, I finally decided to begin participating in the world of social media in 2014, which is also when I realized that most of my fishing friends were on Facebook as well. Facebook seemed like a good way to stay connected with my fishing friends. I also opened an Instagram account shortly thereafter as well,  also for the same reason.  It was also during this time that I began noticing that the actvity on internet fly fishing forums like Speypages had really died down.   This probably due to many people also moving to social media as their preferred platform for fly fishing interactions as well.

Of course,  I began posting about my fishing activities and it seemed like a fun extension of my passion. Before I knew it,  I was finding myself caught up in the trivialities of it as well. I was posting about everything from fish I caught, to who I was with, where I was, flies I was tying and yes, sometimes even what I was eating. The only thing I didn't get into was posting selfies every day.

During the summer of 2018, I began experiencing some of the best dry fly steelhead fishing I have ever had. It occurred to me that I would be shooting myself in the foot if I continually posted current pictures and stories of the surface steelhead I was getting. I was experiencing solitude due to low returns and fishing was decent, I believe largely due to the lack of pressure.

I went into incognito mode and mostly just texted my close friends to keep them in the loop of my fishing activities. I mostly stopped posting up to date pictures of steelhead I was catching.   Another reason that I mostly stopped posting current fishing pictures is that such posts beg questions around where and when -questions I don't always want to answer to the world, for purely selfish reasons!  I also could not blame folks for asking these questions - who doesn't want the inside scoop on where steelhead are being currently being caught? 

It was through this abstinence of posting every fish caught and continually updating the world of my activities, that I realized how far gone I was.  How had I gotten sucked into the meaninglessness of social media?  It actually happened easily:  we all can be vulnerable to wanting approval and recognition, it's just our human nature.

In recent times, I have been back to posting less and less on social media.  When I am scrolling through my social media accounts,  I find myself  seeking posts with meaning and substance, but they can be hard to find.   Even pictures of steelhead can become ordinary,  especially if there is no story or relevance behind them. Another social media hazard:  Everyone's posts of the awesome fishing they are having can lead to comparisons of what my life is lacking and that can lead to depression!

I started questioning my own motives with using social media. Why did I need to keep the world updated on what I was doing, where I was fishing and reporting on every steelhead caught in real time?  Don't get me wrong, there are benefits of social media:  it is a great way to stay in touch with family and friends, there are some great inspirational stories, quotes, and images that appear, and I love some of the funny stuff that is posted.   However,  I can find myself overly absorbed in my social media accounts and tuning out life,  not really being present with those who are important to me.

I realized that telling the world about everything I was doing on social media in real time was no longer a priority.   What I did discover is that encouraging others in their journeys in dry fly and dry line steelheading is what I find most valuable and meaningful.  I am always honored when folks have reached out to me to learn more about my chosen methods. I am humbled when things I have written and spoke about in this blog and elsewhere has given inspiration to others.  Thus, I realized that my online presence is best served right here on my humble little blog.  I will still post on social media from time to time, but not so much in the realm of real time reportage.

Another change I have noticed in myself over the past few years is my current criteria of a successful surface steelhead encounter. As a younger angler who chased steelhead with dry flies, I had a narrower perspective of what I considered success in my chosen game. If a steelhead was raised, hooked, but NOT landed, and with no photograpic proof, it didn't "count". Thus, I would be terribly disappointed whenever steelhead escaped my hook,  especially after a good fight with the steelhead close to shore.

Now,  almost 30 years into my dry steelhead fly journey, the loss of a steelhead during the fight stings less and less.   It's always great to behold the beauty of a steelhead up close and to be able to capture that beauty in photographs. However,  I am now more grateful for every steelhead rise I am blessed to experience. The excitement of the rise is the ultimate reward for my perseverance and confirmation of my intuition, ability to read water and to present my surface fly in way that appeals to a steelhead.

When I think about it,  hooking and landing steelhead are the parts of the experience that I have little to no control over.  When a steelhead takes a fly, there is no way to  predict how the hook will be oriented in the steelhead's mouth or jaw.   The only part of this process I do have control over is resisting the urge to immediately raise the rod to set the hook.  It is also critical to fight steelhead aggressively and quickly,  keeping maximum pressure during the fight. 

Otherwise if I am lucky, my hook will find purchase in the corner of the jaw or in some other location in the steelhead's mouth where a solid hookup is ensured.  If I am not so lucky, my hook only catches a patch of skin and pulls free after a brief or sometimes extended fight. Ie., actually landing a surface steelhead is more of a crapshoot and less dependent on actual skill. Will I get to the point of fishing for rises only and cutting the points off my hooks as Lee Spencer does on the North Umpqua?  While I agree that we should minimize our impact when pursuing our precious wild steelhead, my selfish nature still loves the adrenaline rush of the power that steelhead display during the fight.

Since eliciting steelhead rises really is the feedback I seek as a dry fly steelheader, I am joyful whenever my efforts result in those thrills regardless of the ultimate outcome. I like to think that the accomplishment of raising steelhead to the surface is what requires much more than dumb luck - although dumb luck can help, but should never be depended on.  In the end,  I am more than happy in getting an aggressive attack to my surface bug, maybe a few pulls off my reel and a jump - that's what counts anymore.  No need for a steelhead in hand and a picture every time, much less an immediate post on social media - maybe a quick text or message to my close friends to celebrate and I call it good.
Surface steelhead that came to my Black/Blue wang in mid November
What about you?  Where has your journey in this game taken you?

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Little Wang Fly Tying Video

Many thanks to Courtney Morris (@sculpinarmy on Instagram) for putting this video together which documents the step by step instructions in building my favorite steelhead wakers.  Also thanks to Homewaters Fly Shop for posting these videos on their YouTube channel. 

Some commentary on fishing the Wang.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Morning Redemption

It was overcast morning in the middle of October as I donned my waders along a favorite summer steelhead river.   While I prepared for a brief morning session before heading to church, my mind started to wander. After experiencing a surprisingly productive summer dry fly steelhead season,  I found myself in the midst of a dry spell coming through late summer and early fall.  I had gotten spoiled with the periodic, but less than consistent surface action the rivers provided me from early summer through late summer, but the seemingly sudden downturn in top water steelhead activity started to mess with my head.  My summer surface steelhead connections showed me beating the odds, especially with current low returns,  but fall is prime time for surface steelhead and my recent results didn't reflect that truism.

I was armed with my 11' 3wt trout spey and the natural bomber variant that I have been tying in recent months.  This fly is basically a split winged bomber with a cow elk wing added between the trimmed deer body and front facing split calf tail wings.  After fishing primarily foam waking flies for the past 10 years, I sought to come up with an all natural pattern that met my critieria for visibility and staying on the surface with consistency.  I finally came close enough with my "bivisi-bomber-wang".  I had raised steelhead on the pattern but had not actually landed any while using it yet.

I started at the top of the run, lengthening line with each cast until my OPST Commando head and a few strips of running line were out the tip of my rod.  It was a cool morning and I was enjoying sips of hot coffee from my thermos cup that I keep tucked in the front of my waders as each cast approached mid swing to the dangle.  It was before I had my normal "9 strip" cast out that I heard a gulp and saw a splashy rise in the periphery of my vision as I had my coffee cup tipped back for a drink.  My line drew tight in an instant and the steelhead took off on a run as I tucked my coffee cup back into the front of my waders and switched the rod over to my left hand so I could crank on my 3 5/8" Hardy Perfect with my right hand.

The steelhead made a couple more short bursts and leaped a time or two as I drew it closer to me.  I kept steady pressure with a low rod position and tension on my reel.  After a few mintutes, I had the steelhead in the shallows along my bank.  Just as I was able to get my sights on what appeared to be an average sized steelhead in the 6-8lb range , the hook pulled out.  Ah well, there was still time remaining to see if other steelhead were around.

I resumed my position and extended my cast out to the 60-70' range.  This amounts to what is a comfortable casting distance with the light rod and short head.  I continued working down the run and when I was about 20 feet below my starting point, another explosive rise came to my bomber in mid swing, and again, the line quickly came tight with a run and a leap.  Judging by visual appearances and the nature of the fight, I could tell that this steelhead was above average in size.  Steady pressure and exerting as much tension as I could on the steelhead had it coming towards me in a short time.

I have been criticized for using light gear for steelhead, however as has been demonstrated through my personal experiences repeatedly, exerting maximum pressure (palming/fingers on the reel spool) , maintaining a low rod position, and staying with appropriate steelhead tippet (8 or 10lb Maxima for me) get steelhead in quickly.

There was not a convenient area that would allow me to draw the steelhead near to the bank so I got the steelhead as close as I could.  I did the trick of drawing in line by stripping to allow for my rod to be lifted above and behind me as I reached for the leader.  The trick worked and I carefully hand lined the steelhead within grasping range.  I was impressed by the broad shoulders of the hatchery buck which I guessed to be in the 12-13lb range.  I could see that the bomber was firmly lodged in the mouth of the steelhead.  This whole process is an awkward maneuver as one is simultaneously grasping the leader and being constantly prepared to release pressure if the steelhead tries to run off, while trying to keep track of loose line not tangling in the guides of the rod, should the leader need to be released.  Things were going well and I was about to grab the wrist of the steelhead's tail, when he gave a last ditch flop which popped the 12lb section of my leader.  I made a desperate attempt at getting a hold of my prize, but he was quickly gone with my freshly tied bomber and tippet section. I was surprised that my tippet snapped in the stronger 12lb section.  I figured that I either had a wind knot or that the loop knot I used weakened the mono.

I can say, I was just a little bummed at losing probably the largest steelhead that I had hooked into for the season.  However as a steelheader gets older and crustier, those losses don't tend to hurt as much.  I wasn't really in the mood to deal with harvesting, filleting, and freezing a late season hatchery steelhead.  A picture would have been nice, but even that is not as important to me anymore.  I don't post fish pics on social media as much as I used to - probably because I realized that I don't have anything to prove and there are plenty of steelhead pics on Instagram already.  I got everything I could have asked for from that steelhead - a beautiful rise, a powerful and exciting fight and an up close look at the prize that I seek.

I still had the lower half of the run to fish and enough time to fish it,  so I tied up a new tippet section and went back to work with another one of my bomber variants.  As I got near the bottom of the run, I slowed my pace because this stretch of water has held rising steelhead in multiple locations.

 As I got into the beginning the hot zone,  I was startled as yet another aggressive rise came to my fly near  the dangle.  The steelhead made a series of short runs until I had it with in range to see it was seemingly a twin of the first one I hooked into earlier,  in that 6-8lb size window.  The steelhead was drawn close to my bank when the hook pulled out.

It was not a day for getting fish slime on my hands,  but I was beyond content with the fast paced surface action in the compressed timeframe of about an hour.  It was that magical time that may happen a time or two each fall when I luck into a loaded run.