Friday, January 23, 2015

A Steelhead Gathering

Got chrome?

A steelhead gathering was conceived in the Fall to spend a few days fishing with some friends whom I have not fished with in quite sometime. Ben had just switched jobs and didn't have to work a weekend for the first time in my living memory. My other buddy Dan moved to Miami last year to take up a job with the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust and never got to truly use his first two hander for steelhead. Another friend Eric, fished with us last year with a single hand rod and left the river wondering "what if". Upon realizing he could come on this trip, he immediately dropped a $1,000 on a brand new spey rod, reel, and line. Joined by two new converts and Ben it was a swing or go home type of time...

Saturday morning was brutally cold and it may be the only time I can honestly say I was not enjoying myself on the water. I would have rather been sleeping in. We made our way to the upper mid-river to find nothing but slush. In fact, it was so cold that only about a mile of river was actually fishable. This meant that every angler would be crammed into the normally crowded sections. Not really my cup of tea, but we made the best of the situation. Eric and I used the morning to try out several spey casts and talk about the swing. Things were obviously tough with major ice accumulating on the scandi head and leader but this would pay dividends later on in the day.


Dan's view on the drive in...

Our fellow guests met us in the parking lot and we headed back into the thick of things. A good friend of mine slammed his largest steelhead on the swing that very morning in sub-zero temperatures. Word has it, it was an ultra aggressive take and this made all of us very jealous. However, it gave us hope that there were still some fresh fish to be had in the ultra low flows. 

Back on the river, I took a few casts and was able to hook up on the hang down. After a quick jump and a few gator rolls, the steelhead threw my wet fly leaving a sting of disappointment. A few hours later, we decided to check out the lower river again hoping that the slush ice had disappeared. It did not and wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. We retreated back up river and joined the fray, picking out the few swingable spots between sun up to sun down campers. Those guys are pretty serious packing in sleds filled with chairs, coolers, lunch, dinner, and firewood. They'd take long breaks out of the water warming up and as soon as someone walked down the path, they hurry into the river to "guard" their territory.


Checking out the crowd...

Despite being stuck in a stationary position with little room for rotating, we took turns and it was actually productive. Eric hooked into two solid fish but failed to bring both to hand. Not bad for his first time swinging a fly. Towards the end of the evening I snuck into a spot and picked off the energetic ball of muscle below. He took 10 ft. in front of a line of five guys. 

The night before day two we all went out to dinner at a local bar and told old stories about each other and laughed our asses off. Back at the motel, we continued our escapades with an in depth look at each other's flies selections. The morning promised weather into the 30s, so I let Dan and Eric borrow skagit heads that conveniently matched their rods to try out in the warmer weather. We had high hopes for this day, but surprisingly, none of us was able to bring a fish to hand. Dan and I both briefly hooked up during the money hour but it was not meant to be. Fixed hooks be damned.


I snuck out early on the final day looking for some quality alone time. Surprisingly, the river was mostly empty and as I arrived a few spin fishermen were hooked up with some steelhead that had been in the system for a long time. You can always tell because the fight is much quicker and the fish are lethargic. I stepped in below them and my fly got smashed. The reel began to sing, and every head on the river turned to watch what ensued. Three acrobatic jumps followed by a run upstream and then down. A fat hen just getting some color caused a major scene. That's what so cool about swinging a fly. You may catch less fish, but the ones you hook are fresh, active, and ready to put up a fight. I'd rather catch one on the swing than ten nymphing a run doing the same monotonous steps over and over. 

With Eric and Ben having gone home for work, Dan, his brother in law, and I moved downriver to fish some slush free water. I had high hopes of finding a bar of chrome and thankfully my wish came true. Earlier in the season, I had taken some mental snapshots of a few holes I wanted to fish. As the season progressed, I never got to fish them because I would always get low holed by a few people that didn't know any better. I found the run to myself and changed my tip, leader, fly, and even put on a fresh hook. I positioned myself to take advantage of the exact spot I wanted to swing four months earlier. 

I had a deep grab as my fly swung through the sweet spot and a nice fish started gator rolling hard and thrashing wildly at the surface. After some time, I was able to coerce the fish into the shallows to get a good look. It was a dime bright screamer hen. I was ecstatic. Her belly was literally scraping across the bottom and she took off on a run downstream. I brought her in close to tail her and found that I couldn't grab the base of her tail. It was simply too round. I ended up beaching her in several inches of water where she could easily recover. She was my second largest on the swing and pure untouched winter chrome...

Fishing can often be a selfish sport. It can also be a very social endeavor. This trip was just fun to get out with a few guys for a change and show them the river. Although they didn't bring any to hand, they had their first pulls, and several casting lessons to help get them into the swing of things. I am sure they are chomping at the bit to get back to the river, dial in that stroke, and land some chrome of their own. 

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