I’d like to think winter steelheading can be a guarantee. Who wouldn’t? Having spent more time winter steelheading casting than catching, I’m not naive. However, it’s not absurd to think after a heavy rain armed with confidence and skill, you could undoubtedly hook into a steelhead on the right river. And well, making that decision isn’t always easy. Naturally you’ve got your choices. Weapons, location, and method of attack. As far as I am concerned, I’m pro-choice. You decide what is best for you, and while you are at it, leave me to my own as well.
The massive downpour in the northwest drove us to spend a few days at home meagerly attempting to organize our scattered belongings while succumbing to square eyes. As several wild rivers flowing dirty, high, and out of control were slowly dropping, the itching occurred. Gear was still packed from the last trip, clothes freshly laundered, and I just tied a handful of sweet monkey flies. Sending a farewell kiss to the camper, we packed up the car, hit the road, and found ourselves smack dab in the midst of none other than steelhead house. The only thing to do when in said predicament on a Monday, with an upcoming birthday, and a plethora of scotch is, well, to over do it. The next morning may have been a late start, but seeing as it was both Stam’s birthday and he felt the best, he got to not only choose the river and float, but also row us down the river… what a gift, huh? As usual his fishy-ness won out, he hooked up, landed a nice hatchery fish, and displayed that well loved shit eating grin.
I’ve fished enough with these two hooligans, to know better than to give up cause its been a less than productive day. You so much as miss a sweet spot and you feel like you’re letting your team down…. Go hard or Go home as Stam likes to say. And so, as I’ve seen The Crumpster do many times over, I pulled a fish up just shy of the boat launch….a nice hatchery steelhead just long enough to be bigger than Stam’s birthday fish.
With a day of gear fishing under my belt and a victory at that, I was ready to cast some line and swing those flies I recently tied. But as it turns out the collective ended up floating some water, hitting seams from the boat as we pushed through stretches. Finally pulling over at a nice gravel bar we stepped out to swing. Calling Cal recently encouraged me to add peacock to my flies, and so I tied on an intruder I wrapped with blue rhea and some peacock. Pretty impressed with the action of the little blue wonder underwater, I cast short getting just the head of the Compact Skagit line out and let her swing all the way in below me. I stripped quite a bit more line off and cast out across the water, and as she swung in, I shockingly felt that indescribable surge of energy as a small hatchery steelhead chomped the fly and shot airborne.
With a big fat smile and a notch on the board, I took my position on the oars and watched as our partner boat missed a fish. As I rowed, The Crumpster followed through with a solid hit. I pulled over the boat, and he jumped out to bring the wild fish in close enough for me to net. Now with two notches, we pushed down river a bit enjoying the sunshine and warm air. But not for long. The Crumpster hooked up again and off to the bank we went for another netting. Another beautiful wild fish released back into the river and two overjoyous anglers.
Glenny stopped by and helped us celebrate that night.
Myself and fellow gansta searched for water so classic I think of the beloved Skagit. Achingly swingable as far as the eye could see. Slide in the ear buds and allow yourself to rhythmically search water for players. After switching to a lighter tip allowing a full swing, I came in contact with that unmentionable pulse of life and soon I was landing a small hatchery fish. Out of breath and all jacked up, I respectfully had some Vitamin R and took my place at the back of the bus.
With my buddy closing the deal on the tailout of the run, I brought the boat down and gently slid over another small bright fish. That’ll raise the spirits of a wintertime swinger.
We moved down stream looking for more stretches of small bouldered gravel bars and upon choosing a honey hole, the sun kindly burst out and heated things up a touch. Winter fishing and sun? Next level stuff my friends. We fished through, each hooked up, each lost battles, and one fish landed. Exhilaration, check.
With time still left on the winter clock of light, we hit one more run, only to have gunshots sail over head. I guess the plunkers down river were spicing up the party, and naturally that includes shooting. Who can blame them?
When the cease fire occurred, we hopped aboard and pushed past the gun slingers. Putting us slightly ahead of schedule, we arrived at the take out with time to drive down the beach and watch the clear sunset so rarely seen in the winter of the Pacific Northwest. The pull of the overwhelmingly massive ocean both feminine and powerful with the precision of that shattering moment when light submits to dark…..
With encouragement bordering on force, the see through tail chasers took us back to yesterday’s successful exploratory river. We slid boats down a nasty rocky muddy put in while the rain began to cease drizzling and begin raining…it ceased raining only to downpour. Morale was low today.
But then Stam mananged to pull out two fish. (of course he did)
Large ferns dripping wet slap my waders as I trudge another mile through the fifty degree winter day while rain drizzles enough to prevent the removal of my rain jacket. I haven’t reached water yet and it feels as if my waders have sprung a serious leak. Yuck.
We reach the river only to find two pontoon boating fly dudes working through what we thought would be our run. Great. With the decision to head back down river or continue upstream looming, the over eager idiot in the rear urges us to continue hiking. Soon we’ve hiked four miles leaving the distinct smells of whiskey and scotch trailing behind and dying of thirst.
The Crumpster and I work our way into the water looking for that classic swinging water or any small pocket potentially holding steelhead. We quickly come to head with an enormous log jam forcing several impassable channels below the giant fallen trees. Hoisting ourselves seven…teen feet up, we walk cautiously across a three foot wide tree spanning the channel from its roots to its top buried in more logs. The sheer power to move a tree of that size is unfathomable…wish I could have seen it.
From the tree we spot two anglers below us pitching gear in a seam. Again, awesome. We decided to skirt their run and work downstream through the trees along the old river channel to another piece of water. When we round the corner we see the guys have jumped ahead and are working through water quickly. I’d like to think we scare them with our long fly rods, ready to whip steelhead into submission, but in reality, they’re a little Ricky Bobby. When they think they’ve ditched us they stop to rest, only to be overtaken by the long legged partners moving swiftly through the trees…..twenty feet past them and they start to shake and sweat, their feet begin carrying them behind us. I try to keep frustration at bay. We get to a beautiful gravel bar begging to be fished thoroughly. Justin and I split up, him starting in the middle and myself starting at the head of the run.
I began fishing with twelve feet of T-14 and kept snagging at the very end of my swing. So I stepped out to switch to a lighter tip as the Talladega Duo soon arrives. Cal Naughton, Jr scoffed at me and my fishing methods before jumping above me to stand in one spot and repeatedly cast. Twenty minutes later, halfway through my swing a fiesty steelhead nabbed my fly. It’s times like these when I know there’s a god.