It was now time for one last trip, after the last successful outings had indicated to us that the spring run steelhead had most definitely started moving in (Quest for 20 – Part XV – The Rains). The season is in the process of closing out, and I’m oh so close. Over the years we’ve compiled a list of places that have done well late traditionally; it was now time to head to those rivers and see if the trends held true. While visiting Marc, we also planned to hit a couple of new ones.
The first was a heck of a long day. I had hockey, and being the committed goalie I am, I told my team I would indeed be there for my 9:30 pm game. We left the house at 6 in the morning and did the 3+ hour drive to the river. Last year, right on this particular day, Marc and I had a great trip here landing 7 (a mix of ocean chrome and slightly blushed bucks) fish in the lower river.
Sadly, today would not be the same. We fished through the first section and got nothing as usual (last year this wasn’t holding fish either). We approached the next runs that we had high hopes for. One, and then two, and soon four runs passed without as much as seeing a fish or touching one.
We finally arrive at this one massive corner pool with great structure. Marc runs the pink worm and Kitty is tossing metal today. I elect to throw a ghost shrimp jig that was designed by Cory (the owner of the site fishtactics.com). This jig has traditionally done very well for me on these late season systems, especially in the clear waters we were experiencing today.
To my surprise, my second cast through produces a float down which turns out to be a fish. The fight was interesting to say the least. The fish started by wrapping himself in my leader, giving Kitty a chance to net him early on. Kitty got him in the net, but upon trying to grab his tail wrist, the fish (which hadn’t been tired out at all) out muscled her and hopped out of the net. Now he was untangled and took off faster than most other fish I’ve hooked this season. I gave chase. The water on this river was so clear that I didn’t see the ground switch from ankle deep water to a three foot deep pit. I managed to have one leg go into it, hitting my shin on the rocks piled on the backside. I sat in the water stunned – it was actually the first time ever that I tried to get up and physically couldn’t. I still had this fish on, and was floundering trying to stand back up. Kitty came running over to try and help me, and she too fell in the hole (luckily not as badly as I had – she only caught the edge of it). Really, it was probably pretty comical to watch had I not been in so much pain. I finally managed to get up and hobbled down the run. Marc took over on the net job and masterfully scooped the buck. Another 34 inch fish. River 17 had now been checked off! Kitty went back to her normal position – the camera girl (which she’s very good at!).
After that fish, I sat down keeping my leg in the 4 degree water. I could feel the tell tale sign of blood running down my leg. I had to double check to see if I had ripped my waders or not. I hadn’t. Pulling my waders down revealed what I had expected, an impact gash on my shin. This one was going to hurt for a while. Luckily I didn’t break my leg. Hockey that night, for the record, didn’t feel very good. That ended up being the only fish of our trip surprisingly. Had we been able to stay out longer we may have been able to explore a bit of new water and find some fish, but who knows. Where steelhead are one day or year, they may not be the next. We thought we had them figured out, but definitely didn’t on this particular system. Back to the drawing board for next year, as it does have extremely high potential from what I’ve heard.
After hockey that Sunday night, we headed back up towards Marc for a one week trip using his house as base camp. We had a list of rivers that we wanted to do; little did we know, mother nature had other plans for us.
The trip started off great, we got some awesome weather, and the water heights were perfect as they slowly dropped from the days of previous rain. The first river was one that Kitty hadn’t yet gotten. As it turns out, Marc was the only one that got a fish that day – another large buck.
The next day saw us on a river that we had all checked off already in the morning, but the water was so perfect, and historically it gets a late push, so we decided on a morning fish before heading elsewhere. Unfortunately, it was a miserable rainy morning that provided no fish. At this point, Kitty decided to go back to Marc’s house to do some school work since she wasn’t feeling well, and Marc and I headed to another new flow we had never been on.
Marc and I had both heard rumblings of this flow. We had both heard that it’s a very late run, but that very good days could be had in one particular area. Unfortunately, we were almost three weeks early if we were listening to the old timers. We figured hiking around and finding access wouldn’t hurt though, so off we went.
Just around the corner from the bridge, the river opened up where it met another confluence. The run (this was the one most often talked about as the stack hole) was perfect, but not holding any fish, so we continued down. As we walked, I took a cast in the fishiest part of each piece of water we passed as I walked with my drift. I do this often, both on rivers I know well and on new ones. Any time I’m walking by water that doesn’t appear to be holding water, I figure I may as well cover the nicest line of it. It pays off more often than one might think. Marc and I came around a corner and found another run that looked mediocre. Marc watched as I took my typical cast at the head, right along the back in the deepest water before starting to walk. My float hit the water, and literally disappeared instantly. Apparently it wasn’t as deep as I thought. Just as soon as I thought it was a snag, it absolutely took off and went nuts, dancing around the run. Surprise fish are always a good thing. This surprise fish ended up being river #18 off my list, pushing me well within striking distance of my goal.
Now excited, we quickened our pace down, determined to find as much new water as we could. Eventually the river really opened up into a bunch of beautiful runs. I really wasn’t expecting it to look like this, but I was glad it did. Soon we had covered a half dozen spectacular runs with nothing. I couldn’t believe there was a fish where I managed mine and not in these deep canyon pools. Eventually, we hit a huge canyon cut-off, but we managed to find a small elk trail up and around it. We came out at the bottom of the canyon 15 minutes later to a beautiful tail out. Nothing in there again surprisingly, but excitement mounted again as we looked downriver to see another clay bank. This time the run underneath it looked great. Marc figured a fish would be there. Marc was most definitely right – and he was able to find it, fight it masterfully through a number of jumps around downed logs, and then tail it to complete his goal for the year. This was Marc’s 5th new river that he had never tailed a steelhead on.
At this point it was obvious we were just hitting the start of the run. It’s not often in this neck of the woods that you find bucks in as good of condition as the ones Marc and I had found today. They typically come in with a lot of colour in these small rivers, but these ones were brighter than any I had ever seen.
As the runs continued to get better, and it was obvious that these fish were fresh and insanely aggressive, we decided to stop fishing for the day to hopefully bring Kitty back here tomorrow so that we could get her into a fish on a new river. We left fairly early in the day to see if we could check off river 19 for me – one that has haunted me this year. We arrived at the next river in the never fails run only to find three guys fishing it. We didn’t touch anything anywhere else, and the rains from the day were making this river bump very fast. At this point we were concerned about tomorrow’s outing, but we held out hope since the river from earlier in the day was a fair ways away and a mountain range over. Fingers crossed…