After returning from the mainland, our main goal was to get Kitty her 10th and final river of the year. We ended up making a number of trips, three actually, that all resulted in either lost fish or complete skunkings. As the spring advanced well into April, things were starting to look rather bleak. There were two more rivers I had in mind that traditionally get late pushes right into May, so I still held out a bit of hope.
The weekend where it had to happen finally came. My last trip over to the island for “winter steelhead” after I had started work. These are more suitably called spring running fish, but I did give us up until the end of April to complete this compilation of goals.
The first day we decided to go up and fish for some trout on a river that we have always loved ever since we arrived at it 4 years ago now. The numerous trout and occasional steelhead are what makes this one of our favourites.
Admittedly, the latest we have ever seen a steelhead in this system was the end of January. Today our target would be cutthroat trout feeding on out migrating fry. Imagine my surprise when the first cast of the day produced Kitty with a hook-up – a hook-up with a 16+ pound buck steelhead. Unfortunately she lost it. Even more surprisingly, her second cast of the day yielded another chance and she was able to complete her goal in the most unlikely of places. River 10 was checked off. Her Quest for 10 was complete.
Those were the only two steelhead of the day. It didn’t surprise me – mostly because, as I said before, this is typically an early winter run of fish. The colder water temperatures this year island wide had made a number of runs show up late though, and it appeared that this river was no exception. The best part about the day was that we also found lots of what we came for – big, healthy trout!
The next day, since Kitty’s goal was now complete, I decided to do something way left field. I decided to go and try to get some journal information. We headed out to a little river that we have only fished as late as mid March, and even then it has a high proportion of kelts and spawners. It seemed that a good portion of rivers were getting a very late spring push this year, so I went on a hunch that maybe, just maybe, this river would have one as well. The rains had cooperated perfectly, and the water levels were perfect. If this one wasn’t worth the while, there were a lot of other good back-ups in the area as well, including a good trout flow, so off we went.
We arrived and headed down to the first run. Nothing in the first run, but the second run provided a good hookup. I never saw the fish well before I lost it as it exited the run, but the chrome flashes and good fight indicated that maybe, just maybe it was a fresh fish and not a kelt. The next run up also provided a good hit and a brief hook up for Kitty – again, we never saw the fish.
We decided to head up for the car and drive to the next access point. Upon our arrival there, there was another vehicle – our first time seeing another person here in 4 seasons! We decided to try a little higher up, and hoped that the other angler had worked down. We arrived at the first run, and the first cast hook up was indicative that no one had been here. Kitty’s fish was perhaps the largest I’ve seen out of this system. A stunning 15+ pound doe that spent more time out of the water than in it. Kitty fought her valiantly, but finally lost her battle on the 8th jump. Thinking for sure that would have done this small pool in, Kitty tried again. Nothing on the spoon. I told her to try the pink worm on the pin. Three more hookups in a row completely baffled me. These were all super fresh, super angry fish – and they were HOT! Kitty’s fifth hookup in the run was another spunky and large fish. We actually had him tailed once, and he managed to break out of Kitty’s grip and away from the net. A sigh of relief was evident when he finally calmed down on the second tailing. Another very large fish for this system; finally one to the beach!
We eventually ran into the guy that was parked below. He had been working up and he too told us of success – only his were both kelts. He was fly fishing, so we continued down to see if he missed any (he hadn’t, surprisingly). On the way back up, we decided to drive to yet one more access point.
We get to the final two runs. The first normally hold fish where you can see them, but there weren’t any within sight. I’ve often found late spring running fish will enter late and spawn in the lower river within a couple of days, so perhaps we were too high. Kitty took a couple of casts with the spoon as I readied the pin. Nothing on the spoon, but my first cast through with the 6 inch pink worm provided a take down and a great battle that took me 2 runs down from where I hooked her. A really pretty doe that had obviously just entered. Apparently we weren’t too high after all.
One more run left. We get up to it and I see 6 fish visible within. This will be good I figured. I set up the camera, and started filming Kitty as she took her first cast. She hooked a fish right away that almost immediately exited the run and broke her off in doing so.
After another 15 or so casts, it appeared the run was done, but I wasn’t so sure of it. There is a very particular drift in this run for whatever reason. The fish can be aggressive as ever, yet in this particular run they only seem to like it on one line. Perhaps it’s because it’s the only line that provides them enough time to comfortably grab it, as much of the run is rather quick. Kitty didn’t quite believe me when I said that I was sure that at least one more would bite, but after she watched me lose one, and miss one other, she was convinced. She had a couple more chances, and soon it was time to leave as darkness was closing in.
On the way down, Kitty had one more good handshake with a fish that again got the best of her after a handful of good aerials. She wasn’t happy to say the least with her landing ratio today, but in all honesty, sometimes the best days are when you get to tie into a bunch of fish that absolutely take you for a ride. The times that the fish win more than you do are the days that keep you wanting more and pursuing these fish further.
And so ends another season of winter steelhead – and the Quest for 20 (amongst which were a few other notables such as Kitty’s Quest for 10). We went to a bunch of spectacular places; we faced some trials and some failures, and we also found huge success and exciting new places for the seasons ahead of us. Over the course of the Quest for 20, we were able to make a number of memorable trips, and created a bunch of memories both of fish and comradery that will not soon be forgotten.
Thank you for following along on this journey! I truly hope you enjoyed the series!