Tight Water – Part I
Soon after my trout fisheries dried up, I was all in on steelhead. As said in the leading blog post of this series, this year, would be different from last. Rather than focus on a shot gun approach to fishing as many rivers as I could (check out the Quest for 20 from last season: Quest for 20 – Part I – The Intro ), I would be returning to some of my favourites from last year, and some new ones! The goal would be to learn each and every river I fished this year intimately.
Of course, as any steelheader would do, my first trips of the season were out on rivers I knew well to get a “few under the belt,” before I started using my time on places unknown. Luckily for me, it wasn’t “just a few.” My first day out provided an incredible afternoon fish. Actually, it was my best ever day on this particular system and one of my best ever solo short days period. Each and every run I went into that afternoon offered 3 or more hookups (often in the first three casts). Would this be how the whole season ended up? Excitement mounted as I carefully examined google earth, old reports, planned my days out and finally, journeyed into the unknown.
We had just had rain, and this first particular flow was a small one which needed water. From my talking with locals, and a couple of friends who had fished it, the time to go was now. It’s an incredibly small creek, and I remember when we got out of the car Mike letting out a loud laugh and saying, “you’re crazy!”
We fished down the first few runs. Of course, we didn’t touch anything right away. Mike continuously made jokes on the way down… “I should have brought a 7 foot trout rod,” “You sure you don’t want to fish the gutter drain,” “what is this dump, is this a joke.” Despite his best efforts to sway me to go back to “the place” that had been on fire the last couple weeks, we pushed on. Finally, we get to the first really nice looking run where a split/tributary comes together.
Mike is ahead of me and casts out bunch of times with his 6 inch worm while I poke around in the little slot up above. After a few minutes, I come down with my 10 mm R&B mottled orange trout bead that had been absolutely killer already this year. My float bobbles. I’m set 4 feet deep, which is really deep for this creek, so maybe I’ve touched bottom (even though this slot looks fairly deep where the seam comes together). I see that Mike is only fishing around 18 inches deep. I move up to 3 foot depth to meet in the middle, and being that it was just a bobble and not a drag down, if it was bottom, this should now put me in the money zone a foot off the bottom. I go through again and nothing. A few more casts and still nothing. I decide to go back down 6 inches. First cast my float slowly drags down and I reel down to find a beautiful silver bullet on the end of my line. She does a big jump and throws my gear back into the tree behind me. Mike is stunned, it was a “big fish” around 8 pounds, massive for a creek that’s maybe 30 feet wide. Mike goes from just over a foot deep to 4 feet deep. His first cast he hooks up another beautiful doe and we finally get one in the net.
After we let his fish go, I spend some time trying to get my stuff down from the tree above/behind me. I end up cutting everything and having to re-rig. While re-rigging, Mike hammers another doe, this time around 10 pounds that shows him who’s boss. A few minutes later I’m now ready to go. The three of us (me and the two Mike’s – other Mike wasn’t having any luck this whole time) pound the run for another 10 minutes. It’s time to go now – there’s no way this tiny run could hold more than 3 fish. Wrong. I go up to 5 foot depth and toss one cast in while I walk away. Apparently the run was deeper than I thought; I’m still not dragging bottom. My float drifts 3 feet and hammers down. I set the hook and all hell breaks loose. Soon, my largest fish of the season – a solid mid teens buck – is cartwheeling all over the run. Both of the Mike’s are stunned. How could a fish this large be up a creek this small? Eventually, the buck runs up one of the splits, around a huge rock, and breaks me off. Although defeated, It’s been a great day even getting to see and do battle with a handful of fish, my first time on this new little creek to boot!
We fished a heck of a lot of water the rest of the day. It probably ended up being around another 5 km of water covered – and we only ever did end up finding that one little pool that was “stacked.” I talked with a couple of locals a few weeks later, and apparently the creek had very, very few fish this year, and many guys did upwards of a dozen trips without seeing one. After hearing that, I consider myself even more lucky to have had more than one chance on a single day. Unfortunately, the way the rains worked out hampered me from coming back to this one and “learning it,” but at least I have some run timing notes and locations for years to come! While hiking around, I also found an awesome consolation prize too – a massive blacktail buck that had been killed by a cougar. I checked with the CO’s and found out what I needed to do to go grab the head off of him, and the next day Kitty and I went back to retrieve the skull (she is always talking about finding/looking for sheds and antlers, so she was pumped to say the least).
A Pretty Flow Needing Persistence – Part II
After having a great exploration day on one creek, it was now time to explore another one that’s been on my mind for a couple of years. Again, it’s one I heard great stories of “back in the day.” Being out on the river often gives me the benefit of having relationships with old timers and locals that I run into often. One of those old timers in this case proved to be a huge help as he gave me a starting point to go off of.
I started the morning with the two Mike’s again. We decided to start the day off on a river we know well to get the skunk off early on, which would hopefully be a good omen for the rest of the day. Sure enough, the first flow was awesome and provided a number of fish in the first couple of hours before the rains blew it out. The day was looking good, great even, after it started with a small double header.
Now we were on our way to the new spot, and the access we had labelled to start at. To say the first few hours was discouraging would be an understatement. It appeared as though we were hitting it on an ideal day -with the rising water and perfect 5 foot visibility – and I knew the run timing was right; yet we hit run after run without any results. We finally got to a spot where my normal fishing partner Mike #1 and I discussed turning around and checking somewhere else out. As we were discussing it, the other Mike hooked up! Not what we were expecting – a dark buck – a hatchery stray of all things, but seeing one fish gave some hope. The next run down after that also provided a couple misses, and a large cutthroat; maybe we had found the fish?
Soon we found even better water than before and excitement, as always, grew with each corner we turned. “That run looks great, the next one looks even better!” Surprisingly, the next fish we hooked took the third offering he saw – even more strange was that we were all using pink worms. Mike #2 must have just had the right drift to hit the big chrome buck, which he lost. Right after he lost that fish, I hooked up a beauty in the tail out that I lost after a couple tail walks. Loss after loss for me was getting frustrating. At least it wasn’t just me though – Mike #1 came in behind me as I re-rigged (the fish tore my worm off), and he too hooked up and lost one of the very acrobatic fresh fish.
The next run down was a hook-up gallery as well. Three chances again: one for me (a solid hookup and loss), two hookups and epic battles resulting in losses for Mike #2, along with Mike #1 also missing a couple of hits. Saying we had finally found the fish would be an understatement, but would I ever get to see one in hand out of here? Two more runs down and it was now really dark, we had one more chance in this last run before trying to follow my map out to a logging road. First cast in the last run and Mike #1 finally pins and skilfully fights a fish to the net. A successful day that we can now say ended perfectly.
The hike out was pretty interesting. Had we not had the map loaded and on my phone, finding our way out would have been incredibly difficult. If any of my readers are into exploring, I HIGHLY recommend getting the app MyTrails on android phones. It has saved me more times than I can think of now. A bonus is that you can also record tracks and lay pins down, on top of having multiple different maps/layers for navigating new areas. We typically use the “Open Topo” and “Open Cycle” maps and “Google Earth” settings while exploring new places. Give it a try and you won’t be disappointed!
Now, here’s where the determination came into play. I absolutely refused to get straight up skunked (landing wise) for the season on this river, and I liked it enough that I wanted to figure it out. Over the next three days I hiked the entire thing from the falls to the ocean. One day was with Kitty after my epic day with the Mike’s. We found 1 single fish that we hooked only briefly (I guess we had stung a good number of them the day before). We explored a brand new 4 km of water that I hadn’t seen the day previous (we did 5 km the day before), and also fished a good portion of the water we had fished the day before as well. It ended up being around 8 km of water (based on the gps/steps recorded on my phone) and she was pretty exhausted by day’s end (as was I). Lots of beautiful water, but very few fish around.
The next day I decided to take one more crack at it and go into the section of river that was between the upper and lower sections I had explored with Kitty and the Mike’s. After 3 gorgeous runs that surprisingly weren’t holding anything, I managed to lose a beautiful doe on a pink worm in the fourth run.
Cursing at myself under my breath, I figured I’d get another chance on the way down. Of course, my hopes were pushed to the side. After 4 km of one way hiking, I finally hit the point that I recognized to be the spot that Kitty and I had made it up to from down below the day before (the spot we had stopped at). Defeated, I did the long walk all the way back up. I got to the run where I lost the doe and figured I’d try to get her back with an R&B bead after the long break. First cast the float drains, and I probably hit that fish harder than I’ve ever hit another fish in my life. The hook-set was good enough this time apparently, and the doe’s partner – a small buck – slid into the net. I finally got to lay my hands on one. Success!
It was an awesome feeling to finally get one out of this river, especially after I had worked so hard at it. Year’s past (including last year), we often found and landed fish on the first exploratory trips to rivers. Working hard through challenges for once was almost a well needed exercise, and it reminded me why steelhead are so special. This was the first fish that I had truly appreciated in a long while.