After Christmas, Kitty and I decided it was time to finally get out and try for a few steelhead on the last day of 2019. We decided on a river that normally gets a fairly decent early push, and headed out.
We arrive at the first run of the day, and I sighted a steelhead right away from up above sitting in the fast seam of water that very few people fish. I yell at Kitty there is one there, direct her where to cast, and tell her to be ready as I had a good feeling about him grabbing it. Kitty cast out her pink worm, and the fish charged over and hammered it like clockwork. Unfortunately it wasn’t a winter run, but it was a rather large (for this system) summer running fish.
After letting Kitty fish a while longer with the worm, I popped down to take a few casts with a bead. A few casts in, I too got to tussle with a fish, this time a nice clean 8 pound doe (also a summer or fall running fish). After that fish, we decided to leave the lower run alone, and walked way upriver to our next set of runs up in the canyon.
We soon arrived at the runs that we’ve dubbed the paradise pools. True to the name, it’s absolutely paradise up here with the clear, green water that breaks out into a perfectly swing-able tail out, with waterfalls spilling in all around you. For the most part, this area doesn’t see all that much pressure, which is confirmed by the lack of footprints in the sandy beaches. We arrive with excitement at the top end where the fish normally sit. Unfortunately, we flogged it for quite some time, and only had a rainbow to show. Kitty starts working down the run, and I watch intently. There’s one spot mid run, right where a waterfall dumps in, that almost always holds at least one fish for me (especially on the swung spoon, which is what she’s elected as her weapon of choice). Sure enough, as Kitty gets close, she hammers into a beautiful chrome doe around 12 pounds not more than 10 feet into her swing. The fish cartwheels twice and pops off. Kitty calms down for a second, settles her thoughts, and goes through again. Again, nearly right after her spoon hits the water, a 10-12 pound doe grabs and goes ballistic and cartwheels two or three times before popping off. Both of those does were very likely winter runs with their shape, size and overall condition (along with their fighting ability). Obviously without getting them to hand though it’s impossible to confirm, as summer run does can often stay quite silver right into the winter, and even into the spring if conditions are right. Two more casts produce two more fish (both summer looking does based on their colour and profile), and Kitty again loses both. At this point she’s incredibly frustrated. Two more casts and she finally lands the fifth fish she hooks – a pretty nice looking little buck, but again, not the winter fish we were here for.
That losing streak in the one run pretty much summed up our day. I ended up landing one other summer run buck on a bead in there, and after that the fish turned off. As we left that afternoon and into the night the rain started coming down hard – it was clear we’d have to change plans for tomorrow rather than coming back here.
The next day was fairly drab. It rained all day and the other chosen flow was still really high. About half way through the day, we went into a run that I’ve often had luck in early season. Around 10 casts in, I had a good float down along the backside which took me by surprise as I missed it; generally, if fish are here, they tend to hit right away – I’m not even sure what I was doing taking that many casts in one drift, but I had a feeling. I went up to get Kitty from the car to give her a chance at it (she had elected to stay out of the rain for this last ditch effort). She went down and ended up hooking the beautiful winter around 5 casts later – unfortunately it went straight out the tail out in the insanely high water and pulled the hook out. That was the last fish-able run we had left for the day, so we headed home without a fish to hand, but a confirmed winter hooked – the first one of 2020 (Jan 1st).
After that it was another week until we got to fish again. It still hadn’t stopped raining. Everything was pretty high, but after thorough searching of river gauges and looking at past diary entries, we decided on an area that likely had a possibility of good water conditions and fish present. Another advantage of this area is that it has other backups within an hour of driving if our original plan doesn’t work out. We arrive at the first stream, and although I wasn’t completely caught off guard (we’ve had A LOT of rain), I was a little surprised to see it completely blown out (it’s very rare that it actually colours up). The height looked good, but it was insanely brown, with less than 3 inches of vis. The other river that was close-ish by had also been hammered, so we took a little drive to another one within the hour that has slightly different topography and sediment inputs.
We arrive at the third river and although high, the visibility is pretty good. The first run actually looks quite good, and we flog it to no avail. We go upriver a bit and the second run of choice looks even better – again, no dice. From here, we made the decision to go up a few more kilometres. This run doesn’t look great, but there are a couple small seams. A few casts in Kitty misses a good hit. Not long after she hooks and loses a fish before we get a good look at it. We go another 5 or so minutes without anything before another fish grabs her pink worm. This time she hooks it good. A great fight ensues that absolutely tore up the run. After a good tussle, we get the fish in close to see a glowing bright 8 pound winter doe. As I step in the water with the net it takes off again up the run and out of the run up the rapids. Everything goes tight. After 30 seconds of panic thinking that it was gone, I walk up and discover that the fish had taken Kitty around overhanging branches and had tangled – her float was downriver around 40 feet with the fish still on and holding in a pocket. I somehow manage to untangle her line, and by the time she is caught back up to the fish, it’s charging back towards her with the renewed tension and realization that it was still hooked. Just as I think we are out of the woods, the dreadful pop happens and it’s gone.
We each hook one more fish out of this particular spot. The water is insanely high today and realistically, it’s practically impossible to land a fish here with the discharge rate and minimal room to fight them. We had 4 hookups, 3 on confirmed winter fish (we had them right in close, but just far enough out of reach), but just couldn’t close the deal. Still, despite the losses, it was good to have so many chances on a year that we have been told is one of the worst anyone has ever seen. I feel privileged that we at least got to see a couple of ghosts.
The next day I headed out alone, determined to break the spree of bad luck, and to hopefully land my first of the season. I once again try the first flow from yesterday, and today it looks perfect. It still hasn’t stopped raining, but the rained slowed down enough to let it clear at least. It’s prime time for here, but oddly enough, I don’t touch a single fish besides a 3-4 pounder that I couldn’t ID as either a a large resident trout, summer, or small winter before it falls off. Maybe the numbers really are that bad? I do run into another angler though who tells me it hasn’t been all that bad, so it gives me hope I might find a late-ish fish here another day.
I move on to flow number 2 and it looks much better than yesterday even, a good 8 inches lower. I rush into the run we had so much luck in yesterday, and it’s REALLY nice. My first cast, before I can even catch up to my line, my float is gone and some silver flashes light up the water at my feet, but it pops before I even get tension. Damn. Of course, that’s the only one I touch in here despite all the luck yesterday.
I head downriver and fish the one run that always holds something. Really, it’s my favourite run on this river, and I know it really well. I work all the normal holding areas down to the tail out, but it’s down here I have the most confidence. My drifts have more purpose as I cover each line carefully. Right near the last drift I finally get a solid hookup. The fish flashes around and looks bright, but it’s a fairly lanky fish. I do get this one to hand, but unfortunately, it’s definitely a fall run doe in good shape. At least I’ve broken the losing spree, and knocked the skunk off for the year (kind of). No other fish in that run, so I head to the last of the day.
My first cast in this last run produces nothing. It wasn’t the exact drift I like, so I try it again. This time it takes the exact line I want, and sure enough it buries down. Big time miss. I go through again a couple more times and nothing. I decide to let the next drift go further down on the same line. Another 20 feet down, more towards the middle section of the run, the float buries again. I set the hook hard and come back with nothing – literally nothing – the jerk stole my 6 inch worm!
At this point I have to make a decision. Do I let the run sit while re-rigging a new pink worm, or do I go with a bead since he could very well still be chewing on my old worm? I’ve had scenarios where they grab another worm the very next cast, but I’ve also had scenarios where the worm scares them the next cast. The water is fairly clear today, so I elect for the bead change-up. I go through a good 15, maybe 20 drifts and he doesn’t grab it again. I’m very near changing back to a worm. I decide to cover all the other drifts available before switching back. A good 10 minutes goes by and no one is home. I try one more drift over the fish’s lie since it’s had a break, and sure enough the float buries. This time there’s no mistake on my end. I finally get a solid hook up. After a spirited fight, the 6 or so pound winter buck slides in to shore. I’m quite surprised to see that he’s a hatchery – he definitely doesn’t belong here, but I don’t have a pen on me, and wasn’t prepared to take a fish home today, so he swims free. Hopefully another angler gets him before he can spread his hatchery genetics to the otherwise wild creek. River #1 for the year is checked off, and hopefully this could be the start of a successful season.
As a side note here, I fished alone for the majority of the season. As such, this blog series won’t contain as much of the high end photography that I’ve often put into my write ups years past. I did often take out my phone, especially for the “firsts” of the year, but those are more-so for my memory banks and sharing for friends rather than posting. A lot of the filming was done really quickly with the fish’s health as my priority; in fact, I wasn’t really planning on writing and posting anymore, but it’s now April, and COVID-19 has taken over the planet. Hopefully the you all are able to enjoy the write-ups equally as much without the photos that once accompanied them. I’m not saying the photos will be totally gone, but rather dialled back for the days that I was alone, which was a good majority of my time (unlike the Quest for 20 year when times were different and buddies/Kitty could go on nearly every trip). This writing is almost therapeutic in a way to recount the highs of this past season. I hope it helps those reading to live vicariously through it as if you’re on the river banks, and to take your minds off of what is going on around all of us. Enjoy the following series!