Did I mention in previous posts it’s been raining? Have I mentioned it just won’t stop? It’s been raining for nearly 2 weeks straight at this point, and pretty much every river is high. We’re not talking “just high,” I’m talking that most of my favourites for early season are un-fish-able, trying to break over their banks high. This is where good journal keeping comes into play. What’s happening by me in the central island may not be happening 2 hours away, and the only way to know is by looking at various gauges, and what each river is doing. I’ve fished well over 50 rivers for steelhead on the island in the last 4 years, and the only way to really keep track is by keeping detailed logs for when they are all low, just wade-able, perfect, or completely blown out. At this point I’m simply just trying to get out to anywhere that’s fish-able, even if it’s not the peak run timing. At times like these, there’s no better place to hide from high water than on the little creeks with small drainages.
I made plans to get out to the first little one early morning – this one is actually a decent bet right now as far as run timing goes, so I have high hopes. I arrive, and the water is indeed perfect and void of anglers. It’s funny how way too high on most systems can mean the best conditions for small creeks. I fish the first run that’s normally a guarantee, and nothing happens. The next 2 runs are also void, so I head way down to my next backup run which is just a 10 minute walk from the salt. Upon arrival I see that this particular run is a little higher than I like, but there still seems to be a good seam for them to hold in, so I give it a try. These fish have a thing for pink worms, so I fish one very thoroughly through each little hold in front of me. After a while I give up, thinking that there aren’t any fish in there, but I always run a spoon through the tail out just in case. The set up of this run means that my hang down is actually in the juiciest part of the run, and sometimes just leaving it kick there for a few extra seconds is enough to drive them crazy. My very first cast, maybe 3 seconds into the hang down, I’m met with an absolutely savage take. The fish goes mental and cartwheels down and out of the run. I do everything in my power to hold her against the heavy flow, and to my surprise she actually comes back. She’s a super hot fish though and decides to continue jumping, and actually manages to jump right into some overhanging shrubs. Not only did she get off, but she also flipped me the fin by wedging my white silver R&B spoon into the tree hard enough that there was no getting it back. I’ll give that fish a +2 score. As I sat on the beach re-rigging, I mull over how this river has had my number over the years – my landing rate here is an honest 10%, if I’m lucky. Perhaps it’s the fact the fish are a good average size and always hot, or that they’re in a really small stream with lots of obstacles that consists of probably 80% cascades/whitewater; maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten into my head here and always do the wrong thing. It’s always a blast to hook them here though, and I’m even happy to just see one and get a grab like that.
I spent another couple hours fishing each run I’ve had success in on past years. My original plan was to give that lower run a break and to go back to it after fishing everything else. After I finished the top circuit, I head down, and to my dismay I run into another angler coming from the bottom run. He couldn’t help but show me pictures of the 2 he had just gotten down there – guess I let it have too long of a break. At this point, there’s no use for me to go down, so I decide to head to another river.
I’m not sure what made me stop at this second place. There are other rivers near by in peak run timing that I’m sure I could get into despite the high water (there’s always at least one spot), but this one just looked perfect as I drove by. I’m about a month early for here, but in my mind, that would mean I’d probably have the whole thing to myself. I park the car and head down right into my favourite stretch. As I come up onto the lower runs in the stretch, my suspicions that other anglers would leave it alone were confirmed – not a single disturbance in the sand anywhere. Although it’s early, I always have the most confidence in these situations where I know I’m first through.
I fish down first (thinking I’d maybe encounter a fresh mover) through the first three runs and don’t touch anything. Below here there’s a long stretch of not so great water before the tidal zone, so I decide to turn around and head up next to my favourite runs. Soon I’m standing at the second run upriver. It’s a spot that I’ve actually never caught a fish in, despite it looking amazing. It’s got a big canyon wall on one side, and it’s about 4-6 feet deep throughout and 200+ feet long. I fish it every single time, but always leave empty handed. Today was no different in that I stopped faithfully to take a couple casts, what was different though was the weird float down I got on the first drift through. It was a strange down, almost like it dragged a stick or something, but I go through again a little shallower this time. This second drift I’m about 2 feet further out, more into the fast water. Around 10 feet further down, my float does the same thing, only this time it connects with whatever dragged me down initially.
I set the hook hard as soon as I felt weight, and only got more dead weight. I pulled for a couple seconds before deciding it was a snag. I pulled pretty hard, and it didn’t budge, so I straightened my rod out. A fairly good pull with the rod straight finally dislodged the stick. It felt pretty heavy and started swinging into shore, so I just kept my rod pointed at it and kept reeling quickly to try and bring it to hand to unhook it without it getting wedged on bottom. After about 15 feet of reeling with my rod tip pointing straight, all of a sudden the stick swung outwards into current again. Now all of a sudden the stick was giving some really deep head shakes. At this point I raised my rod tip, and the now “not so much a stick” fish really woke up. He goes on one big run and then jumps, and as soon as he hits the water I get the dreaded slack line. It was a solid 16 pound or larger ocean phase buck, the largest I’ve seen on this system ever, and the weirdest fight I’ve had in a long time, maybe ever. I was kind of upset at myself due to another missed opportunity, but after going over what just happened, I really feel there wasn’t much I could have done differently. I’m still surprised at how stuck to bottom he was at the initial hookup, and that it took him so long to realize that he was hooked.
After losing that fish I head way up, and fish a good 2 or more kilometers over another 2 hours. Despite perfect conditions and first water through my favourite runs, there wasn’t another fish to be found. It’s not overly surprising, as I said before it’s really early here, and I was surprised to see even that one fish down low, let alone in the middle section of river. As I walk back down, I decide to rig up a bead to see if I could get the fish to come back again. I find these early fish, especially being this close to the ocean and without pressure, will often take a second offering after a good break in fishing. I get back to the head of the lower run and fish it hard for a good 15 minutes covering every line at multiple depths for nothing. As a last ditch effort, I throw my 4 inch pink worm in again. First cast it buries, but comes up fast without a chance to hook up. Second cast resulted in nothing. Third times a charm, and I make no mistake hooking up on this float down. This time the fish comes out of the water instantly – obviously not the same fish, but a decent 10 or so pound doe. She gave me a great battle and I finally had a fish in hand after a rather frustrating day.
I’m pretty elated after the fish to hand, and decide to call it a day on this river (in fact, after this awesome doe, I left this particular river alone for the rest of the year). Upon leaving, I had an inkling to go back to the starting location of the day. The sea liced doe above was caught no more than 2 kilometers from tide water, and was quite obviously very fresh and moving. The fish that had been hooked earlier in the day was a bullet in the lower watershed as well, and I know full well it doesn’t take them long to get to that first holding spot back on the first flow of the day. I made the decision to gamble and head back to see if I could intercept one more fresh one.
I walked into the run, and realize the lack of rain for the last 6 hours has actually allowed this system to drop a couple inches (it’s got an incredibly high flow rate and is exceptionally flashy due to that). It’s now right at the exact height I like it at (for this run). I rig up a 4 inch worm and fish it through hard, and get nothing. I try a bead for a while and nothing. Next comes out the backup again – the spoon – still nothing. I sit down and look at the water, it just looks too good and too fishy to give up. For some reason the next thing I reach for is the ever faithful, almost 7 inch long pink bass worm. I have no idea why fish throw themselves at these dumb obnoxious worms, but they do, and today was no exception. After refusing a 4 inch worm, a bead, and a spoon, I had a little buck climb all over the 7 inch worm first cast. The battle was another valiant tussle that almost resulted in another loss for me, but the buck eventually found his way to my net after a long tug of war with multiple aerials. What a great way to end the day! This little buck was now my 3rd river checked off on the year – and 2 of the 3 rivers so far are different than the watersheds I had checked off in the Quest for 20 year (and none of the first 3 were the same!). The number of systems with fish readily available on the island is truly mind blowing.
After that fish, I didn’t feel a need to extend my day longer. I had some business to attend to as far as dropping off spoon orders, and what better time than now after an already successful day. Hopefully getting my chores done today would mean more time on the water in the near future. Really though, what a great start to a year that was looking to be pretty dreadful overall at the beginning. As a side note here though, I really just believe the fish are truly late this season. There’s a number of rivers that tend to peak in December year after year, with very few fish showing up later. This season they completely lacked any fish early (in December), but the majority of them were showing up in January. I would say there were slightly lower numbers overall than their typical December peaks, but this was definitely the main peak, and it was simply showing up 3 weeks late. Hopefully that would translate across all the rivers that I like to fish, rather than fish just not showing up at all.