After my last successful outing, I felt like I had a fairly good idea of where fish were going to be for the weekend with Kitty. We got out bright and early on Saturday to the first creek to find it quite busy, more busy in fact than I’ve ever seen it. The water was perfect, but we didn’t find any, nor did we hear of any others caught. I couldn’t figure out where those fish I had encountered had gone, but perhaps the school was small and all the fish had been stung. On to the backup plan that I had simply looked at the day before, but hadn’t fished.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that it rained again overnight. It wasn’t quite enough to bump all the rivers again, but it was enough to colour them up, and maintain them at their high heights. This location had indeed coloured, but the visibility was a really nice steelhead green and 8 feet. I peered into the run that I had looked at the day before, when no fish had been present (under much better viewing conditions). Where it was void of fish yesterday, today we saw two large ghost like figures, barely visible. The only time they were visible, in fact, was when they moved off the bedrock and onto the cobble and back again. I was excited – there were no footprints in the fresh canvas of sand from last nights rain, and these were both obviously very fresh winter runs. To add to the excitement, these were also two of the larger fish I have seen in this particular creek in the past five years. In fact, the last time I have seen a fish of that calibre here was the one pictured below, from almost exactly 5 years ago. Something told me they’d for sure bite a pink worm, so down Kitty and I went.
Within the first three casts, Kitty was into the first one on her 4 inch worm – an impeccably clean buck that was around 13-14 pounds. It put up an incredible display of jumps and runs. Kitty made it through the first 3 or 4 minutes of mayhem, and he finally started working closer to shore. As he approached, I readied for the scoop, but just as he came to within striking range, he saw me and took off again. He took two more large jumps, and unfortunately, Kitty’s hand got caught on the handle of her reel and pulled the hook out of his mouth in the second aerial. Her season wasn’t starting off on a strong note, with 5 fish in a row now gaining their freedom during battle. It was starting to get into her head.
After a quick recollection of her thoughts, a little calming of her nerves, and a dutiful assessment of her gear, Kitty was ready to attempt to get the second larger buck that was in there with the first one. It took her about 10 minutes of searching around the tail out, and a couple dozen casts, but she finally connected again further back from where they were originally sitting. Off he went. This one wasn’t on for nearly as long as the first. As he headed for a pile of logs, Kitty tried to turn him, and in doing so completely straightened the size 1 Gammy she was using. Make that 6 losses in a row now. She was pretty upset with that one, but there wasn’t much else she could do in the given situation. Unfortunately for us, those were the only chances for the rest of the day, despite a lot more water being covered.
Day two of the weekend had Kitty determined like no other time I’ve seen before. She needed to break this skunk spell and get the monkey off her back. We mulled over where to go and checked water levels for various locations. We started the day on one close to home – it doesn’t normally get many fish this time of year, but when you do find one, they are typically big and bright. We fished our favourite stretch with no luck. We ended up running into an old timer friend of ours that we see almost every time we visit. He fishes it every single day from December onward. Upon asking him how the year has gone, he says very slow and that he’s only touched one. Unfortunately that seems to be the trend with the last 3 years on this particular watershed – the early big fish seem to be fading away. He also mentions it’s been incredibly busy here too, which is a big part of why we rarely come here anymore. Regardless, it was great to have a chat and to fish some nice spoon swinging water that holds nostalgia.
In the late morning we started to head for our second river of the day. This one has been old reliable, even on the slow years. We know it well, and that translates to success even when there aren’t huge numbers of fish around. Last year was pretty dreadful, but we still managed a few. This year, I had already been hearing some rumours of decent numbers of fish around, so it was definitely worth a look, despite it being quite early in the overall run timing.
As we drive along the river upon our arrival, it becomes evident the increase in angling pressure doesn’t seem to be limited to just one system. By the time we have reached our starting circuit, we’ve already seen 4 different fishing parties – not including vehicles hidden down spur roads. This place always has people out and about, but this was excessive. Luckily for us, the runs we wanted to start at were the seemingly only ones that were void of people.
I wish I could say that we walked into that canyon first hole and found a fresh school of fish like we had so many times before. Unfortunately, it simply wasn’t the case for today. The water was perfect, and it seemed as if we should definitely find them, but they weren’t in their usual lies. We bounced around a couple more secondary spots, and finally found ourselves losing light. There was still one spot I wanted to go to today, but each time we had passed it, there had been a different vehicle occupying the parking spot that surely signalled an angler in the run below. We decided to head there last, with fingers crossed that we could finally get in there. Perhaps I should rephrase that – I was excited to get in there, Kitty was pretty burnt out and almost stayed in the vehicle. I get it, it’s tough to get motivated for that last spot when you know you’re at least the 5th party through, especially when our other usually productive spots proved empty of any sign of life. I finally convinced her to come down with me, with the reasoning that very few people chuck metal, and that we’d be presenting something different.
As we walk the trail it’s clear to see there’s been a stampede of people down it today. Despite the evidence of many anglers, I still had a good feeling for this run. It’s a really classic spoon hole, and metal has picked up more fish here than anything else I’ve used. Once at the water’s edge, the height of the river inspired even more confidence, it was absolutely perfect.
We covered the head of the run without fruition, and worked through the mid section thoroughly as well. Soon we were into the tail out, and each cast that went by tore small pieces of confidence away. Soon I realized that Kitty probably only had 4 or 5 casts left before I’d call the run complete. I watch as she skilfully grid searches the very bottom end of the run – its current speed creates a beautiful thumping kick on the metal, it looks amazing, and it is exactly where I’d sit if I were a fish in these conditions. Thankfully, at least one fish in this river thinks the same way I do, and it showed great interest in Kitty’s spoon. Finally, a fish was on the end of a line today for our extra effort. Even more exciting yet, this one finally found its way to the net. I don’t think I’ve seen Kitty so excited over a fish in years. After a really tough losing streak to start the season, she finally had her first beached winter of the year, and could breath a sigh of relief. The skunk was finally gone, and checking off river #1 on a new year never felt so good.
The next couple days brought a lot of snow to home base, and extended Kitty’s weekend just a little longer. We waited until afternoon on the second day when the plows had gone by (and it had stopped snowing), so that we could get down off our hill and out to the river of choice. Surprisingly, the city we arrived in just an hour away had hardly any snow (vs the 8 inches back at home). This is really odd, as this valley often gets hammered, whereas where we live normally comes away unscathed – the roles had flipped. We wouldn’t complain though, as it made driving and getting to the river much easier (and safer). The small skiff that was there on the ground also provided us with confidence, since there were no footprints, meaning that no one had been here today.
It’s the beginning of the peak season here, and I’m pretty confident that we should find at least one fish, especially with the water heights as of late (there should most definitely be fresh fish blasting through). We briskly walk down to the first run. Normally, if you’re the first one through this spot, it’s as close to a guarantee as there is when it comes to steelhead fishing. It took me by surprise when the first dozen casts came and went without so much as a budge on the float. I decided to go deeper, and half way through my drift, the float buried and a fish was on the end of my line. It put up a heck of a fight for such a small fish, but the high water and incredible velocity in this system always makes for a great battle (and subsequently many lost fish in high water conditions). As we got her to the net I get to see that she’s another incredibly bright fish; another sea licer. I guess that’s the advantage of having high water all of January – early in the season and with constantly moving fish.
Normally, when there’s a fresh one here, there’s a few others hanging out with it. Kitty and I ended up fishing the run for quite a while, but oddly enough, that wasn’t the case today, and the doe I landed was solo.
We fished a couple other small pockets and slots that typically hold fish at this water height, and started to run out of time with nothing to show for our effort. One last spot was left that I had been avoiding today. I have been to this system one other day this year, and this last spot had produced two fish for me, but both had totally schooled me and were completely impossible to land. At these water heights, it’s an absolute torrent through here, and the fish, once hooked, tend to go out into the heavy water and straight down around the island with small trees on it. I’ve tried once (back in the day) to wade out to that island at these high heights, and I nearly put myself over the falls with the insane velocity. I typically just avoid this run now when the conditions are like they are today, but I know it probably has one, and it’ll be the last chance for the evening at a fish. Even if we can’t land one, the float down and initial hookup are the most fun part of steelhead fishing anyway!
Kitty and I are both rigged with roe (yet another indicator of what system this one is), and we both decide to run it through the last spot first before changing up. My confidence in this pocket however lies in the bass worm. Over the years, for whatever reason, a good 90% of my fish in this run have been on the pink worms, even behind bait. It’s very likely due to the turbulent, frothy water and the high speed at which the current travels. We fished it a good 10 minutes without a touch, and I finally sit down to rig Kitty up the big worm while she continues to fish. Once I’m done rigging it up, I hand it over, and hold my breath as she makes her first couple drifts. Many drifts of silent waiting ensue. We fished it a good 10-15 minutes, but I’m still not ready to give in – I just know there has to be a fish in here. I tell Kitty to go deeper, and to cast out a bit further, and pull her float in at the last second into the seam towards the tail out. Sometimes hitting the right drift here can be incredibly difficult, perhaps 1 in 10 casts, and today the boiling turbulent water due to the height makes it even more difficult. Sure enough, first cast a couple feet deeper, and on the proper line, the float drops hard.
At this point, I just want to close my eyes. I know full well that Kitty won’t want to break this fish off now that she has it on, but often there is no other option, and many times by the time you’ve made that decision, you’ve already destroyed the first 200 feet of your mainline as it gets chaffed along the trees while the fish skyrocket downstream. Kitty hooked this fish way back, in fact, she hooked it about 10 feet past where the island starts. Unbelievably, this fish actually chose, for whatever reason, to come flying up the run into the water in front of us, rather than down to the cascades. I can’t stress how incredibly rare that is. Everything went right with this fish – it behaved very well, and Kitty couldn’t have fought or pressured it towards shore any better. The doe finally slides into the shallows and finds the net. After her rough start, Kitty is on a bit of a streak now.
That fish concluded our day, and really, what a great ending it was. Nothing could have went more to plan on a short evening trip, and I’m glad to see the highlight of the evening go to Kitty. She has been faithfully flogging away at rivers as much as possible in her spare time so far this year, and after a bit of a rough start, it was great to see it paying off for her. Hopefully her success on every trip out so far this season would be a sign of things to come, but so far, things don’t look quite as dire as what I’ve been hearing. A person cannot discount being lucky though, and on a year like this, finding the school of moving fish by chance is a huge determination for success. Only time and different water conditions going forward through this season will actually paint an accurate picture of what is going on with our beloved O. mykiss.