Catalogue and Conquer – Part VII – Relearning

I mentioned in my previous blog that we had an incredible rain event, and that I was guessing a bunch of my favourite locations would be drastically changed. Well, the flood waters were finally subduing, so Kitty and I decided to head out to a couple of steelhead flows to hopefully see what changes occurred. At this time of year, one of our favourite cutthroat creeks starts to see the very beginnings of its run, and I was curious about the changes. This particular system is on the way to the steelhead flow we chose, so we stopped in at a favourite run of ours. We could see right away that the gut had changed substantially, and that the fish were likely to sit in a different area than they had before. After about 5 minutes of poking around with the steelhead float gear, Kitty finally found a willing biter. Her first cutthroat of the year ended up being an absolute dandy.

Kitty first of the year edit
A nearly steelhead sized cutthroat found its way to the net. A great way to start out the cutthroat season!

Once she found the first one, it was pretty consistent action for a little while. This low in the system, it’s pretty common to find schools of fish staging that are anywhere in size from 5 to 120 fish. They’ll hold here for a day or two, before they quickly move up and disperse into their spawning locations throughout the 20 or so km long watershed. The water was still dirty this day, and we couldn’t see in, but she hit 5 fish in pretty short order, which likely meant a sizable school was here. After that little flurry of action, we headed up to the next river of choice. The next river ended up being a bad idea – it was way too high for the spots we wanted to fish, so after the first run, we salvaged the day by heading back to the cutthroat flow for some fun. We ended up with a couple more really pretty cutthroat trout.

Kitty second of year
None of the next ones were as big as her first, but there were quite a few quality fish around today. Cutthroat have got to be some of the prettiest fish out there, and this beautiful buck was no exception.

The next day was much of the same thing. We tried hard to bounce around a small steelhead flow of our choice, but the water was really high, which made it incredibly difficult to get around on. Once again we decided to salvage the day on the way home with a cutthroat, and once again the chosen river did not disappoint. Today the water everywhere had cleared significantly without a full day of rain, and we counted close to 50 fish in the run we stopped at. They weren’t on to pink worms like they were the other day, but trout beads provided around 10 hookups on nice fish.

chunky cutty
Another really nice looking buck cutthroat. Male salmonids often come in first, and head up river quickly to establish their position on a good patch of gravel to wait for females. Catching a high proportion of clean males can be a signal that the run is just starting to enter.

After the two days of having a bust on the steelhead front, I really wanted to get one on the end of my line. It was now smack dab in the middle of the run timing window for a river that has had my number for many years, so I decided to head out there based on the finally dropping water gauge in the area. It’s a really canyonous system, so much so in fact,  that the only access is right from the very bottom and a subsequent long (3 km) walk up. Being that the river consists of 90% bedrock, I didn’t expect many changes. To my surprise, the river actually did move around quite a lot, and filled in a few areas, but it still looked great. Unfortunately, I didn’t find a single fish. Most years this is peak timing, but I’ve been finding that this year most places have been 3 weeks behind. This river doesn’t normally see more than one or two bumps of fish,  and it’s a condensed run timing, so I’ll try it on the next water bump to see if the late trend holds true in this portion of the island as well.

I decide to salvage the day on another creek near by. It’s early for this one as well, but I find it gets a much more extended run timing than most rivers in this area. I start at one of my old favourite runs. Upon my arrival, I’m a little heart broken. The tail out had filled in an absurd amount – where it was once 5 feet deep it’s now a foot deep with a bottom of fine gravel. There’s so much gravel in here now that most of the big boulders have even been completely covered, leaving the bottom mostly structure-less. Even the head to middle section doesn’t look anything like the past with the shifting of rocks and the back-filling. Needless to say I didn’t find anything there. I continue up and find that some of the other runs have at least gotten better to replace the one I’ve lost, but even they are void of fish today. There’s still one run at the top of the circuit I’m holding out hope for: the waterfall. If there’s a fish in this system, most times it’s holding there. As I walk up to the falls pool, the run just below that (the one we’ve dubbed “Mr. Steelhead” run), has made a strong comeback. Over the last 4 years it’s gradually shifted around and lost a lot of its holding water, but this year it looks fantastic. I don’t get a fish there, but know for a fact that it will be holding multiple steelhead during the peak run timings.

Next up is the falls, and my mind is absolutely blown by how much this has shifted. This pool during the high water must have been quite the spectacle. It managed to blow out 4 different car sized boulders – one is completely gone, and the other 3 are pushed down into the very bottom of the run where they are of no use (they’ve moved anywhere from 10-20 feet downriver). Over the last 4 years, this falls had actually carved out a fairly impressive channel to river right, under a rock structure, that had started to allow fairly easy fish passage. This channel had even allowed a summer run of steelhead to take hold in the upper watershed (a very small run of about 20 fish at this point). This past water event had undercut and collapsed the massive rock structure on river right, right into the newly formed channel, and the river has now dumped in so much rock at the base of the actual falls that the plunge pool is only maybe 1 foot deep, which will make any type of passage impossible at this time. I once watched a buck steelhead hop this 11 foot vertical drop 2 years ago, but that won’t be happening anymore with the changes (the plunge pool is no longer adequate). Realistically, I’ve quite possibly watched the extinction event occur for a small summer run, and potentially have seen a good 6 km of great rearing/spawning water disappear for a limited number of the winter run fish (based on our observations, very few winter steelhead used to make it over, but a select few of the strongest did each year). It will be interesting to watch the changes going forward. If all of that negativity wasn’t enough, the entire pool had filled in here as well with that same pea gravel. The run has narrowed up from 20 feet wide to maybe 10, and it’s gone from 10 feet deep to 3 feet deep. It doesn’t look like anything will be sitting here, but I take a couple casts anyway. To my utmost surprise, on my third cast, I watched a fish come out from under one of the large rocks remaining at the top and swipe at my worm – it missed, but then chased it down 5 feet and the fight was on. Being that the run has now gotten substantially skinnier, the fish decides to take off down the cascade and I end up two runs down in the Mr. Steelhead run to land it. It was an absolutely picture perfect doe. I often find that the steelhead in this system are fairly lacking of spots, and this one is almost completely void of them. A picture perfect specimen, but I only take a short video and send her on her way. I’m happy though that river #6 is now checked off in the journal of 2020.

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Looking through all the files on my phone lately reflecting on the past season. It was actually a pretty good year for me. I managed to explore a lot of new water, and found fish nearly every day out this season. Numbers were down in some areas, and steady in others. Overall, I'd say that the numbers were a touch better than last year, but still on an overall down trend (which is no surprise when talking about steelhead). After a really dreadful December across the lower mainland and island, it was looking pretty dire for my favorite fish, so I'm thankful that some made an appearance from January onwards. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ This was perhaps one of the prettier fish I had the pleasure of encountering this season. It's pretty common to get sparsely spotted does in this particular system, but this girl took it to another level. She's only the second ever nearly spot-less one I've gotten. Part of me wanted to bust out the dslr for some good photography, but being alone it wouldn't have been responsible for the fish's health. Instead, I took a quick little video to remember her, and sent her on her way. If you'd like to read about this past season to take your mind off being locked up in your house, I have started a blog for the 2020 steelhead season called Catalogue and Conquer. There should be a link to my blog in my bio. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #steelhead #wintersteelhead #fishing #rainbowtrout #winter #2020 #fishingblog #catchandrelease #keepemwet #teamrainshadow #adventure #explore #britishcolumbia #explorebc #fish @islanderreels @teamrainshadow

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After that fish I hike down and decide to leave the rest of the river alone. I’m not sure I’m ready for the changes I’ll see downriver. At this point, all I can do is hope that future water events will push out a bunch of that fine gravel that has accumulated in a vast majority of runs. It is an incredibly steep, flashy river that sees some pretty impressive water events, so I do have a little bit of hope that things could return to normal in the years ahead with high water scouring. It’s clear though, that for now, I’ll need to do a lot of relearning here to be successful both now, and for a few years ahead.

I wish I could say that this portion of my season was fast and furious action on the water drop as I bounced around, but it wasn’t so. I went to yet another system to view the changes, and of course, I knew this was fairly close to peak run timing and should offer up a good chance for at least one fish. The changes were once again substantial, but in the case of this river I really appreciated them. The flood waters had actually made most of the runs better – it had scoured them out and had placed a lot more large rock on the bottom than what was present before. Today my only fish was a nice sized cutthroat; the steelhead were absent. In the case of this river, neither the early nor mid/peak run timing has materialized (based on my own observations and reports I’ve received), and I fear that they may not show up at all for this season.

After now having a few trips of mostly disappointment, I decide to go back to one of my confidence flows that always seems to put up for me. It’s getting into the juicy part of the season here too, and although I’ve watched Kitty tail a fish here this season, I haven’t gotten one myself yet. I walk into the canyon with pretty high hopes – it’s on a water drop, and the conditions and time of year are similar to days gone by where I’ve walked down to see anywhere from 10-40 fish. I get to the top of the canyon and walk the little goat trail that stops at a small perch 20 feet from the top. From here I can see absolutely everything; every rock and bedrock crevice that lie in the bottom of the emerald green tail out another 50 feet below me. I carefully scan each spot that has held fish at one time or another. It takes me a few minutes, but I finally see a lone fish sitting suspended against a rock, the water so clear he appears to be floating in thin air. I begin my descent, and remind myself that I really do need to put a rope here.

I finally arrive at the waters edge, and tie on a small 4 inch pink worm. Despite the clear water here, I’ve always found these fish in the lower half of the system to be aggressive, and they far prefer a big offering over a bead or chunk of wool. I take my first cast, and sure enough I can see him stance up and start to move as soon as my worm is within view around 20 feet upriver of him. He doesn’t wait for it to come to him, rather he darts forward 10 feet and grabs it hard. I pull and miss. He seems a little startled, but returns to near the same spot as he had been before. Rather than take my chances with the worm again, I trade it out for a bead. It took 4 casts to get the right drift, but I finally got it close to him. He moves for it, and I watch his mouth open with a white flash, but my float doesn’t budge and I don’t have a perfect 100% visual. I neglect to set the hook, but then see him do the tell tale head-shake to remove my bead and hook from getting a firm hold. My float bobbled at that point, but it was already too late, he had already spat it. I tried another dozen or so casts, but he had tasted my hook obviously, and was starting to act even more skittish with each subsequent pass. I contemplate putting a pink worm back on, but I’m afraid that it might be too intrusive now that he knows I’m here. I decide on a 3.5 inch white worm that’s been sitting in my pack for years. I so rarely use them, but they do definitely have their time and place. I cast it out and of all things, this white worms seems to be the thing he is most interested in. He moved a good 20 feet for it and chomps it hard. I let him chew it for a second to be sure, and as soon as I’m really sure he has it, I reel down and set the hook. His fight was really nothing to write home about, but he was an absolutely mint fish, and a little bigger than what I had originally thought, so I’ll take him. My seventh river of the year was in the books.

Being that the little buck was the only fish I saw here, I decide to make this pool my only location of the day. I was more than satisfied with that one sight fished steelhead for the trip, and I was really starting to crave some cutthroat fishing after the little taste I had with Kitty a few trips ago. I had one river in mind for the way home that I could try (to see if they were finally piling in), so I packed up and headed out to start a new chapter of my season.

4 thoughts on “Catalogue and Conquer – Part VII – Relearning

  1. A three and a half inch white worm for steelhead. Interesting ! I’ve seen three and a half inch white grubs with curly tails, but never a worm. Thanks again for sharing your baits with us.


  2. Wow Dan,
    You just made my Saturday morning. Thank you for the vicarious adventures, I’ve really enjoyed your magazine quality writing. I’m also glad you changed your mind and decided to share some more….take care


    1. Thanks for the kind words; I’m glad that the blogs have been enjoyable for you! They do take quite a bit of time to put together, but this season is one that I felt would be a cool one to look back on (I often look back on my Quest for 20 blog series). There were a lot of cool moments/memories, and a lot of long awaited successes on the water this season. Hopefully you enjoy the ones still upcoming as well! Hopefully we can all be back out in the water in full force in the near future!


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