Catalogue and Conquer – Part XIV – Exploration

I rarely fish with many people other than Kitty, Mike, or Marc. Kitty and I do occasionally get out with a few other friends though, and just before this weekend, another one of our friends (Mark) had asked if we were going out this weekend, and if he could tag along. After my very successful last day out, I told him that we’d most definitely be going out Saturday. I’d pay for half the gas if we could take his truck, as long as we could explore a brand new river (the one I hadn’t been able to get to the day before). I had already mapped it out and had a good idea of where to get in, and I sweetened the deal by telling him I knew where a fresh school of fish were for on the way out. I also reiterated that I had a really good feeling about the one I wanted to explore, and with that, Mark was in.

We left early with grand plans for the day. First I would take Kitty and Mark in to the run where I had seen the school of fresh steelhead the day before. We arrive in the first run of the canyon, and the original 4 fish that had been there at the end of the day my last time out had moved on unfortunately. I still held out hope though that the bottom run would be holding on to at least a few of the fish that were there previously. It’s an awesome run, has great cover and depth, and the new tree just makes it that much better. We walk down to it and I hop up on my perch. I can now see 9 fish – a couple more than the last time out. I’m excited as they both take their first casts. To my surprise, the first 5 or so minutes isn’t fruitful at all. These are fresh fish, and they were nearly suicidal the previous day, so why wouldn’t they bite this time around? Eventually, Mark ends up hooking a big 14+ fish on a pink worm, but loses it as he tries to bring it around the tree.

After that first lost fish, it took a lot of cycling through gear to get the next one. The two of them tried everything from worms, to jigs, to beads right off the noses of the fish. Not even the white worm would work today. I decided to bust out the last weapon that I’ve been using sparingly – that batch of weird UV worms. Kitty wasn’t more than 2 casts in before she finally hooked up a beauty that took her for a ride down and out of the run. She did a great job of keeping it away from the tree, and her efforts were rewarded with the first fish of the day to the beach.

Kitty bullet doe clear water
Kitty with a stunning doe in the crystal clear water

After taking a couple photos for Kitty, her and I walk back up to Mark who was still fishing. From up on my perch, it was obvious that Kitty’s fish had torn up the run and spooked fish out of their original hold. I eventually caught sight of them holding in a different spot – a spot accessible to spoons. Cue up Mark with his spoon rod. He had never caught a steelhead on a spoon, and I was pretty confident that this run would be his first. It didn’t take long to get him to make the right cast and twitching motion. After a couple followers on subsequent casts, Mark and I watched one of the larger fish cruise over and connect with his metal. Mark managed to pull this one up and over the log to land it; it ended up being his largest steelhead ever, and his first steelhead on a spoon. The day was off to a great start!

Mark big spoon buck
Mark’s first spoon steelhead by twitching a copper/silver 50/50 2/5 R&B through a deep slot slot on the backside of the run. Spoons are incredibly versatile, and work in many other ways vs. the standard cast and retrieve or swing. As seen here, they are also efficient at picking up large fish in many cases!

After going 2/3 in the run, I had to coax the two of them to leave, even though more were visible. I really wanted to spend a good amount of time exploring the new system, and if fish were here in good numbers, they were likely there in good numbers (if they still exist). There’s the old adage that you shouldn’t leave fish to find fish, but we actually do it fairly often. In any case, the days where we have left fish to find fish have either resulted in us wishing we had stayed (rare), or they have led to incredible discoveries that we still hold dear many years later. The days that stick out the most in my mind are always the days where I left a good number of fish on a river I’m comfortable on, and have found great success somewhere new. One of those days that sticks out in my mind was on the Quest for 20 year, on this day: Quest for 20 – Part XI – Two at a Time.

Mark’s truck came into use more than once on the way to the new river, and I realized just how far out it was compared to my expectations. I wasn’t even really close to being there when I had originally turned around. The bright side of scouting it with the truck was the realization that once the mud pit is repaired after the rains are over, it’s an otherwise yaris accessible river. We arrive at the pin I had dropped on my map on a little spur road into an old clear cut and start the bush crash. These are the worst type of bush crashes. Cuts that are 10-15 years old have incredibly thick growth, and it’s often hard to push your way through the small trees. It was a good 10 minutes of garbage hiking through old slash before we once again entered into a beautiful old growth forest. This is typical of the island, as the logging companies have to leave a buffer around the watersheds, so you can always look forward to easy walking for the last 100 meters or so of distance. Once we were in the forest, there was an obvious burnt in trail to the river below. It didn’t look like an animal trail in this case, so I held up hope that we would be walking down onto a good section of water.

Some really cool rock formations.

Our first look at the canyon pools got all three of us excited. It was splendid steelhead water. We walked up first to a major tributary confluence. It was there that I sighted our first fish, but it wasn’t interested in biting, and slowly swam off upon our arrival. Kitty took more interest in the rock here (rather than the fish) and chipped away in the potholes with her dream of finding gold. For once, this watershed is actually known for gold, so she might have a chance (of course she never found any). As we walked down, we found the runs getting nicer and nicer, but no fish seemed to be present. Eventually we get down to another great looking run, and fish through the best looking part without success. As I slowly work my way through the last bit, Marks continues on below and yells out, “I think I see some fish!” I walk down to him and take a slightly higher vantage point. I count over 20. They are sitting way back in the run, in 6 or so feet of nearly stagnant water, rather than the head of the run (which looked much nicer). He tells me to chuck the spoon out, since the float will hardly even move to them. I take my first cast, and the largest fish in the school moves forward and grabs it. It was a somewhat stressful fight with this one. It was by far the largest fish I’ve hooked on this little 6 wt spey conversion, and I’d call this size near the maximum that the rod could handle. Not only was he big, but he was also surprisingly hot for being so coloured – putting up 3 big jumps and a number of good runs. Eventually he found his way to the beach though, and I was able to check off my 17th river of the year. It was cool to get yet another brand new system off the bucket list – that makes three this year now. It’s pretty amazing to me that every season I’m still able to explore new water and check off new places; it seems the possibilities on the island are almost never ending.

my big coloured buck close lift
A very unique looking buck. Showing his colours, but still in great condition. He was reminiscent of a large interior summer run rather than a vancouver island winter fish.

After my fish tore up the run, the remaining school of fish scattered  and moved up into the head of the run. Kitty and Mark didn’t like it much, because now we couldn’t see them and line the casts up well, but I was excited about their move. The water at the top of the run is deep (around 10 feet), has great cover with the choppy surface, and has a number of large boulders. There’s no doubt in my mind that the fish will be more comfortable up there, and therefore, more willing to bite. I proceeded to let Kitty and Mark fish the top end for a good 15 minutes. After not receiving any love, they recommended that we should head down and give the school a break. This whole time, I had been watching them, and really didn’t like the way they were covering the run. Just before leaving, I asked Kitty if I could use her rod for a cast. She hesitantly gave it up to me. I tend to have luck in these instances, and she knows it. It took three casts and a couple depth changes, and I was into yet another fish – this time on a trout bead. This one was a heck of a lot smaller, but a whole lot shinier than the first fish I landed.

pretty girl new river
A pretty little doe that would end my fishing for the day.

After that fish I handed Kitty her rod back. I told her not to touch anything, and to do the same drift. I figured most of them were probably sitting on that same line, and being in the deeper water, they would be far less likely to spook after fighting a fish. Sure enough, Kitty was into a fish first cast. She too was able to land her first ever fish from this system! It’s now Kitty’s 8th river checked off for the year, and her fourth new one!

Kitty new river doe lift
Her first ever fish from this river – a nice little doe to start out on.

Two casts later kitty had another one. It seemed as if they were “on” now, but as quick as it had begun, it stopped. After 10 minutes or so of no action, we all decided to go down river to look at a few more runs and let this one rest.

kitty buck lift
A slightly bigger buck within the school of does that seemingly average 5-6 pounds.

We got cut off rather quickly after that run. The river quickly became boxed in by towering canyon walls, and the wade we needed to do was a long one to get to the other side. Most other days I’d consider doing it, but it was already late in the afternoon and I was pretty happy with the day (plus it was deep enough that it would be difficult to pull Kitty across with me). By the time we had gone down to the cutoff and come back up it had been nearly an hour. Mark’s first cast proved that resting the run had worked. He was into one right away, and was able to land his first out of this river as well.

Mark chrome buck diff
Mark with another nice buck from the pod – his first fish from the system!

After his first fish, the run really turned on. I find myself watching more than participating these days, and today was no different. I was happy with my couple to hand and didn’t bother casting, I just watched. Mark and Kitty ended up getting another good number of fish in short order. Mark got to check off another bucket list item as well – his first double header!

Mark first double
Marks first steelhead double header. The first one to hand anyway, multiple simultaneous hook ups were had that day, but not all came to hand at the same time.

After a good half hour, I couldn’t believe they were still biting nearly every drift. We still hadn’t gotten a recap, and I started to think there had to be more than the 22 I originally counted.  I started feeling bad for this school and asked if we could leave. On my own, I typically stop after two or three fish. I can appreciate though that days like today are exciting – it’s not incredibly common to see over 20 Steelhead in a run that are savagely biting everything. Sometimes you get lost in the moment catching them and get a little carried away. I was finally able to persuade them to leave; we had caught more than enough today. Of course, true to what Kitty always does, rather than walk the river back up to the easy trail out, she had us Billy goat up a near vertical canyon and bush crash out to the road.

We got back to the car exhausted, and decided to pack up and start heading home. We still had quite a bit of daylight left and mulled over what we could do next. We finally decided on another river that’s well on our way home and not too terribly out of the way. By the time we got there, we only had maybe an hour of light left.

We decided to fish through our favourite section quickly, and said that 3 runs was the maximum limit before calling it quits. The first two runs disappointed us without even a trout. I didn’t hold a lot of hope for the third run. Most years this spot holds a lot of fish, but this year, in the four trips I’ve made, I still haven’t touched one here. Two casts in, Kitty got a real hard take down. I didn’t believe her at first, but three casts later she connected. This spot is always good to her, so of course she’d be the one to show me how it’s done.

Within seconds of connecting, Kitty’s line went slack. “I lost it,” she said as she slowly reeled in, sadness on her face. I watch her slack line rip a V in the water as it went upriver at a monumental pace as she looked back at Mark and I. I tell her she hasn’t lost it, no more than a second before everything went tight again. As soon as the fish felt tension reapplied, it started cartwheeling around the run. It was one of the most enjoyable fights I’ve had the pleasure of watching in quite some time. The speed at which the fish travelled up and down the run (often times faster than Kitty’s stradic could possibly retrieve line) and the number of aerial displays it put up were nothing short of fantastic. When the doe finally got to hand I couldn’t believe she had actually landed it. What an awesome fish to end a fantastic day. Three different rivers, and a really good number of hookups to boot. Even better was that two of the rivers were ones Kitty hadn’t checked off this year, and this final one of the day would now bring her river count to 9 on the season.

Kitty chunky chrome
A beautiful fish to end the day on.

One thought on “Catalogue and Conquer – Part XIV – Exploration

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