Catalogue and Conquer – Part XV – Something Old, Something New

After such an incredible day on Saturday, I was up for a bit more of a challenge on Sunday.

There’s one river in particular that I’ve been fishing for years and have never gotten a steelhead in. Six years ago was the first time Kitty and I had tried this particular river for steelhead with a buddy of ours. Instead of steelhead, what we encountered were a number of large feisty trout. Over the years, it’s actually become a favorite for trout, but despite the numerous times fishing it, we’ve seen and encountered very few steelhead. I’ve only ever seen Kitty hook one, and we’ve seen a couple spawning in the late spring. This past January was actually the first time I had ever been lucky enough to encounter one, but had lost it. It’s strange for a river that boasted such incredible numbers in the past, and with such a healthy trout population, you’d think more than a few would head out to sea to get a bit bigger.

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An old throwback photo from our first time fishing this river back in 2014!

Today we decided to give this river our best shot. It’s only about 10 km long from the ocean to the impassable falls, and so we decided to hike 8 km of it and fish the entire way. It’s late season here, so we should at least encounter fish that have been staging a while if no new ones had moved in. Realistically, I would be happy to even just see one, or evidence of a few having been here (REDDs). I always enjoy coming here for the trout anyway, so I was sure that it would be an enjoyable day.

We fished the first few runs up that I had a lot of confidence in, but they didn’t produce a single take down, not even from a trout. At this point, we decided it would be best to head straight up to the very top of the system and fish down. It didn’t appear that there were many fresh fish moving into the lower at this point. We fished a couple of the nicer pieces of water in the upper without luck and started to work to the middle section. At the third pool, I got a really good take down on the worm behind Kitty’s spoon and Mark’s bead. It only gave me one chance, and after flogging for quite some time, we decided to cross and get a height advantage to see into the run. The fish was there – either a really large rainbow, or maybe a small steelhead. It was good to finally see a fish at least after a total skunking on the already four hour long day.

We continued down another hour without any sort of life showing presence. I couldn’t believe it. Normally this place is teeming with trout. Perhaps there is some weird weather phenomenon going on, or maybe the really low water has just put them all into hiding under the massive amounts of structure. Regardless of the reason, fishing so much water without any action at all was really putting a damper on the day. We finally do get to a spot where the trail touches the river, and decide to make this our last run before heading back down on the easy trail. Mark goes through first with the bead, and I followed behind with the worm. First cast through the trench of the run along the logs, I finally get a float down. After the set I’m met with a small head shake and immediately think it’s a trout. It didn’t take long to see it wasn’t a trout though as a small steelhead buck started jumping around the run. Unfortunately he was pretty dark, but that was somewhat expected for this time of the year here. Today was more of a scouting mission than anything to see where they’ll be in the future. Regardless though, it’s my first fish ever here, and it’s good enough to check off yet another river on the year. After six years of trying, I decided he was “good enough” for a quick picture before letting him swim off.

dirty buck
A small dirty buck isn’t how I imagined my first fish in this system would go, but I’ll take it as a win on a slow year like this one. River #18 is on the docket for 2020, which is incredibly surprising to me based on what I’ve seen for returns so far this year. The Quest for 20 year had quite a few more fish around, yet achieving 20 rivers seemed barely do-able. This year, I’d already be there if not for some losses, and I’m nearly 20 full days behind in days fished compared to 2017. It pays off being lucky (the right place at the right time)!

That ended up being the only fish of the really long day. It was a stark contrast from yesterday where we bounced from spot to spot, river to river, and found success everywhere. Today we fished incredibly hard, put in a lot of work (and 18 kms total), and only had a couple of chances. Truthfully, I find these days more rewarding when I’m on my own, but I do prefer days like yesterday when I’m out with Kitty and friends – there’s something so enjoyable about watching everyone get fish!

 


 

Now, onto something new. This weekend just so happened to be the first couple days of Kitty’s spring break, and each year on her spring break we go up to visit Marc. We had already planned to do so this year as well, and Monday marked the day for the long drive up. We planned for Tuesday to be on another river that has had mine and Kitty’s number for a couple years now.

I’ll never forget discovering and exploring this system. Marc and I heard rumblings of it, but it ended up taking us nearly three hours to finally find it on the map. It has a couple of different aliases, but the one on the map was completely different from the one we knew – and we ended up finding it based off of a nearby logging road name. We found our way out to it a couple days later and fished the entire system up to what we still think is the base of the canyon that leads to the barrier. That day only resulted in one fish – a big buck that I lost in a jump. It also resulted in some incredibly hard hiking, and some lessons to never hike up and over that canyon ever again (the shin splints lasted for days!). Ever since that day we try to return at least once a year (on different dates) to establish run timings. It’s a stunning little river, and we’ve heard rumours of some big time days if you can hit it right.

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Marc managed to capture a jump shot on our first mission to this watershed back in 2016 – this fish managed to pop off 3 jumps later.

The second year returning we went over a month earlier than the previous year. We only ended up finding one small fish that day – Kitty hooked it around 2 km up from the ocean. It was a stunning little doe though, so we knew that was likely the very beginnings of the run. Even though we still hadn’t hit it right, there was something about this flow that keeps bringing us back. It’s exactly the style of system we like: tough hiking, gorgeous small runs, and big canyon walls in a picturesque setting:

canyon contemplating

Last year, our third year, we finally managed to find a good school of fish. Between Kitty, Marc and I, we had 5 hookups total. I completely whiffed on my two chances, Kitty lost her chance, and Marc went 1/2. Even though we had finally found more than just one fish, and had finally landed one here, it still felt like this place had gotten the better of us yet again.

Marc bue back
A stunning fish to hand for the first one ever out of the remote little creek.

This year I was determined to get one out of there after being bested each other time. It’s a hell of a long ways from home, so once a year is all we get here. It’s unfortunate, because if it was closer to home, I’d likely go multiple times a year. The three of us arrived in the mid morning. It’s nice to not have to rush to get here. There’s pretty much no worries about others being out, and being this late in the spring, the days are long. This river really doesn’t take more than 5 hours to fish round trip, so we took our time getting there.

We gear up and head down to the first run. This one has held fish before for us, and quite often holds a resident rainbow if there isn’t a steelhead home. I take my first cast out, and my float gets absolutely buried. Second cast, a little further down, it gets buried again. I keep missing. Two casts later I get another float down and briefly roll a fish – definitely a steelhead based off of the flash. I frantically keep casting, but after 5 casts I fear I’ve missed yet another chance at checking off this system. Just as we are about to move on, I decide on setting up deeper so that I’m lightly rubbing bottom as a last resort. Unbelievably it works, and soon I’m holding my first little buck out of this system. It’s been a great year for me as far as checking off nemesis flows goes – that’s three now that I have had multi year vendettas against that I have finally conquered. River #19 in the books, and what a fantastic start to the day!

First new
A much deserved fish. Persistence and commitment paid off.

After that first buck, I let Kitty and Mark take first water. Since Mark had gotten a fish here last year, he decided to let Kitty got first. Three more runs up, Kitty ended up hooking and losing a nice buck in a spot we would have never guessed. After seeing two fish in such short order, our hopes for the day increased dramatically.

We continue up, and excitement increases as we approach the first canyon hole that seemingly always had a fish or two present. As we walk up, Kitty elects to go with the spoon rod. Metal is definitely well suited for this run, and we’ve hit most of the fish here on metal. After a good half a dozen casts with nothing, Kitty switched to the worm. Three casts in Kitty gets a funny float down. I’m sure it was a fish, and tell her to flog it a bit more before giving up on it. It was around 7 or 8 casts later that her float finally hammered down again, and this time she connected well. It was by far Kitty’s nicest fish of the year. Marc and I hollered in excitement to not lose this one as the high teens immaculate ocean chrome buck absolutely tore up the run. After a good 3 minute fight, it seemed that she was through the worst and would probably land it. As she turned it to the beach though, the fish gave one small turn of his head and threw the worm back at us. We check Kitty’s leader and decide to change it, and while doing so Marc goes through. Two casts in, he too is into a fish and lands this one.

marc buck
Marc with a nice little buck.

We fish that run for maybe another 15 minutes without further luck, and decide that the run would benefit from a good break anyway after two fish had ripped it up. It would definitely be getting a good break, as the walk up to the barrier is another 2 hours.

We fish the rest of the way up, all the way to the top canyon pool. We pass awesome run after awesome run. We finally get to the canyon hole where we found 5 fish in last year, and unfortunately none were hanging out in there this time around. 30 minutes after that we arrive at the very top pool and still haven’t touched anything. I have no idea why this whole canyon stretch isn’t just loaded. It’s spectacular water, and every cast you take feels as if it should connect. The fish simply seem to school up in here, and where you find one, you find them all. It was obvious they were all in the lower river today. We took a little lunch break at the top, and Marc and I took advantage of the low water and tried making it further up the canyon. We made a couple hundred extra meters of progress, but still got cut off.

Marc climbing vert crop
Marc climbing up and over one of the nubs. We got cut off shortly after this spot.

After our quick little poke around at the top of the canyon, and a little snack, we headed back down. As said before, we had learnt our lesson the first time about trying to take “shortcuts” out from here – the river is by far the easiest route back to the car. That being said, today we needed to try that lower run one more time anyway.

We get close to the run and discuss that Kitty is going to go through first. We decide that flogging a bead will probably be the best bet in this case after they’ve seen some pressure. It didn’t take more than a dozen casts for the first chance. Kitty finally had a fish to hand out of here as well! Any day all three of us can get a fish to hand is a great day, especially when it’s a new river for two of us!

kitty first doe lift
Kitty’s persistence paid off this day after a couple of losses. This is now her 9th river on the year, and her fifth brand new one! It’s crazy to think that she can still be achieving this many new ones each year. The insanely diverse number of fisheries on the island is truly incredible.

Right after I took the picture above of Kitty with her first, Marc hooked up a really good fish in nearly the same spot. We quickly let Kitty’s fish go and rush up to get a better look. It’s a big one, not quite as big as Kitty’s buck from earlier, but still a beautiful specimen. Marc gets it to hand and she measures out over 34 inches – his largest of the year by a wide margin!

Marc big doe
A stunning fish brought to hand. Marc seems to land every fish he hooks when he’s out with us. It was good to see a couple of healthy, large fish today amongst the smaller ones!

After that doe, we still managed one other steel hookup and a couple of large rainbows. This run had quite a few in it, and I’m sure we didn’t hit them all with all the commotion we were causing. We gave it another 20 minutes before deciding to leave. We arrive back at the truck fairly early in the afternoon. From there we decide to go check out one other small river briefly (we ended up being way above a barrier that we eventually found), before cutting a load of firewood and heading home. What a fantastic first day fishing together; really, good days are something we’re becoming used to when the three of us get together.

 

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