Sunday, December 1, 2013

Wagons East: Part Two - Getting it Done

Working downriver, we fished several beautiful runs. The river was practically vacant considering it was a Saturday, the poor weather on roads leading to this Steelhead paradise being the main culprit.

In one particular run, we hit gold... Blake started the hot streak with a beautiful fish on the nymph rod.

I began to swing the bottom end of the run, working a seam that was practically mid-river. With my 11' switch rod, I got into a rhythm booming out a few casts to fish the seam effectively.

As I reached the tail end of the seam, I found myself standing on a rocky outcrop, trying not to slip while making one more distant cast. I made my cast into the seam followed by a quick mend... soon enough, I felt a distinct tug, tug, tug, and dropped my rod to the side. FISH ON!

It was a great feeling, and I sure as heck wasn't going to lose the fish. With help from Blake and Ryan, I brought the fish to the net. Naturally, I fumbled the handoff for a photo opportunity, and off went the fish (Note to self: bring mesh landing glove every time I fish!)

There was no photo evidence of the fish, but I was still shaking in disbelief. After 14 months of trying, I had finally swung up a fish on a two-handed fly rod.

Ryan took his turn working the run, as I took a break to ponder the moment. Blake's Springer Spaniel, Otto, joined me as we watched the guys continue to fish.

After what only seemed like five minutes sitting back and watching the guys fish, I hear another "fish on" and look downriver. Ryan is hooked up on the swing...

Ryan and Blake were machine like in fighting and netting the fish, a bright hen. This fish also decided to be shy for the camera, but we couldn't have cared less. 3 fish in the same run? What a day!

I couldn't keep watching the guys thump on fish, so I grabbed my nymph rod and worked the top of the run. Sure enough, fish on! A feisty fish came to the net, and I had my third Steelhead of the day!

Blake matched with another nymphed up Steelhead and we called it quits with five fish in the same run... what a day it had been.

Cold beers, warm brats, and chili kept us content despite the early setting sun. The red hot fishing had me wishing for the longer days of September, but we had a good plan for our last day on the river.

Sunday came, and we worked separate runs to start the day with nary a tug to show for it. Heading back to our go-to run from the day before, we hoped our fortunes would change.

The guys immediately went to swing the bottom half of the run, while I nymphed up top. After a few whitefish, including one that struck my indicator, I briefly hooked up to a Steelhead. Having lost my first fish of the trip, I was feeling fairly agitated. Without rechecking my rig, I kept casting and soon my indicator buried into the flow. I set hard, but nothing was there. Checking my rig, I figured out why... the fish had broken me off!

The guys kept signaling that they were getting "bumps" while swinging below and I couldn't help but get into the action.

After Ryan had gotten far enough down the run, I began to throw a few long distance casts. Not far from where I had gotten my first swung fish the day prior, my line went tight... fish on!

Photo by Ryan Bailey
This fish was a real treat. Aerial displays, long runs, and the sort of determination that wild Steelhead are known for. It took my own tied fly (another Steelhead first for me) and was the first fish that I've landed with my Hardy reel, which sang beautifully while the fish made its runs.

Photo by Ryan Bailey
After some tasteful photos, the little buck swam back into the river's current. The trip couldn't have gotten any better.

Or so I thought.

It was nearly time to head back to camp to pack up and head home. I asked Blake if I could get a few last casts in behind him, and I went to work.

With barely my shooting head out of the rod tip, my line went tight again... fish on! Another beautiful wild Steelhead had taken my self tied fly, and the fight was on. The beautiful wild hen Steelhead put on  another special show, and capped what will be an unforgettable trip for me.

Over a few days, we had combined to catch ten Steelhead... TEN! I finally got a fish swinging the two handed rod (three of them to boot), got Steelhead on my own flies, and explored new water. Getting to spend time with two good friends was the real kicker to this great trip. I certainly owe them a few days of local knowledge (however crappy it may be) on my home rivers!

As I made the seven hour drive back home, I kept replaying the trip in my mind. I headed East to get it done on the swing... Now to get it done on some of the west side rivers!

Photo by Ryan Bailey

Friday, November 22, 2013

Wagons East... Part One

Wagon's East, a 1994 film that holds an impressive 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is something of an enigma. First off, it's absolutely terrible... no way around that one. Second off, it doesn't seem to make much sense. I mean, sure the wild west was tough and all, but who would give up potential greatness to head back East?

Well, I may have a few chrome bright Winter Steelhead trickling into my area rivers, but I decided to make a bold decision myself. I eschewed the chrome winter fish that are beginning to show on my local streams, and loaded my wagon of an SUV and hit the road.

I was headed East, chasing the colored up fish of Summer that were just arriving to the Grande Ronde and Snake River basin. I had caught these fish months ago on the Columbia when they were as chrome bright as their Winter cousins and now I was looking to connect with them again.

Up until this trip, It'd been a slow month of fishing.

I had worked hard trying to pick up an odd Coho or late Summer Steelhead on numerous local rivers. I fished a small river on the coast that required a two mile hike to get to the first pool above the confluence with the Pacific. With a friend and his sons, I helped them get into a heap of Sea-Runs on the Cowlitz with my tied flies. I witnessed my brother catch his first trout on the fly which was pretty special too.

Above all those things, I continued my skunk-fest of swung Steelhead on the spey rod. So when I had contacted my East side friends about extending a work travel trip into a fishing weekend, I began to think the tide was going to turn. No, I wasn't terribly confident. A year of posting zeroes on the board does not exactly inspire confidence, but fishing the Grande Ronde and Snake can give you a slight feeling of hope.

The Ronde and Snake have relatively large (compared to many west side streams) or concentrated runs of Steelhead. That in itself is amazing because of all of the challenges these fish face (dams, predators, Columbia water temps). Despite these challenges, the fish continue to return each year and my friends from Spokane have gotten the fishery pretty dialed in.

Meeting with my friends on Friday was fantastic. A drive through lonely, albeit beautiful country lead me up gravel roads and a chance run in with Blake on his way back to camp. We set up camp, enjoyed a beverage, and rigged up our rods. Soon enough, we were hiking into holes and Blake was hooked up on his first Steelhead of the trip. The little wild hen inspired a little confidence in my mind that we were in for a good weekend.

Ryan showed up in the evening and we cooked up some camp dinner, enjoyed a few brews, and talked about Steelhead... non-stop. As we tucked in for the night, a storm came over the region and we were absolutely plastered with rain. Thoughts of west side Winter Steelheading came to mind and I wondered if this trip would turn into another west side style "zero" for me.

We woke up to grey skies and a slightly raised river. By 7 AM, I had my first steelhead of the trip. My first nymphed up steelhead in a long time, and my winter nightmare was averted. The little hatchery hen got a quick "thanks" and then was quickly dispatched, destined for the smoker. The day's skunk worn off, we worked run after run, and despite not turning up more fish, I had a good feeling about the rest of the trip.

To be continued...

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Pleasant Surprise On A Dreary Day...




That's what I'm accustomed to when Steelhead fishing on the swing. In fact, I have only had a handful of recognized strikes since picking up the spey rod and I've only made good on a few suicidal salmon from those chances. Needless to say, I've been desperate to catch a Steelhead on the swing.

That all changed when this happened last week.

The Cowlitz River on the last Sunday of September... A day so ugly out, that the normal hum and drone of jet boats running up and down the river was practically non-existent. I fished with my friend and guide Mike Sturza of Lost Creek Fly Shop, and it quickly became a day that I'd never forget.

We began by targeting Sea Run Cutthroat on the swing with a two handed rod. Mike worked with me on my casting and, more importantly, my hook set. I've suspected that I've had more than the few handful of swung fly strikes that I have made count, and I knew that my hook set/perception of strikes was a major weak point in my swing fishing game. Having over a dozen early strikes from Sea Runs and receiving coaching on what to do when these strikes happen was a HUGE help. 

Sure, I may have missed two dozen fish over the course of the day, but the dozen plus that I hooked went a long way in improving my confidence and angling abilities. Mike and I couldn't stop laughing every time I reverted to my old bad habits, but they gradually faded as the day went on. One of my few good qualities is my ability to laugh at myself and on this rainy day, I was laughing with nearly the same frequency as the relentless rain.

The first Cutthroat was special, and with each fish I grew more and more confident in my abilities. I hooked one Cutthroat so large (and aggressive in it's take) that we thought it was initially a Steelhead. The day was rapidly becoming something special and the Sea Run fishery on the Cowlitz had me on cloud nine.

After moving spots a few more times, I was still throwing long casts with the two-hander hoping for a big tug instead of the Cutthroat that were so kind to us. Mike began fishing with a 6 wt Scott single hander for Cutthroat at the head of a run that I had worked through already. Within minutes he had 3 feisty Cutthroat on the bank and he implored me to try swinging the single-hander for these eager trout.

I obliged and began to catch Cutthroat almost immediately. After observing October Caddis in the bellies of our catch we switched to an October Caddis pupae pattern and I made three casts which resulted in hook ups each time. Mid swing on my fourth cast, I had another strike which felt similar to every Cutthroat that I had landed. But after the strike, something was different. This fish was taking line!

Odd I thought... until it rolled. 

"Steelhead! It's a Steelhead," Mike hollered. 

He then told me that the rod was rigged with 5x tippet (5.3lb Stroft Mono to be exact) on the end of the line as there are few Steelhead in the river at this point. We were out-gunned for sure. 

I was in for a heck of a battle... It took nearly 10 minutes and overcoming some serious self doubt to land the 27" Steelhead. When Mike was able to net the fish on the first attempt, I was whooping and hollering in absolute joy on the bank. Our day in miserable weather had turned out to be better than I could've ever hoped for.

I had landed a Steelhead on a swung fly... on a single hander and 5x tippet no less! 

It was a day that I'll never forget... the weather, the education, the first Sea-Run on the fly, the laughter, and the best surprise that I've had in a long while. That Steelhead isn't the biggest that I've caught, but it sure holds a very special place in my mind. 

The lessons and experience that I took from my day fishing with Mike will hopefully lead me to more hookups in the season ahead. Besides, there always seems to be something to check-off on the fly fishing bucket list. Now that I've caught my first Steelhead on the swing, I need to get one on a two-hander!

If you're interested in fishing with Mike on the Cowlitz River (an extremely underrated spey fishery) check out the Lost Creek Fly Shop webpage here.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Snaggers Abound... Report Them!

I love the Fall for a few reasons:

1. College Football

2. Late Summer Steelhead

3. Leaves Changing Color

There is a part of the Fall that I despise. Folks who snag fish.

Taking a fish by snagging is illegal in both Oregon and Washington and it's an embarrassment to those who fish legally and ethically.

With a record return of Fall Chinook to the Columbia River basin, our rivers are being overrun with moron poachers who consider themselves anglers. These folks come in all shapes, colors, and sizes with one commonality... the only way to teach them the proper way to fish is by the heavy hand of the law.

Law enforcement in both states need your help in reporting these crimes so the next time you're on the river and see someone snagging fish or retaining a fish that has not been hooked in the mouth please report it to the proper authorities.

Oregon TIP Hotline: 1-800-452-7888
Washington TIP Hotline: 1-877-933-9847 or text your tip to 847411 with "WDFWTIP" followed by the report.

Remember... do not approach those who are fishing illegally. Simply get a good description of the angler poacher, what they are doing, and where they are committing the crime.

Responsible anglers who report these crimes DO make a difference. I hope that with the continued efforts of anglers and law enforcement, the resource will be conserved for those who utilize it legally. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Late Summer Recap - The Skunk Continues

It's been an entire month with nary a post.

That's not good in the blogosphere!

Yikes. Work has kept me on the run and with a lack of good results from my few fly trips, I suppose I've been a bit embarrassed to post about getting skunked.

Speaking of getting skunked... it's getting old!

Sure, I've knocked the crap outta steelhead and pink salmon this year on friend's boats fishing gear, but it's been a rough go on the spey rod. I did get into some Pinks on the fly last week on the Skagit which was pretty fun despite the fish looking like zombies (I think zombies would smell better though). I'm still waiting on that big tug from a Summer-head though...

When I think about it, I'm fairly certain that I've hit the 7,500 cast mark with nary a good hookup to show for it. I've fished the right water, the right bugs, and anymore it seems like I'm fishing the "right" way. Hell, I've even fished two times with guides and I'm still sitting on an 0-fer. The temptation to get a bait rod is constantly in the back of my mind but I haven't caved... yet.

Time to get back on the horse, rig up the long rod, and keep grinding.

With it being the "other" busy season for my job I'll likely only get out a few more times until November but the Deschutes is calling my name and I think I'll have to go for a visit tomorrow.

Thankfully there are lots of trout in the Deschutes. It makes you feel good to know that you won't get completely shut out. If there's one thing I can catch, it is whitefish trout.

Get out there and make your own adventures... be they fish-less or not.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Power Fishing Trip Report - Central Oregon, August 2013

Just because I can...
Two days, two fisherman, two rivers, and one mission...

Fish until we drop.

There is nothing quite like a power fishing trip... those trips where time is limited, your rods are always rigged and ready to go, every worthwhile looking pull off is explored, and you don't stop until your wife calls and tells you to come home.

My friend and I did that this weekend, and we sure as heck made the most of it.

Camping in the Sunriver area of Oregon leads to many quality fly fishing options, both riverine or lacustrine. It's especially helpful when a thunder and lightning storm moves in on your water, and a 20 minute drive will take you to less lethal waters. If only we had brought our float tubes, we'd have had more opportunities, but I can't complain!

During our weekend power trip we saw more people fishing some of these spots than I ever had before. It was borderline ridiculous at a few of our stops that we fished.

First to the hole, serenity for an hour, then five groups of anglers show up. My favorite section of a particular river was so heavily pressured that it's normally ravenous Brook trout had their bellies to the bottom in a way that I'd never seen before. Thankfully, some helpful local anglers gave us a tip on some currently red hot water nearby... Needless to say, we owe them a beer.

We caught Brooks, Bows, Browns and of course Mr. Whitefish, and we did it on streamers, nymphs, and dries. It was the best 43-hour power trip that I've yet to experience.

My fishing partner caught the biggest trout of his life (twice) and got his first Brown trout on the trip. I, on the other hand, lost the biggest trout of my life (multiple times... one was the size of a damn Steelhead...) and landed my biggest Brown yet. Needless to say, I should've been nymphing with my six weight instead of the five.

Enjoy the pictures and remember to make the most of your "power fishing trips."

Best trout of my friend's fly fishing career... for an hour. Then he caught a bigger one. 
My buddies first Brown trout. Great spotting on this guy.
Lamson reels... getting it done!
Even 13" Brook Trout love to crush streamers... Beautiful fish
My friend's big hen Brown. Love the sparse spotting on this one.
Best fish that I've landed on a 5 wt. You don't have to go to Montana to catch big healthy Browns.
Close-up. Love the blue shine on their gill plate.
Parting shot on the way out. Beautiful country, even prettier fish.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

ECHO: Bringing Good Fortune to the Bench

Before I begin to ramble, I've got to get something off my chest; I love Rajeff Sports.

Big revelation? I suppose not, but Rajeff Sports epitomize great customer service.

Whether you're purchasing Airflo or Echo products, they give you honest advice, an amazing product, the best warranty service in the business, and in my case they are conveniently close (about 15 minutes from my front door).

Heck, if you're really lucky, Tim Rajeff will personally help you with your warranty repair/exchange, explain what lines to use on your new/replacement rod, and he'll walk you through the warehouse showing you upcoming products and explaining rod design.

Did I mention the awesome Echo Tibetan Prayer Flag that he gave me? Badass!

It proudly hangs over my tying bench, and I hope it's the extra ingredient that my flies need to help me get into more fish. When it comes to steelhead fishing, I need all the help I can get!