I've been really good at catching nothing lately. Heck, it had been well over a month since I had landed a fish... sure, I've hooked trout and a mystery fish while swinging flies up in BC, but my futility streak had reached a breaking point. I needed to catch a damn fish.
Knowing that Steelhead are elusive creatures this time of year, I dragged my Dad out to Central Oregon with high hopes of putting up big numbers of trout on the Fall River.
The Fall is a lovely, yet eerily artificial fishery south of Bend that has treated me very well my last few trips there. 99% of the fish are hatchery in origin and while there are a few lunkers hiding in downed timber, the majority of the fish are cookie cutter 8-12" planters. With my recent string of bad luck, the idea of 20-30 planters on the end of my 3 weight line sounded great!
After an early rise, we busted over the mountain, across the lovely Deschutes, past the turn off for the Crooked River, and the turn off for the Metolius. Either of those other stops would've been a good call and shorter haul!
After arriving at my favorite spot on the river we cast, and cast, and cast... and we saw no fish. Hiking a nearly a mile up and downstream to hole after productive hole we were dumbfounded as to where all the fish were. We'd see a lone trout hiding in the downed trees but the normal honey holes were void of all trout life! Not even a blizzard mayfly hatch later in the day aroused activity.
Sure enough, we come to find out what had been going on. Recently, a family of otters had made their way back upriver from the Deschutes... let's just say they've been eating very well. River otters are cool creatures but given that an adult otter eats 2-3 pounds of fish per day, you can see that they can make a big impact on less wary hatchery trout.
After three hours of crap catching, we decided to tuck our tails and make the hour diversion to the Crooked River. The Crooked has not exactly been kind to me (which is perplexing given it's reputation as easy water) but I was determined not to go home skunked.
We arrived to a very windy, and thankfully less pressured fishery, than I had encountered at the Crooked in early March. BWOs were coming off in droves, and there were a few small risers working the inside seams. I rigged up the nymph rod and went to work. Soon enough, three casts in a row were met with three hookups and landings. Life was good again.
I caught typical Crooked River wild Redsides (6"-12") and though they weren't close to the size of a Steelhead, landing my first few felt just as great.
As the day progressed, the focus was more on my Dad's casting and getting him into fish. He's not delved into fly fishing like I have and he has never had a casting lesson in his life. I'm not a true instructor, but working with him was a fantastic experience. He was throwing out some fantastic casts by the end of the day and he was working good water. If he hadn't had some short strikes and bad luck (he lost at least one fish), we both would've gone home skunk free.
Before we packed it up to drive the 3+ hours home, I insisted on working the dry fly rod. My 3 WT Sage had yet to land a fish on it and there were too many BWOs out on the water to ignore. Sure, I didn't see many risers and the wind was nasty, but I couldn't NOT make an effort.
Blind casting through the middle of the River as I worked my way back up to the car I had a surreal moment. A subtle rise and sip of my emerger pattern, a nice flash, and the setting of the hook seemed to happen in slow motion. After this momentary blip of slow-mo perfection, the fish shot out of the water, jumping many times.
This was not any old Crooked River fish, but rather a big fish for the watershed. She fought me tooth and nail and on a 3 WT, the near 15" Redside was like a Steelhead in my mind. A quick net, picture, and revival and she sped back to her prime lie.
A perfect ending to a great day, and the skunk is officially off.