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...