There are many milestones along life's way, we recently hit one that will be forever in all our memories......
It was a gorgeous late summer day. I was with the family and we were having a great time camping,fishing and spending quality time.
My wife is becoming quite the fisher woman and after many steelhead on a single hand rod on the North Umpqua, she has taken up the two handed rod and has started to master it. She knows the runs and the technique and needs little hand holding ( just ask her). Sometimes I get a little too vocal when I see her miss an anchor placement or stop her rod too low. She does best when I shut up and leave her alone! I'm slowly learning! I knew she did not need me to show her anything about the run so I concentrated on my son and made sure he was set up in a spot he could cast in without being swept away,and might have a chance at a fish.
I put him up in the head of the run and showed him where the fish usually lay and what he needed to do to get a good swing through the bucket. He listened intently and I could see the wheels turning hard in his head. Once I knew he was in a safe spot, I wanted to leave him on his own.
As I was walking away he said "Hey Dad!" He then flips his hat around backwards on his head, flashes me the shaka brah "hang loose" hand sign and says "Old School Baby!" I laughed hard and walked away shaking my head, what a crack up!
I turn and leave him on his own and walk down to where my wife was swinging through the lower part of the run, admiring her left handed Snap T and probably firing comments about rod position and anchor placement and giving her "casting pointers" which, as I noted above, never works out well for me. Maybe its my delivery.......
Then the silence is broken
My wife and I were fishing down lower in the run and we heard the cries of a very excited boy into his first steelhead. Sweeter words have not hit my ears in a very long time......
"I got one, I got one!"
He's yelling, we are yelling, the dog is barking, the reel is screaming and we are all on instant high alert. I run from the lower end of the pool upriver towards him as I yell "keep the rod up, keep it tight, let um run if he wants!" and other unintelligible gibberish as my mind is blown that he has actually hooked a fish.
"He's pulling hard Dad!"
The reel pays out line fast and bucks hard as the fish dogs around on the ledge on the far side of the run. I can tell by the way its fighting its a big buck. We never see the fish as it stays deep and swims where it wants, barely aware of the hook in it's mouth. It would swim upstream as my boy continues pulling as hard as he dare on the 10lb Maxima. We scramble down stream and I have a hand on the back of his waders ensuring he doesn't go down in the swift water.
"You are doing great son, lets move down a little and get an angle on him and see if we can land him"
We move down stream, straight across from the fish and all the while he is pulling hard on it trying to move it off the ledge on the far side. He gains line onto the reel a little then looses it in the deep, rod bending slow run of a large fish. Its been a few minutes now and we are in a stand off.
Every one is yelling and the excitement is high. Mom makes it up where we are and shouts encouragement as I spy a tear of joy in her eye as she is hit with the overwhelming weight of the river tradition that is being transferred from father to son at this very moment.
My daughter joins in shouting and screaming at her bro as he fights his first fish. " Don't jack it up" she yells ribbing him mercilessly. We all are still amazed at what has happened and time stands still as we all realize, Wow dude, you are really hooked up!
The dog is going bananas as he knows what each of my reels sound like, the Daiwa 812 purrs and functions flawlessly. as K2 fights the fish hard and perfectly, never giving slack to the line and always having a good rod position.
This fish wont move!
I fight every bone in my body not to grab the rod away and try to budge it off the ledge. I think to myself, this is a big fish and may need some old tricks to get him landed, I know I can get him in if I...........
I am snapped back to reality knowing I can't do that. It was HIS cast, HIS drift and HIS hookup, it's HIS fish, lay off you knuckle head DON'T TOUCH THE ROD! I resist the urge knowing what ever happens will happen. I continue to try and relay information on how to fight this fish, telling him about rod position and side pressure, trying to get the fish to roll or turn by pulling on him at different angles.
He pulls the fish away from the ledge, the fish swims right back over and hunkers down. Again and again this game is played out until..........the hook comes out and the fish is gone.
Now we all wanted to see this fish but it was not to be this time. I tell K2 that almost no one lands their first steelhead. He understands and is ready to catch another one almost immediately.
The awesomeness factor on this experience was off the chart, landed or not this was a big deal for everyone. His whole family got to witness his first fish on the North Umpqua. To say I am proud at his accomplishments thus far in his young career are an understatement.
This river can make a grown man cry and a young 8 year old boy can become a man just like that. The torch has passed and he is running hard with it............
Continue to grow and learn and above all teach well my friends
2 Timothy 3:14
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
So fun watching my son fish one of the most famous runs on the river the other night. He crushed it and he's only 8. He was sending out off shoulder Snap T's with authority. He skated his fly as gracefully as anyone I have seen. A natural for sure. Very cool to see.
This river gets a hold of everyone, no matter the age. I have high hopes it will continue to be a place he can come to often, and then bring his kids. We need the next generation to fall in love with this place, to steward and love her as those that have gone before.
Grateful for my son.......
Paramount-coming before all others in importance.
That's what I always think about hooking the first fish of the year. Its important only in the fact that you want to get it out of the way, get it done, put it behind you. Move on with the year. It stands to affirm that you can still swing and present a fly well and that fish do indeed like to eat a swinging fly. Sometimes I wonder.........
That first fish can sometimes set a precedent or pace for the year or it can be the kiss of death. It can establish new found hope in old patterns that have fallen out of favor. It can be the proving grounds for new patterns and dressings that have been rolling around in your head for months, sometimes years.
I am fishing a lot more traditional flies lately and enjoy the feeling of fishing blind again. After fishing skaters and surface presentations it's good to just let it swing sometimes without working or watching the fly. Fishing skaters has taught me a ton about what my fly does out there in the currents. It has shown me the subtle nuances of different runs and when to mend and when not to mend. In short,fishing dry flies has made me a better wet fly fisherman. Now, when fishing a wet. those factors come into play as I know how my wet fly will react to any line manipulation I give to it.
Now to our story............
........The wet fly dropped with a small splash at the end of a downstream angle cast. Landing right in the foam line, it came under tension immediately, the head of the fly came to the top, drawn up by the riffle hitch right behind the eye. The fly arced through the chop for 20 feet, the riffle hitched head cutting a path and leaving a small V wake.Then I saw a smallish, almost imperceptible rise just to the outside of the fly. A fish had just broken the surface with his nose only, coming up to check the waking bug that caught his eye. I let the fly continue to swing hoping that his interest was not yet piqued. I lost the fly in the wave train of the mid-tail-out. The fading rays of the day casting glare that I couldn't see through. The fly ripped through the tail-out, accelerated by a line belly that I did not mend out. The fly was now smoking through the last third of the swing.....
The grab comes as a shock to my brain and my gear, the fish eating the fly and turning for the tail and back door in a flash. The Farlex reel payed out line in the highest RPM mode it has. The fish left the pool and headed for the next. I stood my ground and fought the fish as hard as I possibly could. After 45 seconds, I get the fish back into the run. It's a big early fish, over 10 lbs. It swam upstream of me and I saw how beautiful it was. Wild as the river and absolutely silver/white with not a mark on it. Again, I pulled on the fish as hard as I dare and he reluctantly came close. I start to look for a deep place to land him and he has none of it, scurrying from the shallows as soon as his belly touched a rock. Back out the tail in an instant, far into the next run. There is no chasing this fish and again I made a stand. Its land it or break it off. The fish chooses first and he wrapped the line on a rock and severed the leader in a split second. The whole battle might have been 4 minutes.
The first fish is out of the way, it was not a landed fish but I could care less with these early fish. Sometimes you get beat, its OK.
Please be mindful of low flows and high water temps this summer. Get a thermometer and use it. Everyone has their personal limits. Some won't fish if temps are over 65. That's great! Know your own personal limits and also the upper limits that prevent safe fighting and handling of fish. When temps approach 66-68 in the afternoon you may want to go up Steamboat Creek and have a swim, or snorkle through a favorite run. Landing fish in the upper 60's can be fatal to a fish even with a short fight and good handling skills. Fish in the mornings and be careful in the afternoons. To avoid the high temps of evening fish higher in the river where temps may be a bit cooler. Think about it and do the right thing please. This is paramount for these wild fish while we see these high daytime temps. Thanks, its gonna take all of us being responsible and setting a good example to limit harm to wild fish.
Good fishing to you all this summer!
Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast -- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 RSV)
Ok, I admit the title of this post was stolen........
My buddy Zack Williams did a casting demo at the Sandy Spey Clave with that title. I wanted desperately to see his presentation but they moved it up an hour and I showed up just as he had finished. You see, Zack knows a few things about casting and fishing clean. He has been at the Big Show in San Francisco the last few years, battling it out with the best casters in the world.
I truly believe he is one to watch in the next few years as he further hones his long distance casting skills. I am excited to watch the progression of a friend as he takes the competition game on full force.
You can't compete on the world stage without proper turn over of the line and leader. In competition this can be the difference between a top 5 finish and being at the bottom of the list. In a fishing situation it can make a huge difference in the number of fish that are able to see and then grab the fly. Zack has taken what he has learned about distance casting and transferred that knowledge to his steelhead fishing. Zack catches fish and he often catches fish a long way from where he stands. He does this primarily by casting precisely, consistently and getting full turn over of the entire fly line, leader, and fly almost every time. Is he perfect? No, of course not but his turn over percentages are high and this translates into more hook ups. Yes its that simple people.
When you see hookups at distances of 150 feet or more you will become a believer in complete turn over. Why cast it to those distances if it ain't gonna fish for the first 40 feet because the line is not straight?
I have thought about this topic many times and Zack got me thinking about it again.
So now ask yourself these questions. Do I get consistent turn over of the fly line, leader and fly every time? Do I make large mends to straighten line that did not turn over all the way? How do those mends affect the subsequent swing of the fly? Am I missing crucial points in the swing arc because I don't get get full turn over? Am I casting at an angle that allows my fly to swing instantly when it does turn over?
Face it people, steelhead fishing is a numbers game. When I say numbers, I mean numbers of casts and not numbers of fish. Most of us have limited numbers of days or times that we can fish. Learning to consistently turn the whole line over all the way to the fly is crucial to showing the fly to as many steelhead as you possibly can. It's simple math people. When you make hundreds or thousands of casts in a week of fishing, make good ones. The more consistently you get your fly to fish the better off you are.
Rivers that allow for a step and swing approach like the Deschutes, Grand Ronde, Clearwater etc. are rivers that can require long casts. With all the new rods and lines out there, casting far has become easier to some degree. But if you can't turn all your junk over at long distances you may be selling yourself short. You are leaving a lot of potential grabs on the table if only 50-60 percent of your casts are turning over all the way to the fly. Fish hold waaaaaaaay out there on many of these rivers but if you have inconsistent turnover you are not gonna get those grabs.
Practice consistent turn over at the distance that is within your limits. If that's 60-90 feet so be it. You can rest assured that you are covering water well when you have good turn over. You can leave the run knowing that it was worked well. Distance and consistency comes with days on the water. Fish within your limits.
I see a lot of people that can "cast" far but have inconsistent turn over. Generally speaking, a fish is triggered to eat by the consistent speed and placement of the fly as it covers the swing arc. A fish is sitting, watching, waiting, and can usually see the fly long before it gets in front of him. He is tracking speed and swing and is waiting for the fly to get into his grab zone.
A fly that does not turn over in the critical grab zone will not swing right. You are blowing it! A fish that was keyed to pounce is now put off by a fly that does not do what he expected it to do.The angler will either mend to straighten out the line or let the fly go without a mend, Both of these cause a problem with the consistent speed at which the fish was watching the fly. The big mend to straighten out the line moves the fly too much and it may be pulled out of the grab zone at the wrong time. Letting the cast go when the fly and line lands in a pile will then accelerate the fly unnaturally causing the fly to move too fast through the grab zone.
Another thing I see, especially on smaller rivers is proper turn over at short distance. No one talks about this factor. On the river I fish, I catch fish every year in several spots with barely the leader out. Be mindful of those close fish. They are there and will eat if you give them a chance. Pulling a bunch of line off the reel to start the run misses uncountable fish. Become familiar with casting that leader and small amount of fly line. Its clunky and weird on a short line but can produce fish incredibly close in if done cleanly.
Are there exceptions to all of this stuff? Sure, we have all caught fish on bad casts that were perceived to be either too fast,too slow or where we are sure we have pulled the fly out of the zone with a big mend. Also,there are a number of scenarios where we can purposefully put extra pace on the fly in certain situations to elicit a strike. Conversely there are also times when we will slow the fly down radically with rod and line manipulation. These are particular actions in particular situations, for particular fish.
Another time I break a lot of rules as far as getting tension to the fly quickly is with skaters on the surface but that's another story for another day.
We can't over think this stuff too much because we all know that steelhead can make a liar out of us on any number of occasions if we become to rigid in our thinking.
The point is, whatever distance you are fishing, fish it as cleanly and consistently as possible!
Thankfully there is one who is always consistent and unchanging despite the inconsistency and sin in my own life. My need for God is great. I fall and He picks me up. On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand........
James 1:17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
Think about the best steelhead grabs in you life........
What made them great? Was it who you were with? Was it the way the fish took the fly? Did it come after a long dry spell? Was it on a especially memorable trip or day on the river? Was it in a favorite pool? Was it in a place you didn't expect?
There are many ways a steelhead can eat a fly. I have not seen them all yet I know. They are all good however they come we can all agree, but some are just better than others.
Most of these will be in reference to a dry or waking fly or subsurface wet fly on a dry line
Let's examine a few different types of steelhead grabs and see what exactly makes a good grab and why we love them so much.
Here's just a few I have come up with, no wagering please.....
Short Line Surprise- The grab comes with no warning with 20-30 feet of line out. The fish is on and taking line before you even start to get in the groove of the swing. This one is always a welcome grab due to the early payoff.
Mid Length Meltdown-This is that fish in the heart of the run, sitting in the prime rent district. The fish is well rested and feisty and this grab comes where you expect it to but you are never really ready. Solid grab followed by line burning run. This one is good because you are ready for it.
Long Distance Devastation-You have a ton of line out and the grab comes on a spongy stretched line. You are instantly in your backing and things can get ugly quick if you can't chase him down.We all like these because its always fun to hook and land one from way out there.
Dead Drifted Drilling-A great and rare grab that comes when you toss a dry fly offering upstream and let it drift down a seam or riffle line. The take can be violent or very trouty depending on water speed and structure. These types of takes are great because they are usually very visible. The fish is generally across from you and fairly close and you can often see the entire rise and take.
Tail-out Tug-O War- A grab that comes at the end of the tail-out. You are always surprised at how far down they will hold. Now its time to try and keep them in the pool. I love these because you are always testing your skill and tackle and knots if they leave the pool. A challenge to land them when they do.
Skater Slam-A fly mauling that can occur almost anywhere and often comes without warning. Head and tail out of the water, vicious full body commitment. Very visual, very violent and most often the fight is much the same. A fist fight in a phone booth.
Wet Fly Whack- One of my favorites, wet fly just under the surface, fish hits hard on a tight line, pandemonium ensues. These are great because there is often a visible rise to the fly as the fly is just under the surface. A moving aggressive fish that chases the fly on top or just sub surface is the fish we are looking for.
Deep Swing Swat- Another personal favorite, the slow tightening of line on a deep,slow winter swing followed by a series of monstrous head shakes leading to a hot winter buck that leaves the park. These grabs are often very aggressive once it goes tight due to the weight and water tension of line,sink tip and fly so deeply sunk. These are those hang on to the rod grabs!
"Watch This" Whammo- When you know its gonna happen. You have a player up and you know he's gonna eat. It is a seldom occurrence but can happen and it's cool when you can turn to a buddy and say "watch this" and the fish eats! The more you fish the better you become at reading the fish and knowing when to make this call.
First Cast Ferrari- You take the fly off the hook keeper, pull out enough line to make a cast on a short line and get a hard grab as soon as the fly hits the water and swings two feet. Always takes you by surprise and these fish don't usually disappoint. They are in close and have room to run. The hook sinks quick on a short line with very little stretch and the fish is often just as surprised as you.
Last Cast Crush- This usually comes when you are in a sweet run and you know you are in the zone but timing or fading daylight has you leaving before you can finish the run properly. You know that "Just let me make one more cast" and it happens! These are always cool and serve to show that sometimes you can just feel it before it happens.
Far Off Farming- That far off take that you never can get tight to due to the elasticity and slack that occurs in the line and leader when fishing at long distances. The grab can be feel subdued or very soft at those distances .Sometimes they stick but we all know that "start up the John Deere" feeling when they come off in a tail walking aerial display 100 feet away.
Tight Line Tornado- Similar to the Wet Fly Whack this one is also on a dry line with either a waking fly or wet fly, a great yank followed by a fish that spends more time in the air than in the water. These are the hard ones to get a hook into as they never let the line get tight with water tension. This is a great grab because the fight is so visual. You can see you quarry and you are working hard to get him to stick. A lot of rod angle things going on trying to get tight to this fish.
Line Wrap Train Wreck- You know this one, Cast after cast you are in the zone, you are not paying particular attention to that loop of line that has wrapped around your reel handle or bottom handle of the rod after the last cast. The fly swings undaunted, the take is heavy as your reel has no line to give, sometimes you can keep them on by freeing your line but most of these end in a quick separation of you and the target species.
Toilet Flush Take Down-Huge boil under the fly, no visual sign of the body of the fish, then the reel is instantly paying out line. Again, this is a very visual grab, the surface disturbance gets our hearts racing immediately no matter who you are. We are left to wonder in those few seconds after the boil, ":did he get it'? The answer comes quick with a reel burning run that scares you.I love those
The Sip and Zip- A barely noticeable surface disturbance,sometimes just the mouth or lips of the fish break the surface to take the fly down. This is a very casual take until the fish feels the sting of metal and bolts from his lie. The casual sippers become active rippers in a heartbeat.
Its getting close to time for some summer fishing, I am looking forward to a great season ahead.
Hope to see you on the river
the world and those who dwell therein, 24:2 for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
The end.......and a new beginning.
That time of year has come again. At least on the river I fish. Everyone must come to their own decision on when to quit fishing for winter fish. Each river is different and each angler must take into account several factors like run timing and the presence of spawning fish in the system. Using your best judgement, and taking into account the various indicators please make an informed decision. Do whats best for the fish.
Stay off spawning redds, in fact stay away from them entirely as the area of egg deposit is not always concentrated in the zone that looks most disturbed. Many thousands of eggs can lodge or settle in areas downstream of the main redd. When in doubt stay out! Be aware of this for trout and all anadromous fish in all seasons.
In addition, many redds will be very visible for a time and then become less easy to see because of dirt and debris that can cover them caused by fluctuating water levels. Just because the redd is not visible anymore or you don't see active spawning doesn't mean the area is safe to walk in. Be aware of the type of ground you are standing in at all times. When you suspect fish may be spawning in the area, you may want to just wind it up and go play golf.
On a year like this last one, I believe many fish spawned early due to the favorable water temps and flows. The fish that are still coming in are ready to spawn and are going straight to the beds. Again, I cant tell you when to quit fishing, that is up to you. But, think about the effect you might have on potentially thousands of fish just so you can catch one more.
The greatest tragedy that can occur at this time of year is catching a prime hen or buck that spills eggs or milt when you bring him/her in. Don't let it happen to you!
For me, this time of year is a time to recharge my battery, hang with the family, tie some flies and stock up some fly boxes. It is a time of rest, growth and rebirth. It is a time that needs to happen in the cycle of life.
Hope you had a good winter season and summer is just around the corner!
Enjoy your rest and get ready for a new season to come!