The fly lands with a light splash and quickly sinks through the off colored water, pulled down by its own weight and held down by the sink tip it is attached to. A slight upstream mend before the line tightens gives slack in the line and sends it deep into the depths. I can feel the line "hook up" as it reaches the deepest part of the swing and the line gets tight again. The line bellies out slightly and begins the familiar broadside swing of winter. I lead the fly, keeping it at the desired depth, feeling every movement in the current and how it affects my fly. I can actually feel the fly swimming and imagine what it look like under water in my minds eye. I close my eyes and see it pulsing and waving in the current, the materials collapsing and expanding as the current and line tension act upon them. I am lost in the moment, in the zone as it continues to swing through the heart of the run.....
I am in a swingers daze when the ever so slight hesitation in the line comes. After being so in tune these hesitations are felt immediately and instinct kicks in. Is it brushing over a rock? Am I hung on a log? Is it a fish? The line tightens up ever so slowly, I wait on it keeping my rod down. And then, there it is, a quick couple of short pulls indicating to me that the fish has the fly now and has turned. Its all feel. His movement and the turn on the fly signaled to me in the short pulls I felt. I leave the rod down and wait for him to flee back to his holding spot. The words of a friend echoing in my head "10 feet or ten seconds, whichever comes first!" The 10 feet comes first as he finds a new gear and realizes he's stuck peeling line of the reel like you dream about. The 10 feet turns into 30 feet and I lift the rod firmly now and give him a quick jab.
The quiet of the early morning is shattered by the sound of the
growling gears of a reel paying out line.........
The seasons they are a changing. Seems like it was just yesterday that I was throwing dry flies to free rising steelhead in 55 degree water. We now move from those free rising steelhead eating dry flies, to the slightly less active and harder to find fish found in the cool water of early winter.
The water levels can rise and fall dramatically at this time of year. Rivers go from blown out to fish-able and back in a matter of days. Each high water episode brings in a new pulse of fish. These early fish are great biters and have not seen many if any offerings on their way up river. The high water that brings these fish in allows for a river mostly devoid of people and they use this chance to gain quick access to the upper drainage's of many watersheds.
They arrive in the general vicinity of where they intend to spawn and they settle down and wait. These early winter fish are still sexually immature and will use the time, often many months before spawning, resting. Encounters with these fish are fleeting at this time of year. There can be good days and then there are multiple days without a sniff. The fish are solid and strong from their months at sea and are really a force to be reckoned with when hooked. These are really ocean creatures that have entered the relatively tame world of the river. They have the spirit of the ocean in them still and they act like it on the end of the line.
Have a safe winter season.
Tight lines and screaming reels to ya
Proverbs 4-26-Ponder the path of your feet;
then all your ways will be sure.
The river was flucuating and semi off color due to the White River but still way fish able. We touched fish every day and the weather and wind was remarkable in many ways. From freezing temps to sunny days in the 70's. Then rainy nights with a whole bunch of wind thrown in. I got to see what 45+ gusts can do to a summer dome tent. It didn't end well lets just say that!! Several memorable full moon rises were seen as well. It was good to see the river again and she did not disappoint.
After reading a recent Drake article about the Thompson River in BC, I reflect back to the North Umpqua and see some definite parallels The whole game of chasing steelhead has gone from a humble pursuit by a relatively small sector of society to a full on "culture". This culture includes a younger contingency of anglers that don't always have good role models to lead and guide them. Many don't want any help thinking they can do it all on their own. Many can for sure, but critical historical and traditional information can be lost in the process. As that happens, rivers can fall under new unwritten rules and traditions, many times to the detriment of all.
As the "Old Guard" of fishermen slowly slips into obscurity, the new wave of steelheaders charge forward with a completely new mindset. Largely influenced by technology and media, this new wave takes much of it's instruction from the internet and videos. Gone are many of the relationships that are forged through years of on the water mentor-ship. Its an ADD world out there and no one has time to learn by doing anymore. This new culture wants it all and they want it NOW. Shortcuts of all kinds are the norm now not the exception.
Of all the rivers I fish and read about, very few are making the switch gracefully to accommodate this new rush of interest in swinging flies for steelhead. The North Umpqua still stands as a last bastion of angling ethics. Gentlemanly behavior still exists there and people still respect each others space more often than not. It is one of the few remaining steelhead rivers in the world where it is rare to get low holed. It is this way only because of the history and tradition that has been passed down, through all that have come before. Its that way because many of you, my readers have been diligent in preserving this information by being great examples on the river.
I urge you to take the time to learn the history of the river if you do not know it. If you do know it's history please continue to fish,steward and share this gem with others. We need to keep this good thing going...........
We ALL just need to slow down a little. The good council from an older and wiser person is still desperately needed in this game. We need to be reminded continually how things were done in the past. Old ways still have their merits and often prove more effective in the long run than some newfangled short cut.
The history and ethical behavior that was practiced 50-100 years ago is still relevant today. Those traditions need to be passed on to the new generation. That means it's up to you, whatever river you are on. Learn what you can from that old timer you always see but never talk to. Share a fly and a story with someone who may be just learning.
The rivers and fish are still worth our honor and respect so lets be good stewards out there OK?
Slow down and relax, and maybe your river will be a Soul Survivor.
Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:13-14
Posted by Mark Saturday, September 20, 2014 2 comments
Early Fall Brilliance
I could feel the barometer plummeting After days and weeks of high pressure, it was gonna rain. I could smell it, you could taste it in the air. The clouds rolled in thicker and heavier. The river took on a whole new look. Gone are the bright, sun drenched runs of early and mid summer. The ominous cloud cover now provided a much needed cover from that burning orb we call the sun. The colors of fall are starting to display brightly on the riverside vegetation. Trees and bank side brush are starting to turn the brilliant hues of early fall.
I had a little break in the action of my schedule and had a few precious hours to fish, alone and unhindered. The river was surprisingly empty and I drove down river to a favorite stretch of water. The clouds continued to build as did my anticipation for a great evening session of fishing. There are few things that I ever bank on in this game called steelheading, but tonight I could feel that it was gonna be good. I just had no idea just how good it would be.
As I was repeating this process I was working a longer and longer line and covering the entire pool from bank to bank. As I got down to a known holding lie, I pitched the fly across, threw a big upstream mend as the line started to tighten which straightened everything out from my high angle position. Then I let the fly dead drift down the seam for 8-10 feet without tension. As the fly was just about to come under tension at the end of the dead drift, a large steelhead came out of the far side shelf and slowly came up and turned on the fly and took it down much like a trout. I saw the whole thing vividly as I was 12 feet off the water at this spot. As often happens, I am always shocked when I see a fish eat a fly like that, even more so on a dead drifted fly. Its so visual I am overcome with the moment I forget that the fish has eaten my fly. This is of course the best thing to do anyway as these fish will hook themselves if you let them. In a split second after the take, the fish had turned on the fly to return to his lie and he is stuck with the fly by the tight line and current tension. Pandemonium ensues as the fish feels cold steel and retreats to the far reaches of the tail out and then going deep in the gut of the run bucking the rod violently as I struggle for control. A short battle and the fish is in front of me in the shallows. A final tail flip and the fly comes out and he is gone, a perfect release for this fish and a great way to start the night. It gets better.......
The rain is falling lightly now. It is warm but I can feel the drastic change in the weather and it hits me full force. After numerous hundred degree days, working hard at various jobs in the field and around the house, it is a glorious respite from the dog days of summer. I am totally satisfied with the night so far and don't really expect much more but I continue to fish. The next run is close and I am in it in minutes. It fishes well but no takers. I move to the next run and my fish radar is going off big time. It feels and looks as fishy as I can remember in a long time. I cover the run easily casting and mending the line in perfect harmony getting the fly to swing and cover the run perfectly as i have done so many times before. As the fly nears the tail and most of the known holding lies, I decide to put another drift down way into the tail, right on the lip of the drop, even beyond the drop and down into the V slick. The muddler is waking powerfully, the speed of the water going out the tail keeping it on a straight and tight tether. The fly is mid way through the deep tail and I start to
move the fly, pointing the rod straight at the fly and jabbing the handle backwards like a pool cue. The muddler skitters and wakes like water on a hot pan........and then Whooooooosh,RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR! The reel handle starts spinning at mach speed as it protests the presence of another fish that has mauled the fly at the very last possible spot in the tail. Game on! Amazingly enough, after trying to leave the pool the fish turns and comes back up over the tail and into the runs. This happens after repeatedly testing all my equipment to the fullest. My knots hold as I put max pressure on the fish and get him into a better position to fight and land. Another short battle and I have fish number two at my feet. The fly is out in a second and the fish slowly slips back into the heart of the run. Stoked is a good way to put my mood at this point.
Any day you get a fish or two on the surface on the North Umpqua is a great day, in fact its a world class experience. As difficult as the river is to fish and with the crowds of recent years, the dynamics have changed and it has become tougher in many ways. Having almost 30 years on the river now I have seen a lot of those changes first hand. Tonight though, this river seemed new and alive, like I remember in the old days. In those early days, you fished hard and you KNEW you would catch fish or at least have some chances. I had that confidence now. The fish were looking up and they were fired up. The barometer drop had stirred the pot and fish that had been laying low in the pools were now eagerly moving and active. The biological time clock of these fish is precise, small changes in weather and cooling clouds and rain get that clocks alarm to go off. The slightest bit of rain washing down from up high in the drainage of Steamboat Creek can signal fish to move hard and often when those scents from their natal creeks are dispersed into the river.
Walking on air back to the truck I then drive to another run, a run I have fished a bunch this year that has not produced yet. It's hard to fish and I have no idea why I decided to fish it this night but there I was. After a couple fish I thought it best to retie my fly as I had forgotten after the first fish. The battered muddler still looked decent so I kept it on. I riffle hitch the fly again under the middle of the head behind the eye. If it ain't broke don't fix it!
I start out again at the head of the run. I am casting and fishing with ease, in the zone as they say. Everything is perfect. The fly is waking perfectly my casts are floating out with little effort. I am keyed on the fly, now really expecting something to happen on every drift. I watch intently as the fly arcs repeatedly across the pool, leaving a waking, skittering vapor trail and V-wake in its path. The rain is still falling lightly.........
Again, I am moving the fly slowly as it swings across the pool, pulsing it across the glassy tail, pointing the rod at the fly and working the rod slowly backwards in a rhythmic way. It looks so cool, how could any fish resist that I think to myself as it nears the high rent district of this run. One more cast should put this fly right in the prime real estate. The cast sails out in a tight wedge, turning over perfectly and hitting the water on a tight line, waking immediately, the fly searches diligently for a player as it dances across the surface, hesitating and stalling momentarily mid stream. Then, the fly line catches a puff of water from the swirling current which starts to take the fly quickly out of the middle of the run. As the fly and line are caught by the current, the fly starts to accelerate and ends up ripping across the surface at twice the rate I had been swinging it. This sudden acceleration triggers a vicious take from a fish that was holding in the luxury apartments of this run. I half expect the take where it came from but the suddenness of the strike startles me out of my intense concentration. I was so intent on watching the fly I forgot what to do for a second. Again, these fish will hook themselves if given enough rope to do it with. The old adage of DO NOTHING when a fish takes the fly on the surface rings true once again as the fish turns in the heavy current and places the fly firmly in the corner of its mouth. All of this happens in a split second and I am once again fighting a steelhead. A quick slug fest brings the fish to hand and as I twist the fly out of the fishes mouth, I look heaven ward and think how blessed and thankful I am to be able to fish this majestic river.
The river is devoid of people and I can't quite figure it out......but I ain't complaining. I have seen no one fishing at all and have gotten to fish everything my heart desires to this point. The river is alive and the fish are happy beyond belief. Amazing what that falling barometer will do. You have to be there when the bomb drops.
Usually I don't go out and stick a bunch of fish before guiding for a couple reasons, One-you just don't go out and stick a bunch of fish on the North very often, that's easy, and Two-you want to find those fish with a client the next day.The way the weather was shaping up, I knew that we would find fish for the next few days no problem so that was my reasoning for staying out. Also, I watch so many people hook fish that I have get out and do it every once in awhile to remember how its done, HA!
Now fish number 4 was pretty cool because it set up fish number 5 for me and a client the next day. I love it when a plan comes together. It was now getting dark and I wanted one last run. Why not, a four fish night on dries was within my grasp and I was gonna make it happen. If ever there was a time to do it it was now. I walk in with high confidence into one of my all time favorite runs. A run that has accounted for probably more fish on the river than any other. One because I fish it a lot, and two because it holds fish most everyday consistently. I decide to switch horses and put on a favorite skater pattern that has a yellow top and is more visible to me in the low light. I work quickly down to the" zone" and twitch the dry lightly through the glass behind the middle holding lie. A fish comes after the fly, once, twice, three, and then four times as the fly comes across the pool. He cleanly misses each time but I know that I have found a player who is gonna eat. I huck a cast back out after a minute of so on the same flight path, twitch.....twitch........twitch....twitch, its gonna happen for sure.......nothing. Wow, whats up with that? I wait a minute and huck the same cast out again, twitch....twitch......twitch......one rise and a miss, twitch....two rises and a miss....twitch, three rises and a miss.....twitch twitch twitch,,,,,come on eat it will ya!!!!! Fourth rise and the fish eats with a full head and tail flip and the reel is screaming instantaneously. How sweet it is! I put the wood to this fish, a small wild hen and get her in for a quick release. Wow, how cool is this night I think to myself..........
Having not fully covered the bottom half of the run I look out at the remainder of it and with shaking hands I retie my fly. I step straight out to the lower casting station and start back in short. Covering the water down to the tail I struggle to see my fly in the fading light. I am about to reel in for the night when I get a serious boil and explosion behind the fly. No way! I send the fly back and nothing happens, Again nothing. I put a muddler through to no avail and leave the run knowing full well where I will be in the morning with my client. I put this one to bed as we say.
I don't need to tell ya the rest of the story but needless to say, we went straight in there in the morning and hooked and landed that fish. I love it when a plans comes together!
Spent a great day with the family on the river yesterday. It didn't start out so well though. We pulled into a great run at first light and much to my disappointment, there was garbage everywhere. Some idiot had left a couple bags of household garbage in the parking lot and the racoons/bears or whatever had it spread everywhere. The garbage can was not even full and the bags would have easily fit inside. ARRRRRGH!!!!! I sat there for a second totally bummed and knew what I had to do. I couldn't stand the look of it anymore and knew it would get blown around during the day to come. I started to pick up stuff and gather it to throw it away. Dirty diapers, crawdad tails, old fast food bags, it was gnarly! Anyway Debi and the kids jumped in and in short order we all had the place looking good again, and we all felt better. It surely looked better.
Five minutes later after rigging up and putting waders on, we walked down to the run. Debi made about 20 casts and had a good grab. Two casts later she is fast into an aerobatic fish that hit and fought like a freight train. We touched two more fish before the day was over and we left around 4PM
I don't really believe in karma and all that but I do believe in trying to do the right thing when I see something wrong. It was a great opportunity to pass the legacy of stewardship of the North Umpqua along to my kids.They get it......
I revisited a place the other day that I have not fished in years. It is a place that brings back so many good memories, some of fish and some of the good friends I fished with there. There are literally dozens of these places on the river, places I used to fish that go in and out of favor for years then get worked back into the routine. You would think that on a river as easy to access as the North Umpqua, there are no more hidden gems. You would be wrong. There is no way to fish all the paces I know on the river every year. It's just not possible. It takes me years sometimes to go back and revisit the old haunts and slowly add them one by one back into the rotation. In doing so other runs must be left alone for awhile as I try to fish these rediscovered runs again consistently for a season or two. It involves really spending the time to get to know these old friends again and finding the key that unlocked their secrets so long ago.
Many of these places are above Steamboat Creek where the river has always held a bit more mystery. The river drops away from the road and trails and pullouts are harder to find. Surprisingly, many of these places are in the lower fly water below Steamboat. Places that people are often very close to and may fish occasionally but in general are seldom fished. I see it year after year, people get locked into the old tried and tested spots and overlook spots that are right under their noses. The tried and tested spots,yes they work, but when fish are pressured, finding those smaller runs and pockets that seldom see a fly are what separates those that catch fish from those that do not.
So get out there and revisit some of those places you once fished. Approach them with confidence and in doing so you can make a river that may at times seem routine and boring, new again. As you explore, trust me,you will continue to find new water and new ways to approach that water.