Another cool video,this time of a steelhead taking a skated dry. Steelhead will often eat a dead drifted fly. Taking a steelhead on a dead drifted fly is pretty much the pinnacle of the sport,give it a try.
Notice it is dead drifted for the first part of the swing and then it starts to tension up and skate. There is a little belly in the line and as it swings it kind of starts to speed up and this is the trigger for this fish. Sometimes that change of speed is what gets them going. The fish sees it as something trying to escape and he can't help himself.In this example the fish eats it and the guy gets a couple of jumps out of him then he's off.With the camera on the fly and fish,it's hard to know if the guy farmed him out or the fish just came off.The best thing to do 95% of the time is nothing, I know it's hard but don't do anything. When the fish turns on the fly and you finally feel the weight lift the rod a bit and that's all you do. They pretty much hook themselves if your line is tight and you don't yank it away from them.A visual overload for those not in the know.
Inexperienced as well as some experienced fisherman find it hard to lay off when they see a huge boil or swirl in the vicinity of their dry fly. When this happens don't freak out. Now you know you have a player.If you don't feel a fish leave it there and let it continue to swing, he may try again.If not,make the same cast again. Maybe a couple more drifts to see if he comes back. After that,a lot of people will let the fish settle down for a couple minutes and throw the dry back out in the same window. If at this point he does not eat it,it's time to change flies. Some would opt for a dry fly smaller than the one that got him up,some go with a larger dry.Sometimes both. Change styles of dry flies completely, mess around.If at this point he still wont show himself, a smaller dark wet fly will always come out of the bullpen and get the call from my box. I call it the closer, and it works more often than not.I shorten up 10 feet or so and start to work down to where he rose.It's hard to know where this fish came from so start a little shorter than you think. He could have been close and followed it to where he rose. He could have come from way below it and took a swat. Methodically work you way up to and then keep going beyond where you rose him. The little dark fly works well. If you don't get him on that it's probably worth moving on. We want the grabby fish that is willing to eat. You could spend a while with a player that won't commit. You need to make a decision to leave at some point after you have given him ample chances. Sometimes they just don't come back, but you gotta try to get them up again.There are a hundred ways to work a player and everybody does it differently.He may eat the same fly you rose him on or something else completely. Just find a way to show the fish something new after the initial rise.
Places like the Deschutes may not warrant messing with a fish very long because there are so many around. On a river like the North Umpqua, when you get a player it may be one of the few you see all day. Carefully work the fish and you may be rewarded.
I rose a fish 9 times on the Deschutes one year. I fished to him until I couldn't see. Put him to bed and went there in the morning and put my buddy in the same spot from the night before. Second drift he nailed it.Sometimes a good night sleep is all they need. I have put many fish to bed on the North Umpqua and got them to go at first light. They are sitting in the exact same place and they hammer it.
For me,fishing a dry fly/skating fly is the most fun way to fish for steelhead that I know of.Highly addicting,very visual,and quite productive if you stay at it.
I like this video, kind of cool. Watch as he gets a yank that doesn't stick and then right after that the fish takes another whack at it and........game on.Looking forward to some of this real soon.Oh yeah, and notice the single hand rod.Believe it or not people used to catch a LOT of fish on single-handers before the spey thing blew up. It's a ton of fun. Try it this summer
If you want to make that cast to the other side of The Racks or any of the other long pokes on the North Umpqua, learn the double haul. For the more advanced and difficult places a double hauled roll cast is the cast that gets it done.Not a lot of videos of that one but when properly executed it can cover darn near as far. The double hauled roll cast is a very good cast to have in your tool belt on the North.Often times the brush and trees prevent overhead casting.
Challenge yourself this year and put your spey rod down occasionally and pick up a single-hander. It's a hoot people. It feels nice to fight a fish on a true 7wt. At least something other than a 14 weight, which is what most spey rods are, don't kid yourself.
The North Umpqua has a unique and storied past. A lot of pools on the river have always been fished a certain way, from a certain side of the river. There is of course a lot of trail side fishing but the majority of all fishing is done from the roadside except the Campwater section.All of the runs in the Camp Water have always been fished from the trail side. That's just the way it is. Other places on the river are fished from both the road and trail sides. When you see a car in a spot, you drive on knowing that someone has that area covered. People are very respectful of runs and the person who got there first. Kind of unique in this day and age, but very cool to see.
This person started to access and fish runs in the Campwater from the other side(roadside).In over 25 years on the river, I have never seen the Kitchen fished from the roadside like this person was doing. It's just not done. It's about making the cast from the trail side, wading the reef rock,the trail side is THE experience of fishing the Kitchen.This obviously caused friction with many people because you would walk down the trail from the parking lot,to a run like the Station or the Kitchen only to have this person run down from the roadside( with dudes) and snake your pool from you. Not cool. If I knew that was going to happen I would have went somewhere else. That is whats unique about the river. There are very few places that you would ever walk into and find someone else there. The whole car thing is key in knowing where people are and not bothering with that run when you see a car parked there.
This person was also doing things like holding runs(Kitchen, and Station especially) an hour or more before evening shade. He was also doing some other stuff you just don't do on the North Umpqua.Annoying.It's about timing, if you are there when it shades and no one is in it,it's yours. Standing out there or close to it and waiting for it to shade and pretending like you are tying up a leader for an hour ain't cutting it.
Sorry,I digress,on with the sit in story.We waded out to the run with a cooler and some cold refreshing adult beverages. We went out there well before the evening shade session and made our stand(or sit as it were).At one point there was 5-6 of people,4 dogs,10 rods and a few chairs. I don't know if anyone has ever sat out there in a chair ever. It was real nice!The sit in was to make a point to this certain individual who was not playing so nice with others on the river. Lets just say,courtesy to fellow fishermen was not this individuals strong point. The fact that he was a guide and was teaching this type of behavior to his dudes was where we decided to step in.I won't go into all the rest of the reasons why and what this individual was doing because it is not important now. The message was given and the message was received loud and clear and that was our objective. The little demonstration worked wonders and the issues since then have been almost non-existent. We all cared enough about the history and preserving the way things have always been done on the river.We decided to try and make a difference.We let this person know in a over the top way that what he was doing was affecting not just us but many people on the river. He drove by an hour or so into it and he got the point, oh boy did he get it!
We all need to be looking out for stuff all the time on our rivers, that includes poachers, other game violations,littering and people just not being good stewards of the resource.As guides we especially need to set a high bar. Guides are the ones who those new to the sport get information, and values from and we ALL need to be above reproach in everything we do on the river.
The North Umpqua is built on history, river etiquette and courtesy to fellow fishermen. When you feel like something isn't right on the North Umpqua or any river for that matter don't be afraid to talk about it. Communication can go a long way. Some folks that are newer to the river just don't know how things work. Most people are open to learning about how the pools are fished on the North Umpqua and what methods are acceptable. Having a civil conversation works most of the time. In doing so you are educating folks who may not know better and most probably making some new friends.
In the situation we were involved in, talking wasn't going to get it. This person needed to get a visual reminder in a big way to help him see that some of his tactics were just downright dirty pool.Setting up with chairs and a beverage in the station made the point.Enough said.
It's everyone's river and we should fish and act in a way that perpetuates that attitude. Sure we all want to catch fish and it is not a team sport but we can all catch fish,get along and play by the rules if we try. It ain't that hard people
Let me start by saying I fish and love spey rods, I have a bunch of them. There are times and places for them and the North Umpqua does see some action from my 2 handers. Winter time is a time when I am usually throwing some larger creations on heavier tips and it is kind of a no brainer to use a long rod. Much easier on the body than single handing with that same fly and tip combination.
Summer is another thing all together. I fish single hand rods a lot in summer, probably 75%-80% of the time. I enjoy it, and I believe I can actually fish faster,and more efficiently with a single hander than a spey on most pools. On a river where a lot of pools takes 15 minutes or less to cover, I am all for the SH rod. Much more fun to fight a fish on as well.
My wife Debi is a hard core single-hander. She will not pick up a spey rod.....refuses to do it. She loves her 10ft 7wt and casts it well considering she has only fly fished for 5 or 6 years. In her short time fishing on the North Umpqua she has landed a dozen or so fish and most of those on skaters and all on the single hand rod. In the few years she has fished and the limited number of total hours she has put in, her hours fished to fish hooked ratio is off the chart! She got out of the gate quick and has never looked back. A couple of kids slowed her down a little the last few years but she will be out a lot more, especially now that I work on the river.
She doesn't cast across the river and doesn't need to. She can fish out to 50 or 60 ft and that will catch most every fish just about anywhere steelhead live. Girls just have the vibe to get um, I don't know what it is but it's true. They listen well and do what you tell them. They don't over think it like most guys do. Most girls don't obsess about flies,lines, reels,rods etc like we all do. They can be very good casters because they use good technique over power. This results in a smoother more natural stroke.
Debi's first fish on the North Umpqua in 2004 I think,was pretty funny story. She was fishing below me with a skater in a run and said real excitedly, "Hey, something splashed behind my fly!" I said "you got a player, make that drift again" She did, and the next thing I know a fish is peeling line and jumping all over and her rod is bucking wildly. "I think I got one" she says, not really realizing what had just happened. "
"Ah Yeah, I think you got one Honey" too funny. She was wrecked after that. Now she gets why we do what we do, and she wants to go. Pretty cool to have a wife that fishes for steelhead and likes it, and digs skaters and single hand rods. I am a lucky man indeed. She is a lefty too so all the roadside stuff(river right) is to her advantage. Us righties roll cast or cast off shoulder and she can come back and up river clear of the trees and brush and overhead cast. There are advantages to being a lefty on the NU.
Debi waiting for the big tug!
Debi,getting it done with the single hander.
The rewards are worth it!
This is an interesting article I found about the controversy that indicators caused on the North Umpqua after they were introduced in the late 80's and early 90's. I have personally fished with both Dean and Dave and can say that they are both amazing fishermen, advocates for rivers and fish, and all around good guys. However, I don't think they had any idea what would happen after people got wind of their techniques and started to use them to great effect. Like I said I fished with Dean a lot back in those days(yes with an indicator) and we caught fish, amazing numbers of fish, stupidly amazing numbers of fish. One year during a smaller run, we figured we hooked over a third of the total recorded run. That was just between a few of my buddies and me. We were going out and routinely hooking 5-10 fish. We did this every day. Kind of makes me queasy to say but we did it. Add to that the pressure and skill of guys like Dean and Dave and the rest of the guys out there and dang near every fish that year probably had a hook in his mouth, many were hooked multiple times. That's just wrong people, in so many ways. My little group of friends collectively decided that enough was enough and that what we were doing was impacting fish in a negative way. We stopped nymphing long before it became outlawed and I am glad we saw the light early.
Since then,the surface/dry fly and traditional swing fishing has improved greatly, peoples attitudes,etiquette and river experience has been far more positive. Ultimately the impact on the fish has been lessened and they have that deep water sanctuary in which to rest. The health of the fishery has been strengthened, and more fish get to spawn without being hooked, it's just a good deal all around. The great success of the North Umpqua and the survival of the wild fish that live there happened because it was regulated. These regulations ensure the future survival of the fishery and help to keep this a river that will always be here for us to fish and enjoy. Other fisheries in decline,take note.
PS-regardless of what you think of me,Dean or any of the other thoughts on nymphing or swinging, Dean and the others do discuss some great thoughts on river etiquette and fishing the way you like, that I fully agree with.
Just because you don't agree with it doesn't make it wrong. If it's legal on the river you fish,quit bitchin and go fishin. Or try to get it changed. I think we spend too much time worrying about the other guy and what he is doing. I am guilty of it as well. This year, I am trying to be a kinder,gentler human and worry about myself,and my impact and how I can make a positive contribution more, and what others do less.
The War in Heaven
Steelheaders ask: to bob or swing? That is the question.As seen in California Fly Fisher,
© 2004 Jim Zech
War is brewing. You can smell the conflict in the air over our steelhead rivers, wafting amidst the pines like the aroma of a festering salmon carcasses shot full of maggots. Like the great battles of the Civil War, Antietam, Shiloh, or The Battle of the Wilderness, this battle is pitting brother against brother. Or more accurately, fly fisher against fly fisher. Or, even more accurately, those who swing flies for steelhead against those who use nymphs to fish for steelhead.
Well, maybe this battle is a bit more like a game of Parcheesi or checkers than it is a Gettysburg. Yet there is still a deep ideological rift developing among some steelhead fly fishers. So deep, in fact, that there have been laws passed regulating the use of certain of these flyfishing techniques. On 31 miles of Oregon�s famed North Umpqua River it is now illegal to use a weighted fly or an indicator. In other words, those who think that steelhead should be fished with a swung fly have convinced the authorities that it should be against the law to fish for steelhead with a nymph on the North Umpqua. And there is also talk of banning fishing from boats on some popular steelhead rivers in an effort to curtail nymph fishing.
But this is crazy, isn’t it? After all, isn’t this dispute akin to pro bassers getting in a fistfight over the efficacy of the crankbait vs. the jig-n-pig? In other words, isn’t this a remarkably idiotic and trivial conflict? Maybe it is, but then again, maybe it is not.
Before we go further, let me (attempt to) briefly describe the two techniques:
The steelhead swing is the traditional technique where a streamer-type fly or even dry fly is cast across the river, usually angled downstream from the angler to some degree. The fly is then pulled across the river by the force of the current against the line and the fly. The fly is held under tension by the taut line and thus “swings” across the river. The usual approach to fishing this technique is to start at the top of a run and methodically work your way down, taking a step or two between each cast and swing.
Nymphing for steelhead usually involves the use of weight on the leader and/or a weighted fly or flies. An indicator is often used to help detect the take of a fish and also frequently to help float the fly at a certain depth, generally right above the bottom of the river. This technique is frequently employed by repeatedly running a fly through the most probable holding water in a run�the “bucket”.Now how could the use of either of these techniques possibly cause concern, conflict, and consternation among steelhead fly fishers? To help better understand the use of these techniques and to help explain why there is potential conflict concerning their use, I have asked several prominent Northern California and Southern Oregon Steelhead anglers for their opinions on this subject.
Ken Morrish, Writer, Photographer, Owner Flywater Travel
My preferences are really quite simple. First, I prefer to fish for steelhead over any other fish, and secondly I prefer catching steelhead to not catching them. As far as techniques are concerned, I love them all. Skating dries, greased line fishing, swinging tips, high sticking and indicator fishing all bring me great pleasure in their proper context but to say which technique is best, most productive, or pleasurable is, in my opinion, absurd as conditions vary so greatly from season to season, river to river and even run to run.
My basic philosophy is to match my techniques to the conditions at hand, while at the same time factoring in pleasure quotient. If I am on a glassy well-rested section of summer steelhead water and all the conditions are right I will often opt for fishing a skater. Not only is it exciting, but it works damn well and can actually be the most effective technique under certain circumstances. Likewise, if just around the bend there is a deep narrow slot with a seductive seam, I will yearn for the indicator. Interestingly, as time goes by I find myself wanting to fish the swing more and more because in and of itself I find the technique more pleasurable than indicator fishing. Its easy on the arm, conducive to long casts and spey rods, and the takes and tugs are hard to beat. But, in the same breath, many of my favorite winter rivers are too crowded in the lower reaches where the swing fishing is best. As a result, I head up into the slotted canyons where I find solitude and water far better suited to the indicator.
These days there are countless anglers in the readership whose angling success is predicated on trout based indicator techniques and as an extension of what they know, they use the technique for steelhead irrespective of conditions or prevailing traditions. On the Umpqua this became an issue. Here, in situation where fish clearly concentrate, it was remarkably effective and eventually lead to a clash of cultures. What nympher would willingly leave the bucket without fully milking it? This could take all day. Why should the dry line anglers be allowed to fish through (as they have for the past 80 years)? Etiquette has become increasingly important on our crowded rivers yet it is seldom taught in today’s fend-for-yourself, I-got-here-first, world of fishing. Were the issues at hand truly biological (for the traditionalists battle cry was that nymphers repeated catching of staged fish stressed the population), the Umpqua�s famed Camp Water would have closed to angling altogether, for in the end a fish cannot distinguish between the hook of a nympher or a traditionalist. But as with all ideological struggles, one faction will always end up taking it in the shorts and this case it was the new kids on the block.
As a side note, while nyphing is deadly effective over concentrated fish on systems like the Umpqua, set those same nymphers out on the Skagit, Thompson, Bulkley or Skeena and they would be remarkably ineffective and a laughing stock because big broad systems with vast amounts of holding water are far better fished on the swing.
Jeff Bright, author of "Found in a River: Steelhead & Other Revelations"
The decision of whether to occupy your precious time on a steelhead river swinging flies or free-drifting flies under an indicator–or even dapping f rom an overhanging tree branch–is in my view a personal one and predicated on what you want to get out of your angling experience. This is a self-serving perspective, however, and I do think there are considerations of conservation a nd ethics to influence your choice. But first, let’s assume it’s all about me
It’s been said steelhead are the ultimate freshwater, flyrod gamefish. When I string up a rod to pursue them I want to give them the best chance to be just that. To that end, all of my steelhead flyfishing and strategizing time is aimed at one thing: putting myself in position for THE BIG GRAB. I fish particular rivers, particular water on those rivers and particular times of the year on those rivers specifically to give myself the best opportunity to experience the instance when a hot steelhead grabs my fly swinging across the current on a tight line and immediately turns and bolts hell-bent for a far corner of the pool, usually vaulting through the air numerous times on its way. This is the charged moment when I’m most connected on a creature-to-creature level and when all the wildness in the fish, the very essence of its will to survive, is most fully injected into my relatively comfy reality. Largely because of the Big Grab, the steelhead gained its legendary stature and has made some us go more than a little nutty.
The key to experiencing the Big Grab is that the line must be tight to the fly when an aggressive, territorial fish moves to intercept it. When this happens, the fish immediately feels resistance as it turns to head back to its station and its flight response kicks in. (I’ve read that steelhead are the fastest swimming freshwater fish and can reach 40 miles per hour very quickly, so the “kick-in” can be substantial.) This translates into your rod being nearly yanked from your hands, the reel screaming, line hissing through the water, a silvery phantom crashing through the river�s roof and you standing slack-jawed–or whooping, depending on your disposition–all in simultaneous splendor.
Indicator nymphing is deadly, no two ways about it, and requires more than a fair amount of skill–most times, more skill than swinging flies. But, by design, you can�t get the Big Grab employing this method. By the parameters of the technique there must be some slack in the line to get a natural drift. Therefore, when the fish takes the fly, you�re not likely to feel it until you strike and remove the slack line between your rod and the fly. At this point what I’m after has already happened–the opportunity to feel the “thousand volts of the firmament,” as Enos Bradner put it some 50 years ago, has passed.
While I may angle for steelhead using traditional techniques for self-involved, sensory reasons, I also feel like the traditional method has its merit from a conservation standpoint. When returning to their rivers, steelhead are migratory animals with a finite amount of energy in reserve and no instinctual intent to replenish that reserve before spawning. Each stressful encounter for the fish will take its toll and perhaps hinder its ability to make more of the fish we love. So, by targeting the players, the fish that will move for a fly, I am targeting those that have the energy reserves to play our game. My feeling is if a steelhead won�t move for a swinging fly, there�s a good reason and it should probably be left alone. It needs the rest and instinct is telling it so.
There was a time, many decades ago, when steelhead stocks could withstand indiscriminate angling pressure. Those days are likely gone forever, at least for our foreseeable lifetimes–too many people, too much pressure from development and progress, too much loss of habitat, too many places much less wild than they used to be. I firmly believe being a steelhead flyfisher today is as much as about stewardship and being an advocate for the fish and their rivers as it about hooking six fish a day. It’s up to us to take care of what we love because there are forces that see only dollar signs where wild rivers flow and these forces have the weight of history behind them.
Considering the well being of the resource, and that of my own, my credo is: Catch less fish, but better fish, so that we can fish at all.
Bill Lowe, Northern California Fly Fishing Guide
Indo-nymph or swing? Tastes great or less filling? Hump or die? All good questions and each worthy of thoughtful conversation…none right or wrong, just matters of opinion (except for the last question). My response to the first question is loosely based on nine years of guiding experience on the Yuba, American, and Feather Rivers where we get runs of fall (Yuba and Feather) and winter (American) fish. Let me just start out with my philosophy on fishing…fishing is fishing. No matter how you go about it, it comes down to where you’re fishing, whom you�re fishing with, and enjoying how you�re fishing. Hell, you could be pulling weeds!
Without a doubt, or even much pondering, the majority of adult steelhead that I�ve had the opportunity at helping anglers catch have been caught under a strike-indo. I remember a fair number of those fish and those anglers who caught them. I remember almost each and every steelhead that was caught on the swing. Selective memory, you ask? No. Too few to forget? No. Then why?
To perform either technique effectively, some skill is usually required by the angler. “Usually” negates the occasional fish that decides to eat your offering as it hangs downstream of you while you�re still fastening your wading belt. We all still count these fish but they never really feel as good as those where we are actually TRYING. Most folks know how to perform a dead-drift, with a strike-indo, and therefore are somewhat confident while fishing that way, although I�m still privy to a fair amount of “indo-swinging” or “not-so-dead-drifting.” What I have found interesting is how many anglers don�t really know how to swing-fish, although I’m repeatedly hearing, “Yeah, swinging is just kinda cast across the river and hold on.”
There are three main things that I repeatedly see anglers do when they step into a run for some swinging. They hardly ever start high enough in the run so that their fly could be eaten by the fish who is laying in the very top corner of the inside soft water&ellip;the top “step” of the run, if you will. That�s where the next fish to ascend the riffle is resting. The second situation that I’m constantly tuning is the angle at which swingers are casting their lines and presenting their flies. Remember, if your line isn’t under tension you won�t feel the grab. The more towards that ideal 45 degree d ownstream angle the fly hits the water, the more quickly your line is under tension and the more likely you’re going to feel the grab. The third problem that folks have is letting moss grow on their wading boots. MOVE! This is a mine sweeping exercise or an Easter egg hunt. Once you�ve determined that there are no mines or eggs or aggressive steelhead in your immediate swing arc, take a big step downstream and try to find one. Repeat this process after each swing. Now you’re moving, you’re swingin’, you’re taking a hike through steelhead water.
To me, swing fishing isn�t better than indo-nymphing, it is just more fun. With the indo you have to deal with the mental game of, “was that a fish, or a rock?” Of course, we all should be optimistic…it was definitely a fish. If you feel something pulling your swung-fly, it was a fish. Period.
Herb Burton, Owner Trinity River Fly Shop and Fly Fishing Guide
I personally hate to read or yet become involved with any black and white issue that may encourage putting a wedge between fellow anglers. I would like to believe we all share a common bond. Material supporting extreme or harsh positions generally only creates dissension between anglers.
Flyfishing history has revealed that anglers have raised hackles over origins, theories, techniques, equipment, fly fashions (natural-synthetics) and flies since the evolution of the sport. The heated Halford/Skues “Dry-Wet Fly” debate of the late 1800’s is just one classic example of anglers attempting to split hairs.
The steelhead swing versus nymph/indicators is no different, Mr. Zech simply sets the stage for another round of debate for those choosing to jump in and attack. Both techniques are popular, require varied skill levels and at times are remarkably effective. Yet, each supports a definitive preference or position among fly fishers.
Captivated by steelhead flyfishing at a very young age, I have been a devoted traditional swing steelheader for over 30 years. The depth, mystic, heritage, excitement and pleasure, and high levels of accomplishment all blend together to make steelhead swing techniques so effective, desirable and ultimately satisfying. It is what steelhead fly fishing means to me.
When compared to traditional swing techniques, steelhead nymph fishing with indicators is relatively new, yet the use of bobbers/floats has been around since God knows when, and has been modified and popularized a growing number of new and younger up and coming group of steelhead anglers.
Much of the controversy that I have experienced regarding nymph/indicator steelhead fishing is not so much the technique itself but rather the �bad habits� that have evolved with and stem from the technique by some of the anglers who fish it. Up front, most noticeable and disappointing:
1). Non-rotation fishing–increasing numbers of nymph/indicator anglers unwilling to make a pass or fish through a run. Preferring instead to “park-it,” dominating known popular waters for extended periods of time–hours even days�thus preventing others the opportunity to fish. (Umpqua�s “Boundry Pool” is a prime example of water subjected to such harassment).
2). Getting cut off/snaked–Nymph/indicator techniques when used from drift boats or other floating devices, especially by aggressive guides, fished in front of and below wading anglers working a run.
3). Hole-hogging–Anchoring in known popular steelhead waters for extended periods of time, pounding the hell out of the water and preventing others the opportunity to fish.
What to do? What not to do? Should anything be done? Certainly! The question is how to keep peace, make friends, and preserve the magic? Simple�respect fellow anglers. Demonstrate proper stream/boating ethics. Treat other anglers the way you would like to be treated. Our fisheries are for everyone, regardless of fly fishing technique. No one technique is better than the other, although there are a few twisted egos that may feel otherwise. But who really cares? What does steelhead flyfishing mean to you?
Over twenty five years ago, when Dave Hickson and I, along with a few other Bay Area flyfishing friends, created and started to develop right angle nymphing with yarn indicators, little did we imagine that this technique would eventually become so popular in the flyfishing community, nor the controversy it would arouse.
We invented yarn indicators as a means of problem solving; to present small nymphs in a realistic dead drift manner in deeper weed channels to huge selective brown trout on the Trinity River in northern California. Unbeknownst to many fly anglers today, The Trinity, back in the 70�s, was probably one of the finest brown trout fisheries in North America. It was not uncommon to see 12 to 15 pounders, or larger, on any given day. Since then, gross mismanagement by both state and federal government agencies, in my opinion, doomed this incredible brown trout fishery to mediocrity. I still fish it, however, for it is a decent steelhead river, and I love flyfishing for steelhead.
If I had been born, swaddled, and raised in the classic steelhead traditions of the Northwest, I would probably have a much different outlook on the flyfishing methods I currently enjoy and employ. But I wasn’t. And I don’t.
I grew up fishing for trout since the age of four. When I moved west in my early twenties and started flyfishing for steelhead, I simply thought of them as trout; beautiful, bigger perhaps, more explosive, but trout nonetheless. At first, I learned to fish for them in the traditional manner, mostly on the coast in the winter. However, after refining our indicator methods, Dave and I saw no “conflict” in applying this technique in our steelheading, just another problem solving exercise, which, to me is the most enjoyable aspect of flyfishing.
We couldn’t fish this way in a traditional coastal steelhead line up, as it would interfere with other anglers. So we walked upstream where few would go, or went to less popular rivers. We had heard about the beauty of North Umpqua and it�s quality fishery. It took me two or three trips there, I recall, before I hooked my first fish; on the swing. Soaking wet, I landed that fish after stumbling and swimming from Station down to Upper Boat Pool, but I was jacked! What I liked most about the Umpqua, aside from the physical attributes, was the etiquette that was traditionally practiced there. If a car was already parked at a roadside turnout, you went somewhere else. If you came downstream on another angler, you would give them wide berth and not reenter the river until a full pool below, or farther. If you were fishing in a pool that held several steelhead, and you were lucky enough to hook one or two, you did not spend all day there trying to catch the rest. You�d reel up and move on and give another angler an opportunity. Flyfishing, to me, is not a team sport, and I love the solitude of this immersion in nature by myself or with a friend. The etiquette on the Umpqua provided this experience and I would rarely encounter another angler on the river because of it.
Dave and I began indicator fishing on the Umpqua and we landed large numbers of steelhead. Resident fly anglers began hearing about this new method and the success we were having.. Some were curious, some didn’t care, and many were openly hostile. The angry ones perceived us as outsiders that were catching THEIR fish using unfair techniques. We were accused of having bad manners, snagging fish, and fighting fish till they were exhausted. We, in their minds, were no better than the bait fisherman who, through the efforts of the active local fly club, had been historically excluded from this river section, a rarity in Oregon, or anywhere else. I was glad that bait fishing was not allowed for the obvious conservation reasons. I was upset at the accusations from fellow flyfishermen, however, after fishing hundreds of days on the Umpqua and hooking probably over a thousand steelhead there, my experiences were the opposite; I witnessed a higher degree of foul hooking from swing fishermen using fast sinking lines. I saw swing fishermen apply so little pressure to hooked fish that they finally landed them when they turned belly up and I watched near dead fish float by me as they drifted downstream. I saw steelhead killed day after day by experienced fly anglers because they were “hatchery fish” (even though Umpqua hatchery fish are supposedly biotypical) or they only took “one or two” wild fish a year for that special dinner to impress their friends. And as far as etiquette on the Umpqua, I experienced boorish behavior and poor etiquette primarily from traditionalists. It is incredibly arrogant for an angler to approach another angler fishing legally onstream and then proceed to tell them how they should be fishing. When I fish on my favorite brown trout river and see a couple of guys fishing spinning rods, big jigs and plastic grubs, do I like it? Not at all, but as long as those guys aren�t breaking the law, such as stuffing bloody dead fish into their daypacks, it would be inappropriate for me to comment. Do I dislike swing fishermen or swing fishing because of this? No, these were acts of individuals who didn�t know better or didn�t care. I like to fish dries, subsurface greased line, and swing deep for steelhead even more now than in my younger days.
Here’s the deal. Did we indicator guys, by sticking large numbers of steelhead, make it more difficult for the average traditionalist to hook fish in the same water, even if we observed local etiquette, and, in fact, usually fished mid day when most were off the water? Most certainly! It’s a selfish act, its not a team sport, and fishing pressure is fishing pressure. Steelhead, like all trout, become more selective. Did I expect the traditionalists to like this and embrace us for it? Hell no. If I put myself in their position, I wouldn’t like it either, just like the spin fishers on my brown trout stream. But proper etiquette suggests that one refrains from comments and goes about one�s own business. Did we damage the resource, i. e. the viability of steelhead trout populations in the North Umpqua by fishing indicators? No, no more than any other fly techniques. I�ve had the opportunity to fish with many of the local professional guides and experts from the Umpqua over the years. My experience tells me that regardless of what fly techniques they use; dry, damp, drowned, they can all catch numbers of fish with surprising regularity because they wade well, cast well, spot fish well, know the water like the back of their hand, and spend more time fishing and less time whining.
Although flyfishing is categorized by law as “sportfishing,” it�s not a sport to me, it�s an art. Art allows a participant to express ones personality, likes and dislikes, to suit oneself. What’s better, oil painting or watercolors? Art changes and evolves as does fishing. I like indicator fishing because it gives me the greatest satisfaction in terms of skills; tackle selection and design, casting, aerial mending, depth control, and fly selection. In my mind, when done well, it is the most difficult form of fishing to master. But hey, that�s just my opinion.
I have little time to discuss these matters these days. When an all knowing sage approaches me, rudely uninvited, on the river and starts to inform me about the error of my ways, I inform him or her that I have a fishing license, that I am fishing legally, and thank them for their interest, but that they are probably under a misconception. He or she usually blinks and asks what that might be. I look them in the eye and reply “I�m not out here to please you. I�m out here to please myself.”
Viva le difference! Viva G.E.M. Skues!
Ralph Cutter, photographer, writer, and operator of California School of Flyfishing.
It wasn’t too many years ago we had a presidential race. The Green candidate had his style for preserving our natural resources and the Democratic candidate had his style. They spent so much time arguing over style, they both lost to a Republican who is now doing his best to turn steelhead habitat into rows of subsidized cotton.
The argument regarding the relative merits and faults of steelhead swingers versus bobicaters is ludicrous and picayune. Despite some pretty lame arguments to the contrary, the issue isn’t one of ethics, morality, or resource conservation; it is one of style.
If we can’t see the forest through the trees and start fighting for the resource as a body rather than squabbling amongst themselves over esoteric fishing techniques, there won’t be any steelhead left to argue over. Maybe we just don’t deserve steelhead; they certainly don’t deserve us.
Ultimately, Ralph is right, much to the disgust of his wife. No steelhead, no argument.
Here is a link to the 1968 documentary film, Pass Creek. The film is about the early logging damage and subsequent environmental issues that plagued the steelhead of the North Umpqua river. Frank Moore was instrumental in getting the film makers,Hal Riney and Dick Snider, involved in this project.
Great early footage of Frank casting and playing a fish!
Notice the off the left shoulder single handed cast. As shown in the movie,Frank and a lot of single hand casters have been doing spey type casts for a long time. Long before there were any 2-handed rods on this side of the pond at least.It is highly likely that many of the casts that were adapted for two handed rods CAME from single hand casting and not the other way around.It's really nothing new.
This film is as important today as it ever was.It goes a long way in pointing out how and why many of our great rivers were impacted. In many cases this kind of thing still goes on. We all need to be involved in organizations that continue to support our native fish and monitor the impact we have on the land and it's water.
For links to The Native Fish Society and the Steamboaters, click Here and Here
“The North Umpqua remains one of the best and most beautiful of summer steelhead streams, and it has the tremendous asset of several miles of water restricted to 'fly only.' The strong flow of bright water is broken up by ledge rock outcrops,the pools are deep and long and hold fish well, and the fish themselves are usually responsive and in excellent shape.”
Beginnings of the Steamboat Inn
Once again, thanks to Mark Hoy for compiling this historical account for the Steamboat Inn:
The North Umpqua Lodge
- Web site photo credits: Dan Callaghan, John Rizzo, Gregory A. Minaker, Rick Shafer, Marico Fayre
- Contents © 2010 Steamboat Inn
Again, credit for the following history and information goes to Mark Hoy who compiled it for the Steamboat Inn.
Here is Part 2 on some of the North Umpquas early personalities:
Zane Grey on the North Umpqua
- Web site photo credits: Dan Callaghan, John Rizzo, Gregory A. Minaker, Rick Shafer, Marico Fayre
- Contents © 2009 Steamboat Inn
In the next few blogs I will be taking a look back at some of the pioneers of the river and the history and tradition they created. I would like to credit Mark Hoy for his careful compilation of this very important part of Oregon history.
A History of Steamboat Inn & the Fly-Fishing Tradition on the North Umpqua River
by Mark Hoy
The Early Fishing Camps
"I have been on every trout stream of importance in the entire northern part of the United States, but I have never seen a real trout stream until I fished in the North Umpqua River today. Words cannot possibly express my enthusiasm for your North Umpqua. I am still dizzy from the thrill..."
Stay tuned for more in this series
- photo credits: Dan Callaghan, John Rizzo, Gregory A. Minaker, Rick Shafer, Marico Fayre
- Contents © 2009 Steamboat Inn
Don't get me wrong I love my winter fish and the North Umpqua has some of the prettiest,biggest, hottest fish found anywhere. Here is a fish caught one snowy day.
But,I can't wait for summer to come. Warm days, hot summer fish and the river I love with the people that love it. The anticipation of that first Station fish is in the air. Thinking of the first fish out of famous runs like The Ledges,Tree Pool, Archie, Split Rock,Upper Willys,or the Racks cloud my mind.The subtle change from spring to summer is the trigger that the summer fish need to send them towards Steamboat Creek. Cool higher water and some tricky wading always start the year off. The early summer fish are pistol hot and I always end up loosing a fish or two it seems before one sticks. You see your kite string in early summer a lot.
My dog Rudy(the black lab Border collie) is a great fishing dog. His partner in crime is Earl(the Pearl for obvious reasons). Earl is Tony's dog.They fight and roll around on the beach while we fish. They chase sticks and bring them back both holding an end. They lay in the sun like dogs do. They swim out to little ledges and perches in the middle of the river to join us when we ask them to. They just love going fishing.
There is some amazing fishing just around the corner. Days of dry lines and dry flies. Days of getting up early to fish at first light. Days of awesome sunrises, trees in full leaf, water ouzels and eagles, otters and ospreys. Days when you are so focused on fishing and the fish that all other thoughts are erased from your mind. Days of friendship and laughter, learning and growing.Days when you hook your first fish or two when most people will still be in bed for hours. Days of mid-day naps.Days of spotting fish in the sun to save for an evening session. Days of finding a player in a run at dark, and putting him to bed without hooking him, only to hook him up at first light the next day in the exact same spot. Long days, short days,sunny days, windy days, rainy days, hot days. Days where actually hooking a fish means little, other days where you push yourself for the GRAB! Days when you fish the latest new flies and days when you fish the old standards. Days you fish hard, days you don't care. Days when you just sit on the bank and watch your buddy fish and heckle from the sidelines. Days where your buddy heckles you from the sidelines. Good days,and bad days. Happy and sad days. Days you wish would never end. Welcome to my world.
Fly fishing the North Umpqua is not like any other river, there is no comparison on this planet. The fish, the river, the history and tradition,the structure and availability to anglers is unique in all the world. It is a special place that does not give up her secrets easily. Years and lifetimes have been devoted to this gem and most would say it would take several lifetimes to really get to know it.
Come with me to the North Umpqua on a fly fishing journey that will most certainly affect your life in a positive way.......who knows,it just might be one of THOSE days.
Stay tuned for a series on the North Umpqua river and it's early history,as well as Steamboat Inn and it's beginnings.
See ya on the river