I was over on my favorite river yesterday.I was trying to catch a salmon down in the lower river and that was my main reason for going. Although I had my fly gear, I was not even gonna try due to the high water and lack of steelhead over the dam. As I was winding my way up out of the fly water I felt The Pull. Before I knew what was happening I was driving into the Camp water,wadered up and walking the trail with my dog to the Boat Pool.The Pull was strong and I always feel it at this time of year. This time it surprised me, kind of caught me off guard. The Pull is always there, just waiting to come to the surface when seasonal changes and run timings align. I listen to The Pull when it comes and follow it where it leads me.
The Pull of a river and a fish that is stronger than my will to fight against it. The Pull of something inside me that instantaneously rearranges my priorities for the next 6 months. It's all consuming and all encompassing. It defines me at my core. The Pull is undeniable,unstoppable.You can try to run from it but it will tackle you from behind and throw you down.Once summer steel are around,I can't go through even an hour of the day without my mind drifting to the crystal waters,ledge rock pools and glassy tail outs where I first experienced The Pull.
I fished the Boat pool with confidence, it felt good to get back into the rhythm of casting and stepping, searching, probing for that early season fish that can often be the hottest fish of the year. I fished through the pool and felt good that I listened to The Pull even though there was no reward this time around. For me, The Pull is linked to experiencing God's creation and it comes directly from Him. As I go through life, I listen to The Pull of the one that created all things, knowing that everything good,beautiful, and worthy comes from Him. The Pull is all about Truth.The Pull is not only about the river and fish, it is living with the knowledge that we all are created for a unique and special purpose and we need to live that out everyday. Time is short here on this earth, we are but a mist.
I wish all of you a great year of summer steelheading and I look forward to fishing with some of the great friends I have made over the years.
The nest was situated around 100 feet off the ground up on a cliff and there were two young eagles in the nest. Rick(our biologist friend) has a rock climbing son named Nate who has been helping out his dad since he was 6. An expert climber who is also very knowledgeable on the handling of these large birds. You get onto a thin ledge with a couple of Golden eagles inches away and things can get interesting real fast. You better have your skills in order!Jasper his brother, is also an expert climber and bird handler and was up top as well assisting with the gear and rope set up. It's a family affair for Rick as his wife is also a biologist and his two daughters have helped,held and assisted Rick with hundreds of birds over the years.They would both be at the bottom ready to assist with the documentation and other data that needed to be collected.Anyway,Nate went in above the nest and rappelled down onto the cliff ledge. He quickly banded the smaller bird where it was and put the larger bird in a protective pack and lowered her down the cliff to us.
When I say young eagles,I mean 1 month old birds which are anything but small. These birds are near fully grown with nearly 6ft wingspans already and powerful strength. They just can't fly or know how to use their talons quite yet, a good thing. The talons on even these young birds are truly awesome and bigger than my hand. So,they got a hold of the bird and put a leather hood on her to calm her down while they took some blood,measurements,and attached a leg band and a small satellite receiver to her. The receiver would be used to track her movements and gain valuable territory info. The whole process from start to finish from nest to nest,was only about 30 minutes. The eagle was placed back into the nest next to her sibling and we quickly vacated the premises to avoid bothering the birds further. The kids had a great time and got to see up close one of God's magnificent creations in a way that few ever will.
It was an amazing experience!
Took my son down to Steelhead falls today to see if the big bugs were out.There were a few around and I hooked a couple nice fish. We were just screwing around and I really had no intention of letting him cast,thinking he was just a little too young still. The rod I had was too big for him I thought, he just turned 4. So I am casting away and he comes over and says"Hey, when can I fish" I thought about it for a second and said "Right now" and handed him the rod not really expecting him to do much with it. I was casting an 11'6" Forecast 6/7 with a SA short head and a big Chubby Chernobyl. I held my hands over his and showed him the motion and what to do for maybe 30 seconds.He then said " Get out of the way Dad, I know how to do it" The video below is not the best but it shows what he did as soon as I stepped out of the way. He was easily overhead casting 30+ ft including leader.Being able to use two hands made casting much easier for him being so small. He had no trouble pivoting that rod around and giving it a forward push making some very serviceable casts right out of the gate. I was kind of blown away. He will be able to cast much earlier using two hands then waiting to get strong enough( and coordinated enough)to fish with one hand. Game on Baby!
He has messed around one other time on the lawn with a rod of mine,but this is the first time he has ever had a spey rod in his hands with fly on in a fishing situation.As I watched the Chubby skate along on a tight line, I immediately thought of several places on the North Umpqua where he had enough line out to get the up close fish. This boy is gonna catch a steelhead long before he is probably even 6 at this rate.
I couldn't be prouder!
Just about that time! Here is a great how to on tying one of the classic flies in all of the steelhead world. I bet if you kept one of these flies on all season and fished it exclusively, you would do just fine.
One of these years, maybe I will do that experiment, it's just so hard not to put on a dry.
The dry fly action at Giants was off the hook(at times,literally) that second year as I related in my last post. But "The One" came out of Giants on a sink tip and a black A-leech. After raising what we thought was every fish in the pool, I decided to get down and see if maybe one stayed,deep not wanting to play our little surface games. I started in the lower end of the run off the sandy beach. Starting in short, I knew I wasn't gonna make it too far. I actually made it farther then I thought I would,getting 45ft of line out or so. I stepped down and started to wonder if anything was going to eat. The next cast about mid swing, I feel a fish lightly pluck the fly, I do nothing as an eternity goes by. Slowly the line tightens and the slow steady throb of a heavy fish makes it self known. There is no line blistering long runs from this one, as I settle in and make a stand for a fight with what I assume is a large buck. Don't get me wrong, this fish is pulling and taking line,it's just staying deep and wallowing around like a pig. No jumps, just those slow powerful runs where you can do nothing to slow or turn the fish. The fish is just oblivious to my presence all together. I fight the fish for about 5 or 6 minutes and Tim comes over to see what the heck's going on. "You gonna land that fish today"? he says, ribbing me. "I'm trying to, it won't move" At that point, the fish rolls up on the surface and we see just what we are dealing with. An enormous HEN! She seems ready to give us a look after a couple more short bursts. I finally land the hen of my dreams, a 37x21 inch specimen that made me gasp for air. A few different weight formulas puts that in the high nineteen lb range.(19.8 on one) Who cares, it was the biggest hen I had ever seen! That song Lola went through my mind.....looked like a women but fought like a man oh my Lola, Lo Lo Lo Lo Lola. Just a slab.
The last good Giants story of that trip involved Tim once again. Just before we were about to leave, Tim decided to run through with the dry one last time to see if he could pull one more up. He starts in at the bottom of the riffle, just where it starts to get deep.He is waded in to his stomach and is trying to reach a far seam where we have seen some fish roll. He starts to get a couple casts over there and when he finally hits the seam, a hot little lady climbs on and as has been the drill, SMOKES his reel. After the initial run, the fish is one the other side under the trees, Tim side pressures the old 1920's perfect and put's the brakes on. The fish is having none and with a powerful burst starts to put the after burners on, thinking about leaving the park. Right about then, the screw on the old Hardy spool breaks and pops off into 3-4ft of water. Tim is waded in too deep to try and grab the spool so, as he expertly hand lines this still green fish in, he slowly boots the spool into shallower water where he may be able to grab it later. It's all by hand now. He strips in line and the current takes the slack and it dances down the river. The fish runs and those yards and yards of line he just gained are quickly pulled out of the water with a trailing spray as it shoot out the guides in an instant. This sea saw battle continues for a few minutes until Tim decides to start straight lining the fish.These fish are not leader shy and we go beefy. He quickly gains ground,eventually landing the fish with a few more backing and line burns than he started with. Another awesome display of fish fighting skill....cool to watch! Ya gotta do what ya gotta do! And yes he found his spool and retired it for the rest of the trip.We ended up landing a few more on tips but it was time to let the fish be and snap out of the dream like trance we had been in the last few days.
We made our way down to our lower camp below Moose and since it was still late July, we could access the water all the way to the Jam Hole. The Jam Holed is the first place you can fish above the canyon. The power boat deadline goes to that point up until the last day of July. We fished it the last three days of July and to say it was good would once again be a serious understatement. The fish climb the canyon and then rest in this the first pool above. The last hundred or so yards in the very tail is off limits for obvious reasons. This is a place that the guides love because it gets their sports on the board quick.
This was another of those places where you just rotate through because it will be less than 5 minutes and your buddies rod will be bucking and thumping. They come fast and furious here. The fish are super aggressive and bright being scant miles from the salt. Some of the highest jumping fish for sure were taken at the Jam.Some outrageously quick hookups, and easily the fastest I have ever seen 10 or 12 steelhead hooked and landed in my life. Seriously, It would be less than 5 minutes and you would be hooked up. After 4 or 5 a piece we moved along and let some others have at it. We spent probably a little over an hour there.......just stupid good fishing. You actually start to get used to playing super hot,ballistic fish and become somewhat jaded, if that's possible. We knew that we had seen some beyond epic fishing and would draw from those memories many times in later years when we were around "normal" fishing conditions and fish numbers. Those kind of numbers do not always happen on the Dean above the canyon but they can on good years. I think our total number of landed between 3 dudes in 8 days was over 70 fish. A handful of fish in the 35-39 inch range and more mid teens 31-34 inch hens than you can shake a stick at. I can't even count the players, and fish hooked and lost during those days. It was a blurr of jet sleds,whirling whitewater,jumping fish, singing reels and high fives.
I will never forget those days on the Dean.
Oh to be there now......
What follows next is an account of some of the most outrageous and incredible dry fly action I will probably ever see in my lifetime. My words are inadequate to fully describe all that went down but again, I will try.
It was one of those early years, the first year we ran power I believe that we found ourselves on the river in late July. We usually go for that first week in August, but we got an early draw date and said "let's do it". We decided to camp at Eagle and we set up there on the day we flew in. There are 8 permitted days on the river. We always come in a day early to set up and leave a day after the permit expires. That way, when the bell rings on the first permitted day we are fishing instead of setting up boats and camp etc. We then can fish that whole entire last day as well. Then pack it up. We are there to fish not dink around.We can set up a nice camp in a mellow mode on that first day and really get it dialed in. Our camps are top notch with everything you could want. We always bring a chainsaw and have a pile of wood at all times. Fire is good on the river! In addition, now that we were running power, we had the ability to set up fewer camps. We settled on two camps. One in the upper river above Moose rapids and one below Moose down in the Shannons/Homestead area. This allowed us to fish up and down river from each camp covering a ton of water, We basically covered every inch of water from Swan run all the way to the Jam Hole at the top of the canyon. We would return to favorite runs and fish them multiple times a day if we wanted to. The jet opened up so many possibilities and increased our time in productive water. It was also incredibly fun to be ripping around on this technical river chasing steel. The upper river is a cardiac arrest at almost every turn, while the lower river is much bigger water and what we called the "super highway".....cool running's mon! Getting in the sled every morning and shredding to a favorite run was a huge part of the excitement of the trip. You know, that whole getting there is half the fun line? Sorry, drifted off a little there.
So, most of the lodges and guide operations in the upper river don't start up until the first of August. We had a couple of days before we would see any one else up this high. No other DIYS'ers were coming in until around the first as well. We had the entire upper river to ourselves. Now usually, the fish are not up here in great numbers until a bit later. We would soon discover that there was an early push of fish that were inhabiting these upper reaches and it was going to be unbelievable fishing.
We jumped in the sled early on that first day and ripped up to Giants. The run up was a little sketch and we touched a couple rocks, nothing too hard and no damage was done. This was our maiden voyage on the river and we realized that this was no game. We pulled into the sandy beach at Giants to find evidence of tracks everywhere.....fresh Griz tracks! Not a human track or any sign that the guides had even been up there yet. This was a good thing. We anchored and tied the boat off and readied ourselves and our gear for fishing.
Water clarity and flow were perfect. Giants at this point had a submerged bar running down the middle of it with huge chunks of rock and structure. It has since changed and scoured out and the fish don't seem to hold like they used to.Tim steps in at the head of the run with a skater, one of the foam deer hair flies that we had been using with great success since the late 80's.For more info,see my post on The History of the Foam Skater from a while back. Sorry Scott, been there,done that. Anyway, Tim starts in relatively short and starts swinging his fly across the pool. It arcs and darts in the current, pushing water with the short pulses he gives it with twitches of the rod. As the fly gets to the hang down, a huge swirl and toilet bowl flush sinks the fly but no fish. He casts out again with the same length of line and repeats the swing. This time, at mid swing, the nose of a large hen pokes out behind the fly showing herself just slightly. The fly dances across the current and now, still following the fly she takes another swat at it, almost eating it this time but no go. Tim keeps his composure and leaves it alone...easier said than done.The fly is still swinging as she finally commits to the eat and explodes on the fly in a flourish of head,side and tail. This time she is pinned and she wastes no time showing Timmy how his Hardy sounds at 15,000 rpms. This fish digs in and heads for the other side of the river. This became a typical scenario in this run. Hens in the 10-13 lb range that just go mental.At one point this fish is across and upstream of Tim still jumping and porpoising trailing a full fly line and a ton of kite string through heavy water. I can't emphasize the strength and will of these fish enough,truly impressive. After a couple minutes of this, Tim gets the upper hand and tails the fish. A stunning hen of about 12lbs. "I wonder if there are any more like her in there" he says. Guess what? There were!
We fan out in the run jazzed by the display we just saw. Dave and I drop down into the lower part of the run and start fishing, each swinging a dry. The fish are all over the dries as we both quickly hook fish in our piece of the pie. I get two jumps and a head shake out of my first one and it comes unpinned. Dave gets his lunch box handed to him as well,keeping his fish on the line for 30 seconds longer than I. And so it went.The fish were on and we could do no wrong. You would almost be scared to throw the fly out there because of what would happen next. Big, violent splashy rises, full head and tail rises, fish coming clear out of the water to eat the fly, small barely visible takes, lazy trout takes, dorsal exposed, chasing the fly across the pool, shark like takes. This was dry fly fishing like we had never seen. These fish had not seen a fly and to say that they were active was an understatement.After awhile,you EXPECTED to get a rise or show on almost every drift. The anticipation was electric, all three of us locked into a game that we didn't want to end. It was too good to be true, steelhead don't eat dry flies like this do they? We were dumb founded as we continued to raise and hook fish almost unconsciously.
I had a player that would not commit after raising it multiple times.I had a small black comeback fly that I like and wanted to try out on this fish. I had probably rose this fish 8 or 9 times and knew I could get him to eat if I slipped him "little blackie". I shortened up slightly and swung it through, nothing. I gave it a couple feet and repeated the process. I can't explain that feeling of knowing you are about to get your arm ripped off, but I had it now. I tensed up almost leaning in to the swing, trying to react and counter what the fish was going to do before he did it. I knew it was coming and like I said, it was almost scary. Like waiting for an M80 to get to the end of it's fuse and blow. You know the explosion is coming but every fuse is different, it is never the same. The fly swings.......I am tensed up like a coiled spring waiting to strike. And then, it happens! Nothing prepares you for that split second when a lazy, swinging fly is mauled by a mid-teens, chrome, Dean River rocket. The take of this fish is solid and positive. He hammers it like a pit bull on a Chihuahua, pulling the rod tip to the water and instantly spinning the reel at hyper speed. This fish hits the fly going away and I watch once again as line peels off the spool. I almost feel that the gear I have is inadequate for the situation. The runs and rod bending action that follows is violent and unpredictable. I actually say to myself on more than one occasion " There's no way I'm landing this fish" That would be a recurring mantra over the years.These Dean fish are just so unlike any fish I have ever encountered. I know I keep saying that but it's true. I feel at times that I don't even deserve to land a fish of this caliber, this wild creature that has such a dynamic life cycle, it can't be bothered being tethered to a mere string. The hook in its jaw a temporary and mere inconvenience.It fights with the power and determination that brought it up through the canyon, a virtually impassable series of falls, but they make it. Reel, rod, line and angler are tested to the max. Weak links in equipment are quickly found out out by the power of these amazing creatures. Straightened hooks,broken reels,and shattered knots and tippet are but a few ways that these battles can end. And when something gives, like in the case of this particular fish when a knot gave way, I am left quivering and exhausted, mentally and physically spent form the emotion and adrenalin overload that was just coursing through my entire being. I stand in the water, waves lapping at my legs, trying to comprehend what just happened in the last 10 minutes of my life. I have just been bested by one of God's creatures, in a battle I was not meant to win, and it felt good. The chess match that I was just involved in, was a game that I felt at times was brand new. Even though I have landed hundreds of steelhead over the years, I felt strangely unaware of the rules of THIS game. This was a game that made up the rules as it went.....I kind of liked that. It's OK to loose sometimes.
That first morning in Giants alone, I think we landed 14 or 15 fish on dries......that's landed! I would venture that we hooked or rose 35-40 fish total that day. Hard to know how many yanks, plucks,players, rises, and one time charlies etc we had going. Basically, we were in a run with who knows how many rested fish(maybe a pod of a hundred fish in this run) and we hooked a bunch of them. The most outrageous dry fly fishing for steelhead I will ever see no doubt.
I have more stories from this day so stay tuned............
The second year we went North things on the Dean were very different indeed. At least from a transportation standpoint.I wont go into great detail on the logistics of the how,what,where and the why, because it took a lot of work.But I will say this,we started running power on the upper river,starting in 2001. Obviously the guides run power and have for many years but they are it. They were not super tickled to see US with power I can say that.
Everyone else floats it as we did the first year, and there are many good reasons for that. Most of those reasons hinge on the fact that it's way safer! As far as I know we are still the only privateer group to have consistently run power in the upper river without dying. A few have tried, most of those have had serious mishaps and failed and needed to be rescued. We had some sketchy moments for sure but we learned the river and never hesitated to pull over and look at things that seemed hairy before we ran them. Both up and downriver. Water levels can raise and lower in hours and runs that had plenty of clearance in the morning may now be a bone yard of exposed rock and near impossible lines. The toilet paper was always handy if ya know what I mean! Not for the faint of heart at all.
In any situation where you are on your own and self sufficient, it is important to remain that way. To be ill prepared or unexperienced in any way is both selfish and stupid. Most of the time on the Dean, if something goes bad you will be totally and completely on your own. People can die and have died on that river.
If a guide outfit or another party has to stop what they are doing to haul your butt out of the river and save you because you were an idiot, it puts everyone at risk. That is IF they are even around to save you.If it is a guide boat that happens to be there,they may have to risk the safety of their clients possibly to help you out. Not to mention the down time that they should have been fishing. The guides on the Dean are top notch and would do anything they could to help you, but you get the point. You would probably get the bill as well and you should.You don't want to go there. We took great pains to never have that situation come up. We were overly careful and took our time until we got the hang of running around up there.Every situation we came up against, we solved. We had everything in the way of repairs, both structurally and mechanically and knew how to fix what we needed to fix. Guess what, stuff broke more than once and we fixed it.
All I can say is, it is a SERIOUS commitment to run power in the upper river. You could die or be hurt in a hundred different ways every day you get in the boat. We respected the danger element and the guides over time, slowly started to respect us.
Slowly but surely we got to know a few of the guides and they started to soften up a little. Granted it was a shock to have a group like us come in and have the mobility that up until then had been exclusively theirs. They soon realized that we were there for 8 days and that we were not as bad as they thought. We were just 3 guys from Oregon who were going to have some fun. We were gonna fish hard, fast and efficiently and cover a bunch of water.We were gonna get um! 8 days and gone! Just don't follow us through anything!
As we became more comfortable with the boat over the years it was time to have some fun with the guides and other fishermen on the river.We decided that the guides (and clients) needed a good laugh on the way up river every morning and we provided it for them. Enter Judy. She went with us on many trips and created quite a stir on the river and around the guide dinner tables at night. She would became semi-famous in those years we brought her and people would tell of catching a glimpse of her on the river.We had more than a few groups tell the guides to slow down so they could get a picture of Judy on the way by our camp. She usually hung out in camp and fished the campwater when we were gone in the sled.Sometimes we took her with us. While posted up in the campwater,a guided group of Japanese guys actually pulled in within 30 ft or so and were taking video and snapping pictures as fast as they could, pointing and laughing as they did. The ice was broken and even some of the grumpiest guides were now getting a chuckle as they passed. How could you not laugh? They also saw how it made their clients laugh and they couldn't help but go along with the joke.