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Pocket Fish

Posted by Mark Sunday, April 29, 2012 2 comments

If you are one of twelve people that have been reading my blog you might remember the Pocket Fish. This is not a fish that is in my pocket, it is a fish that holds in a pocket of bedrock on the North Umpqua.He holds on the far side of a tail out that is on one of the most popular runs on the river.The fish is not always there but when it is, I try to get a fly to him. This is an almost impossible cast, from an almost impossible spot, to an almost impossible to reach and far off lie.Suffice it to say this fish does not see a lot of flies. 99% of the people that fish this spot have no idea the fish is even there.But he often is,and when you get a fly to him he is usually an eater.I have been working the fish that hold in this spot for 27+years.I still feel like a beginning caster many times when I try for him.The casting position is the first issue. You are 15 feet up on the side of a rock cliff.It is hard to get an anchor on the water from that height and timing is critical.There is no room to pick the line up and go overhead so it is a insane roll cast with a single hand rod. It rarely all comes together for me when I fish it. Then there is the upstream wind that is almost always cooking through this little gorge. A perfectly executed cast can be reduced to a pile of line in a hurry. Finally there is the current and how to mend the line and fly once it hits the water. Not an easy feat at those distances and from such a high position.

The handful of fish that I have hooked there over the years are some of my most rewarding of any I have encountered. It is a challenging test that I put myself through as often as there is a fish there.These are the places that I began to gravitate to after nearly 3 decades on the the river. I fish my regular haunts of course but as pressure increases, I find myself searching out the hard cast, the hard wade,the difficult casting situation. To those familiar with the river,there is no lack of these types of situations on the North Umpqua. What I have found is that it has opened up a whole new river for me. I look at things differently, I fish weird water, I explore more and find that there are hundreds of potential "pocket fish" lies where fish seldom see a fly.A little more bush whacking and pushing your wading and casting to new levels can be rewarding.Often the casts that are used are unorthodox at best and have not ever been named. These casts are instinctual to me now and that saying "necessity is the mother of invention" rings so true. These kind of spots are all about fishing. The casts re not always the prettiest when you have your back up against a wall of brush, rock or trees but I have not met a fish yet that was impressed with a tight loop. Tight loops are pretty but way overrated. It's about what you do with the cast after it hits the water many times that make the difference between a grab and nothing.

Where is your "pocket fish"? Are you willing to rethink the places you fish and begin to push your limits? Pushing the limits of your ability can reinvent,revive and perhaps bring new life to the river you fish and have grown comfortable on.Are you willing to put yourself in difficult casting and wading positions to challenge yourself and perhaps find overlooked spots in well traveled water? I think you will find that stretching and pushing the boundaries of normal thinking,getting out of your comfort zone will take you on a road less traveled. Putting yourself on that lonely road or the run or lie that is often overlooked may just put you into contact with more of these magnificent creatures that have captured the hearts and minds of steelheaders everywhere.

Good Fishing
 Mark

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Best wishes Mia and Marcy at the 20012 Spey O Rama. Were all hoping you bust some serious string out and crush all competitors!!! Maybe just maybe you can bring home a little color to make a matched set!

GRIP IT AND RIP IT!


Mia and Marcy are raising awareness and money for Casting For Recovery

Here is more info on Casting For Recovery and how you can be involved in this years competition from Mia: 

Last year I competed in SOR with the intention to raise money for Casting for Recovery and with all the generous donations over $4000.00 was raised. This year Marcy Stone will be competing for the first time, and we are going the distance at Spey -O-Rama again to raise awareness for Casting for Recovery via
a pledge drive based on our longest cast. Casting for Recovery's program combines counseling,medical information, and the therapeutic sport of fly-fishing. CFR's two-and-a-half day retreats are offered at no cost to women at any age and stage of breast cancer treatment and recovery. CFR is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. In 2012, CFR is holding 45 retreats in 33 states. 

Through the link below you can make a pledge based on Marcy's or my longest cast or both of our cast at; CFR - Spey-O-Rama 2012 Pledge  
  
If you would like to give a straight donation then you can click on this link.   CFR -  Spey-O-Rama 2012 Pledge 

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Historic steelhead numbers on the North Umpqua

Posted by Mark Sunday, April 15, 2012 0 comments

An interesting article from Lee Spencer on historic fish numbers on the North Umpqua.

Check it: Historic Numbers

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Blown Out! (Part Deux)

Posted by Mark Thursday, April 5, 2012 3 comments

Some magnificent Scott Travis flies(some of these got wet)
  

The elation that comes from hooking and landing a perfect wild winter steelhead in a new river in the very first pool you fish is unreal.I felt blessed to be where I was, and was so content to just be there.......I didn't even need to fish anymore,the day was beyond a success.  It was about 9 am in the morning and I was just tickled to be alive and fishing and sharing the river with great people. Satisfaction is a word that only touches the edge of what I was really feeling.

This outing was my first meeting with Marty. After reading their blog and chatting with him over the previous months I knew I just had to go fishing with him. It was just my luck that Mia, who was chomping at the bit to get her cast on too, decided to come along. I'm glad she did. Besides being an awesome wife,mom and delightful person,she can fish circles around most guys I know. She can also cast a long belly line 150+ feet.

 At the onset of the day, the prospects of finding a place to fish let alone finding a willing participant to eat a fly was minimal at best. The credit to even pulling into this spot goes to Marty. He had a knowledge of the river and levels that told him this place may just work.The credit for finding the fish in this particular run goes to Mia. She is the one that swung the fly into the one area that the fish had found to escape the raging currents they had been fighting for days. It was her skillful technique that alerted her and us that we had found a little steelhead Shangri la. She stuck with it in her first pass through, persevering after breaking off several flies in the danger zone.A lesser fisher would have made a few swings, found rock, lost a few flies and said" I can't fish this, it's too snaggy and slow" Not Mia. A lesser fisher would have packed it up and left the run before adjusting fly size and sink tip weight. Mia knew there were fish in there and she located them. I took note of how she fished the run and made full use of  that knowledge.I watched her pick her way through and then adjusted my setup to allow for a swing that suited this slow,snaggy holding water. I listened and noted what she said about the run after her first pass. This was a very hard place to get a good swing in but the fish were there.My part was easy. She warmed um up and found all the structure and most likely holding water. In the process of losing a few flies, she delineated the best part of the swing zone, making it easier for me to stay in the goods and avoid those snag zones. This was team sport at it's finest.

I just got lucky and got one to go.Spending some time at this spot after some action was key.Having multiple rods in the water fishing different tips,flies and colors truly made the magic of this spot come alive. I believe many, many people would have passed right by this little corner without a glance.Even Marty and I marveled at how she had found these fish in such an unlikely spot. If it wasn't for her this could have turned out to be a very different day indeed.

Now we had found a little bucket in an unlikely spot and both Mia and I had touched a couple fish. The thoughts of heading down to fish somewhere else that may or may not be fish able weighed heavily on our minds. We had a small pow wow at the boat and discussed the recent events, laughing at our surprisingly good fortune so early in the day. It was kind of funny, no one wanted to leave this little bucket. We all knew what we were gonna do next, and basically at the same time we all kind of said "You don't leave fish to find fish!"

 Back to the top of the run we went as Marty, then Mia marched back through this small bucket at the top of the run. Both fished through the run well and Mia again had a subtle player that would not commit. She worked the fish putting multiple drifts back in his window to no avail. This latest action for Mia kept us all keyed up and focused as we followed each other through the run again and again. Just as we would think about leaving, someone would feel some funny business on the end of the line and we would keep swinging flies through unable to leave a plucky or grabby fish behind.

 I was on my second or third pass through now.I started back in at the top and followed them through. Passing the spot where Mia's first fish grabbed. I continued down,passing where I had recently hooked up and started covering water I had not gotten to yet.This water had just been fished perfectly by both of the Sheppard's.There was no rhyme or reason to what these fish were doing, as the randomness of the action portrayed.We just knew they were here. We were all using different color flies and fly styles. I was actually fishing one of Marty's tube flies when I hooked the first fish and saw no reason to change it out. I gave it a quick hone after nicking a rock and continued down. Another swing through and I was hung up bad. I waded out a little and threw slack to the outside of the snag hoping it would be pulled free by the faster current. I jacked around with it for a minute or two and it finally came off.Without even looking at my hook for possible damage I double speyed a cast out and was fishing again. I should have checked that hook I think to myself as the fly searches deep and slow. I can feel the fly and line scraping over structure and can hardly resist pulling it out of there before I hang up again. I fight off the urge, leading the fly inside.

And then......Pluck!Yank!Slam!

Another gorgeous wild buck smashes the fly and proceeds to go ballistic.I hoot aloud again just like you hoot when you are skiing waist deep powder on a sunny day. My joy can't be contained. He heads for the outside current and manages to get into it momentarily, spinning my Daiwa 812 like you read about. The pawls growl angrily against the gears as line pays off the reel. I palm the reel lightly getting my thumb in the way of the handle and getting exactly what I deserve. Whack! The handle hits my thumb at 13,000 rpms and I barely notice, fully immersed in the euphoria of the moment. I battle back and drop my rod to the water and apply side pressure which immediately turns and stops the fish from his hasty retreat. I continue to pressure the fish hard and get him to the shallows where I can grab the leader and tail. Marty is behind me now, and grinning a grin he snaps a quick photo of this moment and my second amazing wild fish. I was doing nothing different then either Marty or Mia at all really, it was just one of those deals. I was in the right place at the right time when one yawned. Totally random action but it does give me renewed confidence in making multiple passes through a run with several different offerings before moving on. Sometimes it's a subtle change in cast angle or current speed that presents the fly differently. It may take a couple passes through just to see how the run fishes and then concentrate on those areas where swing and structure are most conducive. I am a firm believer in the tag team approach and it worked wonders here. It helps when you have tag team partners like Marty and Mia.

Number 2

Now that we had touched a few fish and spent a couple hours in this spot it was time to move on.I was blown away after the first fish and was in another world now after hooking and landing two stupendous wild winter bucks. I was just dumbfounded. It wasn't even 10 o'clock yet.

Just for fun, and because they are so awesome,I had brought with me a box of Scott Travis flies. I met and fished with Scott last year and he has become a great friend. His flies speak for themselves. It was super high water and the temp was right around 40 degrees but by golly we were gonna get some of these beauties wet on this trip. I opened the box and told both Mia and Marty to grab and fish whatever they wanted.


Mia grabbed a couple, one being the orange fly with the jungle cock cheeks on the left hand row in the above picture.(Sorry Scott, I do not know the name.)Marty followed suit grabbing a couple in purple.We floated down with guarded anticipation knowing we may have already seen and fished the best spot this river had to offer. Still we looked at likely water as we floated. I would say to Marty "Hey that looks good" he would answer with "Too fast"and he was right. His experience with this river was apparent as many of the likley looking spots I would have probably had to actually fish before I found out what Marty could tell floating by. There is nothing like a home court advantage and Marty and Mia were wearing the local jerseys.

We beached the boat at another run that was clearly a favorite. The current water levels made the wading and casting very difficult. I was content to watch Mia fish the bucket and jaw jack with Marty on the beach. The rain fell and the wind blew. Marty went in and fished downstream of Mia poking into small slots in the willows and trying to get a cast off without hooking a tree. I walked down below them both trying not to drown as I too tried to do what I could down into the tail out. The current was so strong even 10 feet off the bank. I was stumbling my way though the run at times moon walking as the water lapped at the top of my waders. The uneven bottom would drop away unexpectedly every so often and I would find myself literally bobbing down the river until I could grab terra firma with my wading boots. I am a strong wader and feel confident in most conditions but I bailed out before getting all the way down to the tail. It was honkin my friends!

I walked back up to find Mia grinning ear to ear with a spectacular summer fish with that very same orange Scott Travis fly stuck firmly in it's jaw. This fish was caught on her second pass through the same upper bucket. She picked her own pocket!

 Mia proves persistence pays and summer fish will move to small flies in 40 degree water

I ended up hooking one more fish on a Scott Travis fly although it was an outbound kelt. That fish actually jumped and ran all over the place making quite a showing for himself.The overall experience was amazing. It exceeded my wildest imagination considering the conditions. It was so good to meet and fish with two people so obviously passionate for the sport and so interested in sharing that passion with others. I have seriously not had that much fun fishing in a very,very long time. The excitement of being on a new river was intoxicating. Sometimes I can get complacent and in a rut when I fish my home river. This experience made me appreciate the river I fish more but also gave me a fresh perspective on the other great opportunities that are available in this great state. We are so lucky to live in Oregon.

It was so fun to hang out with fellow guides and just fish. It was fun to exchange info,talk shop, techniques and rivers. I felt like I was with old friends after about the 1st hour of the day. The Sheppard's were more than gracious to agree to take me fishing. I hope to return the favor this summer and show them my home river.

In conclusion I want to highly recommend Little Creek Outfitters for all of your steelhead adventures.With guided trips on the Sandy and John Day they truly have this steelhead thing down. Marty and Mia run a first class operation in every way and you would be hard pressed to find anyone more knowledgeable on the rivers they fish.In addition they are genuinely awesome and humble people who walk the walk and talk the talk.They are the real deal for sure and I am glad to now be able to call them friends.

Thanks Marty and Mia that was an April Fools day I will not soon forget!!

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Blown out! (Part 1)

Posted by Mark Monday, April 2, 2012 4 comments


As we pushed off from the put in, my jaw dropped. As I surveyed my surroundings, I could say without a doubt that this was some of the biggest and most technical looking water I had ever seen. There was just so much of it and it's awesome power was on permanent display today. It seemed to be coming from everywhere.Water poured down rock faces in cascading waterfalls everywhere you looked, adding more water to an already overflowing river.The river was at flood stage and I begin to seriously rethink my motivations and passions for chasing steelhead. I got up at 3:30 am to drive for 3 hours through the snow and ice to do this?The thought of fishing at these unbelievable levels was unthinkable wasn't it?Is this really the smartest move I've ever made?

This was SERIOUS water and the river was literally raging out of control.I had a little knot in my gut as the 8 cups of coffee and breakfast I had recently downed were having a fistfight in my belly. I was not necessarily scared but definitely alert! I have been on rivers in boats my whole life and have seen some pretty wild stuff, the current river conditions made me stand up and take notice.What am I doing here? How did this happen? Have I gone loony in my middle age?I have no idea where we are going, what's around the next corner or if I may be swimming in 40 degree water in the near future.I knew, as with every steelhead adventure I was gambling, I just hoped it wasn't going to be a boat flipping drowning gamble.This was not for the faint of heart or the novice. This was water that could kill you if you are not completely on your game at all times. Yeah, it was that hairy.

 These are the thoughts and visual scenes that assaulted my mind and eyes in the first minute of pushing away from the boat ramp. We are kind of committed now I thought to myself  in a state of mild anxiety as the current grabs a hold of the boat like a bathtub toy and rockets us down the steeply dropping gradient of an angry river. We are going for a ride!

Then I remembered who I was with and any fears I may have had initially melted away like backing off an old Hardy attached to a hot fish..........GONE! I was instantly calm knowing I was in the hands of a seasoned veteran of this river. I relaxed not knowing that I had been flexing every muscle in my body up to this point.


 The blue pontoon boat slowly picked it's way down the river. It moved as if it knew the way (and I think it did),nimbly slicing through the tumultuous current and center punching huge standing waves that would flip most any other boat. Marty,the man in charge on the sticks,effortlessly ferried the craft around obstacles and rocks finding the perfect line.It was a dangerous dance in this flow but he calmly set the boat up perfectly and ran this water like he has been doing it all his life,oh that's right he HAS been doing it all his life. It showed.

Mia his wife,is sitting next to me in the front of the boat and yells to Marty "Marty,go right!! You see that rock don't ya!" "Yeah, I see it" he quickly jockeys the boat to miss it and an instant later we slip by,on river right past a huge rock, literally the size of a VW bug.. The rock had a thin veil of water going over the top of it and was almost invisible from above on the approach.

 "That rock is usually sticking 6 or more feet out of the water" Marty yells over the rivers overpowering voice which at this point is a cross between a freight train, and a mild hurricane. I can't erase from my mind the thoughts of actually not seeing one of those rocks. It would be easy to miss if you don't know what to look for. Just one split second of looking away from the line or loosing focus could become a very costly mistake. Things are coming up so fast. The trick is being set up WAY before you need to and anticipating every possible scenario, and being ready to reposition at a moments notice as new hazards become visible. I envision getting hung up on that rock or one like it and the almost certain disaster that would ensue. Eyes snap back in focus from the foggy haze I am in. I am not in control of this situation at all. I ride along feeling we are on the knife edge of control as water rushes around us and Marty fights to gain the upper hand.The rapids are longer now in these flows and there is no rest for him anywhere.

As we come to a particularly long and challenging section of rapids, I gladly link arms with Mia as we both grab a strap with our outside hand for added stability and ride the big blue boat down, down,down. Marty maneuvers the boat, hitting the curling and nervous water of an untamed river head on, as waves of water crest over our heads in the front. It is fun now, in a twisted sort of way. For me anyway this is a new river and a new experience. I try to relax but I can't totally let my guard down as my mind races with possible disaster scenarios.I would never have dreamed I would be floating down this river at such an obscene
level.This is EPIC! I laugh nervously trying to appear like I do this every day............

We careen through the rapids and are mercifully spit out intact at the bottom, the boat finding a welcome flat spot out of the tortuous whitewater that has battered her thus far.

"That spot might fish" Marty says nonchalantly nodding to a nondescript inside corner.

We all knew that even finding a place to fish today was a long shot at best. We had already passed many places that would normally hold fish but current and levels were way to strong, not to mention you would need to be up in a tree to make a cast without being swept away.

"Lets get out and check it" We pull the boat over and grab rods and rig up.

I fish the tail and Mia the top as Marty changes lines and reels back at the boat. The tail swings nice but I am not overly optimistic. I finish out the run and walk back towards Mia who is walking back to the boat. We meet and Marty is there between us.

"I had one on and had another grab" she says calmly.

As Marty relayed earlier and as we all as steelhead fisherman know, we are not usually surprised if it happens(a yank,grab, or hook up) and not surprised if it doesn't. In these conditions we were all a little surprised and definitely fired up.We were stoked to make a couple more passes through this all new, only fish it at Biblical flood stage level spots. Mia marched through again, losing a fly or two in the snaggy middle section without touching a fish. I changed out my T-14, as the softness of this lie would not allow for a swing with that much tip weight. I put on one of Marty's fly's a lightly weighted tube, and followed behind Mia starting at the top. The swing was funky with multiple currents and water speeds making it hard to get a straight line through.It started kind of fast then just kind of died on the inside.As the drift started to die was where the soft water was, the softest water for miles around and if they were gonna be anywhere it was here.Mia proved that with her first pass. It was Russian roulette though,seeing how long you could leave your fly on the hang down in the snag zone before pulling it out to recast. The snag zone was just exactly where the fish Mia touched was.Getting another one to play was our goal.


I fished my way through, getting past where Mia had hooked up and started to get a little better swing. It was coming across so slow it was just agonizing to watch. I like a slow swing in winter but this was like SLOW. I got 4 or 5 swings in a row through what I would call the "bucket" then started to touch structure. I gave the line a slightly more downstream angle in hopes that I could lead it through the danger zone with just a little more pace. After a couple swings more with this new cast angle I was starting to actually feel like something might happen. Call it experience, call it whatever. Obviously we knew there was at least one grabby fish in here someone just needed to show them something they like. Turns out it was me. I felt the soft plucky grab of a steelhead and waited an eternity until I felt him turn on the fly and start to head out. I lifted the rod into a nickle bright fish, my first on this river and hooted aloud to Marty who was just upstream. I battled the fish into the shallows quickly without incident only to hear Marty off my right shoulder say "Congratulations, it's a boy!" The chrome winter wild buck was as pretty a fish as I have ever seen. Absolutely gorgeous and a perfect specimen. I twisted out the hook and the fish swam away strong.

High fives were in order all around.


To be continued.......

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