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Mark Stangeland - NUFlyGuide
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Kicking It Old School

Posted by Mark Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I had the pleasure of guiding a couple of guys this last week that were truly unique in their approach to winter fish. I spoke with one of the guys, Ken on the phone before the trip and he stated in no uncertain terms that he and his buddy John wanted to fish long belly floating lines and traditional atlantic salmon flies for winter steelhead on the North Umpqua. I said what a long time guide friend told me, and it's true " Fish any way you like.It's your trip and its about YOU, not about  me, fish the way that makes you happy."

Ken knew full well in his mind that it was not  the most effective way to fish for these fish but he didn't care at all. He made several statements that stuck with me. He said" I'm looking for that one kamikaze,suicide fish that will move to these kind of flies and this line system. I don't care how long it takes, I have time and patience. I know I may not catch a fish with you and that doesn't matter to me. My idea of a successful day may not be the average winter steelheaders idea of a successful day. I am happy to fish good water well and know I left it all on the table when I leave the river"

How cool is that?What a refreshing sure made me check mine. It made me realize once again that this sport has so little to do with the actual hooking of the fish. So many many hours in between for even the best of the best winter steelheaders. It's all about the road trip to get there,the river experiences,friends and memories that you make, and it's all about the hunt. The fish are important of course and why we are there, but our encounters with them are so brief in comparison to the hours we seek them it is almost immeasurable.

How do you fish? Who do you fish for? Are you fishing for yourself or just bragging rights at the bar,office or around the campfire?Do you run with the herd and get caught up in the herd mentality? Do you ever challenge yourself with a harder presentation or method of fishing or do you get a hold of the easiest most effective method and stick to that all the time. Just because a particular method or line or rod system is popular doesn't mean others won't work. How willing are you to fish on your own terms in a way that pleases you?How willing are you to put in the time to learn how to fish a traditional iron on a floating line with a long leader for winter fish? Most are not and will fish in an easier more productive manner.  It's definitely not for everyone.

But it was sure fun to watch and be a part of, and it was successful in a fish catching way to boot. The flies they fished were all pieces of art in themselves. Ken ties his flies in hand, yeah without a vice. Unbelievably stunning! John had a ton of flies as well and both guys had many,many flies that would easily go in a shadow box and be displayed on your wall.

These guys get um wet!!!

Ken further challenged himself on this trip to fish with a tool that he does not fish with all that much. He is much more comfortable with a 16 or 17 ft Clan  in his hands bombing out long belly's to the far reaches of some distant seam. No, he brought and fished a 10 ft 7wt Echo and a Rio Atlantic salmon line. Try roll casting a Jock Scott on a heavy salmon iron, 70 feet with little back cast room sometime just for fun. It takes a little while to find the button. Ken found the button and cast that thing well everywhere I put him. I think I put him in one spot all day that he could overhand it in. The rest had obstacles on all sides and above as well as behind....such is the nature of the North Umpqua....especially in higher water.

I put Ken through the runs first with the full floater and traditional fly and followed through with John and his two hander and a long belly floater cut back for tips. No short skagit line here. He was a great caster and could fish off both sides well when I put him in a constricted area.  He fished a light T-3 tip of 8 or 10 feet and a nice traditional iron as well. After the first couple pools I put them in a glassy little run that is just full of nuggets. Perfect slow current, and a fish rolls just as we step in the water at the head of the run.Ken goes through first and is giddy as a school child at Christmas vacation as he sets his fly up in the seam and gets a deep wet fly swing. He finishes the pool with nary a bump but looks at me as he walks back up and says " Now that was fun!" I knew that he genuinely meant that by the twinkle in his eye.

John steps in and starts to work out some line. It rains, some ducks fly up the river at mach 2.John gets some more line out.Water ouzels dance and dive in the lower part of the run. The line swings lazily through the boulder piles as his Black Dog swims through the seams and current edges made by the submerged rock.We laugh,we tell stories.We watch the water and the line in anticipation of what we all feel could happen at any moment. John continues to swing the Dog through. The swing is slow, very slow, but perfect. And then......the line comes tight to a solid fish and the game is on! A down and dirty fight,like a fistfight in a phone booth. He never ran very far but could not be easily moved either. After a couple of minutes John gets the upper hand and lands a nice buck of 8-9 lbs with just a hint of color, rosy gills and a light stripe. A perfect North Umpqua specimen that did everything he was supposed to do. And he ate a traditional fly.I think after these fish have seen a lot of big nasties, fishing through with one of these beautiful flies with a little soul may have been all this fish needed to see.

We fished hard the rest of the day and told stories and shared our experiences of fish and fishermen. John moved a fish later in the day that he actually got to come back to after a changing to another pattern. The first take was a plucky grab the second a grabby yank that didn't stick.Ken did not touch a fish all day and he was fully aware of that reality when he started. His intensity with getting the right drift in every run did not subside until I shut them down at 6:30 pm after over 10 hours on the water. I will not soon forget the look on his face and the honest "That was fun!" after every pool he fished.Authentic and real joy just for the chance to fish it the way he wanted to on his terms. Inspiring.

He was just thankful to be alive and experiencing this wonderful place we call the North Umpqua. You know what, I was too. I don't ever want to take that place for granted and in a way Ken and John's enthusiasm and respect for the history of our sport renewed my awe and reverence for the early methods,the fish and the river.

Thanks Lads! It was a fine,fine day indeed!

 Some cool panorama shots

The Rack at the shack( that ain't even all of them, you should see the wall inside)

Get one Dad! 

 Getting it done in the sun 

The faithful companion guarding the goods 

Ken Waiting on his kamikaze fish in a perfect steelheaders driving rain

Greasy tail out

Below are some of the flies they were fishing.....AWESOME! I couldn't let them get away without getting a couple.....they were more than generous! They had boxes and boxes, I was drooling.

I gave all my friends/guides at the guide shack a choice of one of these flies. We will all fish them and land a winter fish on them and then put them in a shadow box on the inside of the cabin wall. These deserve to be fished, and the fish deserve to see a little class every so often.

 I had a chance to wet a line and fish a couple times and found this hen. This was the heaviest fish I have held in  quite a while. Steve you are right, the 7136 greenie had it's hands full lifting this fish. Can you say bent to the cork? Beyond the cork?That rod was in a full circle. Despite landing obstacles on all sides and above me from tree limbs, fast deep water in front of me,this fish managed to stay pinned and only took around 6 minutes to land. And she jumped and ran quite a bit.Get um in quick people. A massive and perfect female specimen for the North Umpqua.


  1. Mark:
    Beautiful pictures and great write up! Sounds like you guys had a great time out there and you put John and Ken on some fishy water. As you know, I also love fishing the dryline in winter, although I'm a bit less traditional than Ken and John with me throwing bead headed MOALs. I love the grace and style of the dryline approach and when success comes, it is sweet! I also agree, it's not all about numbers, trendy lines/tackle, etc. For me, it's about finding joy in the experience of steelheading on my own terms.

    It was great chatting with you, Brett, and Jeff on the river the other day. Maybe someday, the NU will be more generous to me!


  2. Mark Says:
  3. Thanks Todd.

    Nice to see you as well. It was pretty tough fishing.....but it usually is.

  4. chaveecha Says:
  5. Awesome story and photos!! True inspiriation...

  6. David Morton Says:
  7. I fished with Mark this past weekend and had a blast! If you are looking to fish with someone who has a knowledge of the river, its history, and its fish then Mark is the guy. Its all packaged in a very humble friendly attitude as well. Everytime I fish with Mark I walk away with a ton of new memories.


  8. Duggan Says:
  9. Great read and a reminder of what is great about the sport.


  10. Mark Says:
  11. Thanks all. I wish every trip was that good. Two class dudes made the story and an unforgettable day for me. It was over way too fast.


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