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Mark Stangeland - NUFlyGuide
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The Dean River Chronicles Part 6 (Dry Fly Bonanza)

Posted by Mark Friday, May 6, 2011

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" 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............


  1. Ken Campbell Says:
  2. Freaking COOL!

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