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Mark Stangeland - NUFlyGuide
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Blown out! (Part 1)

Posted by Mark Monday, April 2, 2012

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.......


  1. Epic words. Looking forward to the second part!

  2. Debi Says:
  3. Niiiiiiiice!

  4. Talk about beating the odds! My hat's off to you. Sounds like one hell of an adventure!

  5. Mark Says:
  6. It was touch and go Adam!


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