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Mark Stangeland - NUFlyGuide
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More on Fishing the Comeback Fly

Posted by Mark Saturday, September 10, 2016 1 comments

The Danger Muffin muddler swims lazily through the currents, skittering and skating on its riffle hitched tether.......

I had a few hours to fish alone last night and I jumped at the chance to fish a few runs after being away from the river for a couple weeks. The river was quiet and I found a favorite run unoccupied. It is a run that people drive by daily and never fish. A horrible run to wade for sure and I think that keeps the crowd down. Many see the run from the road and think "hey that looks good!" and often find its a better swimming hole (when they fall) than a fishing spot. I like it that way and have been baptized many a day in there myself. about 60 feet the fly catches the fast current and turns around squaring up and slowing as it approaches the holding zone to the outside of a midstream rock. Angle and fly speed are critical here as a cast too far down stream never slows the fly down enough in the taking lie. A cast too far up and across stalls the fly too long preventing it from reaching the fast current on the far bank. A very specific spot to fish properly but when you get it right the fly comes through and presents in the most seductive way, no fish in their right mind will refuse it.

This night the old single hander was throwing darts across the river and my angle and timing were perfect. As the fly comes into the 40 ft circle of holding water, I gently pulse the fly, making a slight disturbance as it swings. Woooooosh! A fish comes out of the water, full head and body emerge as it swirls on the fly doing a figure 8 missing the fly completely and disappearing into the gin clear North Umpqua. I let the fly swing into the rock and strip in quickly, thinking I have a player. I send the next cast out at the same length of line replicating the exact drift. The fly comes cleanly through and I just let it slide this time, no movement is put on the fly at all. I turn my head and look away, waiting for the sound and feel of a fish I know is coming. Every nerve is tuned to steelhead frequency! The fly continues through and the fish does not come.

OK....  I strip in and rest the fish for 2 minutes. I wind up the Sharpes and snake roll a cast across the pool,again perfectly catching the far side current putting me on a trajectory to put the fly back into the zone again. This time I twitch the fly again, a little firmer this time, the head of the muddler sputtering water as it digs and plows it's way across the run with this added movement. The fly goes through the zone, almost to the hang down off the rock before the fish again reappears and comes straight up from underneath the fly, jumps clear of his liquid home a full three feet, swaps ends and re-enters the water with high diver precision right back into the boil of water he came out of.

I rest the fish for a minute or so and then send a tight loop cast over to see if I can seal the deal with this obvious player. Fly swings through, I twitch it again in the zone..........nada!

Fine! You want to play, lets play!

I select a size 6 simple purple hair wing fly from my box and put it on. I reel in maybe 20 feet of line and quietly smoke a cigar, a Backwoods Black and Sweet, nervously waiting to throw the pay off pitch. I wait as long as I can, about 3 or four minutes and start in again, well short of the fish. I lengthen 2 feet at a time until I am at the proper length and back in the fishes window. The fly swims through the currents sweeping slowly across the holding water. Then it comes, the softest, trouty pluck, then a light pull and I mean light, I've had smolt pull line harder than this fish did. I leave my rod down and wait.........slowly the line starts to get tight then, ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! The fish finally turns on the fly and races down stream jumping high and running hard. After a short fight I tail a beautiful fish of around 28 inches.

 I have fished the comeback fly with great success over the years. There are no real hard fast rules to doing it but here are a few things that I have learned.

  1. Generally if I raise a fish, I try to rest it for a minute before I recast. 
  2. Don't put a fish down by pounding it with the same fly you rose it with for too many casts. A drift or two then change.
  3. If I end up casting multiple flies I give them a different look every time. Example, rose to a foam waker fly, one or two recasts with the foam then change and recast with a muddler. One or two casts with a muddler, change and recast with a riffled wet of some sort, then follow with a straight wet. Then often back to the first fly whatever it was. Just change up the look, variety gets it done. 
  4. Change size and color. My favorite comeback after a rise to a surface fly is a simple and small black or purple wet fly. 
  5. Riffled hitch a muddler or wet fly as a comeback after a rise to a surface fly.
  6. When coming back with wet flies I often reel in anywhere from ten to 20 feet sometimes more and re-fish the area down to a known holding fish. 
  7. Experiment with all of these, there are no rules we are just trying to out think these fish and show them something that they will crush. Each of the above rules can be bent or broken of course, I've found many of them work for me. Each situation is different and each situation will make you the angler think of the next move in the game. Be thinking a move or two a head of the fish. Its a chess match you know!

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Posted by Mark Thursday, August 4, 2016 2 comments


 The Fly

There are years that I hook and land my first fish, there are years that I don't. There are years I lose three or four before I land one.

Not this year..........

I started off with a bang hooking two fish in the very first pool I fished this year, both hooked in a total of about twenty casts. Lost them both, one to an epic tail walking and pool leaving heart attack series of events that left me shaken and shattered. Didn't bother me in the least. The early fish can beat you up and that's fine by me.

Then hook up number three, four and five came and were gone as fast, I was still trying to get my hand on one. No biggie I say and I really can't complain, all five fish were pistol hot and bigger than average. I try and convince myself that I did everything right, fought the fish well, didn't screw anything up. But the thoughts creep in, I shoulda done this, I shoulda done that.

Six, seven and eight danced with me awhile and were gone, all hot fish, all doing what a wild North Umpqua fish does best.......... kicking your butt!

Now again I can't complain, I'm raising fish, I'm hooking fish, it's all good. But.......

I'm really wondering about everything now, rethinking hook choices and styles, lines and leaders even though I know that's not the problem. I have not broken one fish off, all have just come unpinned.

I start thinking about rod angles and fighting techniques that are so ingrained in my brain. Basically I start overthinking it all and begin to question everything I have ever heard or read about fighting and landing a fish. I fight fish pretty hard and pretty quick, I don't mess around. Have I lost my touch? Do I even know what to do? Am I going too easy on these fish? Could I fight them harder and quicker? Am I over playing them in hopes of landing one? Should I let them tire more before I try to get them in? And on and on........

These thoughts and more, they linger in the back of my head, taunting me.  The voices of the fish say "You're getting old, you are loosing your edge" " It's the last hurrah for you"  "You've had your fun on this river for thirty years and now, we the fish are gonna win"  " You don't have the mental game to compete at this level anymore"  "You can't take the pressure"  "Were gonna break you"

And not to be out done, the river currents, ripples and tail outs, chuckle and laugh as they splash off the rocks knowing they are in cahoots with the fish to make my job of landing a fish harder. They say things like " We stand with the fish"  " My flow will give the fish an easy escape" " We will help them leave the pool"  "Your tackle will not stand up to my amazing current speed" "These fish cannot be contained when they work with us"

The rocks, brush and trees all join in and say " We will do what we can to hinder your efforts" " If we can tangle your line, break you off, help the fish in any way we will do it!'' 

As I sit on a riverside rock waiting for a tail out to shade, these thoughts are racing through my brain. I surprise myself by saying out loud STOP!!! 

Man, I think I read about people with voices in their head....... never fish and river voices though. I could be loosing it!

The light fades off the water and I start in at the head of the run, a smooth glassy tail out. I settle into a fine rhythm and  begin covering water, fly skittering across the surface. Just as I am about to strip in for another cast number nine smashes the fly with reckless abandon, quickly showing me how fast a Hardy can spin. The fish jumps twice and comes straight at me and I desperately try to get tight while stripping in line like a madman. Two seconds later, the fish is at the bottom of the tail out cartwheeling around like a circus clown. Line screams off the reel again and the next thing I know the fish is 30 yards above me going upstream, pulling my whole fly line and more with him as he tries to free himself of the hook.

I still have my rod high from the initial mad stripping as this has all happened in about 10 seconds. The voice of the trees that I had heard earlier comes into play as the tip of my rod is somehow wrapped in an alder above my head. The line is jammed on a small twig and I valiantly try to free it without breaking the rod. The fish had slacked the line so badly on the upstream run that he wasn't even pulling on the rod yet, still going upstream dragging a fly line with a belly that had not caught up yet.

By the time I got my rod loose the line was just starting to come tight as the fish continued his freight train run upstream. I think to myself, " I still have a chance at this one." Almost as those thoughts came to mind the fish was off and I was left reeling in the line of shame. The fish-less fly dangles in the current far below me now. What had been so alive and enticing to a steelhead just moments before was now just a lame bit of deer hair spun on a hook.

Stupid fly, stupid fish! Why do I do this anyway?!!! Why do they torment me so?!!!!!

Frustrated to a point I rarely get to, I take stock of everything and realize I can't beat myself up anymore.

It will happen when it happens. "Stick to your guns kid" I say to myself quietly as the summer sun drops below the line of fir and cedar down river.

The sound of the Bougle is deafening in the silence of the aftermath of number 9 as I slowly wind in my fly line.I look at the bright side, which is awfully bright. In a fairly limited time fishing this season I've hooked nine wild steelhead and risen countless others. I'm having great fishing just bad luck landing them, and its mostly the fishes fault I think, way too hot to handle! Good problems to have!

The morning dawned crisp for August and I had a little time to play around on my own. After hitting a few of the usual runs with no luck, I ventured to a seldom fished run. I haven't really seen any fish in the area but I like the water and enjoy fishing it. I chose a small wet fly, natural and orange in color, probably one of the many flies that find their way into my box from friends, clients etc. Not sure if it even has a name......

I was feeling pretty good, and mostly over the bad luck on the landing deal and back to fishing with confidence. The law of averages was on my side now, I have to land one soon. Don't I?

I was comfortably fishing 70 ft line and due to current speed, watching the fly rise to the surface and skate slightly during the last thirty feet of the swing into the bank. It was mid morning and the river was quiet.

An almost imperceptible sip on the surface was all that I saw before the line got tight. A steelhead had eaten the fly on one of those occasions when the fly was just starting to skate. I knew what it was and I knew this one was coming to daddy!  The fish used all the tricks in the book trying to get away, going around rocks, and a stick, and getting into the faster water. I wasn't playing with him. I put the wood to him and had him by the tail in less than 5 minutes.

Number Ten was right at 10 lbs in my estimation. Just a stunner of a fish, solid and bright.

Ten! Oh how I love you number TEN!

Then it was quiet and the river voices stopped, for now........

Ten is seen as a number of completion and perfection in the Bible.

I have a long way to go to perfection or completion in fishing or in my christian life. I walk by faith and not by sight in both. It's not easy in either one but it's good!

Phil 3:12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

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Higher Education

Posted by Mark Friday, July 1, 2016 2 comments

I made some great observations with a buddy on the river the other day. We watched a guy come down and fish a popular run....... and fish it completely wrong. He started too high in the run, cast at way too steep of an angle and then did not cover the lower end......where all the fish are.

Could he have caught a fish? Sure! Are his odds as good as someone that knows the run? Not even close! If you have maybe one or two chances at a fish a day, covering a lot of water and fishing each piece efficiently and effectively are the keys to success. Learn the river, sit down and watch a pool before you fish it. Have a plan when you start the pool and stick to it.

It made me realize once again that the North Umpqua is so unique, so varied, so difficult to fish consistently and properly that it takes a lifetime to learn and it will never be mastered. I feel like I am still in middle school at times as far as my education on the river. Every once in awhile I get taken back to kindergarten, like recently when I swam coming out of a difficult wade. Never let your guard down!

Working my way towards a degree, not sure if I will ever get my diploma.......

Cast angle matters, position in the pool matters, mending or not mending at key times matters, water level matters, and on and on. Every run is different and must be approached differently.

After many years now on the river, one thing is clear. The river remains as challenging for me to fish as it did the first time I stepped in it. I do know a bit more about how to fish the runs but I still discover new ways to deliver the fly more efficiently to the holding lies. I learn more every day about how fish take a fly and the when and why of it all.

I see lots of parallels to baseball as well on the river. The river is still full of surprises. Like knuckle balls,  and un-hitable curve balls, it still gives up base hits as well as 9th inning home runs. It still throws strikeouts with amazing regularity, even to the best of hitters. Sometimes you need to experience a good brush back or some chin music. Stay in the box and keep swinging. Although the pitcher is intimidating at times you can still get a hit. Be a student of the game. Singles are good, choke up a little.......

Be observant, learn from your experience every time you have the opportunity to fish her waters. Its a special place and provides an education that will continue forever. I really don't want to graduate.............

Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope.

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North Umpqua Closure...... Could it Happen Again?

Posted by Mark Tuesday, May 31, 2016 2 comments

Note: I wrote this in the fall of 2015 but with 100 degree days already forecast for early June of 2016 it is relevant today.  These issues need to be addressed before another closure happens without due cause.

Open Letter to the ODFW

I have been thinking about this a lot lately and now is a good time to start a discussion on this. I encourage any and all comments on the subject and would appreciate hearing from anyone else who observed anything similar or different from what I observed.

I would like to address a few issues concerning the North Umpqua River.  I was a bit perplexed as to why the closure happened this year and why it stayed in force for so long. In my observation and the taking of water temperatures on a regular basis, I did not see water temps much out of the normal range after the initial late June heat spell.

Flows this summer were very low as we all know. I did observe warm water conditions that were in the critical range between 67-70 in late June and early July but then saw the temperatures that  prompted the closures to drop back to normal ranges and continue to stay in a normal summer range through the rest of July and into August.

The month of August was completely normal as far as temp ranges yet the closure remained in effect for the entire month. I think the highest temp I recorded in the lower river was 65 in the afternoon in the lower fly water. I did not take temps every day but took dozens of temps during the course of the closure as did many of my friends. All of us came to much the same conclusion, pretty normal temps and no real reason for a closure in the afternoon at all. 

During this time it was obvious that no one from either the ODFW or any other agency was taking water temps on the North Umpqua to see that temps were in a normal range and those temps did not pose a threat to fish due to angling pressure. If they had been, the closure would have been lifted like the rest of the rivers.

Meanwhile during this same time the Deschutes hoot owl closure was lifted yet water temps hit 70 degrees at Moody at least 4 more times before dropping at the end of August. The Upper Rogue stayed open for the entire summer and then the middle and lower Rogue opened up from the 2PM closure around the 13 of August. The middle Rogue saw temps in the high 60’s and possibly 70’s after the closure was lifted. There was no consistency in the way that rivers were being managed during this time.

The North Umpqua in the fly water section is a unique water shed and should be managed that way and not thrown in with the rest of the state. Being primarily spring fed, water temps can and do stay lower than many other rivers.

The North Umpqua remained closed after 2 PM until September 1st. The September 1st lift of the closure proves that the closure was not based on temps but more of a date range and no matter what temps were, the decision was made to not open the river back up until September 1st. Temps at that point had been normal for more than two months.

If the river is going to be under a closure by ODFW we need to see temp ranges and data to show probable cause for it. I am a little surprised that the Steamboaters and other anglers on the river didn’t call for that.  

No one was squeaking about the closures on the North Umpqua, maybe I should have been more vocal during this time. I have no problem with protecting the fish when temps warrant it but for 95% of the duration of the closure the temperatures were well within normal limits. I’m all for being cautious but let’s act on real data.

Angling pressure may have dropped slightly but intensity did not, and I saw some interesting angler dynamics and potential issues going on while the closure was in place.

Those observations were-

  • ·        Relaxed fishing atmosphere becomes more frenzied due to limited time on the water.
  • ·        More anglers fishing harder in a shorter window of time
  • ·        More anglers fishing longer than they normally would fish due to their time being limited on the water during the hoot owl closure.
  • ·        Anglers fishing into the hottest part of the day due to the time constraints of not being allowed to fish in the evening.
  • ·        More anglers fishing sink tips because they are fishing in the hottest part of the day when the sun is at its highest angle making surface presentations less effective.
  • ·        More fish were actually being hooked at a time of day when most people would be resting or waiting for the evening session. 
  • ·        Many fish were being hooked when water temps were nearing their warmest of the day due to anglers using sink tips.

I see a bunch of problems with the closure and how it was put in place. 

  • ·        No one was monitoring temperatures to see when it would be safe to lift the closure
  • ·        No one was monitoring the angling dynamics that occurred due to the closure
  • ·        No one was patrolling the area to see if anglers were indeed obeying the closure.
  • ·        There were no threshold temperatures or parameters in place to monitor water temps and lift the closure when temps fell back into a normal range again.

The way the closure went down this year does not bode well for the future of the river. A precedent has now been set. A hoot owl closure occurred this year and there was no real reason for it after the late June and early July temperatures that we saw.  I have heard that a water temperature of 64 degrees will be the new high end of the scale and closures, either partial or complete, will occur if water temps exceed that mark. This will essentially put the river under a hoot owl closure every summer from July 1st to September 1st. The river could also be closed altogether if temps go higher than that.

64-67 degree temps are normal water temps for July and August in the lower fly water and are seen often in the afternoon during hot weather spells. The fish have adapted to these temps and will self-preserve by not actively chasing surface or near surface presentation. Basically, fishing will and has always been poor during warm water times and keeping people off the river does little to save the fish. Very few fish are being hooked when temps are in the upper 60’s it’s just a fact.

The ease at which this recent closure was accepted by the anglers of the river shocked me really. Again, I’m all for being cautious and erring on the side of the fish but let’s have real time data to go on.

We are looking at an uncertain future for angling opportunity going forward if no one says anything.  If 64 degrees does become the new goal post for lethal high water temperatures next year, we will indeed see those temps and the subsequent closures associated with them for sure, no matter the snowpack or water level coming out of the hills.

My questions to the ODFW are:
  • ·        Is a hoot owl closure every summer from now on something you would like to see?
  • ·        Is anyone worried that the angler opportunity may be seriously affected by the changing policy and new closures?
  • ·        Are you aware that the river the Steamboaters and many other group have worked so hard to steward and protect may be entering a new era that may limit anglers unnecessarily under the guise of protecting fish?
  • ·        Where’s the data that proves the angler is the problem on a catch and release and highly regulated fly fishery such as the North Umpqua?
  • ·        Where is the data that says keeping anglers off the river in the afternoon saves fish that are hooked in the morning?
  • ·        Where is the data that shows over the last 50-60 years or so years that the wild fish population has been diminished on the North Umpqua due to intense fly angler pressure?

·        Would the ODFW be in favor of getting behind a no sink tip rule during summer instead of a closure? This rule in my opinion would be a better solution to the issues I observed and would allow the fish to self-preserve by only allowing a near surface or surface presentation. Fish will be very reluctant to move to the surface when temps are high.Subsequently, fish hooked will be minimal while still allowing the fishery to continue until water temps improve.

The facts are undeniable, the wild North Umpqua summer steelhead are doing fairly well despite all of the issues they have been through. We have in our midst some of the strongest wild winter and wild summer runs of fish anywhere in the lower 48.

Look at the historical numbers over Winchester in the last 60 years. The run has actually gotten slightly more robust despite man’s efforts to destroy the fish and their habitat. Many of the early decades after the dam was in place, wild fish kill was allowed and people harvested many fish in those years.

Modern day factors that negatively impact fish include continued loss of habitat due to logging, irrigation affecting water flows, building, pesticides, dredging, mining etc. etc. There are a hundred areas of concern that have affected the overall health of the fishery over the years and the catch and release fishery in the fly water is not one of them. The river is already the most highly regulated stream in perhaps all of the PNW steelhead rivers. These regulations that are in place have stood the test of time and are good for the fishery. 

Keeping anglers off the river for an afternoon hoot owl closure did not save any fish this year in my opinion.   It is my belief that the closure actually encouraged more people to fish with sink tips and more fish were probably hooked overall.

Our overall impact as anglers on this highly regulated catch and release river is minimal. Look at the dam counts and they will bear this out. If we closed the river tomorrow for 10 years and did not allow any fishing whatsoever the returns would stay about where they are. We would continue to see annual returns in the range of 3000-6000 wild summer fish. 

My concern is always for the fish and if the data and water temps show lethal temps for fish, then sure lets close the river. But, if temperatures are in a range that these fish have been accustomed to for millennia, closing the river does nothing but make some people feel good, and may actually be a determent due to the angling methods outlined above.

In conclusion I have some parting thoughts. First and foremost, I love this river and want to see a healthy run of these fish for my kids and their kids after them. I am also a Steamboater and an NFS River Steward and have a deep respect for the river and the work the Steamboaters have done to maintain this world class fishery. The river would not be what it is without them that’s for sure. We as Steamboaters have a responsibility to steward the resource and make good decisions for the river and fish, this is true. We also have a responsibility to future generations to be able enjoy and continue on with the fine traditions that make the river such a special place. We need to make sure that the opportunities to fish are not restricted by suspect and/or unwarranted reasons.When precedent starts to be set in place it can be hard to reverse.

I hope to never see a closure on the river again in my lifetime. But if future closures happen, there must be common sense rules in place for instituting a closure, monitoring conditions and also the lifting of that closure as soon as conditions allow it.

We need to think about the idea of pushing for a sink tip ban as an option rather than a closure when and if water temps get into a critical range again. Doing so will still allow anglers to fish but will limit the number of fish hooked. Allowing for a deep water sanctuary in times of warm water will allow fish to rest in the cooler water unhindered.

We as anglers,river lovers,Steamboaters all of us need to be involved in these processes and not sit on our collective hands and watch a storied history slip away. It can happen that fast. Do we want to see the North Umpqua angler regulated right off the river and the place turned into a Wild Steelhead Sanctuary? Its happening on other rivers to the north.......

The angling tradition is strong on the North Umpqua and it can continue to be if we all work together.

Please, if you are not already a member of the Steamboaters, become one today

All comments are welcomed


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Spring Training

Posted by Mark Friday, April 15, 2016 2 comments

Interesting winter and early spring on the river. The curve balls and change ups were pretty hard to hit this year. Maybe I need to choke up.....

There was a mean fastball pitcher in there most all of February, the reliever in March was a knuckle baller. Wicked stuff I tell you, almost un-hitable. I struck out more than usual but I had a notable 9th inning Grand Slam and one inside the park homer that made it worthwhile. RBI's were down overall on the year. Hard to reach base consistently on many occasions. I took a walk when I could, anything to get on base.

I bunted, I stole second, I slid into the short stop upending him. I was hurt and on the DL, stood in as a designated hitter. I pinch hit and pinch ran. I played all positions. I was hit by a pitch after hearing chin music the pitch before. I was in one bench clearing brawl. It was quite a season.

Enough with the baseball metaphors.

Another winter season is behind us. There was a lot of water, there were plenty of fish. There were fish caught and it was good.

Never easy, always good.

Now is the time I get antsy for summer. The weather is changing and we've seen some pretty warm days already this spring. I've been out casting a bit, thinking about changing to some new longer lines this summer. Constantly rethinking every aspect of my summer game. Looking at already full summer boxes and thinking about tying more.

But now it's spring training. Time to work out the kinks, blow the rats out, reset, re-adjust and re-work. Time to start the clock again for summer. Time for a clean slate. Time to work on the cast, work on the swing. Relax, take some time to be mellow before the game starts again.

What are you doing for your spring training?

 Waiting for one of these

1st Timothy 4:8-10 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.

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Posted by Mark Monday, March 28, 2016 0 comments

If you've been out looking for winter fish this year, its there. Water and lots of it. This of course is a good thing for all the reasons. And you know, its actually normal for a good snow pack year.

Many have been lured into a false reality as far as winter fishing goes the last few years. Especially on the North Umpqua.

People have been dancing around in almost summer low conditions for the last 5-6 years thinking that's the way its supposed to be. Easy access to runs, easy wading in low flows,  early and predictable returns due to low water, much easier to locate fish because they have been much more concentrated in the runs etc etc.

In reality, what is perceived by many to be a year with continuous high water is really pretty normal. And the fishing was tougher for it, a fact I am glad of.

Its never an easy game but this year tested all the skills in everyone's toolbox. When you have your back to the brush and under the trees in every run, waded in to the top of your waders just to try and get a small D loop off your shoulder, it separates the men from the boys. Doing it day after day can drive one insane, but that's why we love it. It ain't easy.

Those that consistently found fish did so working their tails off in often unpredictable conditions. Those that found fish, found fish in places they would not normally have fished. Marginal conditions push you to explore new water.

That run that looks bad at 3000cfs might fish great at 5,000cfs. Trust me we had plenty of water to explore to our hearts content. I found some new high water spots that I have never fished before in 30 years. They worked. It was cool. These fish gotta go somewhere, find them.

Winter fishing can, and I think more importantly, should be hard.

This year reminded me that you have to be in it for the long haul. Keep doing what you know will work and eventually it does. Patience and perseverance always prevail. This year was a great example of what winter steelheading can be (HARD) and how it pays to stick it out even when its tough.

James 1:12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

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Walk By Faith Not By Sight

Posted by Mark Thursday, February 11, 2016 3 comments

Its been awhile, haven't felt much like writing lately. A little cloudy upstairs, no real direction or clarity in ideas. It happens.

But now there is some focus, finally something is coming together in my mind for the first time in a long time........ 

The vision in my right eye was still slightly blurry as I walked from the truck down a well worn path to the river. However, none of the trails in winter are really very good as the storms and winds have left branches, trees and other debris across the paths. Alder and fir limbs as well as a downed cedar blocked the trail in spots. Blackberry vines, dormant poison oak,hazel brush and Oregon Grape encroach in other places along the trail. My depth perception was still lacking and I had to concentrate to keep from losing my balance and falling down. Judging distances and where to put my foot next was a bit harder, especially on the hills. After I crossed the worst of the debris and just for fun, I closed my eyes. Feeling the groove of the trail under my feet I settle in, that's better I think to myself, I know this trail well.  The sound of the river pulls me forward and I continued cautiously, trusting my instincts, walking by faith.........

You see,in the last month, I have had cataracts removed from both eyes. Pretty routine surgery anymore and mine went very well. Its still surgery on two of the most amazing gifts we as humans possess and it was still a big deal for me especially at my age.

As I walked, I recalled the story one of the nurses told me in my most recent eye surgery about a 9 year old girl that had been almost blind by cataracts. Very rare at such a young age. When the surgery was over and they were wheeling her into the recovery room she was crying. The nurse was a little worried as the surgery is almost pain free. She asked the little girl if she was OK and why she was crying. The little girl looked up at the nurse with tears streaming down her face and said,     


I gotta say I got a little choked up as the nurse relayed this story. Now, granted my eyes were not nearly as bad as hers and my experience not nearly as dramatic, but as I looked out at the world after that first eye surgery I felt a certain kinship with that little girl. I CAN SEE!

Now, one day after the second eye surgery I was wondering if the eye would respond as well as the first. I struggled with the idea that the doctors may not have gotten the lens choice right, My right eye may not be as strong as the left but either way my overall eyesight was 95 percent better. I could live with that.

I pondered how my life had flown by so far. I am facing the mid century mark this year and the eyes were the first sign that I will not live forever, things are starting to wear out. I am not invincible,  I am merely a fleeting mist in the early morning dawn soon to be gone with the first rays of sun.

The river was in beautiful shape and at flows that I like to fish. Things were definitely different. I stood in awe as I surveyed the river bank trees. I could see the detail in the deeply furrowed bark of a fir tree. I could see woodpecker holes on another tree 80 feet up. I could see things way on the far ridge that I never noticed. I saw a hawk soaring a half mile above me. I could see seam lines and currents like never before. My eyes penetrated the jade green river easily seeing rocks well below the surface. Even with one eye not completely healed yet, my distance vision was again,outstanding.

I needed to change flies for the run as it has some shallow ledge rock throughout that required a completely unweighted offering. From about two feet in front of my face and beyond I have 20/15 vision with the left and I'll probably have 20/20 with the right when the eye heals up in another week or so. I have no close vision now and need readers to see in close. I fumbled around for the glasses trying to tie on a fly, feeling awkward and out of sorts. Glad no one was with me because I broke no records getting things tied on.

I started in close and watched the fly swing through the emerald water, the light tip coming under tension and swinging the fly just subsurface. As I lengthened the line and the fly went beyond my line of sight I started to cast a bit more straight across the river. I mended the line and freed it up for several seconds to probe the trench at mid river. Then, as the line tightened after the first third of the swing, it rose from its deepest point just in time to sweep the inside shelf without touching rock. I could visualize the tip and fly sinking without tension, swinging with light tension and then rising in the water column as tension increased towards the end of the swing. Right where I wanted it to. Leading the fly slightly I could find that balance of depth and speed and that hot knife through butter, positive/negative swing. The fly and tip I was using was working perfectly. I know I was getting the perfect swing. I had a bunch of line out and it was feeling very fishy. This is not a run that gets fished much in the winter although people are driving all over and fishing above and below it all the time. I just had that feeling there was one in there. The fly sliced through the run and just as it reached the outside edge of the rock I feel the slow tightening and typical feel of a cold water take. I wait and do nothing, the line continued to tighten almost as if it had caught the shelf. Then I feel the weight of the fish and he pulls off 8 feet of line then the line goes slack.  Perfect! All I could hope or ask for in a couple sessions this early........

The whole eye thing got me thinking, we fish for steelhead by faith and not by sight. Sure we may fish to a visible or spotted fish every now and again, but mostly we are fishing to unseen fish. We fish with proven methods and flies, just like that old path to the river. We don't need to see everything all the time. We have faith that we are doing the right thing in the right place because experience has told us it works.

As it is in life. As I get older and my faith gets stronger, I feel confident knowing the maker of heaven and earth holds it all together in his hands. I want to be doing the right thing in the right place at the right time for Him. I don't always know whats ahead on my path but I have seen God work powerfully in my life and many others and I know he will continue to do so as long as I trust in and put my faith in Jesus Christ. If you know Jesus you know the Father.

Do I stumble and fall sometimes? You bet I do, and will continue to. I'm not perfect but thankfully I'm forgiven if I ask. He always picks me up and sets my feet back on the path.

As I age, my body breaks down and I ponder my own mortality someday, I am not afraid. I know where I am going and have confidence and assurance of that fact. My confidence is not in anything I do, it is in what Jesus has done for me. He died on the cross for you and for me. He paid the price for my sin and yours. It has taken me awhile to figure it out but my purpose in this world is to know God and make him known. You know, that's your purpose too. That's why we're here people!

It's that simple. Know God and make Him known. How are you doing with that? Knowing God is about knowing Jesus. Its never too late to make a change in your life.Trust Jesus

If any one of my 12 readers ever wants to talk more about it email me.

I'm happy to answer any questions and always ready to give an answer for the hope I have found.

2Cor 5:6-8 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

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For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse.(Rom 1:20)