I had nothing to do with the production of the first video video program but if you are curious about the area where I live and work it will give you a perspective. Will it really happen? I hope not.
I do intend to dedicate some time to producing a few shows of my own in 2017 and hope you’ll be coming back to check them out. There is an instructional video produced by my team and I located here also and text articles to provide further details on the blog page but for now…………
Video #2 My take on Fishing Streamers;
The real story is probably not what you may have assumed.
I’ve never written in general regarding this strange turn of events that led to my being a guide for visiting anglers. I’m going to try to lay this out so that it makes sense, I think you’ll get it.
Right up front people need to know that I do not believe that I am somehow the genetically superior fisherman, nor am I over endowed with the Hunter Gatherer gene. I also fell way short when they were passing out ego’s because I feel like a normal guy every day when I wake up and every time I rig up a rod. One other thing that deserves mention is that this was never about money it was an accident. So this didn’t come about the way you might expect.
I’ve been fishing since I was a kid, I won’t go into how I got started because that is the bulk of my ‘About Me’ on the profile page here. As I progressed through my own personal Life On The Line experience I was fortunate in that I often caught fish. I faced many challenges when I tried to transition to fly rod only fishing just like many others have. Somehow I made the right choices and through determination and selfish use of my free time I progressed from a thrasher to someone who fished using more of a transcendental approach. I spent a lot of time just watching everything that was happening both in and out of the waters where I spent my time. Somehow that seemed to enhance my previous good fortune at catching fish.
During the late 70′s – 80′s – 90′s and right into the 21st Century I fished in Pennsylvania and traveled in what I could call an extensive manner with the intent to fish at the destinations. During all those years I never hired a guide although in hindsight I would have been well served to have used such services in many places I visited. There was a mental block that came from experiences on my home waters and that block was rooted in my belief that those people who worked as guides were bringing people who otherwise would never find places where I fished, into those spots. They were the enemy and I knew I would never do that, it just wasn’t right! I actually had an active dislike for the whole concept of guiding because of what I saw happening in my home range.
I came to Alaska back in 1989 and stayed for 6 months and returned to stay in 2004. When I made this my home for good I dove into the fishing. I found my way because I live here and I had time for trial and error trips. There was however a big difference between my situation and that of someone visiting here for 5 to 10 days, I was here 365 days a year and had time to figure this out.
By the time that I discovered fly fishing forums I had gotten married and moved from my home in Anchorage out to The Valley. That same year I bought a boat because out there you needed one unless you wanted to be relegated to fishing at road access points with a hoard of others. So I began exploring rivers, I drove the boat, I drifted on rafts, and I hiked. With each passing year my knowledge of where and when to fish grew, but remember, I live here so a bad day was quickly forgotten when the 20 silver salmon day rolled around. I caught all 5 species of salmon, rainbow trout – steelhead trout – grayling and char, I was on a roll.
Through out the years 2007 and 2011 I was there on fishing forums forum posting technique threads and occasionally I would see a thread titled “Going to AK.” or “Advice On AK. Trip” and if I recognized the posters name I would send a Private Message to them. In those messages I offered to take them fishing. I explained that I had a boat and several rafts and that I go fishing all the time so having them along wouldn’t be a problem. I made those offers to quite a few people on forums. Only one person ever contacted me and took me up on the offer. He got in touch on the last day of his trip and I directed him on how to find me and then went to meet him at a parking lot in town and had him follow me home. We had a quick dinner and got him into the truck and took him to a river where we fished until almost midnight. The next morning we left at 5 AM. for some more fishing, his flight was leaving at 5:30 PM. so we had to knock off at noon but he was able to catch a bunch of salmon and a couple trout, the salmon had eluded him over the first 6 days of his time here so he was very happy.
I continued to extend invitations for a while but no one else took me up on the offers. There were however members who when they got home posted reports about their trips, some went to fish the Kenai & Russian Rivers while others went to very expensive lodges. Even the guys who went to the Kenai & Russian stayed at lodges and hired guides in most cases. Some knocked the spots off the fish and some didn’t. One thing I knew was that I didn’t go down there to fish during summer because of the combat fishing environment that is unavoidable on either river, guide or no guide. Heck, I have heard stories about guides getting into fist fights down there, OMG. There is one case where I had offered a guy to fish here with me that sticks in my mind. He never really got back to me until he informed me that he was booked into a lodge out on the Katmai Peninsula, it turned out that things didn’t go that well out there but here at home I caught and released over 40 king salmon and kept 3. The total weight of the three I kept was over 100 pounds. This picture is from that season…………
You’ll never know how I regret not shaving and choosing a different cap that day
I stayed out here in the valley basically slumming it but I continued to look for places where crowding was minimal and I continued to catch a lot of fish when fish were available. Finally after a guy from a forum stood me up even though he was within 22 miles of our home but never called; I ask my wife Nancy………… What do you think? You think they figure I’m an axe murderer or some other kind of crazy man trying to lure them away into the bush? I don’t get it. Why would anyone turn down an offer like that only to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for basically the same thing?
I was only joking when I said, “I should look into getting a guides permit because then people would line up to pay for fishing trips”. I was kidding but I was also serious. I guess I had hurt feelings, I knew that when I fished in New Brunswick – Nova Scotia and Newfoundland if someone had offered to show me where to fish so I could have a better chance at salmon I would have jumped on the offer. Sadly no one did and I had to gut it out trying the best I could. I continued to think about the guide thing until summer of 2011 then I took action.
It wasn’t an easy thing and it wasn’t cheap and still isn’t. I spent over twenty three hundred on all the training and licensing, insurance etc. in that first year and had zero customers. But that fall I threw down another 800.00 and had a website designed and bought business memberships on several forums. I also paid to have my name on the top of the Alaska Fly Fishing Guides Directory. Guess what? The first year the site and advertising was up I booked so many trips that I began fishing clients in May and finished in late September. I had not worked so hard in years, very little sleep and 18 hour days were the norm. In the second season I had to turn people away because I’m just one man, no lodge, no staff just me. This past season I turned more down than I took, I just can’t handle being busy the entire summer any longer. When I started I had trips back to back for 40 days and that was enough.
I’ve read plenty of threads about guiding over the past 9 years on several forums. The ones posted by kids still in school who believe they will finish school and then go into fish guiding, the ones about how much to tip, the good guides the bad guides, I’ve read them all. I don’t comment often because I don’t want people to think I’m like a Barker on the old Circus Midway letting everyone know I’m a fish guide.
I’m still the same guy who offered the free trips via PM’s to people and if any of those folks ever read this they know who they are. I can’t make fish bite. I can’t make it rain or stop raining. I sure as hell can’t predict how many salmon will come into these rivers next year either but I will go fishing whether someone hires me or not. I’ve had about every type fisherman with me in the past 5 seasons. There have been those who were absolutely great and a few who were measuring the experience solely on what they caught. There has been learning and laughs, I’ve enjoyed the time with people and this has really kept me in shape to a great extent. It’s a lot of work because I do camps a lot. I don’t see this going on much past the 2017 season because I want to return to just going fishing. Once I do that the PM’s will go out again but I’ll be going fishing and not guiding and I’ll take people along if they come here and want to go.
Being a guide here is not a thing where I get paid to go fishing, usually I don’t fish. During king season I am not allowed to fish when I have clients on the water with me, that’s the law. During the other seasons I spend most of my time watching people fish, offering advice and tying on different flies for them. I net fish I cook meals and every now and then I get to fish for an hour or so. When I have any time between trips I should be out there scouting fish but sometimes I’m so burnt out that I just stay at camp and relax. Seasons over now, I just came home from a 3 day fun trip where I just went fishing. It didn’t matter whether I caught anything or not but if you visit the other articles here you’ll see that I managed to get a few.
It gets harder every year, changing weather, drought, flooding, low abundance of target species, it’s tough. I still can catch fish but it is harder and harder to get them onto other peoples hooks. Remember, I do this every season. I know exactly where to cast and how to handle that line to put the fly right where it needs to be. It’s hard to transmit all that to a guy who just got here without browbeating him and I try to avoid pushing people. I offer so they know I’m there and ready to micro manage if asked to do so. If they ask I push them until we get hooked up.
I don’t think I’m a normal fish guide, I take this way too seriously. When someone doesn’t catch fish it nearly ruins me. I feel like a failure, I feel like the environment itself has let me down. It was never about making money, I just wanted to take a few people fishing with me. When I peel those permit stickers off my boat things won’t change all that much but I won’t feel responsible for whether or not someone catches a fish or not anymore.
I won’t miss the $800.00 I spend on Commercial Land Use Permits each year. I won’t miss the $700.00 dollar liability insurance policy I carry every year. I won’t miss the State business license, the MatSu business licenses which total 200 more. I won’t miss the Commercial boat launch fees I pay because I am a guide which equal another $635.00 each year. There’s a reason that I charge to do the trips and it’s clear to me that this is barely a break even thing every year. It’s been fun, I won’t ever say it wasn’t. And when someone asks about being a guide I can at least tell them what I know about it albeit admitting I’m not the average guide guy.
That’s how it happened,
I can only tell people ‘what I think I know’ about almost any topic. One thing I will not do is to tell you that what I do is right or correct, it’s just what I do. I’m just some guy who fishes and has done it for a long time. I’ll soon be placing an article here on this blog page that will explain how I became a fishing guide, it may be worth the read because my course wasn’t planned here.
I do have to admit that it is kinda cool to have your own website where you can share what you think you have learned so I’ll do just that right now.
We all started somewhere, for me the starting point was North Central Pennsylvania and when I went whole hog into fly fishing things were different. Different to a certain extent that is, there were rods and lines, there were reels and waders, but no where near what is available today. There were dry flies and nymphs, there were streamers and wets. And if a young fella wanted to be a genuine fly fisherman then he learned how do use all of the various types of artificial flies in their traditional ways.
Of course I went with dry flies first because it was just so cool. I followed the dry with wet flies and nymph techniques but streamer flies were like a freight train just getting started in my mind. The process was slow leaving the depot but gradually gained speed until I wanted to learn how and I was as serious about it as anything in fishing has ever been to me. By the late 1970′s I had been tying them for a while and was getting good at about every style of classic. By the early 1980′s I had taken them to the streams and began to concentrate on how to use them effectively.
I actually have streamers I tied in 1980 because I had made so many it was inevitable that some would survive for decades without being used.
That’s a Supervisor circa mid 1980′s from one of my storage wallets……… I started my fly tying with streamers and flies like the one pictured were the result of ten years of practice by the time the 80′s arrived. Please don’t get the idea that I’m presenting all this based on fly tying, just because I can make cool flies doesn’t mean I know anything about using them. I’ll try to provide enough detail in the body of this article to help others to understand how I’ve developed what seems (to me) to be a style of fishing streamers that works OK.
With time on the waters and a load of low fish days I gradually improved my methods. A key to improvement was observation of both the streams and the fish. I guess I learned where to expect them to be and was able to up the number of encounters that way. The refinements in my techniques can be found detailed in other articles right on this blog page simply by scrolling down through the entries. In short I figured things out and I do take credit for whatever successes I’ve had because I did all this before there was an internet, you tube videos or any of the advantages we have to share information today. heck, back then there weren’t even dependable & affordable video tapes on the market where I lived so you had to rely on practice to work out the bugs.
Whether we talk dry fly, nymph or wets, there is one bug that is universal based on all my reading of questions posted to fly fishing forums. The bug is ‘How do I set the hook”? My answer to the universal problem faced by many anglers is that it is easy. With a little practice to give the technique a fair trial you may agree that I just might have this figured out. All fish are different and from species to species they go after or take a fly differently as well. In the end though they are all fish and they all grab a fly with their mouths. Some fish take more time from the angler before you’ll even feel one and others seem to flock to the fly. If you can fish somewhere that they are grabbing the fly every other cast you can cut your time way down when figuring out the best way to get them on the hook.
First let’s imagine you are fishing for steelhead, it doesn’t matter if you live near a steelhead river or have traveled to try your hand at it. One thing can happen in either scenario, you “miss” fish. When I hear a guy tell me that he missed a fish it doesn’t compute for me. If the person was fishing a plastic bead suspended beneath a bobber (commonly referred to as an indicator) I guess I’d get what he or she were saying. I’ve been with people who do that and basically it’s a game of watching the floating plastic ball until it bobs underwater, thus the bobber thing………….. When the bobber goes down the guy holding the rod has to react and react quickly because the fish has the bead / egg imitation in its mouth and you gotta rip that hook into place quick before the fish senses the bead isn’t a real egg. I get that part and I get the “I missed one” part too when it is coming from someone fishing the method I just described. I might as well get it said now before you figure it out on your own, I quit using any sort of bobber when I made the decision that I was going to become a fly fisherman. I used to drift crickets under those clear plastic bobbers shaped like a long cone and it was deadly on trout. But I wanted something more from the time on the rivers and creeks than just a body count, I wanted to be like those old guys that I admired so much because of what they seemed to know about catching fish on artificial flies.
Now where was I when I went off track to poke the indicator people…………? Oh yeah, got it, missing fish, or setting hooks. What I have evolved into is a guy who fishes streamers of one kind or another 100% of the time spent fishing. The biggest reason for that is that where I live and fish now and have been for the past 13 seasons is that there are no appreciable dry fly opportunities here. Oh you see may flies and caddis as well as stone fly hatches but not very many rising fish so you stay sub surface with the offerings. You cast, you mend, you steer and swing those streamers to where you suspect there will be a fish to see them coming and going.
I’ll try to wrap this up quickly and simply, when I feel a fish it is usually one of two feels. Either it wails my fly so hard that it is immediately hooked up or I feel tiny light taps as my fly is swinging toward the end of the cast and going to soon be dangling downstream. Scenario number one is a no brainer but situation two requires some self control and I’m about to tell you why I think that is. Fish can be curious of a fly and when that is the case they are following it because the movement has triggered their instinct recognizing something swimming or fleeing across the currents and they give chase. When they close the gap I believe some get a better look or are just a bit more hesitant than the ones who hit it like it has done something wrong. Those ‘thoughtful types’ they are curious and I’ve watched them pursue and repeatedly tap away at a fly. I’ve felt a lot more than I’ve had the chance to actually see but the results are the same in both cases. As long as that fish doesn’t prick itself on the hook point it will continue to be curious of the streamer. If they get pricked often they will also get hooked but not always. The more lively the tapping and experimenting with a streamer on the swing is the more likely the fish will hook itself.
Self control is the key because as long that the fish is not pricked by the hook or frightened by you in reaction to the feel you are still in the game. The more pressured the fish as are many in heavily fished rivers the more likely they will not come back for a second go at the fly if you have jumped and struck with the rod as if this were a Bass Pro Tournament. I have found again and again that if I just remain cool and wait, that fish has an 80% chance of being caught. If it gets pricked by accident and not stuck well enough to be on the hook the chances fall to 0-3% that it will come again. Likewise, when people jump and strike when the fish is not actually on the hook the chances of that same fish coming a second time fall into single digit percentiles.
What really dulled my nerves was dry fly fishing on Spring Creek and others in Pennsylvania. I learned that if I ripped a fly when a fish rose one of three things could occur. The absolute worst was that I popped my tippet and lost the fly in the fish ouch! Next was that I “missed” the fish and it would not rise to my artificial again. The third was the most infrequent and that was when you caught the fish. I learned to watch calmly as a fish rose and took my fly. I figured it out the a large % of them hooked themselves as they changed directions with the fly in their mouths and all I had to do was gently lift the rod to tighten the line a little. This lesson was quickly adapted to fishing streamers since I was never a strip fisher type, I was the “wet fly swing” type streamer fisher. Once I learned not to react until I had a fish on the fly my catch rate shot way up and has stayed there for over 30 years.
Adapting all the lessons from trout fishing to salmon and steelhead fishing was simple, you do the same things. There seems to be a mindset, a sort of mystique surrounding salmon and steelhead in that people are ready to believe that “this is different”. Yes it is because they are a different species. They are different because many of us must travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to try our hand at them. But one thing that remains a constant for me is that there are still 2 types of fish that come after my flies. There’s the one who hit’s it like a freight train and the curious type who more or less experiments by tapping. In either case I don’t react, the hard hitter makes things simple but if I play the tapper right he’ll end up hooking himself and I’ll get to take the credit.
I could just go on and on with the fish pictures but only hoped to make the point that while it is what I say, it is also what and how I do.
Now what about a tapper, [Tapper: the fish who is there but not hooked, tapping at the flies trailing materials] whether it’s a trout, a salmon or a steelhead I have a suggestion. You could just flail away and keep hammering the line and fly back to the same zone in an attempt to raise that fish a second time. Or you could use some strategy, I like choice number 2 here and I’ll tell you why. Remember, we’re not talking about the crazy fish that just hit so hard it nearly pulled the rod from your hand, no no, we’re talking about curious Carl the fish here. And he already had doubts about that fly or he would have pounced on it like a wild dog on a cooked steak. So what do you think that fish may do if you just hurl another cast right back at him? What if he didn’t go back to exactly the same spot in the river after he abandoned his probe of your fly? Seriously, that fish could be anywhere unless you were able to see it and see right where it went after it left the fly and that isn’t always a good thing either. I mean that if it is that low and clear there may be other reasons the fish didn’t take the fly but that’s not the topic so………..
I’m hoping we are agreeing on what I put forth above, not knowing where that steelhead went, I chose steelhead for this just because I could. The way I deal with this is another test of a persons stubborn willpower. I start walking or wading upstream and I go at least 90 feet, 30 yards. Then I begin fishing all over again as if nothing has happened. I fight the urge to hurry back downstream and I work on my technique. I fine tune the swing, the speed, I mend I steer and I slowly work back down to where I know there is a fish waiting. If I do it right this all will take at least 15 minutes of more and all the better for Curious Carl to forget my line and that fly.
Because I don’t know where the fish has set up shop now I need to study the telltale surface indicators of current seams and varying speeds. Bulges made by unseen boulders or gravel shoals a couple feet deep, he could be around any one of them so I approach fresh as if I have no idea there’s a fish there or where. I do this without hesitation because it is the actual case, I don’t know where or if it is even still in this part of the river. Many times I get what I am after by taking this approach and maybe you’ll remember this laborious read one day and say, “I think I’ll try what that guy Ard wrote about” and it just might give you the same feeling I get when I do everything right. People often say to me when they know I’m headed out fishing, “good luck”. I always smile and say “thanks” but you wanna know what I really think? I think that luck is for newlyweds and gamblers, luck is not falling into the river while I wade. I like to think that when I have caught a fish it happens because I have learned everything I can about their behavior, what they like and what they are afraid of. It’s about determination and using every trick I’ve learned but it’s seldom about luck at least not for me. If I were lucky I would have won the Lottery back in 1986 when it was up to 30 million dollars in PA. That would have meant I’d have a nicer boat
I’ll write more soon, all of these articles are subject to editing as I re-read them but I hope this made some sense to you.
I don’t write much about personal fishing trips I take but on Thanksgiving day 2016 I did one that seemed worthy of some photos and a telling of the days events. I don’t know if I’ll ever start guiding late season steelhead fishermen but I do intend to purchase another boat just for use on the river I’ve been fishing late every year. My current river runner is too large for use there due to engine size regulations so there’s a second jet on the radar for 2017.
With that said, here’s what happened. Ever since the end of the first week of November I’ve been aching to get back out to fish for steelhead. There were however a multitude of things which stood between the desire and making it happen. Not the least of which was getting ready for a winter that could be bad or mild and I’ll have to comment further on that come May but by November 10th ……………
Gone are the hanging baskets of summer flowers and the rest of the pretty things and wood becomes the look of our home for the winter. We fill up the front porch so that in the thick of a storm you need not go far to find tinder for the fire. There were 2 other larger piles but I think you get the idea.
Then there’s the fact that in order to go after those fish at this time of year the destination is exactly 189 miles from home one way. Add to that the fact that in order to be there at the crack of dawn you must leave home at or before 5:00 Am and the plot thickens. The drive itself although long is made more challenging in that you are going to cross Turnagain Pass and you can count on at least 75 miles of black ice on the roadways so it’s not something I take lightly. All of this led to a great deal of procrastinating and further delays.
From many past experiences in the late fall I have learned a few things, one being that you must decide; drive all the way in your waders & boots or suit up in the dark on ice. Honestly, neither seems attractive but I’ve made that drive many times looking like a Simms rep.
With each passing day it became clear that we are not going to see the temperatures become mild for an unknown period of time and ice waits for no man. Now don’t think I wasn’t using the computer to check the weather down there, I knew things were getting crunchy on the river so I had to make a decision. What I came up with was a choice, drive down Wednesday November 23, fish, then stay over at an Inn and do it again on Thanksgiving day? You see Nancy has a week off between her on shifts so I knew she would be home until Thursday afternoon and could get away with the 2 day thing. We have scheduled Turkey day for December 2nd when everyone can be here so it was all a go for me. All a go until Wednesday morning at 4 am when I had to decide. It was 12 degrees here and just dark as it can get……..
So, a new plan, I wasn’t so sure I could do 2 days in freezing weather back to back so I booked a room for myself Wednesday morning and left around 2PM which gave me light to drive in until roughly 5 when it is dark again for real. You see we’re still losing 5 minutes a day here between sunup and sun down and that accumulates fast when you think about it, 35 minutes less light every 7 days to be exact.
The drive was uneventful all except the ice fog along the river road. The river is held up by 2 very large lakes and those lakes are the only reason the rivers aren’t frozen solid like my home waters have been for a month now. Although the water is only around 33* by my best guess (it was 34.5 3 weeks ago) that is enough difference when the air is at 10 degrees to produce ice fog and that made things interesting for a long ways.
I scored a room for 69.00 and it was a nice one so I went to bed by 9PM and was up at 5 the next morning. A quick run for coffee and I was all set. Returning to my room I checked all the tackle so that I had things in place before leaving for the boat launch. Oh, I didn’t mention that this was to be the first cold weather test for a Mokai and I tried to be prepared. I even had an extra battery and jumper cables because this was to be a negative temperature start.
There was only a two degree difference at the launch of -4 so I didn’t bother as I had things to do, namely start the Mokai. It fired up and things were looking good. However I used jumper cables from the truck so I didn’t drain the little battery in this tiny watercraft. I knew very well that a dead battery when I wanted to leave could be a big problem so I played safe. I moved quickly and made a concentrated effort to ignore the ambient air temp. Dry bag with tackle – rod tube – PFD – net – ear protectors – extra gloves, check, all in the boat so I parked the truck and hoofed it to the waters edge. Solid ice there so be careful big fella…….. There’s an art to getting into a Mokai without dragging in a quart of water every time but I can’t tell you that it involves being graceful. My butt landed on the seat and I hit the throttle.
That was a good view but as I went on for a couple miles there were areas with such heavy fog caused by the water being 33 degrees and air at -4 or there about that visibility was very bad. The problem is that as things get colder these rivers get lower, if you can’t see through the surface of the water you’ll find all the low spots for sure. About half way into it I knew 2 things. One was that I had bottomed out on a gravel bar and needed to check my jet intake and second was that I should have put a little HEET into my gas tank.
I choose that spot because of the log, you need to elevate the back of the boat to pick the stones out of the intake grill………. There was also some sun hitting there if you were tall enough. The whole business of having to get down on hands & knees to pluck rocks from the intake with pliers is made even more enjoyable by inclement weather conditions. After this break I resigned myself to staying only in the very center of the river channels and the current. This was due to visibility issues and the desire to not hit gravel again. It did slow things down because of that darn current………..
In case you’ve been wondering, ‘What’s a Mokai’, they are an 11′ 6″ kayak with a 36″ beam and a big cockpit. Mine both have a 7.3 horse power Subaru Robin 4 stroke engine in them and the crank shaft will turn the impeller at around 3400 rpm. The impeller sucks water through an intake under the boat and creates a jet thrust which will move you at about 5 – 7 miles an hour upstream depending on current. The motor on my riverboat is too large for use on the rivers where I was fishing so until I buy another smaller boat I use Mokai’s to get to the fish.
It’s times like this that although I try to stay focused on the fact I’m doing these things so I can fish but my mind wanders off to a place where reality hints to me that what you are doing is crazy. I didn’t bother hanging my thermometer out, I’m not sure I had it but I really didn’t want to know. Back in the Mokai and onward to the promised land I went.
It was a very cold place. I snatched the 13’6″ Sage One eight weight from the holder and slapped on an Evoke reel and quickly threaded things up. Next came a variation of the Wilkinson Sunray on a pro Tube and a jamb knot to secure the hook. When I looked down for my nippers I noticed my forceps’ were frozen.
One more self portrait just so I was sure the smile was still there and I waded into the river. You know 33 degree water isn’t so bad if the air is actually 37 degrees colder. It wasn’t bad.
Second cast I had a fish plucking at the fly so I dropped some line then slowly pulled it back to the length where the taps occurred. No dice, so I moved a considerable distance upstream which is my normal when I’ve had a fish show interest but not really hit the fly. I figure to give them some time to readjust and then to bring that fly back down. Another thing that may be worth sharing is that even when catching a fish seems important I don’t strike with the rod. I don’t do hand sets with the line, essentially I do nothing. Notice I said I felt taps? A fish tapping away at a fly does no harm to the best of all my experiences with this soprt. What will do harm is if you are wound so tight that you react to the first indication of a fish playing around. I’ve never been underwater watching but when they are short striking at a fly they may just be curious. Trust me, if they ‘tap’ too hard they will get onto the hook and you’ll know it when that happens but if you rip the fly away from a curious fish one of several things can happen. Worse case is you prick the fish with the hook and usually that may mean game over. Second bad thing is that you had a curious fish and when you ripped on the rod or line you have startled the fish sending an alert to the survival instincts. I find these things much more important when fishing a species that is in pressured waters and not so critical in a very remote area where the fish may never have seen an artificial fly or lure before. Even in the remote settings it is always beneficial to belay any reactions until the fish is definitely onto the hook. When there is weight on the line it is then time to tighten things up and try to drive that point perhaps a little deeper. Honestly I can say that 95% of fish I catch hook themselves and I just assist a little.
So where was I? Oh yeah upstream innoring the cold and the fact that I knew I had a fish about 30 yards below my in that bucket just down from that gravel shoal……. I went to the casting with hopes of finding another but never felt a thing until I started bringing it back down into the same bucket and……… There you are I said aloud.
I knew when the fish hooked itself and I put on some pressure, I knew it wasn’t a salmon. The jump and the runs are just different and you don’t have to catch a hundred steelhead to get that figured out. You would perhaps be amazed with how I handle this catching business. I’m not really interested in fighting fish although some make runs that require a little more attention from me than others I usually just turn and start for shore where I will be safe and have some soft water to land fish in. So I turned and unceremoniously waded to shore stopping only when the fish protested being towed along on the trip. It made a decent dash for mid river and I loosened the drag a bit and then resumed the trip.. I think I was about 80 or 90 feet out in some pretty heavy current when things got started so getting to a safe spot is important.
I got my feet onto the icy shore and pumped & reeled the fish into a nice backwater below a gravel bar, that’s when I got my first good look at what had grabbed the Wilkinson. It was only ten forty in the morning and I knew that if I didn’t touch another fish before dark the cold ride to this spot had been worth it.
Wouldn’t you know it, even people who live their life in a bubble believing that if they try hard enough things will work out can get a break on a very cold morning. The next couple hours were filled up with silver salmon who had gotten well into the spawning colors and were very aggressive. These salmon are one of the reasons there are steelhead hanging out in this portion of the river and it’s inevitable that some are going to attack a fly as it swings. Oh there were salmon and they can be a problem because every time you have one grab the fly you have to take it to shore and quiet water to deal with them and this day there were 8 to be dealt with. Figure it this way every one of them takes at least ten minutes from when it grabs – you wade to shore – get it reeled in and unhook it – check terminal tackle and wade back out to cast. That’s eighty minutes when you have roughly 5 hours to fish at the very most…….. That and you have no idea if there are more steelhead there because a salmon has the fly again. They beat catching nothing and the color wasn’t too advanced. I actually had a couple that raised quite a fuss.
I continued to walk up and fish down for another couple hours but never raised another trout. I dropped downriver at 1:50 PM, time flies when your fishen even when it’s cold and on the first cast into a fresh current rip I caught a second steelhead albeit way smaller and a bright hen it was still exhilarating when it went airborne. It was only about 16 inches I think, just a quick shot with the second fly of the day and I let her go.
It was cold on the way down also, my waders froze pretty solid and my gloved right hand froze to the throttle on the way back to the boat launch. While I’d love to share days like this with others I also understand this was not a day that I can even imagine anyone I know enjoying.
One more of me on the trip down river, it’s about 11 miles.
I had to remove my hand from the glove frozen to the throttle and then peal the glove off when I reached the launch. I wish I had some video of me trying to get up out of the boat when I arrived. I’d been wading deep and my butt was frozen to the seat. Every time I tried to push myself up something was holding me down. My butt was about numb so it took a while to figure out what was going on. The frozen waders made it interesting as well. Really, I couldn’t bend my legs very well at all and was wondering if those Simms G4′s were going to hold up through this whole trip, they did. When I loaded the Mokai onto the trailer the temp at the river was 8 degrees so my suspicions were confirmed, it had not warmed up much between 9 AM and 4:30 PM. Those few degrees, all 11 of them were appreciated. It may not seem like much but there is a difference.
Of course I didn’t remember to take a picture of the temp gage until I was almost a mile from the launch but you have my word it was cold.
So what was it all about? I knew I would catch a steelhead if I went. I’m not sure how or why I knew but I just did and I knew that at least one would take that Wilkinson tube fly. In the end it really was a mission, one that you had to believe in and when that first fish leapt from the rivers cold surface I forgot about the fog, the cold, and the difficulty a trip in sub zero temperatures can present you with. I enjoyed the day although it was short and a good deal of it spent just driving a 7 HP jet kayak 11 miles up a swift river. Would I do it again, you bet I will but I’ll have yet another extra pair of gloves and I’ll add HEET to my gas.
Today I feel like something is lost, that something is my 2016 fishing season. I know it’s over now and I need to find something else to dream about rather than the next trip searching for those fish. Only 5 this fall but I got an immense satisfaction out of each one and I will hope to catch a few more next fall / winter. There’s something else I feel today and that’s the numbness of 6 of my ten fingertips. Just a mild case but a reminder that I need to find gloves I can learn to handle line with. Today is December eighth and the fingertips are still a bit numb so be careful if your going to fish in the cold. I did remove my fingerless wool gloves for landing fish because I knew getting them wet would be a mistake. Another thing I had going for me was that I was using a 45 foot Super Scandi line with integrated running line and a 14′ leader. Add the length of my Sage One and I was not stripping line at all. The only reason I had ice in my guides was reeling in the fish. There’s something to be said for not having to strip in 40 feet of line before every cast I think