First winter steelhead on a fly? [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: First winter steelhead on a fly?

12-31-2004, 09:37 AM
Heres how mine went... I remember it well:

It was a Wednesday after work, my fishing buddy who owned a large construction firm and sets his own hours called and said "fish are in the middle stretch". I packed my briefcase at the Renton Boeing Facility where I worked as a on-site computer consultant and said "I need to go to the office for a meeting".

By the time I got the the parking area Jack was already there and impatiently waiting as I pulled on some waders and strung up the silly fat line through the guides of the 9'6" RPL I bought at Kaufmanns from Dennis Worley the autumn before. Jack was an exceptional angler but not at all interested in fly-fishing. In fact this difference would eventually lead to our parting of ways as two avid anglers traveling the countryside in pursuit of chrome, sad to say - as he was a great friend and among the best anglers I had ever had the pleasure to meet. He simply didn't have the patience for my preferences in water and as he boondoggled a lot from the sled, I sat with hands folded a lot. When I started bringing the fly rod out to Neah Bay I think that was the last straw for him, understandably.

Anyway, Jack and I bushwacked to a favorite spot and the river was in great shape. He laced a small sand shrimp behind a small clown corky and the race was on. I stood on a logpile, staring at my flybox. Jack looked over, laughed, and said "is that how a fly fisherman does it?". I had not taken a cast yet, and we had been there for several minutes. I picked a pattern I saw in Trey Combs book, modified with a bucktail under-collar to hold the marabou out.

He continued to give me friendly grief as I walked upriver a bit, looking at a seam on the inside of the bend on the far bank above a rapid. I could see him still chuckling as I was wading in, and still hadn't made a cast. Finally, I stripped line out and made a cast.

The fly landed too close to the main current and I did not get a mend in fast enough, so the line zoomed out of the slot. I fed about 12 more feet of line out, walked 20-30 ft upriver as Jack continued to laugh at my antics.

There was a root wad creating a break in the middle of the far slot, just above the rapids that separated my pool from Jacks. I put out my best cast so that the fly landed in the softwater between the root wad and the shore, and made a near mend right away to keep the fly swimming in the wake of the wad. It was a nice slow path, cutting diagonally across and down. Nothing. The line started to tug to the middle of the river, and the fly was leaving the gut of the slot and I knew it would be zooming across the heart of the current again in an instant...

But much to my surprise a flash and the rod was bent to the cork with a dozen pounds of angry native winter buck thrashing in the tailout trying to throw the hook! I don't know if this is my own fantasy or not but I think Jack's mouth opened so wide his cigarette fell into the river.

Two casts, and I was on! The fish stayed in the upper pool, ran upriver, ran across, leaped twice, but never left the pool. Another fly angler was fishing across the river and waited for me to nearly land the fish before crossing and admiring the fish. It was a beautiful thick shouldered native buck, never removed from the water, and the barbless hook slipped out gently as the fish powered it's way back into the pool.

It was evening, and the light faded from the sky quickly as the crisp winter air dropped it's daylight warmth. As I recall it was one of the few times that I had actually humbled Jack while fishing, and I felt awkward as we made our way back to the lot. This was very rare.

I had caught many steelhead before, and caught many after - but that first winter native on a fly will never be forgotten as a special event in my angling lifetime. Funny thing is, since I went 100% flyfishing for them nearly two decades ago I remember them all individually, even on those magic fall days when I landed several before taking a lunch break.

Rick J
12-31-2004, 01:37 PM
My first winter fish came in 1976 on the Eel River at the Van Duzen Hole near Fortuna, California. I had been dabbling with fly rods as a kid and had recently gone from the "dark side" to the fly side full time. That fall I had hooked a few half pounders on the Klamath but had never fly fished for winter fish. I got up at around 5 in the morning and hurried down to the run to join the line up with my old fenwick glass and a Martin knock off reel with a full sinkng fly line!! Most guys in the line up were using conventional gear but all were great guys who made way for an obvious novice. About an hour later the line stopped and a chrome 10# fish took off down river - everyone made way for the novice as I chased down stream and finally brought him to the beach. There were a number of grumbles when I gentlly unhooked the fish and sent it back on its way!! While you don't need the latest drags on reels, that old Martin knock off was sure taxed to its limit!!

12-31-2004, 09:42 PM

I have a very good friend who closed up his fly shop here in WA when he retired about 4-5 years ago and moved back to Fortuna. He tells me the Eel is not very good for steelhead anymore, but he sure has shown me many photos of fish he got on it back in the 60's and 70's. He only fishes with a fly and shooting heads, although he hasn't moved to 2-handers he is a very good steelheader. His name is Manuel, perhaps you know him.

Back to the topic of the thread. My first winter steelhead came to me on WA's Elwha the first year I lived in WA state. I remember it will because it was the first week of December and went to the Elwha because I live in Port Angeles and it was only a 15 minute drive to go fishing. She raced out from under a log jam to take the fly (a Bob Wagner Purple Sundowner) on the strip. I was looking for late coho (the reason I was stripping the fly by the log jam) and was pleasantly surprised when the 8lb hen found herself impaled on my hook instead of a coho.

Rick J
12-31-2004, 10:41 PM
Hi Flytyer - it saddens me greatly to have witnessed the Eel going from a great fishery to an occasional opportunity - It has happened so fast it is scary!! I remeber a day up at Holmes - maybe 30 miles upstream of the mouth when I found a run of fall salmon late in the day after fishing a deep hole in a pram line up a few miles upriver - the next moring my friend and I got there bright and early and by late afternoon I had hooked and released over 20 salmon, two over 30#'s. We kept that secret for a couple of days before the word got out but the line up soon appeared - one of the most memorable fishing days ever!!

Don't know your friend but there are alot of die hards who have been fishing these runs for years. There are still moments of good fishing though I am now living farther south so do not get alot of shots at this wonderful river

01-01-2005, 12:53 PM
My first winter steelhead came to me during Christmas break from high school in 1972. I was fishing the Campell River on Vancouver Island. I was still a gear fisherman and had been having a very good week catching 3 or 4 fish per day. - I was feeling very pleased with myself, so I decided I would try to catch one on a fly.

I took my 8 wt single-hander and a type IV sink-tip and wandered down the trail to the Line Fence Pool - just below Rod Haig-Brown's house. I had just started flailing away when I noticed a movement behind me - it was Rod himself! He proceeded to give me instruction as to how to present the fly in this pool.

Needless to say I was in awe, I had read all of his books and he was beyond idol status in my young eyes. Therefore, I was not surprised when I felt a slight pluck and then the heavy weight of a fish. The fight was great and the beautiful 12 lb buck was inspiring, but the stuff of memory was being tutuored by a livong legend and a personal hero - in his own backyard pool - awesome.

01-01-2005, 02:07 PM
Kush, That is just too cool for words :Eyecrazy: Roddy himself helping you catch you first winter fish.

My fist winter fish to the fly came on the Satsop just below where highway 2 crosses the river it was March 9th. I made an extremely aggressive wade to a gravel bar. I had no real clue as to what I was doing. My presentation was taken by a 11lb dime bright native hen. I had a rather large loop of line in hand that left a nice blister on my finger as she ran. The best pictuceis still in my mind.

01-01-2005, 07:36 PM

Manuel is very saddened by what happened to the Eel as well. He began fishing it when he was a teen back in the 50's and is now 66. He often speaks of the great days he had fishing at Holmes and at the big crescent hole right in Fortuna. He really misses the fine fishing that once was on the Eel. He also tells me the Smith and Trinity are but ghosts of what they used to be.

Rick J
01-01-2005, 11:17 PM
Hi Flytyer,
Actually the Trinity has made some come back and is again a good steelhead river - I fish the Klamath alot and the Trinity that comes into it some. Mostly a late fall early winter fishery on the Trinity. The Smith is doing fair but certainly not what it was - one of the most gorgeous rivers around.

Kush - what a great story!!!! I was born and raised overseas in the Philippines but every 4 years or so we would come back to the US to visit for 3 months - I had a great Uncle that lived on Vancouver Island and we would go stay up there for a couple of weeks - what a paradise it was - he was a hard core steelheader but with conventional gear. We dabbled with flies but also as kids mostly threw spinners and such - we fished the Campbell and many other waters -some of my best memories as a kid!! - I have always wanted to get back up there but so fare have not made it

01-04-2005, 05:48 AM
I remember my first winter steelhead quite well....since it happened LESS than a year ago.

It was another Olympic Peninsula camping trip with my fishing buddy Steve. We set up camp and planned to fish 2 days up on the Queets. We got the driftboat in the river and the float was on. The first run we fished, I picked up a dolly. I never caught a dolly before so it was already shaping up to be a wonderful day. It was foggy and dense in the river valley, but by 9 or 10 the sun and blue bird sky burned it all off. It was one of the most beautiful days I have ever experienced in the rain forest. By the next we fished......My spey casting was ON FIRE. I was extremely happy with my casting. This day just keeps getting better. Down to another run Steve and I have dubbed "Miracle Mile" Steve fished through first. I came in behind him with a little bunny creation of my own. I was on the correct side of the river for my good arm and started swinging through. Bam....Fish on. He was a little guy....maybe 22 inches long. A Chrome Bright Native buck. This Day now shaped up to best day of steelheading I have ever had. After he swam away, I waded back in at the top of the run. BAM....Fish on. Another chromer little nate buck....a little bigger and with a little more spunk. At this point I asked Steve to hit me with a rock cuz this couldnt really happen to me. It was no dream though. I finished out the day with 2 more dolly's. Was a good day indeed. This happened last not quite a year ago.