Wild summer fish are a true prize. I don't fish the NF Stilly much, so I haven't had the pleasure of more than a couple encounters with the Deer Creek Natives.
There have also been a couple fortunate encounters in the headwaters of the Olympic Peninsula rivers, but for the most part the west-side (Washington) summer steelhead w/adipose that I'm luck enough to catch usually look identical to their hatchery counterparts and i usually assume they're either progeny of stream-bred hatchery fish or just lucky individuals that avoided the knife as smolt.
I took Friday afternoon off to head to the upper Skykomish (and hopefully above the gear-fishing crowds that hang around the Reiter hatchery) for a little late afternoon solitude and a chance to do some fishing with my good friend and steelhead magnet Leland.
After killing an extra hour or so stuck behind a very bad accident on hwy 522, we finally met up at a favorite burger joint for a quick bite for the road and headed to one of my favorite runs.
Unfortunately, 2 gear guys (they must have gotten lost
) were fishing in the tailout of the favorite run. Instead of fishing secondary water as I normally would have done,, Leland and I decided to go to the head of the run and fish down behind them.
They were cordial and one mentioned that "there were fish in here" as he'd just lost a big one that took him down into the rapids and broke him off. We wished each other well and headed off to the upper water.
Being a gentleman, Leland offered to wait while I started at the head of the pool. Knowing we only had a couple hours to fish at most, I suggested he just find a place that looked good below me and jump in. Big Mistake!
Three casts later, I look downriver and see his rod bent. Then I hear the Hardy start to howl. The fish makes his runs, tires out and I tail him. A small fish of about 4 pounds, he's just beginning to get his rainbow colors. He still has his adipose and looks totally different from the Skamania hatchery fish I've caught from this river. He's unhooked and is on his way.
After congratulations and a bit of Scotch, Leland retires for a little cigar smoking while I head back to my waiting rod in the upper run. After a few minutes of casting, I'm approaching the "gut" of the pool. As we're talking, my line comes tight in the fast water and another steelhead climbs on. This one's a jumper - it tailwalks across the run, jumps about 10 times and quickly tires itself out. It's a slightly smaller and brighter version of Leland's fish - a hen that also has her adipose.
We get a few more pulls, but no more solid hookups before dark. We see a few splashes - possibly chasing the PMDs that were hatching.
Wild fish in a wild setting are what it's about for me - like Sean, I've fished the terminal areas of most of the local rivers and caught many fish there. But there's nothing quite like standing on a fine run after catching and releasing a native steelhead, looking at the amazing scenery around you, hearing the sounds and soaking in the complete experience.
And I have a newfound appreciation for my home river. I've spent many hours fishing it's runs throughout the year. But the knowledge that there's a population of native summer steelhead that still return here makes it that much more special for me.
Tight Lines y'all!