Greggís excellent steelhead adventure. The short version is at the bottom if you want to skip my ramblings.
Saturday I awoke remarkably rested for my 3 Ĺ hours of sleep and greeted the blackness of 4:30am on Bainbridge Island Ė Home of Sage. With a large cup of coffee in the holder I was on my way to the Elwa River on the Olympic Peninsula. I made the banks of the river during the gray light of early morning and found the waters filled with Kings spawned out and suffering the humiliation of a pre-death decaying body. I met a fisheries worker who was gaffing salmon for their milt and eggs and he told me the steelhead were in the river but not very many. With a small chink in my optimistic armor I continued on.
As I worked every inch of water the sun rose at my back and took the chill from the air. I took a moment to admire the grand scene of mountains rising over the river and red headed vultures working the river for spent salmon. This is a truly beautiful place. I came to a small tailout that dropped immediately to the next pool and made my cast to the far bank. A good mend and then the swing begins. A bulge in the water and then a back breaks the surface as a red bodied king chases my fly across the riffle. He didnít take but my heart was pounding just the same.
A little further downstream the forest shaded the water and in the many pools and riffles were salmon stacked like cordwood. Remembering (how could I forget so soon?) the aggressive salmon I decided to target these guys since the steelhead were not cooperating. I made a few casts and was getting some interested looks when the inevitable happened. My hook found its way into the dorsal fin of one of the stacked fish and it was screaming downstream. I was quickly into backing and had to give chase down the gravel bar. After gaining a good bit of line back I began a series of roll cast like movements trying to flip out the debarbed hook but it wasnít working. The king made another run downstream and this time I couldnít follow. He was headed for a monster snag so I loosened the drag and gave him a lot of line hoping the line would get below him so he would swim upstream to fight the downstream pull. It worked and after a few more minutes the hook finally popped out. I headed back to the riffle and began the swings anew when I snagged another in the tail. After a few spectacular leaps I was able to flip out the hook. It was fun to feel a pull on the end of the line but it was obvious I was much more likely to keep snagging them than to entice a bite so I called it a day.
After 2 hours of sleep I was again on the road and headed to the steelhead warehouse of the Cowlitz. After having my confidence in skated flies reaffirmed by Juro I started the day with a skated muddler minnow. It didnít skate very well and after about an hour I changed to a caddis pupae and began fishing subsurface. On one cast the caddis was skating quite dramatically and upon inspection I discovered that I had cast a riffle knot but unlike my purposefully tied ones it was further back from the eye. I took the hint and tied on the muddler again and put the riffle hitch further back. It skated beautifully and I had learned a lesson. I didnít catch or see any steelhead this day but I missed seeing another fly guy land one by about 20 minutes. Oh well, there is always tomorrow.
With 3 hours of sleep I was again off to the Cowlitz. As I threaded Juroís rod by light of the headlamps a fog was drifting downstream and it brought to mind the spirits of the many others who had performed this ritual. Would they be with me? I believed so as I made my way to immerse myself in this magic time on the water. After only a few casts I had a swirl behind my fly but it was not very big so I didnít get too excited. (I later learned that steelhead can take a fly as delicately as their landlocked cousins so perhaps I did raise one.) About an hour later I had made the hair raising wade to an island and was looking into a beautiful sand bottomed tailout. I was about to wade in when I saw my first steelhead finning in two feet of water in bright sunshine. Not what I had been told to expect but I slowly backed up and set my fly to swing to the fish. He was not interested and it was past quitting time so I headed home.
With 4 hours of sleep I was again on the road and this time to meet steelhead flyfishing guru Brian (Doublespey) at the Monroe Starbucks. With fresh cups of Starbucks brew in our holders Brian lead the way to one of his favorite places for Summer runs on the Skykomish River. Gray light bathed the valley and awe inspiring mountains watched over us as we stepped toward the waters edge. The water was gin clear and boulders broke the flow to provide our quarry places to gather strength for the next patch of white water ahead. Brian made my fly selection and pointed to where I should start. We worked through two holes fighting a wind that would be respectable on the Monomoy flats but we did not fool a steelhead. By about 9:30 the sun was bright on the water and there was little chance of us raising one so Brian gave me a quick lesson on the nuances of spey casting. If you think single hand flycasting is beautiful you should watch a skilled spey caster. It is pure poetry. He handed the rod to me and the closest I came to poetry was a dirty limerick but I am hooked. Thank you Brian for a wonderful day on the water.
The Board Members for your advice, encouragement, and wisdom.
Brian for assuring me I was doing it right, sharing one of your special places, the company and the lesson.
Juro for making it all possible, your strategic advice, encouragement, enthusiasm, and your equipment Ė your sage rod is guaranteed isnít it?
Everybody seemed really vested in me getting a steelhead and I hope I didnít disappoint you. I assure you I am not disappointed in the least. I believe fly fishing is about reaching deep within yourself, being in the moment, and pitting your skill against the conditions and the fish. Catching a fish is a secondary, albeit enjoyable, byproduct.
I had a great time
Saw some great scenery
Didnít get a steelhead
Met and learned from a steelhead guru