The society of steelheaders - Fly Fishing Forum
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Old 06-25-2003, 07:21 PM
Jeff Jeff is offline
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The society of steelheaders

There has been some interesting talk in an other thread and it got me thinking about being a steelheader and how I learned it. I learned it from my Dad and secondarily by some North Umpqua boys. I learned the secretiveness of it except with your mates. There are two people I won't ever lie to about reports My dad and a good friend. And of course My North Umpqua cohorts as that is half the fun. I learned to be vague at an early age as most of us do and there are a bunch of guys I will do that too. But it kind of sounds like some guys think that steelheaders are total loners. Do you all see it that way.

But I guess the question that I have to me part of the steelheading tradition is having your angling friends. Sharing a cigar or two. Trading tails and talking about where we fished the day. So how do others see that.

I am not for totally spreading stuff on the net but if someone calls me or I see someone I know on the river to me sitting and BSing is part of the sport I enjoy.

Ok I am done. And I am sure no one will ever talk fishing with me again.

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Old 06-25-2003, 08:54 PM
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kush kush is offline
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Good question JJ,

I am of two minds, while on one hand I am fiercely secretive and often downright hostile about certain waters, at the same time I feel that there are some places that are so well known that to be secretive about them is ridiculous. That said, we all have our pet holes on well known waters and I guess this is the crux of the matter as I see it.

One needs to earn knowledge of a river. It is fine to talk about techniques, lines, flies, etc. - I'm all for that. But as for "kiss and tell" about spots or even rivers that can't handle the "tragedy of the commons" is self-defeating - if not just dumb.

I am not generally one who runs around from river to river looking for the mother lode. Instead, I take great joy and eventually pride in being able to stumble around and discover my own honey holes on a few favoured rivers. I put in the time, so I guess it shouldn't be a suprise when I get upset by "loose lips".

The chosen few with whom I share my hard earned knowledge are expected to respect that it is hard earned and therefore valuable. I will be damn certain that I respect the gift of any waters that are shared with me. There is nothing wrong with this kind of code. It is time honoured and the practice should be encouraged within the "internet community".

My 700+ posts on this Forum is a pretty clear indication that I don't mind talking about steelheading, or sharing tips, techniques or flies - I'll even get out there and give casting instruction. A little BSing and some shots (cheap or otherwise) at friends and aquaintences are all great fun (right duck-boy?). But the discovery of fishing waters should be a personal quest.
Tight lines - tyler.

Still Living Large!
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Old 06-25-2003, 08:56 PM
SparseHairHackl SparseHairHackl is offline
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I think I see it similarly. I'll talk about "what" (rod/leader/fly), and even a little about "how" (to cover the water and find an aggressive fish), with newcomers wherever they may be found, but I won't talk about "where" except with somebody who already knows where a lot of the "where" is.

Using the N. Umpqua as an example--I fished the river for many years with minimal to modest success. But I never pumped anybody for information as I think people just need to pay their dues a bit, me included. As I started to learn the river a little more, I learned the names of various places I fished. Prior to that, I knew the names of holes from books, but didn't know what hole I fished when I fished it. So, I couldn't talk "where" with anybody anyway. Now, because of my personal explorations, I have a number of places I like, named and unnamed, that get relatively little pressure.

Mostly, I want to know people will respect the river and the fish before sharing too much information on catching fish. In this case, respect means to have concern for the future of the fish and of the sport. Numbers of fish mean little (good thing for me, although I'm doing better the last few years).

I certainly enjoy good company to share successes and screwups. I recently had the opportunity share time on the river with someone who possibly cares about the river even more than I. It was a treat, though our fishing wasn't fruitful. Even though much of it is unimportant to future success, it is still fun to share the day's stories about where we fished, what flies we used, what time of day the fish struck, etc.

Being helpful to a newcomer is not an obligation, but it is an opportunity to teach conservation and ethics as well as, perhaps, a little of the what and how. If the newcomer is truly interested in the resource, and maybe history and traditions, and not just interested in hooking into a stupid finned critter, they're likely to get just a bit better info.

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Old 06-25-2003, 11:52 PM
flytyer flytyer is offline
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I couldn't agree with you more. When I moved to Port Angeles 12 years ago I went about exploring the rivers on the north and west ends of the OP by foot because I didn't own a boat then. I walked several of the rivers from the mouth to the last available access point you could drive to. This provided invaluable information to me that I will only share with those I know are good fisherman, conservationists, and whom I know I can trust not to have loose lips.

I have also found some wonderful runs on my local rivers that I have only taken 2 people to other than my wife and kids. Most of these runs don't look like much, but they hold fish and have been generous to me. Occasionally I will run into someone I know at one of these runs who found it the same way I did, and I have always enjoyed fishing it with these folks.


I agree that meeting someone on the river you know, or introducing yourself to someone at the end of fishing through a run or the end of the day is a most enjoyable way to end the day, morning, afternoonl, or evening. However, I have never spoken of specific places I had fished that day unless I know the other person is familiar with the area.

In fact, one my my best friendships developed because I began conversing with a fellow fisherman after quitting for the day that I had never met before. And he and I very seldom talk fishing, even when on the river together. We talk about literature, movies, psychology, family, politics, education, and writing and can do so for hours without realizing how much time has gone by. Our wives usually end up reminding us how long we have been conversing and let us know that it is probably time to call it a night.
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Old 06-26-2003, 12:10 AM
Nailknot Nailknot is offline
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>>Trading tails and talking about where we fished the day>>

I don't like to trade my "tail" with my fishing buddies!! (unless I'm done with it).

The latter, over some Dickel (no pun intended), is one of life's finest moments.
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Old 06-26-2003, 12:42 AM
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NrthFrk16 NrthFrk16 is offline
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Jeff...this has the makings of one Hell of a great discussion although (no offense to Juro and Flytalk) this would be a discussion better tackled when we are all standing around a gravel enjoying the last bit of light after a hard day's fishing.

Anyways...for whatever reason...I always wanted to steelhead. I always wanted to be a steelheader etc. etc. This 'affliction' came on after picking up a copy of Steelhead Water at the ripe old age of 12!

Arnold's book had one Hell of a large impact on my life. And as much as Bob manages to create enemies and not be the most favored steelhead in our local circles, I will always have him to thank for shaping who I am today.

Arnold not only introduced to the North Fork but he put me in touch with the history, the legends and the folklore that surround steelhead fishing. He introduced me to the 'society of steelheaders' and it there I remain!

My mentors were authors-many of which instilled ethics upon me subliminally, great fishers and tiers that I followed around or were introuduced to at a young age as I took up working in a tackle shop at 15 (Alec Jackson and Joe Butorac were the two that had the largest influence on me) and a couple steelhead junkies who I worked with.

They were not solely fact, they would take a shrimp tail any day over a marabou spider. But, I was damn lucky to get introduced to much of the water that they learned on their own or was introduced to them. In general (after learning my lesson), I remained pretty hush-hush about the water and the techniques that were shown to me!

And I began to feel a little inadequate as it seems that water was always being shown to me but I could never return the favor to them. So the occasional time or two when I found a piece of water that held fish, I was so proud and so excited to return the favor and point them towards a piece of water that produced for me. And I was just as proud to claim it as my own and in turn, only tell the select few.

There is much water on my home river that I know better then anyone within 10 years of my age and at this point I having a Hell of a great time searching out water I can call my own...and I have found some!! ...and the more water I search out and discover on my own, the more exploring I want to do.

Given that for so long, so much was handed to me because I had the oppurtunity to fish with and learn from a couple of the best steelheaders around (bait/fly) at such a young age, I am just now getting that feeling of accomplishment from finding fish on my own accord. Although I will admit, I now get to work with a couple great steelhead flyfishers around and their insight and direction is only making me a better steelheader!

And, I have always found steelheading to be a very personal sport. I dont share anything beyond the obvious with anyone that I do not consider a good freind. When it comes to spending a day steelheading with someone, if I am invited I am very very uncomfortable (because I find steelheading to be so personal) unless I know that person very well and consider them a good freind...and vice-versa.

Anyways...was this what you were looking for Jeff???? ...excuse my long winded response that may not have actually answered the question you were asking! :eyecrazy:
Ryan S. Petzold
aka Sparkey and/or Special

Last edited by NrthFrk16; 06-26-2003 at 12:50 AM.
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Old 06-26-2003, 01:22 AM
Nailknot Nailknot is offline
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Hard won?

While I don't share my spots online, I don't think it is possible to stop the flow of info. After all- none of us "own" our spots anyway. Maybe for an hour, maybe a day. The sense of adventure is available for those who want it. Staying one step ahead... or heck, some of the spots given for dead will produce in solitude with the right timing. Strikes me just a bit ironic that those we rely on for tradition, didn't give a sh*t about what happened before them, they created their own fishery/reality. I guess tradition lies in what aspects of those pioneers you see value. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I mean no ill will to the accomplishments of those who figured it out "first"... I just respect a different aspect of their motivation vs. accomplishments. Obviously the destruction of the resource plays a big part in opportunity now. You and I both know it: there's a kid out there who hasn't read anything, has no idea of this "steelheader tradition" who is absolutely in tune with the river, reaping the rewards in "ignorance" while teaching us all, in his silence, what it really means. To me, that soul, is fishing purity.

We age and take on stewardship responsibility. We think too much- but we have no choice. It's our duty. But I think it's wrong to ruin the innocence out of spite. Over 25 years ago my grandfather taught me how to fish for trout in a special place behind the family cabin. He even named a large rock after me. That rock went away after a big runoff several years ago. The fishery is pretty much gone, just 12" planter rainbows under the bridges. To sit and bitch about what's gone at the cabin, is a level of disrespect I refuse to participate in. Taking the knowledge he passed to me, and passing fishing stories of new spots and good times back, fulfills the "tradition." As for clubs, books, other peoples agendas... whatever.
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Old 06-26-2003, 01:23 AM
speybum speybum is offline
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Thumbs up Well said Sparky

Most of us learn from our heroes and mentors.

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Old 06-26-2003, 03:09 AM
Nooksack Mac Nooksack Mac is offline
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The Roads Not Taken

Steelheading -- the ethos, the tradition, the purity of its pursuit -- is drawing out unusual eloquence in this thread.
I won't attempt to match it. I'll just add a few words about the nitty-gritty of exploring on one's own. Some streams wander far from any access points, so can only be explored by boat. The majority, however, more or less follow a road downvalley. But much of the stream's length is away from the road and requires a determined effort to reach. Unless it's dedicated wilderness, most of this stream mileage is next to someone's property, and that means an access road or driveway of some sort.
This last season, I finally turned down an access road to a dozen or so homes and cabins, a road that I'd always overlooked during the 32 years I've been fishing the Skagit River. I found an excellent drift behind an undeveloped lot, with short, easy access that didn't involve No Tresspassing signs or sociopathic dogs. So this drift is a bright new addition to my personal collection along the Skagit. And I could have had it decades earlier.
Here's my suggestion: unless you're fishing on a tight schedule, allocate part of every trip to explore some new potential access. You'll fail more often than not. But your successes will become some of your favorite places on this earth.
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Old 06-26-2003, 08:30 AM
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juro juro is offline
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However you slice it, steelheading on the fly is serious stuff and you want to go with a quiet wader who is less lucky than you are or someone you can learn a lot from.

Seriously I love the camaraderie but in steelheading there's only a certain amount of the river you can share effectively in a day. The friendly competition of one or two buddies on a good stretch of water is fun. Funny how these relationships work out, I fished with a friend for years who hooked but never landed a fish while together, I more often than not landed multiple steelies fishing ahead or behind him, and he took all of the pictures I have of fish from those days. I made the mistake of joking that he was a great photographer to have along. :hehe:

Of course I get to be the photographer a lot too

The ramblings of the mind as the lone angler swings through a secret hole is also fun. It's hard to see the world more clearly than when your mind is fully freed by the lull of a steelhead river's flow.

Half of what we know as steelheaders comes from observing others, no sense in denying that. Even if we do so begrudgingly. I have a fly pattern that has been one of my top three killer steelie flies that is based on a tightwad drift gear's trick to save bait by tying some feathers and stuff on a hook. I stumbled down the bank to help him land his umpteenth fish and saw what he was using... a flyish kind of thing that inspired me for hours at the vise. Of course they look nothing like each other anymore but the notion, the concept, the bang behind the creation is the same.

When we hold a big conclave in the saltwater, you could have 50 guys on the same beach and it doesn't affect your odds much. In fact it can tell you when to expect a hit or when to switch a fly, it actually helps you.

One good way to hold a fish-in with a group is to spread to different rivers or stretches and alternate, meeting at the camp for that tin cup of malt at the end of the day.

In fact I hope to be raising a toast with many of the fine anglers and friends from the Forum someday soon!
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Old 06-26-2003, 09:52 AM
OC OC is offline
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Very nicely said by all. Tradition is time honored, it changes ever so slowly. In order to have tradition one must practice it over and over again.
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Old 06-26-2003, 11:52 AM
Jeff Jeff is offline
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I wrote that first post during the end of a day and it totally rambled and made no sense (as I am prone to do). Everyone did such a great job expressing what I meant and it makes me smile. Thanks guys. Tyler hit it right on head. I don't think I could have said it any better.

I am enjoying seeing everyone response. I like what Tyler said aobut people earning respect. The NFU was definately a place I learned that.

OK back to my hole. As I don't know what I am trying to say anymore.

It is nice to know that this group of anglers is as cool as I thought they were. This is kind of the virtual bar room to have a few brews and spin some tails and talk some shop.

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Old 06-26-2003, 01:55 PM
flytyer flytyer is offline
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As you know, Bob Arnold is a very close friend of mine and you also know that he can be both a cratchety, cantankerous old fart, or very generous man, and that this depends on how the person treats or comes across to him. Bob has taken me to his favorite runs on a certain east slope of the Cascades river and has shared its secrets with me.

I also have two very good friends living in Port Angeles on whom Bob's book STEELHEAD WATER has had a mojhor influence in their fishing. And a good friend who had moved to Fortuna California since he retired 4 years ago who has been both influenced and in much agreement with what Bob had to say in both STEELHEAD WATER and his book on dry line steelhead.

Alec has also shared some of his knowledge of rivers with me, as had Joe Butorac. And for this I am very grateful. However, none of these folks volunteered any information to me until after I had gotten to know them and they decided that they could trust me with the information (meaning I wouldn't blab) they had acquired the hard way.

George McKleod has also shared with me and I also make it a point to stop and talk with George when I see him at his camp on the Stilly. Mike Kinney, John Farrar, and Trey Combs also come to mind as folks who are well-known who I enjoy running into on the river and BSing with.

There are many people who are well-known for trout fishing or fly tying who have also crossed my path and who have been generous with techniques and information of value. And I feel very fortunate and blessed to have had all of these people cross my path over the 45 years I've been fly fishing.

Perhaps this is why we have a genteel comaraderie among fly fishers. We acknowledge our mentors and the past literature of the sport and take time to simply enjoy the natural world within which our chosen quarry swims the rivers of. All of us have come from somewhere and are also on the way to somewhere in our fly fishing.
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Old 06-26-2003, 04:03 PM
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sean sean is offline
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Well I will have to say I was a little taking back about my post about fishing the lower section of some river started all this. Thought I was being coy but I guess not coy enough. Have learned to be a little more tight lipped in public. However if you hang out with me I am usually more than happy to share if I like you. Thing is I fish by myself 95% of the time so there is usually no one to share with.

My steelhead bum path has been a little different than most. Have always been a self starter and one day decided I would try to catch a steelhead. Read everything I could and started pounding the water. Decided the grip'n'grin "steelhead school" path was not for me. The first year and a half was tough. Only 2 fish hook on the Stilly and that was in my first month fishing. I thought it was going to be easy after those first two. Wrong. I am all about paying my dues though and things are getting much better.

As for mentors I can honestly only say there are two people who I interact regularly enough to learn anything from. One lives in Boston and really jumped started my learning curve. Thing is when he comes out here he catches all the fish and all I can do is shake my head in digust .

I am all about the respect factor with other steelheaders and the rivers themselves. The one thing I have always tried to do in my pursuit is to not step on any toes. Hell, I will not even fish new waters unless spefically invited by someone from that area.

Being the king of a specific piece of water rather than a peon of many is my focus.

Respect is something that I feel is being lost in the sport and a good deal of the trangressions seem to be coming from my age group which is unfortunate. Probably why I do not have any fishing partners...

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Old 06-26-2003, 04:51 PM
KerryS KerryS is offline
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I caught my first steelhead in the Rogue river about 40 years ago and except for a brief time commercial fishing, steelheading is what I really enjoy.

I was taught how to fish for steelhead with a fly by some fishermen on the Skagit that most will never hear of. They didn't write any books although volumes of knowledge could be gleaned from them. They don't guide and none of them has created a killer fly pattern published in a book although many flies have been created and caught fish. They are an unassuming group that does not seek any recognition for steelhead fishing.

They are people that enjoy putting a fly into the corner of a steelhead's mouth and the ensuing struggle for life. That is what the fish bring to my mind so clearly. That primal drive to continue to exist. Perhaps that is what takes me to the steelhead river and my friends that taught me.
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