Saturday, October 31, 2009

Skagititis redux

Skagititis redux

Somehow I seem to have touched a nerve in the Skagititis humor post, and some guys think I am getting all preachy. Far from the case. The intent of the entire post came from several personal experiences of myself and other anglers switching back and forth from skagit heads to short or medium length spey lines, and resulting comedy of errors that resulted. Under no circumstances should the (I thought rather humorous post) be construed as Erik disrespecting the pioneers of Skagit casting such as Bob Strobel, Harry Lemire, Ed Ward, or others too numerous to name.

Just because I choose, when the conditions allow, to use a dry line does not mean that I disdain any other form of fly fishing, nor does it mean that I believe that I am a better angler. Experimentation and learning is what it is all about. What if I do this? Will this work? How can I present my fly in these conditions? How big/small can I get away with? I am an avid fly-tier of classic flies, so that is what I use, because I think they are pretty and artful, not because I think they are better than what you are using.

As fly anglers we tend to place ourselves into groups. This is a normal process of identity forming. Inherent in human identity is both who you are and who you are not. We all tend to classify ourselves in this manner. I am better than that guy because… or I belong to this group and not that one. As Permaskunk pointed out, it can be quite silly really.

Skagit casting is a very effective method for winter steelhead. Often on our rivers with your back against the wall and overhead branches, it is practically the only way. It allows the delivery of large flies to dour fish, and allows us to fish dirty water as well. Guess what? I use it too.

What does bother me though is that seemingly the entire world of two handers jumped on the Skagit bus and now are unwilling to do anything else. Tackle companies have followed suit and the sale of running lines and short heads dominate everything. RIO discontinued the Grand Spey. It didn’t sell. If you want to find a DT line, good luck… Try the UK. The midspey was discontinued, the XLT dumbed down, etc. etc.

This leads to encounters such as the following from this past fall on a run in the PNW.

Guy from California (GFC):    “Say, saw you fishing, you land a steelhead?”
Me:                “Nope…no runs, no hits, no errors in that piece of water.”
GFC:                “What Skagit head are you using?”
Me:                “No skagit head. A Hardy mach 2”
GFC:                “Oh. The reason I asked is that I saw you stripping a lot of line.”
Me:                “That is because I was throwing the entire line.”
GFC:                “Oh… what kind of tips are you running?”
Me:                “Mmmmgfff!”

So, in conclusion, chill out. Fish the way you want, have confidence in the swung fly, and enjoy yourselves on the water… whatever line you are using. I don’t care.


Old Green Rag

The Old Green Rag:

Lest we forget that fish have tiny little brains, and that despite all our time spent tying the perfect quill Gordon or blue charm, they often will behave quite contrary to predictions, and eat pine needles off the surface, or repeatedly strike the nail knot on your leader but not your fly.

Dan Landeen printed this story in his excellent book Steelhead Fly Fishing the Nez Perce Country (2006 Frank Amato Publications)
It was told to Dan by Dale Knoche, a longtime friend of Jimmy Green
I will paraphrase here. If you want the whole story, buy Dan’s book!

An old man walked down to the water on the Grand Ronde, struggling with each step to get over the cobble. He had an old bamboo rod that had seen a lot of use.

A couple of casts in he hooked a steelhead. He was a bit shaky on his feet, so Dale offered to help him land it. He replied that he could manage. He landed the fish and after a couple more casts hooked another steelhead. This time the man was pooped, and accepted Dale’s offer of assistance.

When the fish was landed, Dale took a look at the fly the old man was using, and asked him what the heck it was. “Old green rag” was the reply. It was a piece of an old green woolen shirt simply wound about the hook. The old man said he had taken hundreds of steelhead on that fly, and that it was all he ever used.

The reason I like this story is that it takes us all down a peg or two. I like to offer pretty and traditional flies to the fish out of respect and art, but they would be just as likely to hit just about anything. Just reinforces the concept that having confidence in the fly is 90% of the battle.

Monday, October 26, 2009



A friend of mine recently coined the term “Skagititis” to refer to the syndrome of the inability to cast a ‘normal’ flyline after spending a given amount of time with a Skagit head.
For those of you that don’t know what a Skagit head is, it is a highly shortened and thickened flyline designed to allow the user to throw larger flies with heavy sinking tips. If your standard floating flyline weighs 600 grains in a 55 –65 foot head, a Skagit line for the same rod would weigh around 700 grains in a much shorter length- say 25 to 35 feet plus tip.

Sufferers of Skagititis exhibit one or more of the following symptoms when casting longer belly lines.

  • Weak D-loop formation
  • Lack of body motion
  • Lack of body twist
  • Too much anchor in the water
  • Too short a stroke

Not everyone suffers with Skagititis. Some casters can switch back and forth and adapt the length and timing of their stroke appropriately. Others however, may suffer acute Skagititis and feel that they can’t cast at all. Skagit heads are so easy to cast that my Neanderthal friend Og can do it.

I suffer from this syndrome from time to time myself, but it is curable. Simply pick up that old windcutter, delta, long-belly, or even DT line and start casting in slow motion. It all comes back.

Skagititis sometimes comes with complications. Some of these are:

  • Runninglineitis:    The malady of buying every running line on the market in search of one that lasts and does not tangle. A related problem is forumitis, which is the widespread but minor disease of dominating internet forums by obsessively posting about running lines.
  • Tangleitis:    The problem of compulsively cussing at and picking knots out of your running line.
  • Sinktip tinkeritis:    The disease of constantly tinkering and futzing with length, weight, and construction of homemade and custom modified sinking tips. In extreme cases the sufferer no longer actually goes fishing, but spends all his or her time in the garage late at night with the shades pulled and grows a long beard.
  • Sinkintheriveritis:    The issue of carrying so many different heads and sinking tips stuffed in your vest and waders that you actually sink into the bottom of the river.
  • Depthitis:    The syndrome of losing all confidence that a steelhead will move to your fly without a heavy sinktip even in 50 degree crystal-clear water.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Mentor

The Mentor

Copyright 2009   Erik F. Helm

It had been quite an evening. One of those spring twilights where the warmth of day disappears into floating mist over the stream and the blue-winged olives came alive over the riffles. Jim had caught half a dozen brookies so full of color that they seemed to glow against the gathering darkness. I had tried out a new olive pattern of my own design using a dyed wool body blended with small flecks of polar bear hair and had hooked so many fish that I had lost count. Then again, I stopped counting long ago, as I felt that the trout were individuals and not numbers, and deserved better than to be reduced to statistics. This was only the second time I had fished with Jim. President of the local fly-fishing club, he was quite the angler. Tall and thin, he stooped like a heron as he fished, and his long arms uncoiled and shot strong casts which placed the fly where he wanted it…almost. There were a few flaws in his presentation and angles of attack, but I found years ago that advice unasked for is often unwelcome, so I kept quiet.

As Jim took a seat beside me on the bank to sip hot chocolate from the thermos, he asked the question that must have been on his mind for some time. “Al, I don’t mean to pry or anything, but I have fished with some of the best trout fishermen in these parts, and I have never seen anyone fish with the almost casual perfection that you do. Do you mind telling me how the heck you got so good.”

Everyone has an ego. Some are over-inflated but delicate things always needing to be stroked or else detonate with fury or depression. Others are tiny things too hidden in existential angst to ever be totally free of entanglement. When I was younger, I wore my ego on my sleeve, as do most young men so full of life and possibility. I knew that I was damn good at fly-fishing, and having to prove myself against one and all in some testosterone driven manhood competition, I had become an asshole. At twenty-five, I thought I knew everything there ever was to know, and wanted to prove it to the world by getting in everyone’s face. I was obsessed with numbers of fish caught, and never left a rising fish.

Jim lit his pipe as I sighed in reflection, recalling with vivid memory the person I once was.

“It was like this,” I began.
“I first cast a fly when I was fifteen. By the time I was in my early twenties, I had fished my way across three states trying to prove something to myself that should have never needed to be proven. Dad may have been away too much with his job when I was young, but the ego stroking that I had undertaken showed that down deep, I doubted myself. I badly needed approbation, and looked for it everywhere…. with a flyrod.”

“It was in Pennsylvania on a small spring creek that I finally learned restraint, reflection and appreciation. An old man named Herb provided those lessons. After satisfying my ego needs by catching stocked rainbows by the dozens, I was walking back to my clunker for a can of beans when I spotted a bent figure in an old faded and stained floppy hat. He was carefully watching a riffle that was alive with rising fish, but was not casting. His rod, which was made of bamboo, rested in his still hands. I couldn’t stand it.”

“I carefully waded towards him and tossed a cast into his riffle. A 12-inch rainbow eagerly ate the fly and as I whooped in delight, he slowly turned and became aware of me. ’Well hello there!’ he said as he smiled towards me. I remember telling him that I had already caught 36 fish and that that rainbow had made 37, or something of the sort. He nodded in appreciation, ignoring my foolish and rude behavior. ‘How many you get?’ I asked him. ‘None yet, young man, I am hunting for a single fish.’”

“Hunting. I remember he used that word. I figured he was nuts or something. I strode off after that, not having introduced myself, but having proved to the old man that I could catch a fish right out of his riffle.”

“After I devoured my can of beans I began to wonder about him. There was an old green VW bus at the pullout that must have been his, but he had not returned to it. Nobody could spend a whole hour in a single riffle I thought. After all, there were more fish to be caught. As I passed the stream in eagerness to catch the last of the evening fishing, he was in the same spot. His rod was still beside him on the grass, and he was still peering through the reeds and bramble towards the riffle.”

“I don’t quite know why I decided to watch, but I did. I knelt down behind a clump of brush to watch the old coot fish. After a bit, I became worried. He sat so still that I thought that perhaps he had fallen asleep or had a heart attack, but then he moved. Ever so slowly, his head peered over the long grasses and his long bony hand picked up the rod. He made a single back cast and a slow accurate forward cast that placed his fly in a little back eddy at the side of the riffle under the overhanging grass. A half-second later the riffle exploded with a shower of droplets as a huge brown trout engulfed the fly and began an aerial ballet. He played the fish with an expertise I never would have credited him with, and after releasing it, slowly stood up.”

“I could stand it no longer, so I revealed myself and walked towards him. ‘Well hello again son!’ he said. To this day I remember this funny feeling when he called me ‘son’.  ‘How big was that fish?’ I asked. ‘Oh, I don’t measure them, but around 18 inches I would guess.’ I don’t know if it was curiosity or jealousy that made me ask how many fish he had caught out of the riffle while I was back at the car, but I did. ‘Oh, only the one,’ he replied.”

Jim nodded with understanding when I gave him a grin and half a wink. “I introduced myself then, and he told me his name was Herb. The VW bus was his. He offered me a cup of coffee and I accepted, having run out myself that morning. He was retired and a widower, he explained as he opened the rear doors of the bus and turned on an overhead light. The inside was filled to the brim with gear and organized meticulously. Overhead, fly rods of every size lined the roof of the vehicle, each in its own slot and cushioned by brown velvet. He had installed a bunk for sleeping, and a small desk for tying flies. A vise was at the ready and above the table were hundreds of small wooden drawers labeled with the names of numerous tying materials. Bookshelves covered the panel above the cot, and were filled with volumes of fly fishing literature and old leather bound books. They were all held in place by a system of straps.”

“’Just give me a few minutes, son’ he said, as he lit an old Coleman stove, and began pouring coffee beans from a brown paper bag into an antique coffee grinder. ‘Isn’t that a lot of work, that grinding stuff and all that?’ I asked. ‘Don’t you buy store-bought stuff pre-ground?’”

“’I used to’ he replied, ‘but now I just enjoy savoring the essence of the things of life.’ The coffee he handed me in an old chipped enamel cup was the best I have ever tasted, and I told him so. ‘Yea,’ he replied slowly, ‘sometimes the best in life is worth the work to attain it. How would you like to fish together tomorrow?’ he asked me. I told him that would be just fine with me. ‘Good, wake you up at 5 am.’ he said.”

“We fished together for three days, Herb and me. I thought I was good, but he tempered my raw skill with patience and refinement. We tied flies every night in the old green VW, and he taught me how to hand blend dubbing and how to spin wool bodies. We drank his coffee and he made breakfast before first light on the old stove and shared it with me. Despite his age, he was always up before me, and still active in the old bus reading when I fell asleep each night. Everything he did, from tying on a fly, to aligning the guides on his rod, to reading the water, he did with infinite patience and intolerance for anything short of perfection. His cast was the most slow and deliberate yet accurate and powerful that I have ever seen. He told me that the secret to great casting was practice, and ‘Visualizing the entire cast and presentation before you make the cast.’”

“When it came time for me to leave for my part-time weekend job at the A&W, he rummaged around in the shelves of his fishing van, and handed me a leather-bound journal. It had empty ruled pages, except the first, in which Herb had written an inscription.”

To Al;

‘Anything worth doing, is worth doing right, and anything worth knowing is worth the time it takes to truly know it. When you eat an apple, savor it. Look at the color and feel the texture. Pick it fresh from the tree, feel the bark, and smell the leaves. Sometimes, if you do it right, that one apple can be enough. Your friend Herb’

“It wasn’t right away, I was still too thick-headed, but through the next several years I began to understand what he meant, and his approach to life. We all have heroes and those we look up to, but up to that time, I had never had one myself. My nose was too far up my own ass until he showed me a different way of living, thinking, seeing, and fishing.”

Jim nodded as he tapped out the ashes from his dead pipe on the heel of his wading boot.
“I expect we all have met someone like that at one time or another in our lives. I guess that the best that we can hope for is that we are in the right mind to listen to them instead of the noise in our own head. You are a lucky man Al.”

He was right, I thought as I fingered the old journal in the inner pocket of my tattered Barbour jacket, now filled with forty years of memories and thoughts, I was a lucky man.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Change, time, the town, and the river. A parable

After attending another public hearing on dam removal, this time in the village of Grafton, WI, and listening to all the opposition of property owners and concerned citizens to the loss of the "aesthetic beauty" of the historic impoundment, and the complete lack of vision by citizenry as to what a free-flowing river can bring to a community, as it has to our very Milwaukee River upstream of the old North Avenue dam, the area of the former Woolen Mills dam in West Bend, and Waubeka, Grafton at the chair factory, etc. etc., I decided to do what I do best, and write a little story. Its setting is a fictional combination of real places, but the story runs true...

Change, time, the town, and the river. A parable

Glenton, an affluent suburban village, began its storied history as a small rural village centered on a bend in the Waumukee River. The river flowed over limestone and gravel, and exposed bedrock and boulders created natural little rapids. People were attracted to the town, and it began to grow. At dusk, local citizens and farm laborers would often fish the river for its smallmouth bass and walleye, and take a few fish home for supper. A local carpenter built affordable wooden canoes, and sold them to the villagers for river recreation. On Sundays after church, whole families held picnics along the river while the children hunted crayfish and caught tadpoles.

Then in the 1920s, a grain company constructed a mill along the river, and a dam was built in order to form a millpond. Some citizens complained to the village, and stated that the river in its natural state was an asset to the community and the fishing and outdoor activities would suffer. Progress, jobs, and tax base however, were deemed more important.

In time the bass and walleye went away, but the people no longer noticed. They began to see the carp in the impoundment as a normal state of affairs. People fed them white bread along with the ducks and geese.

Over the years, Glenton changed. The rural town situated near a large city became a haven of affluent and successful suburbanites. Old ford pickup trucks and battered country squires were replaced by SUVs. Victorian homes were crowded by new condo developments along the river, and new restaurants and trendy shops followed the growing affluence. The citizens commuted to work in the city, but enjoyed suburban comfort and safety. More and more, they became disconnected with the natural world, and began to think of the impoundment or pond as the actual river itself. Nobody living could remember an un-dammed river in Glenton, or what it looked like. It only existed in photos in the county historical society. Children no longer haunted the river in summer, being too busy with organized sports and video games.

But, rivers and time have a way of making dust of man’s best efforts to tame nature, and the dam began to decay.

Fish passage issues and safety concerns caused the state regulatory agency to issue a removal or upgrade order, and the costs of replacing the dam were astronomical. The village decided to hold a public hearing regarding the dam and its future. People crowded the little grade-school cafeteria one fall evening to express their concerns.
The newer members of the community and owners of condos and properties abutting the river worried about their property values declining.

Others spoke of mud flats and wondered what the river would look like if the dam were removed.

They worried about lost fishing opportunities, although nobody could remember the last time anyone actually caught a fish in the impoundment. People worried aloud that “They were trying to take away our river.” Many residents expressed the view that the dam and waterfall along with the pond were aesthetically valuable to the community, and that they would have no reason to live in the town if the pond went away. A sense of communal fear of change gripped the people of Glenton.

Older town dwellers spoke about the times they went swimming in the pond back in WWII, and others mourned the possible loss of still water boating. The state regulatory agency was vilified, and people cried “Not in my back yard!”

A single elderly man addressed the board and admonished the citizens. “You are afraid of change,” he said. “You are afraid of losing something, but what will happen here if the dam is removed is that we will all trade one asset for another. A river will run through town, not a still water pond. We are ignorant of what the river will look like in the future, so we grab hold of what we have and hold on for dear life, even if what we have now is but a shadow of what we could have if the dam is removed. Think with your heads, and not your hearts.”

The village board weighed the decision before them carefully, and after heated deliberation, decided that the cost of reconstructing and maintaining the dam was prohibitive. Contractors began to drain the impoundment pond and extract the silt deposited over the years. One-day large construction equipment showed up by the river, and while the villagers watched, the dam was slowly demolished.

At first, everyone agreed that the river without the dam looked terrible, but in no time the river found its original channel and began moving the silt and creating oxygenated riffles. Aquatic insects returned, and along with them the bass and walleye. Herons and kingfishers multiplied, and bald eagles were spotted.
The gravel bars and mud flats exposed by the newly free river began to bloom with wildflowers and prairie grasses.
To everyone’s surprise, property values actually went up, as the new free-flowing river became an attraction and asset again. The ducks were still there, munching on aquatic vegetation instead of wonderbread, and looking healthier for it. People still picnicked by the river, but now they no longer had to worry about the smell of algae spoiling their sandwiches. Instead, a clean crisp water smell pervaded the park along the river. Children began to explore the waters, and crayfish were again prized.

The most vocal supporters of the dam were quiet, but in time, even they had to agree that a free-flowing river was a greater asset to the community than the warm water pond the dam had created.
The head of the local business association, himself a fervent dam supporter, was seen from time to time down by the river with an old bamboo fly-rod.

Time flowed by like the river itself, and people grew up along the newly restored river like their ancestors before them, fishing, boating and enjoying the swoops of swallows and cedar-waxwings over the river every evening. In time, the dam was long forgotten, and the village board, looking to attract tourists, changed the slogan of the community to “Glenton, where the river runs free.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The IQ test

The IQ test
Or, we go fishing with Og to prove a point.

The other day I watched with facination one of those little phenomenon that make observational humor possible.
I give you the Midwest zombie salmon fisherman and the great quandary of weight and gravity.
Our Newton challenged gear and bait anglers here don’t seem to grasp some quite essential principals, even after endless trial and error. By the way, for those that are unfamiliar with the term ‘zombie salmon’, it refers to the state of decay of the fish that people are trying to catch. All wide eyes and rotting flesh.

Here is a perfect example:

The other day I noticed a guy with a spinning rod and plano box of bait/lures walk into the middle of a run below me thus low-holing me.
He cast his rig of what looked to be a treble hook and split-shot with salmon roe out into the river and in literally two seconds was hung-up on the bottom. He gave the Wisconsin heave to try to free the snag, but to no avail. He then broke the line and went back to his plano box on shore to re-rig his whatever it was that he was doing. Several minutes later he sloshed back out into the middle of the run and standing in the best holding water, made another cast. Once again, within two seconds he was hung up. Undaunted by his failure, he rigged up again and got snagged again. He repeated this for about an hour until the contents of his plano box had visibly diminished. I had moved down to another run and was back at my car to witness the progression of his fishing.

I have to give him credit. He stuck to his guns despite all logic and indications that he might want to use a bit less weight.

So, just for grins, I thought it might be fun to see if Og is smarter than the average zombie salmon fisherman.
Og is a Neanderthal of my acquaintance who lives in my basement. He is harmless and not too bright.

“Hi Og, how are you today?”
“Og good.”
“Very good, Og. How would you like to go fishing with me?”
“Fish good.”
“Excellent, Og. Here, carry the rods and reels and bait, and we will walk to the river.”
“Og walk good.”

“We’re here at the river now, and Og is going to make the first cast. O.K. Og, now toss the line into the water.”

Og throws the rod across the river and it bounces off a tree.

“No, Og, not the entire rod. Just toss the line like this…”

“Og cast good.”

Og tosses a seventy-foot cast into the heart of the run.

“O.K. Og, now start to retrieve the bait.”

“Oh oh. Og no can retrieve. It stuck.”

“All right Og, let me just break it off. Now, you tie on the hook and bait and attach the split-shot. First though, why were you stuck on bottom?”

“Og no good at gravity thing, but gravity thing make lure thing heavy and it get stuck.”

“Excellent observation, Og Now what are you going to do differently this time?”

“Og use less weight. Only attach one heavy round thing.”

So, we see that Og who is a dead end on the evolutionary tree, and in possession of an IQ barely the square root of his weight managed to figure out the great problem confronting him. Lets go back to our zombie salmon fisherman and see how he is progressing.

He is still there in the same spot. He has not moved. He is into the second large plano box of hardware he is chucking, and yes, his rig is snagged on the bottom yet again.

Sometimes I think I have found the missing link. They emerge from some hidden dimension during the salmon run, only to return back when the salmon are dead.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fast or slow?

Fast or slow?

Something I just read got stuck in my craw. A report on a Wisconsin steelhead river where the poster ‘Only caught four hens.’ So, he described the fishing as slow? Was he using dynamite? I mean come on now… what do you want? A truck from the hatchery to dump 500 fish into your run? I would consider four fish landed in a day as quite good sport.

This gets at our differing concepts of what the joy of fly fishing is all about. To me it is the scenery, the rivers, the water, wild creatures, friends, pretty flies, etc., etc.
On my recent three-week tour the fishing was challenging to say the least. The days I got skunked made the fish that more precious. Steelhead are not commodities to be tallied up. A recent product on the market is a plastic trout pin with a counter built in so that you can keep count of fish landed and best your friends and enemies. Sheesh!

Reading this post, I reflected on the fish I hit yesterday on a floating line. I boiled it on a Lord Byron hairwing, (a new original pattern), and changed flies four times to get him back. He finally ate a low water orange creation of mine not fished since 2003. I marveled at the chrome beauty of the fish and at the pretty fly lodged cleanly in the corner of its mouth. I did not need four more to make it ‘a slow day.’ One fish was enough to get all the juices flowing.

Appreciation and restraint make this sport what it is, and the soul of the matter is lost when we reduce the fish to numbers.


Interesting thought given the popularity of the hybridizing of fly fishing. Not taking any sides here. Just sharing.

Thomas McGuane, from "Live Water"

“In a perfect world, fishing with split shot on the leader wouldn't be fly fishing at all. Neither would monofilament nymphing and maybe even shooting heads. Lee Wulff said that the fish is entitled to the sanctuary of deep water. That's where most of us used to set the bar in trout fishing. We fished on top and tried to devise ways of catching big fish that way, fishing at night, fishing with greater stealth, hunting remote places that rarely saw an angler.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

Floating lines and classic flies in the Midwest?

Nah... That won't work.
Or... will it?
I have committed to fishing the floating line with classic flies this fall here in Wisconsin. As long as the water is low and the temps are above thirty five, I have confidence that the steelhead will rise to a fly. I would fish wakers and muddlers, but the low flows provide no current for waking a fly. However, I hit a chrome hen yesterday on a classic hairwing. Neat stuff!

I cannot tell you how many times I have been told that I am wasting my time fishing classic flies in our rivers with a floating line. I agree that when the water is high and cold, big flashy patterns and sink-tips will out-fish the dry line in general, but so few if any practice McMillan's winter techniques here that real experiences are hard to come by. The floating line also minimizes flies hooked on rebar or cinder blocks, although the constant presence of leaves hooked on the fly can drive one to distraction.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Three weeks in the wilds

Three weeks in the wilds

I just returned from my epic drive across North America to swing flies for steelhead in some of the most storied rivers in the world. Instead of telling fish stories let me share some learnings…

Losing weight is easy. My diet of bad coffee, granola bars, veggies, and canned soup and crackers while climbing cliffs and wading on bowling balls lost me seven pounds. I look like a skinnier Grizzly Adams now Woohoo! Only 20 more to go….

Soft rods are a joy to cast until the wind starts to blow like a hurricane. I fished runs that I re-named appropriately. These include the mistral pool, the tempest riffle, the big blow hole, the hurricane ledge rock, and the line gets blown back at you run. Enough wind already!

Waterproof camera bags work great unless they have a hole in them.

Longer belly lines are wonderful to cast until you have to perform casts off of your weak side and reach 90 feet while wading up to your chest on unstable rocks.

Riffle-hitched wet flies can out perform anything else if the conditions are right.

Full dress salmon flies are not just for salmon.

Steelhead can see everything in clear water, and small size 6 super low water flies can work.

A good fishing partner is a joy on the river, and a rare thing. Thanks W!

My skills need improvement when it comes to reaching ultimate distance with the fly turning over properly in the wind.

There is no magic bean. Time on the water is the only experience that pays. The short cuts that people are always looking for fall far short when it is time to pay the piper.

Short casts with only 20 feet or less of line out are necessary to cover pocket water and catch fish holding near shore. If I knew this fully when I fished the Deschutes, I would not have been hampered by trying to always cast across the entire river.

Even a difference in a hundred CFS in water flow can result in different holding lies and some runs will hold fish in one water level and others at a different level. The only way to discover this is fish as many runs possible and compare notes.

A wading staff is a necessary tool and not a sign of old age. I cannot believe the hazardous wades I did in years past without the aid of a wading staff. It also doubles as a hiking staff when climbing up and down basalt cliffs.

Don’t be afraid of fishing a run after someone else. Good anglers can sweep a run, but those lacking essential skills may never present a fly to the fish properly.

Watching master anglers hook a fish can be as much fun as catching them yourself.

Changing flies on bumped fish and waiting them out can work quite well.

Being polite and nice is priceless when gaining access from property owners.

Driving over mountain passes in blizzards sucks cheese.

Being from Wisconsin is a ticket for free conversation. I seem to be known as “That guy from Wisconsin.” And yes folks, we have steelhead here too. And, yes, I do know Dave Pinczkowski.

Sleeping at rest stops saves big $$ in the end over campgrounds.

Jet boats with gear anglers blow.

Western canned chili is quite good cold…

17 foot rods are a whole new ballgame. Trying C’s rod was akin to picking up a two-hander for the first time.

It is good to be home.
Steelhead were caught, memories made, equipment destroyed, reels sang, loops formed, friends made, flies chewed up, and a good time was had by all. A big thank you to W who ferried me around after my VW blew its starter. Whitney and Brian, good sharing a campfire. Chris, your puppy is adorable, and that fish you hit was HOT! William, thanks as always. You keep me humble and inspired. Carl, Very good meeting you at last. Ken, thanks for the hospitality and the scotch. May your pipes be always filled!

The 32” wild hen that button-hooked me and then went 150 yards into the backing and was landed in the next run after a death-wade down river was especially memorable.

Thank you steelhead!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The steelhead bum diaries

The steelhead bum diaries

“Hi folks! Brad here for trustafarian productions on location in BC on the X river. Chad is in the river demonstrating his Skagit technique. Whoa Chad! What a hookup! Look at that chrome missle jump! It doesn’t get any better than this, folks! Baked lobster for lunch, and chrome fever all day. Say Chad, that’s about a twenty pounder, don’t ya think?”
“Yup, twenty-five maybe, Brad.”

We interrupt the current program to bring you the following excerpt from reality, sponsored by the classical angler…

Cut to a river somewhere in the PNW.

River journal… day one.

Got up before dawn. Morning temps in the thirties. Wading boots frozen. Ate a granola bar and drank instant coffee that tastes like cat pee. Drove to run and arrived first. Suited up and crawled down loose scree to enter river. Twisted ankle in process. Made several casts and boiled one fish before jet boat roared into run and began pulling plugs and chucking roe. Crawled back up scree and boulders to car. Had to choose path with least poison ivy and snakes.

Went to second run. Wind coming from upstream and howling. Casting difficult at best. Went to run on other side of river to allow for correct casting, but wind changed directions and is now blowing upstream. Tried to get to another run, but car won’t start. Got towed to little car place in town run by a guy full of tattoos. $600.00 later I am sitting in my tent shivering and drinking a can of local beer that makes PBR taste like mana in comparison.

Day two.

Got up at O’ dark thirty and drove to nice piece of water. Made two casts before waders began to leak. Repaired them temporally with candy bar wrapper and chewing gum. Hit a fish half way through run. Fish took out drag and came off. Fell in river and soaked camera. Watch died too. Wind is now howling directly at me. Went back to camp to wait out the wind.

2 PM. Wind subsiding. Raining now. Will fish the glory hole in a few minutes.

4 PM.  Blanked at Glory Hole. Dropped fly box in water and must dry it out.

6 PM. Last light. Rolled huge steelhead in glassy tailout on a hitched wet. Could not get it back. Will try again tomorrow. Ate cold soup from the can for dinner.

Day three.

Got one small 23” steelhead on a muddler. Where are the big fish?

Day four.

Pressure increasing. Hundreds of anglers descending on river. Dozens of drift boats floating today. Lost a nice fish this afternoon. Changed flies and got second pull, then nothing. This is a lot of work. Camp host went nuts last night and kicked me out. Thought I was a heretic. Now sleeping in my car. Got low-holed by a guy in the last run. Went to confront him, but thought better of it when I saw his bib overalls and crossed eyes. Caught one squawfish.

Day five.

Finally hooked and landed a nice 32” wild hen. Beautiful fish. Got so excited I fell in the river again. Waders leaking at seams. Skin drying out and cracking and bleeding. Sunburn on face peeling. Ate cold ravioli from can for dinner. Staying in car at side of runs. Freezing at night.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program…

“Hey Chad, nice shades dude! Let’s get the glory shot with that fish! Hold it out toward me and cock your hat. That’s it! Hold it out more. Perfect. What a nice fish. We are kicking some ass in BC, I tell ya! Let’s cut filming for an hour and hit the lunch wagon. Pierre has grilled tenderloin for us, and a set of dry waders. Cigars all around, dude!”


I would like to remind readers out there that although this diary is somewhat fictional, the fact is that for every glory shot, we have to go through sacrifices and put in time on the water. Large production videos with entire support teams don’t exist for most of us. Cold soup out of the can anyone? All that hard work makes that electric grab all the more of a religious experience. I would not have it any other way…
Except perhaps the car breakdown, the dead camera and watch, the blown out waders, the new wading boots that the laces died on, the snakes and poison ivy, the wind, etc. etc. etc.

Nah… It is all good.

This is what steelheading really is. Tough hard work. Hitting six or seven runs a day from dawn to dusk hoping for that magic hookup. Living in primitive conditions, constantly cold, hot, or wet, and subsisting on a diet of gas station goo and terrible coffee. I would love to see a video of this.