Monday, November 24, 2008

Arctic steelhead...sort of

Winter steelhead, Midwestern style.

I went down to the river the other day just because… well, it was good exercise, I needed to get out, etc.
The Milwaukee was about one quarter covered by shelf ice in the slower sections. I had to break ice to get into the river. Conditions were clear and low. So low, in fact, that I had to use a clear intermediate polyleader to avoid getting hung up on rocks. For the few PNW readers out there, this is classic winter steelheading in the Midwest. Water temp was 33 degrees, air temp 38 degrees. I didn’t think I had a hope of touching a fish. I was in the tail of the run making literally the last cast before my fly would hang up on shallow rocks when I got this pretty fish. Carl, a fellow addict from Illinois watched the whole thing. He was positioned on the bank adjacent where my fly was swinging. He saw the fish appear like a ghost out of the deeper water, follow the fly into the shallows, and eat it. The fly was an unweighted string leech which was probably running two or three inches deep. Steelhead are aggressive fish! Why the fish are choosing this time and conditions to come in from the lake puzzles me.
After a couple of hours, the shelf ice began to break up and I kept getting hit by mini-icebergs in the rear end. When my fly froze into the ice on the other side of the river, I broke it off and called it a day. A VERY lucky day with frozen feet.

Thanks to Cory and Crystal Tedesco for the picture.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pulling a Mulligan

The other day I was fishing a sweet little run with quite a few overhanging trees. This is typical of many runs on the river, and one often should ‘take stock’ of the surroundings before casting and hitting your rod on a branch. The wind was blowing downstream rather hard, and I was using an offhand reverse double spey, the proper cast for the conditions…except when faced by the tree over my left shoulder. I was forced to cast off my right shoulder for a few yards in order to avoid a tree incident. I used a circle-spey with an intentionally long anchor. As the cast came around and I shot it forward, A sudden gust of wind hit the line, and the trajectory of the fly put it right into my hat, launching the hat forward into the river. How embarrassing. At least I didn’t put the fly in myself!
That got me thinking of all the crazy mishaps I have perpetrated through the years.

One time years ago while fishing for trout with an ultralight spinning outfit, I made an errant cast way up and over a tree limb hanging over the stream. I slowly retrieved the spinner only to find it attached to a 10” creek chub that was now slowly ascending into the tree, wiggling in protest and disbelief. I sure was glad nobody was there to see that one. “Fishing in trees now Erik?”

While teaching a casting clinic to a local club I demonstrated what happens when one puts a jerky stop in the rod on the forecast. I had expected a nice tailing loop and resulting knot, but the amazingly complex knot I threw into the flyline itself was something I never could repeat. I couldn’t pick it out, so I sort of made do through the line speed portion of the class, double hauling the line complete with birdsnest. That is when the club decided to take the photo for their newsletter. D’oh!

On a big western river, I was swinging bombers for steelhead, when my running line tangled in a beautiful macramé pattern no doubt due to being overpowered by me. I was trying to pick out the knot when the inevitable happened. A steelhead of my dreams, chrome and full of energy, chose that exact moment to eat my bomber and head back for the pacific. Of course, I broke him off. Then resulting swearing is still echoing through the river canyon these years later.

On the Klickitat I once fished an entire run without a fly. I must have snapped it off on the first cast, and never checked. Obviously, I didn’t have a chance of hooking a fish.

On the Deschutes I was changing to a sinktip after the sun was on the water. I rigged up everything and tied on a nice fly, and then made a cast that seemed strange. What was strange was that I had forgot to actually loop the sinktip to the flyline, and it was now at the bottom of the river.

Another time on the Sheboygan I was fishing with sinking polyleaders when my homemade braided loop connector failed. I made the most amazing cast, sailing the fly clean across the river and onto the golf course. Fly, tippet and polyleader gone. Double bogey.

We won’t even talk about the day I learned to row a driftboat.

It all started long ago when I was in junior high, and I was going to a small-bore target shooting practice. The range was down at the bottom of a stairs in the basement of a police station. I was carrying my competition target rifle, spotting scope, and various satchels of various gear, when I slipped at the top of the stairs, fell all the way to the bottom, and landed in a heap preceded and followed by my baggage, now open and spilling all over the floor. One of the other kids smiled upon my bewildered face, and turning to the others, said “Well, Erik is here!”

What are some of the goofy things that have happened to you?
Place them in the comments under this posting, and let the fun begin!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Meditation on the swung fly

The other day I observed a group of four fly fishermen walking around the water in search of fish spawning in riffles. They wandered all over the river and only found a very few half-dead salmon to flip their glo-bugs to. Then, they went home. I thought of all the opportunities they were missing by adherence to the standard gravel-raping techniques embedded in the psyche of our Midwest salmon and steelhead fishermen. The common thinking is that one fishes for salmon in the fall and steelhead in the spring; the time being when each species is actively spawning and available for sight-fishing. Steelhead are aggressive fish, and one does not have to hit them on the head in order to catch them.
In trout fishing one fishes the rise with a dryfly, or repeatedly nymphs a slot. In steelhead fishing we are able to cover a lot more water by swinging flies at various depths.
I refer to this as 'fish to the fly', rather than 'fly to the fish'.
Think of it this way. A fish has no hands to examine things, only a mouth. Thus, the take of a curious or annoyed steelhead to a fly swinging into their vision is quite different and more certain then a fish eating an egg bouncing the bottom. Glo-bug enthusiasts are missing this. Do this experiment with a dog; let the dog take a ball from your hand and he or she usually takes it gently and then chews on it; then throw the ball at the dog and watch what happens; the dog attacks the ball.
Also sight-fishing is so limiting. Only in the right circumstances can one observe steelhead spawning, and if at all possessing a set of ethics as to the sporting chase, we should leave them alone.
Sight-fishing has the added drawback of negating any progress in reading water. That is why those four guys the other day went home. There were fish in the river (even if I didn't hook any), but simply because they didn't see any, they abandoned the effort.
There is also something to be said for the expectation, hope, and tension that is experienced when sending your fly on its way into the unknown in hope of a bright connection.
The takes on a swung fly are not always spectacular. One may feel a pluck, lick, stop, bump, or etc. But, once in awhile the take can be murderous. I have been fortunate enough to have experienced these sort of takes, and the screaming runs that follow. Fish run better in pools and runs then they do in a foot of water over gravel.
One thing is for certain; a fish that takes a swung fly wants the fly. There can never be the doubt that creeps in to any thinking anglers head when he or she hooks a fish on the beds. "Did it eat my fly, or did the fly just lodge in its mouth after the 487th drift past it?"
In my experience, swung flies in fast water produce the most violent and decisive takes. The fish has literally one or two seconds at the most to make up its mind to eat or crush the thing that is fluttering so seductively and annoyingly past it.
I know I am just talking into the wind here. Those of you who follow my strange thinking are like-minded, while I expect those that don't care, well... don't care.
Art for art's sake?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Play in the cold

The fish have arrived along with the freezing temperatures. This is the time when chrome connections are made while attempting with futility to keep ice from building up in your guides. A time where no socks are 'too heavy' or warm enough. A time when arctic fox wings on tube flies freeze solid when walking back to the car, and passers-by make comments as to our obvious mental challenges as we trudge out of the river with our waders covered in frost and ice.
Our smiles freeze on our faces. We know...

I ran into Cory T. on the river and fished with him for a few hours. Cory can cast and fish like slow-motion poetry. He landed a nice fish behind me in a run that I half-heartedly fished as I always get snagged and lose flies. The fish was hot, and smacked his fly and jumped and ran upstream so fast we both thought it had spit the hook. We then went to another run to finish the evening ( gets dark early no?). I hooked a good bright fish which got off. If the fish had run at all, I would have solidly hooked it, instead, it just came to the surface and twisted while I was attempting to set the hook. Nice to raise a fish though. Cory had a similar experience a few minutes later. The steelhead seem to be fond of lying in deep slow water instead of deeper riffles.

In the past several days I have hooked the full monty of the Milwaukee.
I landed this nice chunk of bailing metal on a big black fly. It fought pretty good for its size. I also hooked this coho with lots of teeth while stripping my fly back to me.
Another catch was a hook and line attached to a rock used as a sinker. It actually felt like a bass as it fluttered down after each time I lifted it.
Wonder what I will catch next?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bright connection...

Finally. All it took was a heck of a lot of perseverance. The fish simply took out six inches of the loop. I felt nothing for around ten seconds or so, then lifted the rod, felt resistance, and set the hook. A pretty buck. The swing is so slow here compared to out west that several times I almost fell asleep. I am awake now!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

When all is dreary...

I was going to fish today. I even put on all the undergarments and carried my bag to the car. The temperature was 35 degrees. It was snowing, and a strong upstream wind was blowing. Combined with the low water and no fish, I chose to stay in my apartment, drink hot cocoa, listen to Bach's b-minor Mass (Solti-Chicago) and tie bright things on a dark introspective day. While being moved to tears by possible the most sublimely beautiful music ever written I came up with this. The upper photo is of a more formal approach, while the lower constitutes a fishable and quicker approach.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Another beautiful quote

Testament of a fisherman
by John Voelker AKA Robert Traver

"I fish because I love to; because I love the environment where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape; because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude or humility and endless patience; because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don't want to waste the trip; because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there; because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid; and, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the concerns of men are equally unimportant---and not nearly so much fun."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Latest tube

A reduced Balmoral with spey style bronze mallard wings over natural black bear. I eliminated the golden pheasant tippet for this one. Body is a single dubbing loop of yellow SLF fading into highlander green angora goat blending into blue SLF and kingfisher blue angora goat.
Have to do something while it rains...

Water wish

It is raining now, or at least dribbling. I am doing a rain dance.
Here is to wishing as much water in our river as in the photo.
(Yours truly going into the maelstrom on a Washington river.)
And yes, I was scared..

Monday, November 3, 2008


Sometimes I feel as if I am tilting at windmills here. Websters defines 'Quixotic' as impractical or impracticable. I would add romantic blended with delusional and futile.
Which... is what I feel like on our local river as I charge forth to fish empty water in search of a dream. I wonder where the fish are?

But, in reality, this is what makes steelhead fishing the sport it is. The longer one goes without a grab, the more the grab is appreciated when it finally comes. We are like people who repeatedly hit ourselves in the head with a hammer because it feels so good when we stop, or like a man who walks across a desert solely because the drink of water on the other side tastes so good.
I think I need a psychiatrist.... I feel the windmill calling....