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September 23, 2011 / flogginwater

Steel!

This week’s fishing trip was amazing. I hit up the North Coast again this week, hoping to get into some more sea run cutthroat trout. I only took my Echo switch rod on this trip, leaving behind my single hander. I had the rod rigged up with a Scientific Anglers 9′ 4X leader, to which I added a length of 5X tippet to allow the wet flies I was fishing sink more quickly.

I began in the upper legal-to-fish part of this particular river. A few small fish, nothing major. I got a late start, so I wanted to get downstream and have a better shot at more, and bigger fish. We’d received a bit of rain in the last week, and rain stirs up the coastal river fisheries pretty well, and spurs fish holding in tide waters into moving upriver.

So I jumped back in the car and drove down to the lower reaches of the river, and found a place I’d never fished before. Caught a few more fish, before heading down river to a place I know pretty well. I fished this section hard, and pushed downstream to a reach I’d never fished before, after catching a bunch more fat sea run fish in the 8-12 inch range with the Woolly Bugger. The good ol’ WB was THE pattern the fish wanted today – my usual soft hackle wets (normally cutthroat crack) got shut out. Not a single fish on them today.

After getting a few really nice fish out of a fast slot, I worked down to the tailout of a run and noticed a pretty unique piece of water. The river takes a 90 degree turn, and where you would expect an undercut – the river carved out a large disc-shaped hunk out of the bedrock, and the water that filled the hole had very little current. I noticed some fish rising in this slack water, and some of those boils were BIG, so I cast the bugger right up to the rock at the far end of this little mini-pond and let it sink, stripping it back slowly. The first fish was small – maybe 6 inches. This was NOT the fish making the big boils.

I cast the bugger back out and let it sink a little bit again. On the second or third strip in, I got bit BIG. The fish yanked the loop of line out of my left hand. I let him eat the fly for a second then raised the rod – fish on! There was a good amount of weight, and the fish started pulling hard upstream. I moved upstream a bit, because I didn’t want him getting into the fast current upstream. I thought for sure I had a fat sea run cutthroat on. Then the fish jumped – and I saw the color on the fish – it was no cutthroat!

I was connected to a small summer run steelhead! An honest to god steelhead! This made me about crap my pants, because this is the longest I’ve been hooked up with a steelie in a decade. And here I was hooked to it on a 5x, 4.9lb tippet and a #12 hook – NOT typical steelhead gear! Yeah, this was a small steelie, but even a small steelhead is like being hooked to a pissed off tiger by the tail.

I made the mistake of letting this fish turn, and he ran downstream into the fast white water between the slack pool I hooked him in, and the next pool. In a moment of lacking any sanity, I plunged into the water (which thankfully didn’t get more than waist deep) and crossed to the other bank so I could get the fish into the next pool down stream. Luck have it – the tippet held and the barbless hook stayed, despite the fish’s best attempts otherwise. I worked him into some slack water, he tried dashing out again, but I got him turned back by switching pressure angles up every time he turned. The combination of the Echo SR’s flex (it flexes into the cork) and the nifty Turbine drag on my Cortland Vista (I can’t imagine why Cortland discontinued this reel!) kept the tippet from breaking.

After a good fight, I got the fish within arms length and guided it into my silly little wooden trout net. The fish spilled out of it, but it worked well enough to get him in. Right after I released pressure on the line when the fish slid into the net, the hook fell out. What a rush!

I was amazed – an honest to god wild steelhead, probably not a ture native fish (this river isn’t supposed to have a natural summer run of steelhead, the summer steel on this river are supposed to be hatchery only fish. But this fish had an in-tact adipose fin.)

The fish wiggled, indicating he was ready to end our little game, so I gently picked him up from the net and held him back in the water, where he quickly dashed out of my hand back into the white water.

I couldn’t in my wildest dreams, have imagined that I’d land a steelhead on such a light tippet yesterday. The only thing that would’ve made the day better, is having my camera along to document everything. My camera was sitting in my tow truck, which was in for a brake service, so no pictures.

This trip has given me hope that this won’t be the last steelhead or salmon I catch, and this is just the first of the year. It also inspires me into purchasing a full length spey rod. Now I get to decide which style of two handed casting I want to get setup for – traditional spey, Scandinavian, or Skagit style casting. I’m leaning toward Skagit – it seems to be the most versatile, and it was developed by steelhead fisherman here in the Pacific Northwest, for our rivers and fish.

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