Thursday, October 3, 2013


            It was January and Oregon’s Sandy River below Marmot Dam was loaded with winter steelhead. The location was called the Slaughter Hole so named because steelhead would stack up below the ladder waiting to continue their spawning run. It was almost like fishing in a hatchery and it led to an experience that I never forgot.  

            The hike down the steep, winding trail to the river required a coordinated use of both arms and legs to prevent a nasty fall. In certain places my friend, Jim Teeny, and I needed to hang on to each other to prevent a dangerous plunge into the river. From the trail we could see into the Slaughter Hole, and it was not uncommon to spot dozens of steelhead. The pool was loaded and as we waded across the tailout Jim sarcastically said, “Hey, buddy. Do you think we’ll get lucky today?” 

            It didn’t take long to rig up and we immediately started hooking fish using Jim’s Teeny Nymph patterns. Over years of experience we had learned that in clear water fish can be spooky and are often choosy about what they take. This was clearly evident in the Slaughter Hole, because after seeing bright lures such as spinners and wobblers, fish would not take as well. They would, however, take natural looking patterns that were smaller, darker and buggy looking. This is why Jim’s flies and other natural looking patterns like a caddis or stonefly are often deadly. On this day, to the dismay of onlookers, we had great success as we hooked and released quite a few steelhead between seven and fifteen pounds. Our next trip to the Slaughter Hole was a few days later, and to quote Yogi Berra, it would be “Déjà vu all over again!”  

            When we reached the river, fishing was still good, but many had moved up river closer to the dam. After several hours I told Jim that I had to get back to my shop, but as usual he was trying to catch one more fish.  Rather than watch, I decided to make a few more casts for good luck and it paid off. I hooked one about ten pounds, but it lacked the usual explosive power that steelhead are noted for. After only a few minutes it was played out, and when I landed it I understood why. There were two flies hooked in its jaw--the fly I was using and the one I left in its mouth two days before.  

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