Saturday, January 31, 2015

Fly Fishing Small Steelhead Streams

Doug Stewart holding a 12 to 14 pound winter steelhead on rocky bank of  a small stream.
Doug with hatchery Steelhead. 

Small streams are usually less crowded, challenging to fish and can often provide surprising results. 

Fly Fishers sometime pass up the opportunity to fish small streams for numerous reasons. They might believe that large migratory fish normally prefer larger rivers, or that fish are spookier and harder to catch, or that they can’t move up stream in shallow water. However, I have seen large salmon and steelhead move rapidly up a riffle on their sides that was barely three or four inches deep.

Stalking fish in small streams requires a stealthy approach because fish can be easily spooked. But, if the angler wades quietly, wears drab clothing that blends into the environment and keeps a low profile, fish will not be alarmed. Learning to spot fish in shallow water can also be a very effective method.

Here are two small stream fish stories:

The first story took place when I was fishing a small tributary of the Clackamas River. It was not more than ten feet wide, and in most places it was at best three feet deep throughout the entire creek. I was fishing for trout using a small tied down caddis and had caught a few six- to eight-inch trout. I had the whole river to myself and was enjoying the solitude when I was suddenly shocked out of my euphoric state. I had made a delicate cast behind a moss covered rock when a five-pound steelhead took the fly aggressively and barreled down river. I tried to stumble after it, but the fish got the better of me and serrated my two-pound leader. This event generated my interest in fishing small streams.

The next story happened on the Oregon Coast, which has many streams that can also provide some unexpected action. My friend Dave and I hiked in a quarter mile through tall brush and blackberries bushes to fish the Necanicum River, noted for steelhead and sea-run cutthroat. It was cluttered with log jams, thick brush and overhanging trees which closely guarded the streams pools, riffles, pocket water and gentle glides. A few nice cutthroat would have satisfied the day, but on my sixth cast the first pool provided some unexpected action. My line stopped and I instinctively lifted the rod and watched a large steelhead exploded out of the water. The fish began to make erratic surges and jumps as I strained to get it under control. Dave was filming and shouting instructions as I fought the fish. Fortunately, it stayed in the pool and after seven or eight minutes I landed a 12- to 14-pound hatchery steelhead. It took a # 6 orange Glo Bug.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Steelhead Mania

Sandy River Winter Steelhead Run
I was winter Steelhead fishing below Gordon Creek on Oregon’s Sandy River. It was a typically cold January day, and if you wanted to get a prime location, you had to hike in a few hundred yards in the dark. My dad and I were in luck one morning and managed to get a good drift to fish. Just as it broke daylight, my dad hooked a heavy fish and fought it for almost 10 minutes. Finally, he played it out and beached an 18 or 20 pound Chinook salmon. However, it was a dark fish so he quickly released it.

Suddenly, we heard someone yell above us, but heavy brush obstructed our view. Then the shouts got closer. I waded out a short distance and saw a good sized Steelhead jump, but I couldn’t see anyone on the bank playing it. I was somewhat curious until I saw an angler floating down the river with a fish on. Incredibly, he was thrashing in the water and reeling madly trying to get control of it.

My dad was concerned and yelled, “Hey fella, swim over to the bank so we can help you.”

As he floated past us, the guy was totally immersed in his quest and he shouted back, “How big is it? I know it’s gotta be at least 20 pounds!”

My dad just shook his head and said, “It’s amazing what some guys will do to try to catch a fish." For the record, this angler eventually lost the fish and fortunately didn’t drown.

A similar situation occurred on the Deschutes River. An avid fisherman had hooked a Steelhead that got hung up on a rock. After repeatedly trying to unhook the fish, he handed his rod to a friend, stripped down to his skivvies, and swam out to try and free it. The river’s current was too strong, so he swam back in to collect his wits. He was staunchly resolute, so he made another attempt. This time he successfully untangled the snag and swam back with the fish. Both the fish and this persistent angler were totally played out.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Reinforcing Peacock Herls

Peacock herls are not as durable as other body materials, and after catching and releasing a number of fish the herls can begin to fray and tear from the body. There are several ways to make them last longer. Here is one that I prefer. 

Step 1
Step 1. Tie in 2-3 peacock herls near the bend of the hook and make a dubbing loop approximately as long as the herls. Remember to forward the fly tying thread after making the loop.

Step 2
Step 2. Place the herls within the loop and grasp it at the bottom with the hackle pliers. Then spin the noodle until a tight loop is formed.

Step 3
Step 3. Wrap the noodle forward to build the body and complete the fly.

An alternate method is to wrap thread, tinsel, copper wire or hackle around the peacock body to strengthen and prevent it from fraying. However, some anglers prefer not to protect the body believing that when the fly becomes ragged and untidy it works better since it looks more like a real bug. My own experiences support the latter. I have had some of my best luck when my fly was ripped to shreds with only a few strands of herl and wing remaining.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Affordable Bodkin Cleaner

Materials to clean your bodkin.
Bodkins or dubbing needles will, after repeated use, end up with a bulky buildup of glue and foreign materials. This will cause one to apply more glue than necessary with each application and affect the fly's appearance. So, if you're tired of using your fingernails, razor blades, and other scrapers, here is a quick and easy way to expedite the process.  

Get an empty 35 mm film canister or a small tin or plastic container and some medium 1 or 2 coarse steel wool. Insert enough steel wool inside the container to fill it up. Then poke a few holes in the lid and push the bodkin up and down through the holes to eliminate the unwanted materials. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

My Largest Trout, Ever!

My big Sea Run Brown Trout. 
If it hadn’t been for some good fortune, I never would have landed this memorable trophy. I was fishing the Rio Grande river in Chile, South America at a pool they called the Cementerio. It was so named because the area we were fishing was near an old burial ground. The river is composed of riffles, glides, runs, pools and minor rapids that are easy to wade in many places. It was widely known for its large Sea Run Browns or Sea Trout. It was common to hook fish in the 8 to 15 pound range and occasionally some that were much larger. The record for the river was over 30 pounds. 

The water that I was fishing was a long run that flowed along a high bank and then turned and emptied into a large pool. Below the pool a series of rapids extended the drift further down river. As I stepped into the water we had less than an hour to fish, so I quickly started casting a large, black, articulated leech. After about the sixth cast I started to move downstream when suddenly my rod was almost ripped out of my hands. I had a good one on and with a burst of energy it streaked down river with me in hot pursuit. I didn’t think I would be able to stop its surge of power, but after seven or eight minutes I finally got control when it paused to rest in a large pool. I had a chance if I got lucky.

I tightened my drag and began reeling down to the fish hoping to prevent it from going further downstream. The light began to fade as I continued to fight the fish. After what seemed like an eternity, I reached the pool and my guide was waiting there with the net. It was almost dark and my arms were tiring as I started to horse the fish towards the bank. Amazingly, and with a sigh of relief, the Sea Trout began to tire as I continued to work it in to the shore.  Finally, the fish submitted to the rod’s constant pressure and my guide quickly slipped the net under its massive body. I was exhausted but elated with the outcome. 

After a few photos and measurements of its length and girth the fish was released. It weighed right at 20 pounds. As we headed back I knew that without my guide, the eddy and a little luck, I probably would have lost the fish.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Perfect Fly?

Off-the-wall dry Stonefly
Some anglers say that in order to catch fish you have to tie a fly that has to be an exact replica and size of the natural. This may be true in certain conditions, such as gin clear water, quiet pools or heavily fished streams, but in many cases larger, unkempt  patterns are more effective. I found this out many years ago during a trip on the Deschutes River. 

It was May and the salmonflies were just beginning to emerge. I was using my old standby, the Fluttering Stonefly, and fishing a good stretch of water above Trout Creek. The fishing was not red hot, but as I worked down a nice glide, I caught several decent trout. However, I had to cover a lot of water to accomplish this. As I neared the end of the run, I noticed that another angler fishing below me was constantly hooking fish. I was taken aback and felt compelled to discover his secret. I boldly approached him and said,

“Hi, mister. What are you using to hook all of those fish?”
He paused for a moment and then said, “Oh, it’s something that I just made up.”
I responded, “Do you mind if I see what it looks like?”
“Nah.” he said, “Here, I’ll give you one to try.”

When he showed it to me I couldn’t believe my eyes. It had a large front grizzly and brown hackle, a thick body of rusty, orange carpet fibers and a thick elk hair wing that was almost four inches long. I politely thanked him and went down to another hole where I instantly started to catch one fish after another. This reminded me of some famous comments about tying flies that are less than perfect.

Polly Rosborough regarding his Casual Dress wet fly said, “I just threw the materials on the hook.”

Joe Brooks on his Brooks Stone said, “For a fly to be effective it must be reminiscent of an unmade bed.”

Lee Wulff said, "Something that looks exactly like a bug is not as effective as something that may look less like one....”

Bob Wiley, my old friend, always said, “The rattier the better.”

Tying instructions:

1.  Tie the body 2/3 up the hook shank and secure it.

2.  Tie in a large clump of elk hair so that it extends about 2 inches behind the hook shank. 

3.  Select a large brown and grizzly hackle and one at a time spin them forward  toward the hook eye. Tie them off and cement the head. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Hook Hones

Hartley Fly Hook Hone
There are dozens of hook hones on the market and most of them work fairly well. They are a valuable asset in helping you to hook and land more fish. It’s important to periodically check your hook to see if it is still sharp and intact. There is nothing more aggravating that hooking a nice fish and losing it because of a dull or broken hook. 

Below are a few popular hones.

1. EZe Lap models C or H have grooves to rub the hook back and forth to triangulate the hook point.

2. Ceramic hook hones work well, but they are fairly expensive, close to $20. They are also susceptible to breakage if not handled carefully.

3. The Hartley fly hook file is a retractable pen sharpener coated with a diamond grit and fitted with a pocket clip. It's a durable, long lasting product.

Battery powered sharpeners are not recommended because they don’t hold up well and will have to be replaced in time. Also, whetstones, files and other types of rasps are not recommended.

Properly sharping hooks just requires a good eye and a little patience. Start by rubbing the hook back and forth on the hook file to triangulate the point. Then, to test its sharpness, rub the hook point across your fingernail. If it doesn’t stick or if it slides across your nail it isn’t sharp enough. With a little practice you can produce a hook that will quickly penetrate a fish’s mouth and help you land more of them.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Tribulations on the Grande Ronde River

Man fly fishing among boulders in a river in the high desert of eastern Oregon.
Jim Fly Fishing the Grande Ronde River
The Grande Ronde River snakes through a 40-mile route from Oregon’s eastern border all the way to the confluence of the Snake River. It is one of Oregon’s most popular steelhead streams, but during the summer months Spring Chinook, Rainbow trout, smallmouth bass and catfish are readily available. 

The high desert terrain of the region offers spectacular scenery, clean, fresh air, an abundance of wildlife such as Big Horn sheep, elk, deer, wild turkeys and the steelhead of the Grande Ronde. This is what lured my friend Jim Colantino and I to spend several days at Troy, Oregon to fish this legendary river for Steelhead. However, we would encounter a few interferences that would change our course of action. 

First and foremost, this river is extremely popular in the fall, and as we drove down the road that paralleled the river all of the campsites were occupied. This unfortunate situation forced us to stay at the old rustic Troy Hotel. Also, the river’s popularity was clearly evident in the car licenses of dozens of other states. Because of this dilemma, most of the good water was taken up by other anglers. This meant that we would have to fish behind other anglers, fish secondary water or fish for trout. We returned to the hotel and plotted our strategy for the next day. 

The next morning we found good looking trout water and managed to catch some nice ones using Muddler Minnows and caddis patterns. Things were looking up, but our trip suddenly came to an abrupt halt when Jim’s hip began to give him some problems. The rough, rocky terrain made it difficult for him to walk. Then, I slipped on a rock and cut my knee badly. It was an arduous endeavor for both of us as we hobbled back towards our car. Then, we encountered another problem. A large rattlesnake was guarding the trail that we were on, so we carefully navigated around the potential danger. Because of these unforeseen events, our trip was unanimously aborted, and we packed up and left with some reservations. 

In spite of this discouraging outcome, we agreed to come to the Grande Ronde once again because it has been said that fishing is not always about catching. It can be a refreshing change from city life and you will have opportunities to look around and enjoy the country’s surroundings and its wildlife.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Unorthodox Fly Casting

Canadian lake with shoreline and tree lined hills in the background
Stake Lake
My friend Pete and I were fishing Stake Lake located about 12 miles from the city of Kamloops, B.C. It was a clear, serene body of water which was surrounded by stands of spruce, pine and grassy meadows. This 60 acre lake has a mean depth of 12 to13 feet and produces trout from 2 to 3 pounds with the occasional lunker of 4 to 5 pounds. We anticipated good fishing as we slid my 12 foot High Laker into the water. 

Since there was little evidence of surface activity, we began to troll Carey Specials. However, after an hour of trolling a sedge hatch suddenly erupted. Fish began to cruise near the surface taking the emerging adults aggressively. We quickly anchored, tied on green sedges and began to cast. Pete was an unorthodox caster and he began to splash and flail the water with determination, so I politely mentioned that he was spooking the fish. 

He quickly responded, “You fish your way and I’ll fish my way.” 

I just shrugged my shoulders and kept casting, but kept a watchful eye out for his awkward presentations. As we continued to bicker back and forth, his next attempt slammed the surface, and as I began to chastise him, a fish amazingly took his fly on the back cast. I was dumbfounded, and as he landed and released a nice 4 pounder, he said, 

“Doug, If you’re gonna catch fish, you’ve gotta get their attention first!”  

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Folklore Fishing Humor

Stew lands a nice Steelhead on the Deschutes River

I hope you enjoy the following conversation between two anglers as much as I have over the years.

“Hiyamac. Lobuddy. Benearlong? Cuplours. Kethchaneny? Goddafeu. Wakindrthey? Basanacarp. Ennysiztuem? Cupplapounds. Hittenhard? Sordalite. Wahuoozin? Gobbawurms. Fishmonaboddom? Rydonnahboddum. Thaswahathot. Igoddago. Tubad. Seeyaround. Yatakidezy. Guluk."

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