Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Nostalgic return to the Nestucca River

Doug with his Sea-Run Cutthroat Trout
When my friend Marty Sherman asked if I wanted to float the Nestucca River, I jumped at the opportunity. I had fished this Oregon coastal stream many years ago with good success and had nostalgic memories of its great runs of Steelhead. This popular river has a prime run of large native Steelhead in the winter and good runs of Summer Steelhead in the spring. It is also popular for Spring and Fall Chinook fishing. 

Marty fly fishing the Nestucca for Steelhead
The Nestucca was in good shape as we launched Marty’s 18-foot Clackamax at First Bridge, near the town of Hebo. It was flowing at a depth of 5 to 61/2 feet, so success was foremost on our minds. We decided to fish at the boat launch, known as the Bridge Hole, because in the past Marty had hooked several Steelhead there. We both rigged up similar outfits with a float indicator near the butt extension and several small split shots about 1 to 1 1/2 feet from the flies. I was using an orange Glo Bug, and Marty tied on a colorful streamer fly.
Surprisingly, in less than fifteen minutes, I got a good tug that felt like a Steelhead. It turned out to be a colorful 14 inch Sea-Run Cutthroat trout which was released following a few quick photos. After nearly an hour of casting without any strikes, we pulled anchor and headed down river. 

Sea-Run Cutthroat Trout
As we floated the 5- to 6-mile drift, Marty pointed out four popular fishing landmarks with productive fly fishing water: the Rope Swing Hole, the Rock Hole, the 101 Camp and the Farmer’s Creek take out. We stopped and fished these areas without any success, but the pleasant weather was a fitting reward. It also gave us a chance reminisce about past experiences and plans for future trips. Sometimes fishing is not all about catching fish! 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Scouting the John Day River for Smallmouth Bass

Man standing on rock in river fishing for bass
Gary fly fishing the John Day River for smallmouth bass.
The John Day River in Oregon has prolific numbers of smallmouth bass, so my friend Gary and I decided to check it out. It was late summer and when we arrived the water was low and the temperature was hovering in the 90’s. Our chances for success were not favorable, but nonetheless we rigged up our rods and headed out.

The river was low and warm with a shore line that, in many places, was covered with tall grass, bulrushes, wild teasel and rocks of all sizes. The water looked and smelled fishy which bolstered our hopes of success. As we began to cast, we had to wade waist deep in places to cover the water effectively, but our efforts immediately paid off. We started hooking fish! However, most of them were 5 to 8 inches and very small by bass standards, but they hit hard for their size and fought aggressively. The most successful pattern was a #8 Black Girdle Bug.

Our fly fishing method was not difficult. We used 7 and 1/2 foot leaders with small split shots placed about 18 inches above the fly. A roll cast worked well to cover the water. Then, if they didn’t take the fly on the dead drift, we would hook them on a short, quick six-inch strip retrieve. A swift lift of the rod would quickly set the hook. We had the best luck casting in slower moving water that was broken up with a variety of surface and submerged rocks and vegetation. Gary caught the largest bass which was nearly 12 inches.

It was a good exploratory trip. The low water gave us a good idea of where and how to fish when the river rose in the late fall and when the bass would be spawning in the spring. When that time arrives, wading wet will not be an option.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Silver Garland Marabou Streamer Fly

Silver Garland Marabou Streamer Fly
Mr. E.H. (Polly) Rosborough honed his fly tying craft on the banks of Oregon’s Williamson River. In 1936 he developed the Silver Garland Marabou Streamer fly, and in succeeding years it became one of the easiest and most effective streamer flies. Besides its use for trout and steelhead, bass are attracted to it as well. It’s also famous for large saltwater fish. 

This streamer can be very productive when fishing high, off-color water. 

Hook:  Mustad 9671, 9672; sizes  8-1/0
Thread:  3/0 black monocord
Body:  Silver tinsel chenille 
Wing:  Hot orange marabou with black ostrich herl topping

Step 1. Tie in tinsel and wrap it up 3/16 inches of the eye.

Step 2. Attach a full clump of marabou on top extended 1/2 inch beyond the body. 
(The marabou wing can be tied with a variety of different colors.)

Step 3. Tie in 10-12 ostrich herls and finish with a neatly tapered head. 
(Commercial red or white eyes or painted eyes are optional.) 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Etiquette on the River

shadows of two men fly fishing at sunset with pink clouds over the darkened rim of hills.
Fly fishing for Steelhead at dusk.
A friend of mine and I were just getting ready to fish a popular riffle on the Deschutes River. The conditions were perfect--no wind, good water and a run all to ourselves. As we started to put on our waders, a lone fisherman walked right past us without saying a word and headed for our water. We were dumbfounded and I said, “Hey, buddy. What do you think you are you doing? This is our water.” He looked at us with a smirk and said, “Ya snooze, ya lose!" Well, that created a quick confrontation, and a heated argument commenced that ended up with a variety of expletives. The guy paused for a moment and then he left in a huff realizing that the odds were against him. Later, a couple of his buddies approached us. They politely apologized for his actions and said they had set him straight regarding courtesy on the river.

There are ways to approach a fellow fly fisher without getting into an argument. If you see one or two people fishing a run, a good approach would be ask them if you could fish behind them. Some fly fishers will even invite you to fish with them or follow them down the run.

Unfortunately, other fly fishers will try to monopolize a hole for the entire day. When you politely ask them if you can fish behind them, they will adamantly refuse and rudely make derogatory comments. Rather than argue or get into a fight, I have used the following way to make them feel uncomfortable. Without saying a word I will sit down on the river bank and start watching them. I will also begin taking photos and jotting down idle notes hoping that they will become self conscious. If they are not catching fish, they eventually get tired of being scrutinized and often leave the water to me. As the saying goes, “The pen is mightier that the sword.”

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How to Release Fish Safely

Large Sandy River Steelhead
I was fishing for steelhead on one of my favorite drifts on the Sandy River. It was a nice morning and the river was in perfect shape, so I methodically began to work the fly down with purpose. As I continued to cast, I idly glanced across to the other side of the river and enjoyed a panoramic view of a small herd of deer feeding on the edge of the woods. Suddenly, I was jolted out of my euphoric state when a good sized fish aggressively took the fly. As it began to jump I could easily see that it was hooked on the dropper. It was a strong fish and made several long runs down river, but after seven or eight minutes it began to submit to the rod’s constant pressure.

It was a wild fish, and as I brought it closer I began to look for a good place to land it. There were large rocks and some underwater snags to contend with, so I wanted to release it quickly. I slid the fish close to the shoreline and with my left hand I started to pull the fly from its jaw. This was almost a fatal mistake because the fish suddenly got a new burst of energy and bolted away from my grasp. Luckily, I grabbed the tippet just above the point fly and stopped the fish. As I released it, I realized that I could have been playing the fish with my hand!

This was a foolish error that could have ended up in disaster. To put it another way, "A jerk on one end waiting for a jerk on the other.” The most sensible thing to do was to not release the fish until it was completely played out. Also, keep the fish in the water and use needle nose pliers or hemostats to unhook the fish.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

What makes a Steelhead Fly Fisher?

A lone man standing in shallow water before a white water rapid fishing for steelhead
Fishing the Sandy River in Oregon
First and foremost, to become a successful steelhead angler one has to make a mental commitment to accept the challenge of fly fishing for steelhead and also to take the risk of getting skunked. Some statistics say that on average it takes a beginner about seven years of fishing before he or she catches their first steelhead. It’s kind of a bleak outlook when a novice is facing these odds, but the time can be shortened drastically by going with someone with experience. Also, the beginner needs to read, watch videos, go to clinics, and most of all put the drift gear away and go with fly fishing only. Finally, the angler must have a dedicated interest in learning the techniques and follow the three Ps for success: Patience, persistence and passion.

An interesting case in point occurred years ago in my fly shop. Once or twice a week, a young gentleman would come into my shop and inquire about the techniques and equipment to hook winter steelhead. He maintained that he was a mechanical engineer, and he would constantly ask many questions hoping that I would give him some concise and meaningful answers. I was eager to help and would always try to give him the information that he needed. Then he would go out and fish without any luck and invariably return to my shop and and ask more questions. When I gave him my answers he would curiously say, “Interesting!”

His persistent quest for knowledge finally came to a head when he started following me around on the river. I got a little annoyed so I tried to diffuse a confrontation. I politely told him that he needed to branch out on his own, talk to other angers and if he stayed with it one day it would happen.

Finally, after what seemed like months, I tactfully told him, “Listen, catching steelhead isn’t rocket science. You don’t need a slide rule to catch them! Just keep trying and you’ll catch one before you know it.”

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Tying and Fishing Crawdad Patterns

Mud Bugger
Crawdads, also called Crayfish or Mud Puppies, are a main staple for fish in many lakes and rivers. Crawdad fly patterns are very effective for a variety of fish including trout and bass. Some tiers like to tie close imitations of crawdads, but from my experience, patterns that are suggestive of the real thing are more effective. Shown below is a very simple and effective imitation that was tied by a friend of mine which he called the Mud Bugger.

How to fish with crawdad patterns:
Because crawdads like to eat small fish, decomposed materials and a variety of insects, the flies should be twitched along the bottom or dead drifted in moving water.

Materials to tie the Mud Bugger:
Hook:  9672 Mustad 4-8
Thread:  3/0 Monocord
Tails:  Fox squirrel hair split apart
Wing case:  Oak turkey feather
Body:  Olive chenille
Hackle:  Olive brown

How to tie the Mud Bugger.

Step 1. Tying the Mud Bugger
Tie in the tails and split them apart. Cut out a wing 
case that is 1/8 to 3/16 inches wide and attach it vertically.

Step 2. Tying the Mud Bugger
Attach the body and hackle material.

Step 3. Tying the Mud Bugger
Wrap the body forward to 1/16 inch of the hook eye and follow 
with the hackle. Trim the hackle on top of the hook to 1/8 inch.

Step 4. Tying the Mud Bugger
Pull the wing case forward over the body and hackle and tie it off. 
Coat the wing case with head cement or other lacquer and finish tying the head off.
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