Friday, February 26, 2010

Coastal Steel

With a much needed break in the weather and the coastal rivers dropping onto shape I headed to the north coast to chase winter steelhead. After a long 7 hour drive to the coast I checked into the hotel and started the process of getting organized for the mornings adventure.Bruce arrived a short time later and in no time we had the room looking like a small fly shop;rod cases leaned against the wall,gear bags strewn throughout the room and Bruce's fly collection that would make most shops jealous taking up a large portion of the room.

Up before the sun the next morning and on the water as soon as it was light enough to see. We had walked about a half mile from the car and the first run I fished had changed a bit from last year.Still this was one sexy piece of swing water and I worked my way through the run with no takers.I caught up with Bruce upstream and started working through another awesome piece of water.About 2/3 the way down this run my line came tight to a fish but it wasn't what I was hoping for. A 16" half pounder was my first landed fish on this smaller coastal river. Not what I was looking for but a landed fish no less. We fished through some great water and had many conversations about where and why and how.Not always agreeing on the best way to approach any given water I came to the conclusion that we had philosophical differences,which is ok but makes for challenging arrangements on the river. I hooked one more fish later in the day but it came unbuttoned after a brief battle.Felt like another half pounder.

The next morning we parted ways and I was able to fish the water I wanted with no one to disagree with me.And did I cover some amazing water.The river was dropping about 200cfs a day and was getting better and better.I did get a number of solid pulls but was unable to connect.Not exactly true as I connected with 4 smolts in the 10" range.Funny to see a fish so small aggressively attack a 2" long fly.Day 3 arrived to more of the same.At this point a routine had settled in and I found myself fishing the same runs as I had the previous mornings. My casting was improving and confidence was very high. I saw a gear fisherman hook up in the run below me so I knew that fish were in the system.I just needed to find a willing participant beside smolts. After casting and stepping my way through two runs I opted for a nice hike upstream to a run I had had a couple of plucks in the previous winter. I stopped off to fish a promising run on my way upstream. My swings were good but I found no fish here. A couple more stream crossings and I finally arrived sweatily at my destination.After a brief cool down session I stepped in to the head of this run. Carefully casting as close as I dared to the willows across the river I began the now familiar cadence;cast,mend,swing,step downstream and repeat. I must say I love this type of fishing as the rhythm is mesmerizing and almost becomes a meditation. As I worked my way downstream I had to adjust my casting to accommodate the overhanging tree that is an obstacle about half way down the run. A bit of a sideways casting stroke did the trick and I was able to land my fly right where I needed to. As my fly swam seductively in the subtle currents I felt a slight tug,then my rod started throbbing violently in my hand.Fuck yes!!FISH ON!!!! The first run of this powerful fish I will never forget;almost into my backing instantaneously this fish cartwheeled,tailwalked, jumped and tried to do everything to throw the hook.Its second run wasn't as long but one jump in particular showed me what I needed to see.This fish was BIG and when it landed it sounded like someone had thrown a bowling ball into the water.KASPLOOOSH!!! The third and final run was only about 40' long but the 20' of tailwalking was impressive. Finally I was able to ease this beast into shallow water and was I amazed at the size of this fish! A quick photo session ensued.After taking the pics I measured for length and girth,34"x19"!!17lbs!!!Man what a fish;simply unbelievable.I was awestruck as I tailed the fish and began reviving it.The shear power and beauty of the wild creature will always be carried with me. I held onto the tail a little longer and slowly let the fish go to continued its journey to the spawning grounds.

How could I possibly top this fish I thought as I composed myself on the bank? I finished fishing out the run and headed upstream to see what was around the next bend.After a half hearted attempt on another run I reeled up in time to see another spey rodder wading across the tailout towards me.We exchanged pleasantries and shared stories and pics of the fish that we had encountered that morning. He was heading back on the trail to the parking area so I joined him. We chatted on the way and found that we had the same passion for swinging flies on the spey rods.I truly enjoyed this walk out and Tom if you read this I want to say you are a cool dude and I hope we can share some time on the water!

We parted ways at the parking area and I drove down to the mouth to see what the tides were doing.I decided to head upstream about a half mile and finish out my day on a run that I had fished the previous two days.This run is long,approximately 300 yards or so and has a great current speed.Just an awesome run!! I cast and stepped and cast and stepped my way down. Nearing the tailout I was jolted out of my meditative state by a hard grab and line ripping off the reel! The line started too burn my finger then went limp.Fuck! Fish off!! Laughing at the initial grab and run I was amused by how strong it was and how quickly it all came to an end. Regaining my composure I went back to the task at hand.Cast,mend, swing step down and repeat. A few minutes later I was tight to another HOT fish.Man what a day!! This fish was strong but not as big as the 17lber from the morning. After an exciting battle I worked this fish into the shallows and was about to get the camera but this fish had other ideas.The hook had fallen out and this steelie took full advantage and was gone in a blink of an eye. So, no pics of this fish but I estimate it to be around 12lbs and was it BRIGHT!!.After that I felt there was no need to continue fishing for the day but there was a need for beer! A Steelhead Pale Ale from the Mad River Brewing company to be exact!!

I fished the next morning for a few hours but had to hit the road for the long drive home.Before I left though I had 3 solid grabs but was unable to come tight to the fish.Well not quite as I did manage two smolts.This was one of my more successful winter steelhead trips and I learned a ton more about this small coastal river.As I write this the rivers have gone up and I expect them to blow out with this next storm pushing in.So I will continue to watch the flows and weather and hopefully get another chance to tangle with fresh chrome winter run fish this season.If the opportunity doesn't arrive I will never forget the time I spent this winter on the North Coast!!

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