Monday, December 1, 2008

Four Fishermen Return to Steele (Day 2) ~ A Love Story

Riiinnggg......riiiingggg........."hello???"........"this is the front desk sir, this is your wakeup call"........"thanks man" "Dude's, its time to roll"

Indeed it was, we would be making breakfast, lunch, and packing the entire room. We would be checking out early in prepartion for a solid five hours spent in the Douglaston Salmon Run (DSR) just downstream from the town of Pulaski.

The DSR is a 2 +/- mile stretch of the Salmon River that some dude actually owns. The guy owned both sides of the river, and thus claimed that he owned the land under the river and by the transitive property, owned the two miles of river that ran over his land. The case went to the Supreme Court and he actually won. He has restricted access to 200 people per day at $30/angler. This keeps the crowds down, and ensures a quality fishing experience for anyone who visits. Bottom line, if you find out that people are slaying in the DSR, you pay the thirty bucks, whether its for a half day or a whole, and you hit the water. Dave's intel on Saturday night was that his two friend's had had two 16+ hookup days on the DSR and that we should probably get our ass down there and chase some Steele. Not really a hard decision for a bunch of guys who drove from Maine and only landed two Steelheads the first day of the trip. We were the second vehicle in the DSR lot on Sunday, and probably the third group to touch the water.

The flow had been reduced to a comfortable 750 cfs. overnight, a welcomed surprise. We began fishing a set of riffles that we kind of assumed was Joss Hole. Another couple anglers fishing the same set of riffles suggested to us, a group of DSR virgins, that we probably were fishing a good stretch. The hookups didn't come, and quite honestly we were doubting that this bit of water could actually be considered a hole. Jesse began to trek downriver and moments later I was trailing behind him. Tracking him was easy, the snow was fresh, and I soon saw his tracks cross into the water. He was headed for an island, mid stream, and I picked up his tracks again when I hit the island myself. As I rounded the right side of the island I could seem him preparing for the water in the distance. A rather tasty pool with a nice run along a 30 ft. vertical cliff. We would be casting from the island toward the cliff which was on river right. This was, we found out, Joss Hole. Keith and Clark soon arrived and positioned themselves at the base of the cliff where they could roll cast into the riffle that marked the start of Joss Hole. Essentially we were facing eachother, covering every inch of this pool, and enjoying the social atmosphere that our positioning lent itself to.
We had seen hardly a soul all day, and the weather, although not perfect, shifted back and forth between snow showers and peeks of sun, temps hovering in the mid to upper 20's. It was probably 9 a.m before I went tight, tight to what?, I did not know, but once again a battle cry ensued. This time however I cursed moments later, its just another fucking Brown. Christ, I've got three hours left on this river and all I can manage is a species that I've nailed nearly a dozen other times on this river already.... Ughh

Should I have been upset with this fish? Probably not, I mean, three weeks ago I would have dry humped this thing all the way back to Maine, but now my time was ticking away, my goal of landing a Steele had still not been met, this quality Brown would not suffice.....

In the meantime, while Jesse and I were finishing our paparazzi session with the German, Lane harks from the far bank, "STEELE!!!!!!". Clark is nearby to aid with the landing, a short battle ensued, fresh chrome came to net. The Steele, although the smallest of the trip so far, was deffinitely fresh chrome, first chromer of the trip, and Lane had shaken off his Steele skunk. Once again, I am now the only ass on the river who has not landed intensity was now on overdrive. I had less than three hours to do what I had been unable to do in the previous 30 hours of standing balls deep in the f-ing river. Pressure??? One might say.
I yelled to Dr. Steelegood, "Do you have the Apple Blend??" , "Yeah man" was the response. I demanded that the Skoal be thrown across the river. Although concerned for the well being of his Apple Blend, Dr. Steelegood wound up and hurled the tin in my direction, my outstretched hand plucked the blend from the sky and promptly inserted a large wad into my lower lip. For those of you unaware of the powers of Apple Blend Skoal, it always triggers a bite. Have you had a long slow stretch on the water? Toss in a lipper of the Apple Blend and prepare yourself for a hookup. Does this seem rediculous? Of course it seems friggin rediculous, but I'll tell you what, it works. It works on the ocean, it works on the river, it works to the point of it actually being freaky. It surpasses mere coincidence, or is a proven tool for provoking fish to bite, end of story.

So there I am, standing on an island shoal, and there he is (Dr. Steelegood) standing on the mainland. We were casting at one another practically, drifting the same stretch of water, casting glances at one another you might say. Fat lipped, Skoal filled glances, challenges to one another as to who would hook the next Steele from this stretch. As you might have already been able to predict, it wasn't me that struck first. Lane, this time alone, struck again. Clark had moved over to the island with Jesse and I, a move that involves a crossing upstream some 200 yards. We were helpless; he was on his own. He began to curse as the fight seemed lackluster. "Goddamnit, I think its a dirty Brown!" he hailed as we all got a chuckle out of the continued Brown Trout curses. Several times we saw it roll, a dark fish, surely a brown. As the fish tired, Lane one handed the rod, with the net in the other and greased the fish....a Brown?.....negative, a dark male Steele. A sweet maneuver followed by an unexpected specimen......the hole seemed to be heating up, it was now 10:30 a.m.

A cross river photo of a man with his Steele

My partner in the Saturday Steele skunk, Dr. Steelegood, had now greased two Steelheads. It was more salt in an ever growing wound, a wound caused by Steele or a lack thereof. I repositioned myself as Jesse jockied down river a bit toward the tip of the island. I made the decision to tie on a sz. 12 white egg with an orange spot that I had tied the night before. A color we had never used, a color we had never even heard of anyone using. At this point what did I have to lose? My self respect comes to mind, so I tied it on, dipped it in the water, and it looked nice. I tossed it in the edge of the run where the smooth water hits the fast, the indicator made a couple skips as my splitshot bumped the bottom, just enough to let me know that I was fishing the proper depth, but also just enough to cause the heart rate to skip a beat in anticipation. I roll cast upriver catching the same drift as the previous cast. More bottom bumps, then the indicator dove. It dove at an angle, across current, an angle unattainable from a simple bottom snag. I lifted the rod tip, felt the headshake, and errupted in a cry of "STEELE!!!!!!". This time I knew what it was, it quite simply was not a brown this time. The fish darted around Joss Hole as I obsessively ensured that my reel wasn't frozen and that my drag was set correctly. It was around this time that we all realized that the net was on the opposite shore. Clark had crossed back over a few minutes prior leaving Jesse and I on the island alone. When we were 100% certain that the fish was indeed Steele, a plan began to get the net onto our bank. Keith would attempt a hammer throw maneuver that would put the net into Jesse's hands such that we could net the fish. A couple minutes have passed, I'm shaking and attempting with every ounce of my being not to mess this up. Fish still on. Attempt to throw the net placed it in the middle of the river, Clark would then be responsible for a downstream retrieve of the net. Jesse started downstream toward Clark in hopes of potentially having a net exchange at another point along the river. In my anxious rage I yelled to Port Steele and stated "I need you man" and indeed I did. Robbins and I found ourselves in a similar circumstance on the Sunday of our last trip here when in the final moments I hooked and had effectively greased my first Steele. The fish got into a difficult riffle, and Jesse, after several stabs at it with the net, essentially missed the fish and it broke off. Poseidon had offered the two of us another chance, a chance at redemption, on a fly that I had tied myself, and I would have wanted it no other way. The plan was to have Jesse tail grab the fish once I had thoroughly tired it out. The fight had gone on long enough, the fish was tiring, Jesse's first attempt missed, the fish swimming between his legs, flashbacks were exploding in front of my still on. Jesse's second attempt, a determined, aggressive strike, put my first Steele on the bank. Elation would be an understatement for how I felt. Single handedly one of the best fishing moments I had ever experienced. In a roid rage of sorts I believe I yelled "I HAVE TASTED STEELE!!!! I HAVE TASTED STEELE!!!" over and over again at the top of my lungs. I potentially may have growled, or maybe even howled at similar decibel levels. It tasted so sweet.

After this I proceeded to high five, chest bump, fist bump, and bear hug Robbins for his efforts. Slightly gay, perhaps, seemed right at the moment however.

Beating the buzzer by slightly less than 90 minutes, I was relieved, yet continued to fish. Moments later I hooked another Steele, which after a 30 second fight the fish promptly spit the didn't matter.

Clark moved back over to the island and began working the riffle that flowed into Joss Hole. He had tied on a fly of his own, one of only a handful that he had ever tied before. He fished it hard, determined to produce a hookup. A large group of centerpinners began inching down on our territory, moments later Clark was tight to a sweet male German......he's always had a thing for male Germans.

As the French Canadian centerpinners looked on, we photographed the bi-catch. As Clark was releasing his fish, Lane let loose his best Iroquois battle cry of the day. As the battle started the fish seemed to just hold in the current, we all thought Brown. After a few minutes of not being able to pin down the species, Lane was beginning to sense that the fish had some serious potential. With the three of us on the island, I began to assess whether he would be able to land a fish that he claimed to be three feet long. Several times he had it in close to his feet and he finally caught a glimpse of the fish, it was Steele, I didn't hesitate, I was off and running. The maneuver would involve me running several hundred yards upstream to a fordable stretch of water. I would pick my way across the river, and run full steam down river right. I mountain goated my way up over a cliff and looked down for a place to meet Lane. The others wildly yelled "You've got to go around" Up and around the cliff I ran, sliding down the bank and jumping a couple downed trees. When I peered around the cliff's corner, there he was, still tight to the beast. I grabbed the net, dipped it into the water and brought the fish to the water's edge. The largest Steele we had encountered to date, a healthy 34" beast. Totally out of steam I snapped off some pics of the fish, Lane released it, and we sat in disbelief along the shores of the Salmon River. The trip may have ended, but it couldn't have been a better ending.


pete said...

wilkie, that was fucking awesome. three weeks ago you would have dry humped the thing all the way back to maine??? jesus man, i nearly pissed my pants.

Keith said...

Wow. That was an amazing read. So when do we go again?

Jesse Lance Robbins said...

i wish i had a running dialog of what was going through my head when i was trying to tail that thing ha

double o's gonna be on the injured list for a while after his surgery, so we may need to recruit another. i'm thinkin a late january run is an order

Morrell said...

This is some great shit Wilkie. The stuff legends are made of.

I know you boys are firm believers in the Apple Skoal but judging by the size of the fish landed recently, I suspect these monsters may be smelling the sea salt caking off of Dr. Steelegood and, longing for open waters, are coming in for a closer look. Regardless, I will be testing out the Apple Blend very soon.

What other flies were you guys throwing? Got any more pics of those big boys?

Clark Winchell said...

Couldn't have said it better, nice journalism Wilkie. Great story of a legendary crew and an epic river. Again, hell of a steele, Lane.

Clark Winchell said...

Robbins, I steelhead tomorrow if we were goin. No need to worry about the wrist, for steele, she's good to go.

Andrew Wilkie said...

I hear that come January 1st 00-Steel will be more than capable to tackle Steele...

Keith said...

OO could tackle steele with one arm and no legs. He would land that steele in his mouth like a bear and have it ON ICE.

Morrell, all eggs bro. The steele love the small eggs. Blue, white and yellow all seemed to produce fish.