Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hail Mary

After dropping my wife off at work yesterday I made a quick decision to go chase some fish for the day. You see, I'm recently unemployed, and one of the first things I did with my new-found freedom was to meet a friend from Montana and head out to the OP for a week, and now I've been bit by that Steele bug. Pretty bad, really. I mean I'd always been keen on 'em, but to stand in the middle of fabled waters in the right conditions just knowing that the next cast might produce the fish of a lifetime; a wild winter-run OP steelhead... The hook had been set. I'd elaborate but in doing so would also be preaching to the choir, and I'm digressing anyway. Point being, I got Steele on the brain. The wifey's been working late a lot anyway so that bought me plenty of extra free time. There's a tidy little river that runs into the Columbia a little ways north of here so I decided to throw my gear in and hit it for the day.

The first place that had been suggested to me already had people in it so I moved on. I pulled off above there a little ways at a picnic/day use area to set up and prepare myself to capitalize on the day's potential. Immediately upon attempting to slide the tip section of my nymph rod out of the sock the tip broke off. Awesome. That's the second time I've broken that rod since steelhead fishing opened in October, and who knows how many times total. We all know how casting with a broken tip is, especially nymph rigs, and I could feel the day's potential withering already.

I made do. I fished some decent looking water here, swung a little bit there, but hardly did more than piddle around with each piece I stopped at. I was mostly annoyed with casting with a broken tip and not having found any really satisfying swing water yet. Later in the afternoon I decided I was done messing around with the whole nymph getup and moved upstream to one last spot that was supposed to have some decent swinging water. There was a big, deep hole where the river turned 90 degrees right where I parked and I got out to take a look, knowing full well that if fish were going to be holding anywhere it would be in there. Actually, I think my first thought was, "Damn, I'd like to snorkel this right now because I know there's more than a few fish hanging out down in there." I wasn't wrong. Almost immediately I spotted about four fish of varying sizes holding pretty tight, almost abreast of each other, deep, quartered downstream towards the bank in the ginormous eddy of the backwater. I figured as much, but didn't see much hope in enticing let alone even reaching those fish. So be it, I moved on.
I texted a friend asking about where the good swing water was, but he had mentioned that with the cold water temps the fish wouldn't respond well to swung flies and that nymphs were much more productive right now. Dammit. Along with the hope for a tug on the swing my thunder for enjoying the rest of my day swinging good water was swiftly stolen. I went back to watch the fish. There were maybe six now I could see down there. The flash of a shivering flank caught my eye as one of the fish appeared to pick up something near the bottom. Hrm, well that's interesting. Then I noticed a small rock ledge upstream that appeared to make a pretty reasonable casting platform. Hell, not only that, but it was a actually a great platform specifically for a left-handed cast, and such is my specialty. I also realized that from that platform I could reasonably nymph to those fish like I would normally, only facing downstream and fishing the eddy back to me. The slow churn of the cogs in my brain began accelerating into a palpable buzz in my ears. My chips were down, but I was quickly hatching a plan to go all in.
I cut everything off my line. I started with a fresh 9' 20# salmon leader. I figured I would need the extra oomph to help cast the monstrosity I was about to concoct. At the end of the leader I tied a perfection loop to drop my flies from. I wanted the thickness of the leader for casting but felt that I should try to be stealthier in my presentation, so I attached a piece of 2x fluorocarbon via clinch knot directly to the loop, and threw three BB split shot onto the loop itself. That's almost 9' of leader to my split shot; I needed the length to help deliver my flies deep. From there it was about 18" to a Pat's rubber legs, dropped with a small 8mm bead and stinger about 18" behind it.
I took another look at the fish and measured their position against landmarks on the bank before scrambling down the bank into position. The ledge made a perfect platform to stand on, but an upstream breeze made reaching my mark difficult. I crept forward and climbed onto a downed tree just upstream from the fish. I finally was in range, and after a few botched attempts finally landed a cast in the approximate area where the fish were holding. It was an achingly slow drift, but only one or two casts in and my indicator started to dip. I ripped into it, arguably premature, and nothing. Huh. Well, I doubted that I could be hanging up on bottom so that was reassuring. A few more casts and I got another one into the zone. Sloooooow drift, bob bob goes the indicator. Wait another second, bob bob, SET! After a few vigorous head shakes the fish tore off around the pool, peeling line with it. Concerned about my position on the log I climbed back to the ledge, tightened my drag a bit, and nervously settled into playing the fish. It was healthy and strong, the kind of fight that really satisfies what we as fisherman seek. She ran up, she ran down, she ran deep. I played her towards the ledge and got a few glimpses before she'd take off again. After a few moments of give and take, enjoying the scream of the reel when she ran and recovering line when she slowed, the fish began to tire. I eased her up and over the ledge and a moment or two later had her tailed. BOOM.
I pulled out my phone and snapped a few quick picks with her in the water, backed the hook out of her jaw, and sat there for a moment enjoying the beautiful, wild fish that I held before me. I gently lifted her out of the water to steal a kiss, then slid her back into the current and watched as she descended to the inky black depths of the pool. I pulled out the flask and sat there for a second, elated with my success, just taking it all in.

Pure. Wild. Satisfaction.


Jasper Walsh said...

Boo yah is right ! Well done brother Lucas

Andrew Wilkie said...

Great read Lucas, and what a beauty! I could envision every moment as if I were right there alongside you. Yeehaw!

Clark Winchell said...

Ain't no fight like a Steele fight! Nice wild beauty!