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Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Manic Muddler by Keith Tymchuck (Skater Of The Month - March 2018)

The idea for the Manic Muddler was born during one evening of tying with Todd, in front of a Coleman lantern, at a camp table in the Susan Creek campground on the NU.  That camp table session resulted in a prototype tied with red Cactus Chenille and dyed black deer hair, material I pilfered from Todd's box.  I lost the original fly first thing the next morning but the idea was set in my head.  Once home,  I ordered some blue and hot orange Cactus Chenille and some purple deer hair.  My next efforts resulted in the pattern you see now and a blue/purple one which seemed way too gaudy and was never fished.  A week later, on the first morning of my next sojourn to the NU, I tied on the orange version, promising myself that I would swing it all morning and then through the evening.  About 9:30, fishing the Swamp Creek run in bright light, a spunky little hen made an aggressive grab just as the fly was nearly swung out. She took off dead down stream but soon enough she was brought to my hand. My love affair with the MM was born.  The hottest NU fish I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know came to the Manic Muddler two summers ago.  You had to be there, my descriptions do that amazing fish no justice.  I hope you can duplicate the good luck I have had this pattern.  Tail:  4 strands of hot orange Krystal Flash.  Body: Silver tinsel (oval or flat) then 3 or 4 wraps of hot orange Cactus Chenille.  Make sure you leave plenty of room for the deer hair which is spun on then. The head is clipped.  I always fish the MM with a hitch.  By the way, the flies in the photo sit atop a fly box my daughter Blair gave my for Christmas.  It was custom made, with a map of the North Umpqua laser-engraved on the top.  A very cool gift!

(Thanks to my good friend Keith Tymchuck for sharing this piece.  Keith and I are regular fishing companions during winter and summer.  Keith is also one of my fishiest friends - he somehow gets steelhead when no one else can.  Keith and I met through the Speypages forum and he is a regular contributor there.  Lookup him up as "Moethedog", you will see more of his fishy creations in the fly tying forum there.)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Dad's Rod by Rick Fielder

Dad's Rod

It's been a year and a half since my dad passed away and I was lucky enough to inherit his steelhead fly rod: a beautiful 9 foot 3 inch Orvis Advantage 7 wt. with a walnut reel seat spacer.  He paired it with a Hardy Zenith and a Scientific Angler's 8 weight steelhead taper line.  The rod casts like a dream and the one weight heavier line helps the rod load perfectly and turn over bushy steelhead dries that my dad loved to fish.  At his death, I brought the rod home and placed it, in its tube, on pegs over my fly tying bench.  The reel was placed in its leather pouch in an open cubby just in front of my tying vice. These two cherished objects haunt me in both a wonderful and bitter-sweet way.

Each time I sit down to tie I see the rod and reel and am immediately flooded with memories. Steelhead on the Umpqua, warm summer days swinging small wets on the Roque River in Southern Oregon, casting in the wind on Deschutes riffles with the August sun pounding down on us. What great times we shared.  The camp food, the lazy days, the beauty of it all were made better as we shared the fellowship of a cold beer and talked of our dreams and the events of the world.  We spoke of baseball, of philosophy and art, of teaching children, and of our mutual love for fly fishing. The world didn't seem so harsh when I was with him and we were on the river. These events are forever etched in my mind.

Sometimes, when I see dad's rod I flash back to my boyhood and my dad teaching me to drift Velveeta cheese baited gold treble hooks on hand cut willow rods with 10 foot of 4 pound leader in small streams.  I remember crouching down and putting the "sneak" on a 20 foot long current seam as it split a boulder.  Dad showed me how to drop my offering in at the head of the current, dead drift it around the rock into the middle of the run, and lift it toward the surface at the tail out. It was a sure fire method in those mountain creeks of Northern California in Humboldt County back in the 1960's. The native rainbows were feisty fighters and willing to "take the bait" enough to keep an 8 year old "Huck Finn in the making" looking to fish-up a big one.

Those simpler "willow rod" days, and listening to dad as he taught me life lessons while sunning on a remote stream bank taught me to love "river time" and nature and I've held fast to these guide posts throughout my lifetime. These experiences have influenced my existence and have been the foundation from what I've built my fly fishing life and have forged my values. Clean water, fresh air, honesty and truth, along with quiet reflective times are what I'm all about.

That Orvis rod has a life of fishing memories within it and those memories live in my mind and guide me each day. They live as I hope the man who lived them does in some alternate place- in the spiritual world. Dad's rod is a spiritual totem from which I draw energy to face life's challenges. It guides me to excitement, exploration, pursuit of beauty, and happiness. It emanates pleasure, security, and fun. I am blessed to have it resting above me as I tie flies. It transports me to a place so innocent and wonderful that I'm brought to tears of eternal gratitude.

Thanks Dad, thanks for sharing the spirituality and grace one receives when fishing. You may be gone, but your rod is here. It and the memories it holds within its cork and slender graphite help me live. Dad, I remember, and since I do- you will always live. Your rod is my hope and your reel is my song. I only hope I can pay your gifts forward. I look to the day we can talk and exist together in the alternate space-the spiritual place-I have so much to say and share.

Rod Fielder's Inspiration Was Zane Grey 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Skater Of The Month: February 2018 - The Copper Top

This month's featured skater is yet another variation of my surface pattern. I utilized copper Krystal Flash, copper Ice Dub, copper Lagartun flat braid, and black foam.  When I viewed the finished fly, I thought of the famous copper/black Duracell batteries we all use and named it the Copper Top.   I will surely test this version when spring us upon us and surely into summer and fall.

CONTRIBUTORS WANTED:  If you have a favorite surface steelhead fly and a story to go with it, please contact me at   I always love posting up other folks' flies and stories since continued pics of my fly has got to get old.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Dry Line Swing in Winter

Casting a Winter's Hope on a dry line.  Photo by Steve Turner 
Bright winter buck taken on a 5/0 Winter's Hope swung on a dry line.  Todd Hirano photo

When I first took up fly fishing for steelhead in the late 80's, the common wisdom for pursuing winter steelhead was to use a sinking shooting head or sink tip line.  I bought into the hype and purchased some of the sinking lines available at the time and found them a pain to cast, but accepted that as part of the winter steelhead game: this game is supposed to difficult, afterall.

It was during those early days as a novice steelhead fly fisher that I began peeking at a copy of Bill McMillan's classic book Dry Line Steelhead sitting on the bookshelf of the Kaufmann's Streamborn fly shop in Tigard, Oregon in 1989.  I was working a minimum wage job at the time so I put off purchasing  the book so I could afford the bare essentials with tackle and fly tying materials to keep me on the water.  A few years later, my dear wife Wendi purchased a copy of Dry Line Steelhead for me as a Christmas gift.

Along with the chapters on surface methods for steelhead, the chapters on utilizing the dry line throughout winter captured my attention.  I was fascinated with the prospect of fishing all winter with a floating line!  Bill's descriptions of using the "deep wet fly swing" with his graceful and elegant Winter's Hopes tied on big irons filled my mind with romantic images of fishing winter rivers with the fluid grace of the dry line and hooking into winter steelhead in such a gentlemanly manner.

Some Hope.  Photo by Todd Hirano
The only problem with my perfect fantasy of dry line winter swinging was that I had moved from Oregon back to my childhood home of Kauai, HI from 1990 to 2009, which provided a minor 19 year interruption in my plans!  Upon arriving back in Oregon in 2009, I began hitting winter rivers with regularity and subsequently became fully committed to fishing the dry line swing throughout the coming winter steelhead seasons.

I have been extremely blessed to have been able to regularly communicate with Bill McMillan directly over the years and even more blessed that we have become friends.  Bill had mentioned to me that when the old Partridge code M hooks that he tied his Winter's Hopes on were discontinued, he began fishing other non-traditional flies for his dry line winter fishing.  Speaking of non-traditional flies, I began experimenting with tying bead headed MOALs (leech pattern) in 2009 and offered some to Bill and he actually accepted some of my crude ties.  It wasn't long before I heard back from Bill that he began hooking into his local winter steelhead on them!  I figured if MOALs were good enough for my mentor, then they were good enough for me.

Hefty winter buck taken on a red/orange MOAL dwarfs single hand 7wt.
Despite my initial doubts, uncertainties, and second guessing while utilizing the method, I got my first few dry line winter steelhead on MOALs tied with a 1/4" bead and about 3.5" in overall length.  I was thrilled with my hard won dry line winter successes and with each dry line steelhead encounter came more confidence.    My next goal was to get winter steelhead on the traditional Winter's Hope and in subsequent seasons I have been able to attain that goal of getting winter steelhead on the famous pattern from size 5/0 down to 2/0.  I was able to luck into some old stock Partidge code Ms in the large sizes and have been carefully rationing their use since they are no longer produced.   I have also taken dry line winter steelhead on simple, sparse, marabou intruder style patterns and a simple marabou/rabbit strip pattern called the Samurai as well.

Bright Winter Hen taken on Black Friday 2013 on a simple rabbit/marabou fly named the Samurai.  Photo by Todd Hirano
Bill McMillan was utilizing a traditional double taper line and single hand rods up to 10' in length in the days his articles on the method were written in the early 70's.  Bill has since been using two handed rods and windcutter style lines in recent years for the winter dry line swing.  I initially used two handed rods and double taper or windcutter lines in my early winter dry line attempts as well.  The longer rods and lines made setting up the dry line swing a breeze with easy back mending and line control advantages as well.

I most often fish winter rivers in the medium to small range so in 2011, I began a passion with utilizing vintage single hand glass rods in the 8-9' range.  I had also discovered the ease and utility of Wulff Ambush lines during that time.  The short, heavy head on the Ambush lines make single hand spey casting a delight and they match old glass rods especially well.  Of course using a short head line on shorter single hand rods eliminated the ability to set up the dry line swing with back mends so I adapted the Ambush line to the dry line swing by using what Dec Hogan has referred to as a "pull back" mend.  The cast is made cross stream and as soon the the line lands, the rod is lifted and the rear of the head is pulled back in a diagonal, upstream orientation.  Some additional line can be fed into the drift to allow the fly to sink, and/or the angler can take steps downstream during the swing to allow the fly to stay deep for the greatest portion of the presentation as possible.

As Bill McMillan noted in his writing on the subject, the method does require "editing" water one chooses to fish.  In other words, the winter dry line swing will not fish all the water that guys with indicators or swinging sinktips will be able to cover.  The method works best in runs with a moderate current speed where the fly is able to gain some depth and maintain that depth for the maximum amount of the time during the swing before currents pull the fly to the surface towards the dangle.  This is the primary reason that the winter dry line swing will rarely net as many hookups as indi fishing or sinktip swinging:  your fly is simply in the zone for a smaller proportion of the time compared to other methods.

On the flip side, there are times and places where the winter dry line swing has advantages over the sinktip equipped angler.  An example is were a soft cushion forms close to the near shore.  A guy with a tip will swing his setup through the heavier main current and be fine, but when the sinktip comes into the softer water, the angler may have to strip in before hanging up on the bottom.  In this situation, the dry line angler is able to allow his fly to safely swing all the way to the dangle without fear of hanging up and sometimes winter steelhead like to hang out in that soft water close to shore.

An example of the above scenario comes to mind when I fished with my good friend Craig Coover a few years ago.  We hit a local coastal river for a quick afternoon session and we found ourselves on a nice run there the main flow pushed hard towards the far bank which was lined with a rock wall.  I started at the upper section and found it a bit fast for the dry line.  Craig was fishing the mid section of the run from a small clearing he found through the bankside brush.  I looked longingly at the water Craig was fishing as I noted how the flow transitioned very nicely from the main flow to a soft inside cushion.

Craig is a very good fisherman and he is literally a "vacuum cleaner" with his sinktip setups that he fishes with much skill.  Craig had thoroughly fished the middle water from his casting station and came up empty.  However, despite Craig's "barometer" indicating there were no fish there, I decided to try fishing the same water anyway after Craig moved to fish the bottom of the run.  I wanted to see how the water fished with the dry line for future reference on return trips to this run.  
I found Craig's water to fish the dry line extremely well.  This flow was basically a "self mender".  All I had to do was cast cross stream and the current did the rest.  This water had the perfect feel for the dry line: moderate speed, even flow, and decent depth.  One of the indications of the "feel" I like is when the current is just lightly pulling against the head during the swing, which translates to a soft tension on my index finger as I lightly hold the running line against the cork.  After several casts where the Ambush head and a few strips of running line were out, my 4/0 Winter's Hope came towards the dangle on a nice slow swing.  A quick yank came next and I was fast to a bright hen that I eventually managed to get to the bank in spite of the cramped quarters of the jungle behind me.  

I was surprised at hooking into a steelhead in water Craig had just fished, but it later dawned on me that I likely was able to swing my fly closer to the near shore with the dry line presentation and had actually fished water that Craig had not touched with his sinktip.  Other areas where the winter dry line swing shines is where the flow is too shallow and soft for guys with tips to fish effectively. 
Classic Dry Line water.  Photo by Todd Hirano
 Fishing without the mechanical advantage of a sinktip can seem like too much of a sacrifice to many, but for those up for a new challenge in winter steelheading, the dry line swing can bring great rewards with the rare successes giving a great sense of accomplishment.  Utilizing the dry line swing in winter is very satisfying for me because when success comes, I know I have overcome great odds.  As it is, winter steelhead are tough to come by for most of us so why make a tough game even tougher?  As Tom Hanks has said:  "It's supposed to be hard, if it were easy, everyone would do it".  Makes me wonder if Tom Hanks was a dry line winter steelheader.

My first winter steelhead taken on a classic Winter's Hope.  Todd Hirano photo

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Muddler Minnow....

The Official Skater of the South Lima Steelhead Society.
By Richard C. Harrington

Years ago (OK, years and years), the Seth Green Chapter of Trout Unlimited, in Rochester, New York, was the sponsoring organization of the New York State Trout Forum, (a clave before any of us had ever heard of a clave). Poul Jorgenson was one of the featured presenters. He sat and tied a beautiful Sir Conrad (which I snagged later at the auction), demonstrated a two-feather mayfly pattern, then answered a few questions. He had a few minutes left, and said that he had a fly he liked to use to demonstrate his emphasis on proportion and the use of squinting to check those proportions. It was a Muddler Minnow, or more accurately, a variant. It was nothing but the deer hair head and collar, spun on a hook, then trimmed to a sculpin-ish head shape, with the longer collar hairs flowing off the back, giving a pretty good impression of life.

I loved that fly. At the time I was fairly obsessed with fully dressed salmon flies, and was a big Jorgensen junkie, referring to his book constantly in my tying. But the simplicity of that fly, the emphasis on form, appealed to me. Later that week I whipped up a few and stuck them in my box. At the same event, we had Joe Humphries in attendance, and after a parking lot casting challenge/demonstration early the next morning, we were visiting, and he mentioned that when streamer fishing, one of his favorite flies was a Muddler, and he felt it fished much better if he put a few in a vial of water the night before, so the heads were pre-soaked, causing the fly to sink immediately once he was on the water. 

Oh, man. Man, oh, man, oh, man. I was gonna slay. I tied up full muddlers, sort of reduced, low water style versions and Mr Jorgenson’s super reduced variation. I had damp pockets on my verst from my presoaking vials. I fished them hard. Swinging, stripping, casting upstream, cross- stream, down and across. I tried Leisenring lifts, I pinched micro shot on the leader ahead of them. I even floated some dry ones dead drift, having read it was a grasshopper pattern in a pinch.

I caught jack shit. Not a one. Not a single trout, bass or sucker.

Eventually I dropped muddlers from my lineup all together.

About 30 years later, I sat on the bench under Lee Spencer’s tarp along Steamboat Creek. After an hour of hanging out, watching, quiet visiting, and playing gently with his pup, Lee said, So, your’e pretty serious about steelhead. I was a little startled and said, Well it is fishing, so I try and keep it in perspective. But you know how it’s really popular right now to say men can’t multi-task? Well, I figure I’m actually a pretty decent multi-tacker, as I think about steelhead, pretty much all the time, and still get other things done. He laughed, and we got to talking in earnest. And at the end of our conversation, the final point he made was that there was no reason at all, fishing to summer run fish on that hallowed river, to ever need a sunk fly. (Don’t get me wrong- if/when I get down there in the winter, I’m fishing tips- I’m not some Hirano-type purist). But, he’d said, The strain of fish in this river will come up through thirty feet of water to hit a skated fly.

So what fly do you skate? I’d asked. He said, I just tie a little, sparse whispy version of a muddler- really sparse, and then hitch it behind the head. It skates right along.

We parted ways, me off to fish. It was my first time on the river. I had no clue where to fish. I got back down to the highway and on impulse, headed upstream. A few minutes later I was stopped by a flagman. How long? I asked. 45 minutes to an hour, was the response. I thought about heading back downstream, but I’d camped quite aways up. And since I had no clue about where to fish, the river next to me seemed as good as any. I pulled off onto the shoulder, wadered up, and scrambled down to the river. I rigged my rod, sat on a boulder and pulled out my flybox.

I’m a packrat by nature. It’s a genetic problem, and I knew there were a couple old muddlers- old, like 30 yeas old- in the corner of my box. They were fairly fully dressed, the only real difference being a fox wing in place of the turkey quill. I pulled one out, knotted it on, and tied a hitch between the head and the collar as Lee had demonstrated. It mashed the shit out of the head, but she skated. And there, at the bottom of that long slide, I headed into the tunnel of overhanging branches, wading that slippery-assed river for the first time, rock to rock, and happy as a clam as I watched my little bug waking across the apparently bottomless, blue-black depths.

Two hours in, not a swirl, and my previous muddler experience was creeping into my mind. Lee was pretty convincing, but so was my much earlier 5 year stint of striking out with Muddlers. And I was exhausted. I sat down and pulled out some cheese and crackers, and a beer. As the beer disappeared, the slab on which I sat seemed to get flatter, more moss-covered and more inviting. And I do love a stream side nap. I propped my Meiser up out of the way, set my small pack as a pillow, and laid down, looking at the river. The beautiful deep, dark currents, the massive boulders, that big pillow of water in front of that house-sized midstream boulder. I could not sleep, not with that beautiful lie facing me.

I shook off the nap and grabbed my rod. I stepped off my bed-rock, and onto a 18 inch wide, waist-deep shelf, nothing but dark below the toes of my boots. I rolled out about 30 ft of line and leader, and started the swing. The view of my little bug waking along was great, my head only about three feet above the surface. A dozen or so casts into the run, my fly climbed onto the pillow in front of the boulder, and about half way across, it disappears into a good sized silver snout. When he felt the hook, he launched and all three jumps seemed to soar above my head.

I felt too precarious in my position to move, and I was lucky he was more interested in bulldogging than running. Eventually I had him at my perch, got him by the tail and slipped the fly free.

Two days later, after a steep hike/slide down, and a quick nap waiting for the sun to drop behind the trees and shade the run, my little bug skated through a bunch of trout rising to a light caddis hatch. The Muddler got plucked and sipped continuously, and I wondered if there was a steelhead in that bottomless dark water he’d want to complete with all these little trout. The explosion that followed answered that, and after a great tussle in the waning light, I landed the second fish in three days. 

That was my introduction to an amazing river. I’ve never wanted to fish it differently since, but I haven’t been able to keep myself from tweaking my muddler. I seem to get ever close to Mr. Jorgenson’s head-only dressing, but I do like a touch of razzle-dazzle. At this point I’ve settled on a body of diamond braid, a few strands of crystal flash as an underwing, and the deer hair wing and head. I like to mix the colors of deer hair, blue/black, purple/black, or orange/black (October Caddis). I prefer died hair, as I think the dying process leaves it stiffer. I tie the head longer and looser than what will most often be found in shop fly boxes, and trim it tight and flat on the bottom, as I’ve found it skates better for me. I think the longer loose fibers give a flexible shoe at the point of impact of the water against the head, providing more lift than the dense, tight heads normally associated with muddlers. And that is entirely an opinion, not a wisp of fact to back it up.

A few years later, back in western NY, after my third or fourth trip to that river, my buddy, Coop and I were fishing tubes on our favorite eastern river. He’d asked about the most recent western trip and I was explaining the hitched muddler. “And you hitch it behind the head? The fly is knotted at the eye, and then pulled back and half-hitched behind the head, completely mashing the crap out of the head?

Pretty obvious where this was going. We’ve been friends a long time. 

“That has got to be the most inelegant thing I’ve ever heard of you doing with a fly,” he said with mock disgust.

Well, I couldn’t argue. It did look like hell. And the solution was ridiculously simple. Just a wee neck between the head and eye, room for a double turle with a hitch behind it. I was concerned the point of impact of the water would change too much, not providing the lift I want, but it works great, with no inelegance to be humiliated by. 

To this day, about seven years in, visiting two or three times each year,  it’s the only way I’ve fished that river. It’s been good to me.

I love muddlers. I’ll take mine hitched, and skating please.

©Richard C. Harrington 2018

Monday, December 4, 2017

Skater Of The Month For December 2017 - Tweaks

For past couple months, I have experimented with "tweaks" to a couple of my existing color blends.  In the top photo, I took the all black Ninja and added a red butt and green flash and green rib.  I like how the red and green provides a nice contrast with the black fly.  I have fished this fly a few times with only trout rises thus far.  Further testing with fish present is needed.

In the middle photo, I added a green butt to the Ninja as I visioned Kaufmann's "coal car" wet fly that is all black with the green butt the only point of contrast.  This version of the Ninja accounted for the one hookup I got on my BC trip this fall, and the one local steelhead I landed in September.

In the bottom photo, I took the natural/purple/green wang that I called the Royal Green and added an orange butt and purple UV flash.  The orange butt and purple flash adds a pop factor the the natural hued fly that appeals to my eye.  No approval from steelhead yet.  Hopefully field testing next year will give this fly some much needed validation.

Winter steelhead season is now upon us and I have officially gotten  my big irons and other subsurface dry line winter flies out.  I took my first winter steelhead trip on 12/1 and while no steel like tugs were encountered, it felt good to be back in my winter playgrounds.  Of course when mild winter condtions are encountered, I will still give the floaters a try.

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and a Merry Christmas.  May chrome gifts appear when you are out on the rivers.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

BC 2017 In Pictures

Another year has quickly passed by and the time came for my annual trip to Steelhead Paradise this past September.  Steelhead returns have been dismal in most of our west coast streams and the Tyee test fishery likewise predicted poor returns for the Skeena system as well.  The regular assault team consisting of Steve Turner, Tony Torrence, Adrian Cortes and I remained committed to making the trek north, come what may.

On day one, we put in at the top of our favored float.  A steady drizzle accompanied us for most of the day, however the river remained fishable and we remained hopeful.  Over the course of the day, the river began to show a bit of color, but I remained optimistic that the river would remain fishable in the coming days.  No surprise that none of us got into steelhead and the only fishy encounter came as a good tug to Tony's wet fly fished on a tip.

Our Limo, complements of Steve Turner!

Tony tossing a tip in a rising river

A perfect dry fly run
Tony got a pull on his wet, right there...
Rick's Gold, ready for action.

Island Life. 

On day two, I realized that my optimism was misguided!  We arrived at the same put in to find that the river was blown.  Several other fisherman arrived and the collective dismay could be felt.  Adrian ran into a fellow named Max that he had met and fished with on the Deschutes in June and we ran into another fellow named Carlo Ng who recognized Adrian and me through social media.  I was flattered that Carlo liked my pattern enough to tie his own versions and on which he had found surface success.  l ended up sharing a few flies with Carlo as we collectively prayed for fishable conditions in the coming days.  We had heard that the Kitimat river had flooded and washed an RV downstream.  We later heard that the entire river system we were on was blown, including it's headwaters.

We decided to accept the day as a loss in terms of fishing, so we returned to our motel.  Tony had actually opted to take the day off to rest up for the remaining days of our week and turns out he made the right choice!  He had just gotten up when we returned and didn't seen terribly surprised to see us.  The guy must own a crystal ball and knew that this day would probably not be the best bet to be out in.

Adrian and I tried to reconcile our time by tying flies in an effort to stave of the pain of missing a day of fishing after driving 20 some hours to get here.  As we idled around, we tried to come up with a game plan for the coming days.  Looking for water that dropped more quickly seemed like the general idea.

It was on this day that I got on a weird kick.  When we went to lunch at a cafe in town, and for some random reason, I decided to eat an elaborate salad consisting of organic greens and a bunch of stuff I could not identify.  It was actually pretty good.  I think in a strange way of rebelling against the adverse conditions, I ended up eating salads at almost every meal for the remainder of the trip to punish myself.  I'm sure my body was wondering what happened to all the red meat, fat, and carbs I regularly consume as a lifetime junk food junkie.  My friends no longer recognized me.

A blown river

These will stay dry on this day

Tony had the right idea to sleep in.

One trick pony
 Day three found us on a smaller neighboring river that was still running a bit high, but on the drop.  This was our first visit to this river and we fished from the bank on a recon mission.  I found this river to have numerous dry fly runs that just called for the surface presentation.  I spent the day watching my unorthodox skater swinging across beautiful runs with just casting practice and character building to show for it.  We schemed a plan for the next day as we sniffed out a put in and take out for a reasonable day's float.  We were able to get a hold of a local contact who was willing to help us with a shuttle (Thanks A!!) and we were set.

A great place to start the day

Steve casting bullets into the morning currents

Steve and Adrian have a plan

Beautiful country

Day four found us putting our pontoons in on a river that was in perfect shape, running at a perfect level with good clarity.  As we made our way downstream, I suggested that Tony call out runs for us to fish as he is better at pacing our way down the river.  I tend to be a "hoarder" and if up to me, we'd end stopping at every little piece of water that looks even remotely fishable.  As we worked down, Tony suggested we cover some ground since this stretch is a bit long for a day's float.  As we approached a nice tailout, we contemplated whether to stop when we saw a nice rise in the middle, which helped in our decision making process.

Tony graciously insisted that I put a skater over the rise first and if no hookup was forthcoming, he would go over with a wet.  I hurriedly got into position, got my casts lengthened into the zone and worked down to where the rise appeared.  As I watched my skater coming across low in the tailout, a bulge of water appeared at my fly, then after a few feet, the bulge appeared again as the fish followed the fly.  Another bulge came at the dangle but no eat.  The comeback routine with changing flies and shortening up brought no results either.  Tony went through with his wetly and still no connection.  By then Steve and Adrian arrived and pulled in so they would not disrupt our water.   Adrian decided to give the riser one last opportunity to show itself, but still no cigar.

We continued on through the float an enjoyed a mild day with lots of great water before us.  In one side channel we floated through, we flushed several large steelhead off their lies.  Of course this piqued our interest and we pulled over and fished through the water and got no satisfaction.  In a pool below, Tony spotted a couple more steelhead holding.  At the end of the day the net result for our group was zero rises (aside from the bulges at my fly which may have been a pink?), zero grabs, and zero hookups.  Nonetheless, we were happy for the conditions which forced us to explore this water for the first time.
Morning huddle

Adrian zeroing in

Tony fishing over an area where steelhead were spotted

Closing out the day

Day five found us back at the larger river as we had gotten reports that it was running on the high side but fishable.  As we floated down, we indeed noticed that this would be a different game where runs we normally fished would either be changed or unfishable.  We stopped at either soft nearshore cushions or traditional runs that "spread out" nicely with the higher water.

By midday, none of us found any players.  Steve had rowed ahead to stake out a nice gravel bar that would serve as our lunch stop.  Our typical lunch fare of ham sandwiches (or wraps), cheese, Ms. Vickies chips, cookies, beer, etc, emerged as we took a break from our determined efforts to find a needle in the haystack.  After lunch we decided to split up our lunch stop water with Adrian hitting the lower section, me grabbing middle, and Tony fishing the top just below where we pulled in.  Shortly after we got settled into our rhythm, a voice was heard proclaiming "got one!" - Tony's!  Tony had been fishing a light tip with a McNeese styled wet and found his prize where the river drops off as it sloped away from the bank.  The beautiful hen gave a wonderful account of herself with spritely runs.  Tony landed the beautiful and rare steelhead with photos and high fives to go around.

As we approached the lower section of the float, Tony decided to let the "hoarder" call out some water.  I saw a nice nearshore break so we pulled in.  I figured to split this run with Tony, but he felt like taking a break and had me fish the short run on my own.  I had my 11' 8wt Cabela's TLr switch, 450 grain Ambush and #6 green butt ninja as I worked down the run.  This set up was working very well in cutting through the afternoon winds and this run didn't call for long casts with the seam running about 60' off the bank.  From his vantage point provided by the front seat of our pontoon, Tony was also able to track the black post on my fly as it contrasted nicely from the silver/grey glare provided by the overcast.   At the lower part of the run, the flow softened nicely and my skater swung perfectly through the currents.  As I was meditating on the pleasure of this perfection, a steelhead launched across the surface and muched my fly near the dangle!  Tony saw the rise as well and both of our attentions intently focused on the events at hand.  Tony yelled over "you got him??", I had just gotten tight to the steelhead and yelled "yep!". I finally felt life on the end of my line and the adrenaline rush was overwhelming after going through the week with no action.  I switched the rod over to my left hand and began reeling tight to the smallish buck as he was about to take off on a run.  Just as I was visioning getting a closer look at this beautiful steelhead, tension was lost as I realized that my vision got free.  The conflicting emotions of disappointment and gratitude came over me as I chalked it all up as part of the deal with this game that I love.

Tony and I split up a beautiful, long run just above the take out as we closed out the day and our trip.  This run was big and broad and just called out for a longer rod.  My Sage 9140 Brownie came back out with a 54' Delta Spey.  It was a pleasure stretching out with longer casts as my little black skater cut through the bouncy seams.  I fished with great anticipation of a closing steelhead rise, but it was not to be.  The joy of the rhythm was more than enough.
Set up for the final session

Group shot of Non Resident Aliens

Misty Morning hop

Feeling hopeful

Steve and Adrian beating Tony and me to some good water

Steve and Tony having a lunch hour fly conference

Adrian is a pusher of Vienna Sausages

Tony hooks up.

It's alive!

Keep em wet


The release

The fly, a McNeese inspired pattern of Tony's

Adrian in the zone down low

Closing out the day

Love my 9140 Brownie and big water

It was a trip of scarcity as to fish catching was concerned, but rich in friendship and fellowship.  Adrian, Steve, Tony and I had a wonderful time hanging out with each other.  We also were able to connect with BC friends including Will Bush who is an incredible tyer of classics and rep for Lagurtan; Aaron Lowe who is an awesome long rod (16'6" B and W) long line caster and tyer of the fishiest/buggiest small flies around, Allison Oliver who is now the Skeena region steward for the Native Fish Society and all around fishy gal, Katy Watson - Will's girlfriend, fishing guide, adventurer, Spey O Rama competitor, talented tyer, and passionate steelheader.

Of course we plan to return to Steelhead Paradise next year, God willing, with prayers for the recovery of wild runs in the Skeena system and beyond.  I am hopeful the current trends are just a low point in steelhead population cycles and that the resiliency of these mighty fish reigns.