Steelhead season is upon us and knowing my friend Jon would be biting at the nails to go on a trip I gave him a call. This guy lives for going out and steelheading with copious amounts of beer drinking to help pass the time. We decided to take a chance and head out on a river that we never have been before. With many good reports from my customers I was really itching to go and try this new river. It was made clear to me that this river is magical and a very nice treat to go to, so for now this river will not be named. Sorry guys, it is a place that I now hold in a high regard.
A few days prior to leaving Jon and I met up at his house to plan who was bringing what and how we were getting there. It really turned into getting dinner, drinking beer and showing off the flies we were going to use. I made sure to bring over my brand new fly wallet from Lost River Leather that Merrick made for me. From big nasty intruders to traditional spey flies we had about everything in the book to try and catch the “fish of a thousand casts”. The few things we actually planned was that I were to bring my large tent and cots. That was about it, this trip was poorly planned but we made the best of it.
On Friday morning Jon came to my house we loaded up the gear and we were on the road around 4:45am. We were making good time and getting really excited about fishing. We were able to google map areas on the river for places that looked like great holding areas for steelhead. We were getting close so we decided we needed to fill up with gas and Jon’s truck takes premium fuel since it’s a newer vehicle and it was my turn to pay for gas. Premium gas was, $3.99 a gallon for 92 octane I could already tell we made it too far from town. I sucked it up and paid $45 for a little over 11 gallons of gas. Mind you going rate in town is around $2.40 for premium. I could tell this was going to be an expensive trip.
Flash forward! Tent was set up and we were ready to start fishing around 1pm. We both had our spey rods ready for action with some big ugly flies to get the steelheads attention when swinging our Skagit lines through the water. Wading out into some very nice water under a bridge where another stream came and greeted the main river looked to be the hot ticket. I walked through first because I raced out there as fast as I could. Without any bumps to speak of and my Skagit head was sinking like a rock for whatever reason so I was snagging up a lot and getting very frustrated. Jon got a few hits but couldn’t seal the deal. We got out and headed up stream to fish some other runs to see if our luck was better. This time I tied on a nice traditional skunk by fly in hopes it would bring me something, it sure did. As I made my step down to make another cast as soon at my fly hit the water, SPLASH! “OHHHH” I yelled. I stepped on a slimly boulder and fell in right up to my neck in the river and the water filled my veins with ice. The cold knocked the breath right out of me. I recovered quickly and luckily I always wear a wading belt so I wasn’t too wet. Jon on the other hand was having the time of his life laughing at me. “It was like one of those cartoons, I heard you yelp and all I saw was your hat floating on the water you completely disappeared” he said. Holding in my pride I fished a little longer as the sun was starting to hide behind the mountain. That was the only excitement we had at the run. We headed back so I could get a change of clothes to warm up and go eat.
Scarfing down an excellent burger with a cold beer was what I needed after my cold plunge. I ate pretty quickly and I was off back down to the hole we walked through earlier under the bridge. I tied on a hobo spey fly that I tied myself. I made a few casts and nothing really happened. I had one of those good feelings on the next cast. You know the kind that lays out perfect and your swing is just money. Click click click went my reel… I waited for a split second and line started peeling off my loose drag. I set the hook and I feel a few good wiggles and that was it. I started stripping my line in as fast and I could and low and behold a Northern Pike Minnow took my fly. At this time night was starting to creep up on us and we headed for the tent to play cards go to bed.
The next morning came quickly and Jon and I were up ready to fish. I decided I would switch up my approach by skating dry flies to see if I could get a rise out of a steelhead. We met an older gentleman named Don from the night before at the restaurant we ate all our meals at and he gave me some pointers on how to skate the fly properly. I lined up my switch rod and put on a skater fly and we headed out to a small run by our camping site. I was fishing a little pocket of water for fun trying to practice what Don explained to me. It payed off, I caught a beautiful little rainbow. I fished the run behind Jon and when he got down to the end we packed it up and headed down stream. Nothing exciting had happened. Jon was getting bumps but nothing hooked. I switched over to nymphing with an egg pattern and a October Caddis nymph. We got to a spot with two very short runs so I took the upper one while Jon swung the lower. I found a nice rock to stand on to make my casts in the swift water. My bobber shot down instantly. I found bottom, so I adjusted accordingly and made another cast and my bobber shot down again, so I set the hook like I would normally and I felt life on the other end. I got excited because it was pulling my rod tip down hard, I got the fish on the reel and yelled at Jon to get up where I was fishing. “You sure you actually got one” he exclaimed. “Yeah I think so” I yelled back. After those words left my mouth my reel lite up and was singing. “Yup got one” I smiled as I saw the rosey red cheeks of the steelhead bolting back and forth. My forearm was getting a little tired, I had been fighting the fish in the current for about 10 minutes now. Jon grabbed my net and I got down from my rock that I was casting from and started making my way down steam a little to get some line on my reel. I was getting the fish in close and it shot between the rocks and my line went limp and came flying back at me. I yelled so loud my vocal chords hurt afterward and all I heard Jon say is “well that was awesome” as he smiled.
Later that evening we decided to fish a run that we hoped to be productive since we saw two guys catch a fish each out of it. We had been eyeing it all day and finally got the chance to have a go at it. I decided I would skate dries again to see if something would rise on the water. This time I put on my Cutthroat reinforced heavy duty leader. This was the first time ever using a furled leader so I was a bit skeptical and so was Jon. I asked Jon if he had a different style of fly I could use to skate dries with a he gave me a little flashier October caddis. We trudged up stream and ran into Don who was fishing. I watched him delicately cast out his scandi line on the water. I told Don we were going to fish the fish the run above him and he said have at it and told us he “had stuff to do”. Jon on and thought it was rather funny the mysterious way he said it so it was a joke of the weekend saying “I’ve got stuff to do”.
We arrived to the run and Jon fished the upper portion swinging flies while I fished the lower portion. My skating abilities had improved tremendously with practice! The fly was making a nice v shape trail behind it and good action from me bouncing my rod tip up and down. The furled leader was excellent, it was very delicate on the water. I took a few steps down, the sun was trying to hide behind the mountain. I decided I was going to nymph, but in fisherman fashion I made a few last casts. On one of my last casts an explosion happened on the water and my fly was gone. I startled me and I set the hook toward the bank. I hear Jon yell “No god damn way, ol B-ri with his cutthroat leader”. The fish kept rolling and thrashing about I got it on my reel. The pole felt heavy so I knew it was a decent fish. The symphony my reel was playing was music to my ears. Reeling the steelhead in was a task, I finally got it into some slow water that was above me and netted it. What an amazing gift this fish has given me on a skated dry fly! I got him out of the net and got a quick photo and back in the cold running water. Jon looks up at me and tells me “I get first go through on every run now”. That was fine by me, I was satisfied with the whole trip at this moment in time.
The last day arrived quickly. We fished the run in front of where we were camping for a little bit before we went and packed up. Nothing exciting was happening so I started heading back to pack some stuff up and let Jon finish out the run. Jon ended up hooking a pretty rainbow on the swing right as he was about to leave. I was glad to hear that he did catch something instead of getting completely skunked. All I could think of was that magical connection I had between that fish that decided to give me a gift of a memory that will play in my head forever as we headed back home.