Sunday, November 11, 2012

Steelhead Blitzkrieg II

I spent last week in a casino in Connecticut.  Work related.   Luckily all of the work was outside.  Still, the hotel and the meals were inside the casino.  Blue hairs wasting their final years and last dollars on the slim chance that they might win.  It's draining, depressing if you look too long and think too hard.  Twenty-somethings pissing away hard earned paychecks that they probably should be sending to the college loan folks or at least buying gas to get somewhere else.
Returning home, my flight touched down at the home airstrip and I turned on my phone...34 emails and 2 messages waiting.  One of the messages was from McSteel.  He explained that he was heading up north, before the river closed, to get in one last round of talks with the steelhead.  He mentioned that his brother and JG were coming too.  I could feel the envy surging as he asked me to call him back.  I dialed and he gave me the game plan.  He said, "I know that [your wife] is out of town for work this weekend and [my wife] says she will watch the girls if you can make it."  I said, "Give me two hours and I'll call you back."

Fourteen hours later I was in the car heading north.  Kids and McSteel's brother packed in along with waders, switch rods and a coffee pot.  The casino slime was already drying up and cracking off.
I dropped the kids off at McSteel's house and almost felt guilty as we motored off, sans kids, to the river.

We stopped by the campground to see if we could secure a spot on a Saturday night.  There are a moments in a steelhead trip when, despite my age and years astream, I still get anxious.  One is pulling into the stream access point just before you can see how many other anglers have beat you to the spot.  The other is pulling into the campground to see how many other guys had the same great idea you did and if perhaps just one decided to stay home and watch the football game, leaving a little patch of grass for you to drink a beer and sleep too few hours.

The campground was empty.

With our patch of grass virtually assured, we skipped the set-up of camp and headed to the river, wadered up and got to it.  Start time: 2:00 pm.  McSteel, being the understated maestro of this particular ribbon of all that is good, guided JG to the first steelhead of the trip within 30 minutes of ankles wet.  I stumbled through trying to get the Elder Brother McSteel into a fish, but I am a lousy guide.  I swung through the run behind him and caught a 14" chopper that was most probably a jack and even if it wasn't that's what I am calling it.  Somehow it would be less of a failure if this little fish had been in the big water and swam with the intended target.  If it was just a river bow, the connection would have been just that much farther off.

We fished a second run and watched downstream as McSteel hooked a steelhead of his own.  In the gray half-light of the drizzly evening that started at noon, his rod bowed and thrummed as I sprinted downstream to get a photo. 

And then, as if part of the script, McSteel paired up with his brother and promptly put him on a fish.

We shared an obligatory brew in the dark, de-wadered and headed back to the empty campground to stake our claim.

Tallboy PBR's, a hot woodstove and the smell of heating canvas and wet socks.  Conversation that flows like the river itself.   Another PBR and perhaps another... 

Morning comes early when the plan is to hike in at first light.  Today's beat included a familiar stretch of water and I relaxed a bit.  McSteel took it upon himself to get me into a fish.  He planted the other two guys in the #2 and #3 runs and took me to his #1.  The rain was falling light but cold.  The wind kicked up a little.  I knew this run.  I'd hooked fish in it in the past.  Still, you are either a steelheader or you are not.

I am not.

I don't feel the mojo.  I seldom think "this swing is moving through perfectly" or "one step to the bucket".  I get my fish by keeping my fly wet and moving...over and over and over.  I'm sure I screwed up the #1 run.  I probably should have tightened up the angle of the swing to get the fly a little deeper.  I probably could have tucked the fly a little closer to the log.  My fly did tempt a little brown and that was cool...but it wasn't steelhead cool.  I kept stepping down...past the bucket that McSteel himself would've have drained.  I felt like it was needed.  I was in a trance...freezing my ass off but covering the water.  Swing, step, swing step...

The others were off on their own water when the little chromer hit my fly and then the sky.  Maybe 21-22" inches of fat bright steel.  Not big as steelhead go, but certainly not a river 'bow.  I tightened my drag to keep her out of the alders but she took a leap into them anyway.  After a few minute fight, I landed her and botched the photo opp.  I started swinging again.  Step, swing.  Futher down I felt a tug and landed a torpedo brown that could've also been a lake fish.

At noon we pulled our chilled feet and light hearts from the water and headed back to the camp to warm up, pack our gear and head for home.  Twelve hours of driving for 10 hours of fishing.  This runs counter to my standard equation of 1:1 driving to fishing. 

But, in this case, it was a smart move and sure bet.

McSteel attached to his namesake.

Grip and Look Down

Superior Steelhead

Rare look inside the IC

Warm Hot and Dry

Non-Target Species

From Left to Right: us