Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Of shorter days and longer trips

It seems that October has lasted about all of a week.  I've been fishing a fair amount and writing very little.  A couple of weeks ago I made a quick trip to the upper Salmon.  No steelhead were harassed during my short stay but I had a good time fishing new water.  Last week the plan was to head back to the Clearwater for a couple of days then meet up with my buddy Mike on the lower Salmon for a couple more days.  The weather had taken a turn for the worse and with falling snow and rising rivers, I hoped this would be the trip that would turn my steelhead luck around.

Lolo pass was covered in a blanket of fresh snow and as I crested the pass and began my descent into the Lochsa the ever present and all too familiar obsession for steel and the draw of the Clearwater became almost overwhelming.  Damn Idaho and it's 50 mph speed limit on highway 12! 
Having packed the GoPro, the olympus waterproof digital and the trusty iphone, I originally planned to document the entire trip, complete with the campy travel scene video cruising down the highway with the soundtrack straight from my stereo blaring in the background (did I seriously just admit that in writing?  Fuck it, I'll still include it when I get around to making my "movie").  I had visions of self-shot GoPro video of the sloppy spey casting, the hookup, the fight and the release.  Some artsy abstract closeup stills of the tail, maybe the eye (wait wasn't that in the last post?  Again fuck it, this would be a steelhead so I would pull out all the stops)  Splash in some scenery and mood footage and maybe a short bit about Poppy and the Red Shed, hell I might even post it on vimeo and who knows, maybe it would end up on Moldy Chum but I digress.
The longer I paralleled the Clearwater and finally rolled past Kooskia, nearing the first run I planned on fishing, I began to get the feeling that the steelhead gods may not appreciate my greed for glory and recognition.  It harkened back to last year and how after pampering ourselves with soft beds at hotel rooms and promptly getting skunked, Marshall and I decided it was time to suffer a little and see if it would please the steelhead gods.  On the very next trip and after an uncomfortable night in the back of the 4runner, I raised a steelhead to a skated fly and although I didn't hook the fish, I was hooked and consequently knew that our bit of sacrifice the night before appeased the steelhead gods.  With that thought in my mind I pulled over, got ready and promptly left all of my camera equipment (even the iphone) in the 4runner on purpose.
As I hurriedly walked dashed to the river, my excitement was palpable (hell maybe it was the gut-bomb burrito from the convenience store in Lolo, steelheading requires sacrifice and sensible eating habits when you're hurrying to the Clearwater is one of them!)  Regardless I was excited to once again be plying the waters for steel. 
Being fairly new to steelhead fishing and having never fished this run, I guess I started at the top of the run and was mildly impressed with my ability to "read" steelhead water.  As I fell into the familiar rhythym-cast, mend, swing, two steps- I found myself waiting for that tug.  It's absolutely true; The Swing is the Thing and The Tug is the Drug!  Every cast brings another fresh batch of anticipation, and when the din of monotony and repetition begins creeping in a muffed cast is surely a sign from the steelhead gods.  The sign manifests itself as a voice inside my head "wake up, you're about to hook a steelhead" and my anticipation is full-on once again.  A few casts later I recognize a slight change in the run, a slightly different chop, perhaps a tiny change in pace and my excitement somehow elevates another notch.  I'm into what I'm pretty sure is the "bucket" of the run.  At least it's where I feel that if I'm going to feel a tug, this is the place.  Sure enough, some words of advice from Poppy, Dale and my buddy Mike creep into my head "slow down, pull with the bottom hand, make a good stop" and I manage a decent cast in anybody's book and one I'm downright proud of.  Midway through the swing I feel "the tug" and I undoubtedly have a steelhead that not only has hooked itself, but has gone well into my backing on the take and subsequent run downstream.  I somehow manage to make it to the bank without swimming and begin following the fish downstream.  After I get back to my fly line and almost parallel to the fish, I start to lean on it a little to gain more line.  This prompts a scorching upstream run and some impressive aerial displays and I am once again into the backing.  After what seems like an eternity but in reality is probably no more than 10 minutes or so I am now charged with the daunting task of trying to land what I guess to be 3 feet and 14 lbs. or so of a bright Clearwater b-run hen steelhead that is thrashing near my feet.  Before I get to make myself look like too big of a dumbass trying to land the fish, she manages to spit the barbless hook and defiantly fin back to the comforts of her run.  I sit down and spend a couple minutes replaying the whole scene in my mind. I'm completely in awe of the sheer power and beauty of this fish and although I didn't handle it, I'm satisfied in knowing that I hooked the fish on my terms.
Although this is not the first steelhead I hooked this year (I hooked up twice in one day on an earlier trip) this is by far the closest I have come to getting one to hand.  It is still satisfying to know that I have brought each one of the magnificent fish to my fly on my terms. 
Even though I haven't fished the entire run, I decide to call it good for now and head back to the rig.  With only a little daylight remaining I drive downriver and make it to another run in time to fish part of it before darkness settles in and I call it a day.
While I don't know for sure, I like to think that I played a small role in my success by my conscious choice to not bring a camera to the river with me, that I made yet another sacrifice and was therefore rewarded by the steelhead gods.  More than likely I luckily bumbled into a player and somehow put the fly in the right spot at the right time, but who knows?  Not to worry, I'm not swearing off of pictures and I fully intend on one day posting some hero, grip and grin shots, if and when the opportunity arises.  I'm just happy that I don't need that justification.  For now, I know, and that's good enough for me.
 After a celebratory dinner out and a cramped night in back of the 4runner, circumstances arise that preclude me from finishing my trip so I pack up and head back to Montana the next day.  Although I am truly happy with the trip and my obsession is once again satiated for the time being, I know it won't be long until I make plans to return and search for steel and feel that tug of a fish that has come to my fly on my terms.... 

Monday, October 22, 2012


I know I've been relentless not only in my pursuit of steel, but also in rambling about it.  Don't worry the dude is still obsessed.  However I have recently felt the need, not the desire but the NEED to ply the waters closer to home, to re-connect not only physically but spiritually with my home waters.  So with a sky firmly in the grips of autumn and the trees in all their colorful glory I found myself slipping back into an old rhythm, one that I had, dare I say, neglected as of late.  I brought my 5 wt. and a few streamers to my little home river and I have to admit, it all fell into place.  With perhaps an hour of daylight left I walked the tracks to a favorite run.....

Upon entering the water I got the feeling that the river was almost welcoming me home.  I assured the river and it's denizens that I would not forget my roots, no matter how much time I spent elsewhere.  I am connected to this land and these waters.  With the sun setting in the southwestern sky and the leaves in all of their brilliant hues, I knew the time of year had come when one can toss caution to the wind, put away the delicate dry flies and tie on a big gnarly streamer (not that there is no more hatches, just that one has this option and I for one look forward to it).  Sure enough, halfway through the run I got a violent take at the apex of the swing.  After a spirited battle I brought this beautiful brown to hand, 17 or 18", a nice sized fish on most any water and a great fish for this river.  After a quick picture I wiggle his tail once and he disappears to the depths....

My reconnection complete, I sat on the bank and watched the sun dip behind the mountains, completely satisfied with the one fish and truly happy in that particular moment. 
As I walked back to my rig in the dark my thoughts drifted down to the Bitterroot, up Lolo Creek and over Lolo Pass, down along the Lochsa until it meets the Selway and becomes the Clearwater.  At that moment I realize that is the same path my Ancestors made from time immemorial, to ply the same waters and trade with our friends the Nez Perce, and that I am following in their footsteps.  The realization hits me that although this is my home, and these are my home waters, I also have deep physical and spiritual ties, I even dare to say (albeit somewhat shallower) roots in Clearwater country...

As I write this I am preparing to once again retrace the steps of my Ancestors to satiate my obsession in my continued quest for steel....

Monday, October 1, 2012

Still chasin' steel

It seems lately every weekend is another trip over Lolo pass to the Clearwater, I guess that's because every weened in September so far has been a trip to the Clearwater.  Admittedly it's been a difficult year for most people I've talked to.  To say this year has been difficult for Marshall and I would be an understatement!  Every trip we learn something though, and every trip we're confident.  With each trip so far proving unsuccessful, we know that we have banked more credit in the steelhead karma bank and it's only a matter of time before we can cash in on that!

Marshall skated up a boil in this run as the sun peeked over the ridge through the smoke, what a rush!  It was Marshall's first experience with a steelhead on the surface and he was STOKED!!

Another bright note was this stick was incredible!  There were numerous tasty stogies enjoyed on this trip, thanks Mike!

This was also the last trip that I used my single-hander, but that's another story I'll share soon....

It has served me well.... I also met a guy that had quite an interesting story on the green pack.  Saturday afternoon I decided to try a promising run we liked to fish.  After we crossed the side channel and crossed the island we found a couple of guys already working the run.  Oh well, who could blame them?  Just as we approached one of the guys decided to take a break.  After exchanging greetings we sit down to shoot the shit with the guy.  Turns out fishing had been very slow so far this year for them as well.  The topic went from fish to gear, and finally to my pack.  The guy commented that he used to have a pack just like that but one of his kids had lost it.  I admitted I found the pack on the Clearwater last year, that definitely piqued his curiosity.  He asked where I found it, I told him ironically just about where we were sitting, under the power line.  He asked what kind of gear was in it but he already knew, it was his pack!  I offered it back to him but he declined, stating that I had a new pack and he had a great story!  What a good guy!  I offered him to at least take some flies in return which he also declined.  He was glad a fellow fly flinging steelheader had found it and was putting it to good use!
I'm  hoping this only adds to the steelhead mojo, but for now we are still just chasing steel.....