Written by Bob Melrose.
There have been a number of excellent books written by an assortment of authors and their passion for Steelhead. Writers Dec Hogan, Bill McMillan, Kent Helvie, Lani Waller and many others have all contributed immensely to our knowledge of Steelhead fly fishing. Local Babine guide Pierce Clegg has just penned a new book on his vast experiences on the Babine and knowing Pierce I'm sure it will be very well done. I am anxious to receive my copy.
Trey Combs brought out a book that was, and still, is probably "the Bible" on the subject. "Steelhead Fly Fishing" is the definitive work. It chronicles the anglers and guides who shared their knowledge so readily with the rest of us, has chapters on the rivers that
Steelheader's dreams are made of, many descriptions of the various techniques, color charts of the more popular fly patterns and the recipes for tying them. As with the other authors he really captures the "essence" of the Steelhead Fly Fisher.
So, what is the essence of a Steelhead fly fishing addict?
It may be hard to explain, perhaps a sum of all its parts. My first ever Steelhead experience, in just five casts, yielded two notoriously hard to catch, Thompson River Steelhead. I had thought this was easy, man was I mistaken! Many other days on the water have yielded nothing but a sore arm and aching shoulders along with many involuntary baptisms. Guiding on the incredible Dean River in '92 for their legendary summer runs was a treat. Short-sleeve weather was a bonus, although on 30 degree plus
days with the sweat rolling off you, the last thing you wanted to do was climb into a rubber suit. Breathables weren't around yet and those 5 mil. neoprene's got pretty rank by the end of the day. If it wasn't for the glaciers upstream, a dunking would have been
At the other end of the spectrum, how many days have been spent in a snowstorm, at the end of October or even November, hoping you don't hang up and lose a fly, because your fingers are so cold there is no possible way you could tie on another fly.
Or, how many days have you set up your gear in the darkness, to be first in the run, and that finally with enough light, you find that the river has blown from rains upstream?
How about making that early start, there are no other vehicles with trailers at the launch, and you know that you will at least have that run to yourself for a while, only to find a hiker or pontoon boat has beat you?
Many days have started out as "postcards". Beautiful clear late September or early October days, snow crowning the tops of the mountains, the river in perfect shape and the water is full of bright fish, the leaves are at their finest colors and it is going to be the ultimate day. And then the wind comes up, giving "chuck and duck" a whole new meaning. With the wind comes the "leaf hatch". Sensory overload for the fish as they dodge all the cottonwood and poplar/aspen leaves drifting into them. No wonder they want to hide on those days. Also with the "leaf hatch comes the "leaf bite" where
every cast means you have to unfoul your fly.
The reason we are there is for the fish, and now everything has comes together. It is a beauty of a late season buck. Water temperature is 35 degrees and yet you hold that buck who put up a great, dogged fight, with no jumps, typical of the "biggies". Now you must hold him in that unbelievably cold water until you are sure he is fully recovered, because that is what you do as a Steelheader. You know your hand will be numb and useless for the next half hour or so. So why do we put ourselves through this?
Well, that is Steelheading.
As an example, here's an account of a recent trip.
We had started real early, too early to power down the river, just drifting. I was dropped off at a popular run and my buddy took the boat down to the next run. I strung up the rod but still too dark to fish. I was waiting when the first jet was heard coming our way.
I thought I should step into the water so the approaching anglers could see the pool was taken. Two steps into the water and down I went. I don't know if the anglers saw my impromptu pirouette into the 40 degree water. I was carried 20 feet downstream before I could get my feet under me. Great start. I built a fire, stripped down and tried to dry out. The combination of the fire and the sun starting to peek through changed my outlook considerably. I was warming up to the thought of continuing this already fine day.
This run is tricky as it comes down from a long fast stretch, hits this boulder pile and gets deflected to mid stream. The inside is soft "frog water" but where you have to wade is made up of boulders ranging in size from basketballs to small hippo's. To say it is a bitch to wade is putting it mildly, and on top of that each rock has been greased.
I remember a cartoon I once saw of a surprised angler stumbling back as this figure emerges from the water wearing a three cornered hat and a court jesters gown. The angler says "Who are you"? The jester replies "Me, I am the joker who greases the rocks every night."
The run is treacherous but usually worthwhile. Four or five casts into the run and once again, down I went, not even my constant companion wading staff could save me. I regained my footing quickly this time, the sun was starting to warm things up, so might as well keep fishing. I had one of my favorite patterns on, the "Blue Moon." Shaking off the wetness and a couple of casts later the first fish took. The run gave up three more fish before I caught up to my buddy. He had caught a couple of fish in the run below. Since it seemed like there were a few fish around I decided to follow him down. The two rocks midstream that mark the start of the lie are waist deep and have strong current. Here
the inevitable "hat trick"occurred. Three dunkings in one day. This particular run you have to wade aggressively, as the lie cannot be reached unless you take your chances. This mid river lie has a beautiful holding spot of moderate flow and rocks to break up that flow. I landed three more "chromies" in that run.
Seven fish, three baths, good fishing partner, incredible scenery and some of the best Steelhead fishing in the world.
Well, that sounds just like "another lousy day in paradise" doesn't it?
And that is what the "essence of Steelheading" is all about for even if I had not caught fish, it would have been a day well spent.