5 Tips for Catching Trophy Steelhead

 By Jason Brooks

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With longer days and warmer weather the winter steelheader knows this is the time of year for big fish to arrive in our rivers. Those that might have not caught a truly large steelhead will learn a few lessons as soon as they hook the fish. Unfortunately this is not the time to learn those lessons. And if you have caught that magical fish of a lifetime then you might want to remember these lessons as well before you head back to the river.

The author about to release a wild steelhead, keeping it in the water at all times-Jason Brooks

The author about to release a wild steelhead, keeping it in the water at all times-Jason Brooks

Go where the big fish are.

By doing a little research or hiring a reputable guide you can find a handful of rivers that produce big steelhead. Don’t think you can just head to any old steelhead stream and catch a giant fish, even if rumors abound that a twenty pound fish came out of “hatchery brat creek”. Wild fish need wild places so head to a remote section of the Olympic Peninsula with a handful of river maps in your tackle box.

Rivers with wild fish are in wild places-Jason Brooks

Rivers with wild fish are in wild places-Jason Brooks

Leave the bait at home.

This time of year and the rivers you will target should have a run of big wild fish which means we need to protect them. By using techniques that don’t require bait you are more likely to not mortally hook one of these majestic fish. But by all means use scents when it’s legal to do so!

It might seem strange to not use bait but use scents, however it’s how you use the scent that makes the difference. I rub Pro-Cure Super Gel’s on my leaders as well as smear it on my plugs and spoons and soak my slinkies in Pro-Cure bait oils. The idea of using scents is to have it disperse downstream of your presentation so the fish is anticipating something coming and also entice the strike.

Using scents can entice a strike-Jason Brooks

Using scents can entice a strike-Jason Brooks

Knotless nets and fish stay in the water.

This is almost a no brainer with Washington’s regulations though I still see the green or blue nylon knotted nets in drift boats. Those nets literally rip the slime off of the fish which compromises the fish’s ability to fight off bacteria and infections. Along with using a soft knotless net you should keep the fish in the water at all times. Sure I see the photos of one fin in the water to “keep legal” but really the head of the fish or at least the gills plate should remain in the water. And be careful of hand placement as putting pressure under the pectoral fins can compress the steelheads heart.

Use a knotless net when practicing catch and release-Jason Brooks

Use a knotless net when practicing catch and release-Jason Brooks

Bring a camera!

A real camera, not your cell phone. You finally land a fish of a lifetime and it’s now time to preserve that memory or even use the photos to make a replica mount of the fish. Take a lot of photos from all sorts of perspectives, including close up shots and use a “fill flash” to lighten shadows of ball caps. Along with the camera make sure to take measurements of your fish so you can do the math calculations on just how big your fish really was. Here’s a formula that’s been developed by biologists to determine the weight of a wild steelhead:

Girth Squared x Length/775

Use a camera to capture the fish and angler to share the memories-Jason Brooks

Use a camera to capture the fish and angler to share the memories-Jason Brooks

Upsize your gear.

If you are still using 8 or 10 pound test leaders and 12 pound mainline you will really wish you weren’t the second you realize you have a monster steelhead up and running. Truly big fish are not as leader shy as some hatchery brats. And big fish means big gear. As soon as we get a warm spring day I switch all of my mainline to either 15 pound monofilament or 20 to 30 pound braid. My leaders are at least 12 pound test and a buddy of mine uses 20 pound test when we fish a certain river on the coast known for log jams and huge fish. I also trade my lightweight side drifting rod for my fall salmon rod. I keep a finger on my line to help feel the bite but I want the backbone of the medium to medium heavy action rod to turn that big fish away from the logs and rocks and hopefully force it in to the bank. Plus the sooner you can land a big fish the sooner you can let it rest and get it back into the stream. Fighting a steelhead to near exhaustion is no different than bonking it on the head with a stick.

Use the right gear and bring in the fish before it reaches exhaustion-Jason Brooks

Use the right gear and bring in the fish before it reaches exhaustion-Jason Brooks

Good luck and go find that steelhead of a lifetime!

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
Northwest Outdoor Writer

Keys to Successful Bank Steelheading

Bank angling for winter steelhead, a Northwest Tradition

by Jason Brooks

Bank bound anglers often feel they are at a hindrance to those floating buy in drift boats or having the wake of a jet sled slap the shores as they zoom by. But just because one is on foot doesn’t mean they are at a disadvantage as long as the bank angler utilizes some basic knowledge and prepares for the day of fishing. Here are a few keys to becoming a more successful bank bound steelheader.

Hooking and fighting a fish from shore can be very fun and productive

Hooking and fighting a fish from shore can be very fun and productive

Know the river and the land that surrounds it. With the internet and Google Earth as well as many other mapping systems like Hunt by “onXmaps”. A little research before you head to the water will benefit the angler on foot. Access points to some secret holes or runs can be found by simply clicking through the county auditor’s website and learning which bank areas are open to the public and who might own the private lands to ask for permission. River’s change course each winter with the heavy rains but Google earth will show you the bends and long straights with a tail out.

After you have done a search and found several access points to a river you want to fish, it’s time to put the boots on the ground. Take an entire day to explore the river and check out all potential access points and areas to fish. The first time you visit a river it should be to explore. Even if you find that secret run or deep slot, fish it for an hour and then make yourself move on and keep looking around. You will thank yourself the next time you drive to the river and find a person in your best spot and then not have to go try and find a new one as you will already know where to go.

Fishing the bank is very rewarding

Fishing the bank is very rewarding

Once you learn a river or two or three…you get the idea, then it’s time to get smart about your gear. When I bank fish, and yes, I still like the ease of hiking into a river and fishing instead of fighting the lines at the boat ramps. I usually take two rods, both are the same though. The idea is to have a back-up rod and reel outfit in case your primary one breaks, it happens, as my car door is notorious for eating rods in the parking lot. My “go to” steelhead outfit is a 9 ½ foot medium to light action spinning rod with a 3000 series reel spooled with 20 pound braid. This set-up allows me to fish multiple ways and a variety of water conditions.

Hooking a fish from the bank, nothing feels better

Hooking a fish from the bank, nothing feels better

The tackle box is where you can really get into trouble when it comes to bank angling. You need to pack just the right gear and right amount and carry it all throughout the day. This is where using a universal rod and reel like the one mentioned above really pays off. I will pack six spoons, three in ½ ounce and three in ¾ ounce so I can adjust to water speed. Since I am fishing braid I also bring along four adjustable ½ ounce floats, six or more jigs, a dozen “yarnie” pre-tied drift fishing leaders, another dozen leaders just plain, some pink worms and a few bare jig heads. I am not a big bait fishing fan when bound to the bank as you then need carry the bait and keep it fresh, but I do carry scents, such as Pro-Cure Super Gel in Anise, Sandshrimp, and Salmon Egg. By using the yarnies with scent I am essentially using a standard bait drift fish rigging. Don’t forget the swivels and weights, I prefer slinkies in various shot amounts depending on the water conditions. All of this goes into a backpack and takes up little room and is lightweight.

Grant Blinn with a shore caught steelhead about to be released

Grant Blinn with a shore caught steelhead about to be released

With the above mentioned rod and reel, and gear I can fish several methods and all water conditions. From throwing spoons, drift fishing yarnies and pink worms to float fishing jigs and “whacky” rigged worms and even a spoon under a float in a boulder garden, as well as bobber-dog a long run. I have stood at the top of a seam and bobber-dogged until my line on my spool was down to the last wrap. Now that it working the water!

The author, Jason Brooks, with his son Ryan and two winter steelhead on the bank

The author, Jason Brooks, with his son Ryan and two winter steelhead on the bank

Strap on the boots, check the river levels and head for the bank. By preparing and being armed with knowledge of the river you will be more successful. Just don’t smile too much as the boats go by, knowing they have to fight the lines at the launch.

Jason Brooks
Northwest Outdoor Writer

The Versatile Drift Boat

by Jason Brooks

If you ask me what is the most versatile watercraft to pursuit salmon and steelhead I would have to say it’s the drift boat. With its distinctive up curved ends and flat bottom designed and built to float in skinny northwest rivers it also handles bigger waters such as mainstream rivers, estuaries, and bays. Add in the fact that they are extremely economical with very little maintenance and it’s no wonder that their popularity is making a huge comeback.

A drift boat is a great way to enjoy a relaxing  day of fishing -Jason Brooks

A drift boat is a great way to enjoy a relaxing day of fishing -Jason Brooks

It all started on the McKenzie River in Oregon, or at least that is the legend of where the drift boat originated. In fact some people still call them McKenzie drifters, or just plain McKenzie boats. First made of wood the early boats proved to be useful for getting down a river. If you hit a rock or damaged the hull you could patch it with some basic hand tools, back when most people actually still used hand tools and made a lot of their own boats. Nowadays with modern fabrications the wooden boat is all but gone, though you can still find them for sale on Craigslist. They are more for nostalgia as wood boats are a bit heavier and tend to not row as easy. So the modern argument for this old design is fiberglass or metal when it comes to hull materials.

Aluminum boats are thought to be "cold" -Jason Brooks

Aluminum boats are thought to be “cold” -Jason Brooks

I see it posted several times on internet forums, usually around the time the Outdoor Trade Shows or Boat Shows start up. Someone will get the itch to buy a drift boat and ask fellow fishers what they should get, a “glass” or metal boat. I sit back and read the replies from the internet experts until I can’t take it anymore and chime in my opinion. I start by saying that if the person who is thinking about buying a drift boat has never rowed one to first take a guided trip. It is well worth the money to see if you really want to invest in one of these boats. This usually leads to my next bit of advice, take it or leave it, but I think anyone who wants to get into their first drift boat should buy a used one. Now, before the advertisers of this site get too mad, I am only advocating this for the first time buyer, as soon enough the person will want to upgrade and look to have a boat manufacturer make a custom boat for them.

The fiberglass boat can be lighter than aluminum -Jason Brooks

The fiberglass boat can be lighter than aluminum -Jason Brooks

Here is my reasons why you should consider used for your first drift boat and why a guided trip is a must prior to the purchase. If you have patience and look at sale sites for any length of time you will find those ads by people who offer up a practically new boat for half the cost. Ones where the person decided to get a drift boat and spent the money only to float a river and find out that rowing can be harder than it looks. Either it scared them to have no control over the fact you have to go down the river, or they were too sore to care to row ever again. Also, drift boats hold up pretty well, even boats that have some road rash or a few dents float just fine. You can find really good deals on boats that are 10 years old or older, and really the design of the boat hasn’t changed in 50 years so age isn’t much of a factor. The main difference between a new boat and a used one are options. When buying used you are stuck with what the previous owner purchased. This can work in your favor as a bare bones boat is lighter and easier to row than one that has lots of bells and whistles.

New boats are nice and once you own a drift boat and become proficient at rowing one you will get the itch to order your own boat. This is mostly because each person is slightly different when it comes to fishing styles. I like to drift fish and float eggs under a bobber, but another buddy of mine likes pulling plugs and throwing hardware. So for me multiple rod holders, bait trays, motor mount, and other accessories are a must. For the guy who likes to pull plugs you want it set up with pole holders, a heater for those cold days where the front passengers are just sitting idle watching the rod tips thump.

Heaters make for a comfortable day when it's cold -Jason Brooks

Heaters make for a comfortable day when it’s cold -Jason Brooks

This brings us back to the argument of “glass” versus metal. I really don’t have a preference but I do own a metal boat and one of my buddies owns a fiberglass boat. Both are great boats and ironically my boat actually floats higher in the water than his does. Most think that the material matters, and to some degree it does, but so does design. His is a 16 foot by 48 inch bottom. Mine is a 16 foot by 54 inch bottom. That extra width at the bottom of the boat is what allows mine to float or draft higher and slip through in shallower waters and makes it react to rowing a bit quicker. His is “warmer” as my metal boat becomes an ice bucket during those early spring steelhead trips.

Being able to row around debris and in skinny water make the drift boat versatile -Jason Brooks

Being able to row around debris and in skinny water make the drift boat versatile -Jason Brooks

Okay, if you just read all of this and are scratching your head at what the heck I am talking about; “how it rows, reacts faster, floats higher”. Here is what drift boaters are talking about. The boat is designed to float with very little displacement, or otherwise known to float high in the water by its flat bottom design. With the stern and bow raised is allows the water to push the boat up as the water flows underneath. As you row backwards you pull the boat up and away from where the bow is pointed. If the boat is heavy or narrow and sits lower in the water there is more drag or resistance and you need to row harder, either faster or by digging you oars deeper into the water. Fiberglass boats are slick and have less coefficient of friction on the bottom because of the materials they are made from. Fiberglass that is coated with a gel coat has very little resistance in the water, where metal boats have tiny grooves or pores which tend to cause more friction in the water. To overcome this metal boat owners put a coating on the bottom of the boat and with new Kevlar materials these coatings can stand up to a few years of use. But they must be up kept, one of the downfalls of a metal boat. Fiberglass boats do wear out and can have soft spots or leaks from hitting rocks or gouges from sliding over gravel bars.

Drift boats require very little maintenance -Jason Brooks

Drift boats require very little maintenance -Jason Brooks

All drift boats have some basic maintenance requirements, but not many. This is another bonus for owning one these boats. If you put a motor on one you must also license it. Keep the motor off and stay away from Federal or navigable waters defined by the Coast Guard and there is no need to license it in Washington (check your local laws). With the motor you can easily fish close to shore in bays and estuaries and also motor up the deep holes and slot in rivers to float them again. But one of my favorite reasons to own this versatile boat is that it is quiet and allows you to really pay attention to fishing and relax while floating down a river.

Jason Brooks
Northwest Outdoor Writer

 

Successful Steelhead Fishing

By Jason Brooks

The cold days of January creates clear waters on the drop and for the steelhead angler it is time to hit the rivers. This time of year brings in fresh fish that are nickel sided and black backed ready to bite. Mixed in the bag are hatchery brats and wild fish, both are a quarry anglers dream about and prepare for. It is this preparation that makes the difference from a day spent on the river hoping to hook a fish and a day on the river catching a lot of fish. Here are a few tips and pointers to rekindle the winter steelhead excitement and help you put more fish on the bank.

Steelhead Fishing in the Snow, photo by Jason Brooks

Steelhead fishing in the winter means fishing in extreme elements. (photo by Jason Brooks)

A guided trip is always worth the money. Not only do you get to use the industries top equipment but also learn from those that have already been out fishing the rivers. A prime example is Eli Liske of E&S Sportfishing (www.essportfishing.com or 253-332-1240) who’s been out fishing for several weeks now and lately has been catching steelhead on just about every coastal river he can get his drift boat down.

This brings up another point and that is with each rain the rivers change. Guides have a network of information on which rivers are fishable, which ones have hazards, and which ones are not worth your time. Eli had a day off this last weekend so he took his son, Aiden, out to yet another river known for big wild fish and they were rewarded with a few nice fish including one that took a plug. If you want to learn a new technique or just improve your fishing by learning advanced methods then hiring a guide will increase your knowledge in quick order.

Aiden Liske with a plug caught winter steelhead, Photo by Eli Liske

Aiden Liske with a plug caught winter steelhead. (Photo by Eli Liske, E&S Guide Service)

The internet is friend and foe all in one stroke of the keypad. If you like to frequent fishing websites and chase internet reports then you might become a little frustrated. But if you use the internet for things such as river flows, google earth maps for access, and recipes on bait cures then you will be rewarded with more time to fish and success on the river. The thing to remember on using the internet is to use it as a tool to learn as well as for entertainment, such as YouTube videos, scenic photography, and post of other angler’s adventures. More than once I have had a hateful reply to a blog I wrote because it gave away someone’s “secret” fishing hole, yet if I wrote about it then it wasn’t a secret because obviously I found it. If you do have a true secret spot then don’t share it, not even the photos.

J.R. Hall with a southern Olympic Peninsula winter steelhead. (Photo by JR Hall)

J.R. Hall with a southern Olympic Peninsula winter steelhead. (Photo by JR Hall)

Bank bound anglers are fairly restricted to both access to the river as well as techniques used. If you are a bankie then learn to fish smarter. Know the river by exploring it and all the access points and know which techniques will work and which ones won’t. This can be due to several limiting factors such as water conditions, bank conditions like overhangs or boulders to stand on, and even other anglers in the area. Reiter Ponds and Blue Creek are good examples. These areas are mostly fished by anglers floating jigs tipped with prawns, and a few drift fisherman. Don’t go there expecting to swing spoons or spey cast streamers.

Another friend, JR Hall of JR’s Steelheading Adventures (www.steelheadnwynoochee.com or 253-320-8806) on his days away from guiding is often found walking the banks of one my favorite rivers on the Olympic Peninsula. We both own drift boats and I asked him one day why he was bank fishing. He simply stated that sometimes he just likes to not worry about a shuttle and the hike along the river, spey rod in hand, allows him some solitude. This river has great bank access and he lands multiple big fish each trip with nobody even knowing he is fishing as his rig doesn’t have a trailer and there are day hikers in the area accessing the National Park.

Photo 4 by Jason Brooks

To truly be successful as a steelhead angler you must understand that winter steelheading is more than just filling the freezer. Yes, there are terminal and hatchery fisheries like those on the Wynoochee and Humptulips (both are doing well since the New Year began by the way) where you can catch a few steelhead and more than likely take home a limit for the smoker or barbecue.

But as our winter starts to warm into spring and the big wild steelhead enter the waters take a time to reflect back on this fish’s life. A journey full of challenges that it must overcome to make it back to the spawning grounds. If you are honored to land such a fish then take care of it with proper handling and releasing of the fish. It will return yet another year and reward the successful steelheader once again.

Jason Brooks
Northwest Outdoor Writer

7 Ways to Piss off your Guide!

Wanna piss off your next hunting or fishing guide? Here’s a few tried and true tactics that work every time:

The Low-Holer

There are very few things that will piss of a fishing guide more thoroughly than a Low-Holer. A Low-Holer is the customer that plays stupid but their true intention is to learn a guide’s favorite fishing hole  and then low-hole them days or weeks later. A perfect example of this is spending a day on the water with a river guide and then launching early and beating the guide to their absolute can’t-miss spot the very next day. If you really want to be known as the ultimate douche bag on the river…do this!

Showing up at Camp out of Shape

I honestly don’t see how big game hunting guides can consistently get their guests into trophy game animals when most of them show up to camp so out of shape that they’re winded just getting out of the truck. There are so, so many people that really “want” a trophy class animal and truly think they deserve that animal because they shelled out thousands of dollars to hunt with the best guide on the planet. They’ve done their research, found the highest density of trophy game animals on earth, and booked the best guide in the area to help them fulfill their destiny. There’s only one problem…they haven’t set foot in the gym or on the mountainside in years and they think exercise is pushing a pen across the desk. Sorry pal, but you still have to hike your ass off and in some cases run your tail off to make it happen out there in the hills. If you book a trophy hunt do yourself, the guide, and the animal a favor and get yourself in a small modicum of shape long before the hunt starts. Most off all your guide will appreciated it.

Proficiency with Your Weapon

Here’s another conundrum that hunting guides have to deal with – the customer that arrives at camp with a rifle that’s never been sighted-in or a bow string they’ve only plucked but a few times. They’ve communicated to their guide countless times how proficient they are with their weapon. When the time comes to harvest the game animal of a lifetime, however, they’re all over the place.  Most hunting guides will have their guests sight their rifle in before a hunt begins to make sure the rifle is on target and also to see how the hunter reacts to their firearm. This can usually be achieved on the range in just a short time. Getting comfortable with a bow, however, takes many long hours of practice. Get the work done ahead of time and you won’t get “the look” from your hunting guide. The animal deserves this respect also.

Don’t Listen

There’s little worse than the customer that does the exact opposite of what their guide tells them to do and then wonders why they don’t have anything at the end of the day. If you’re guide has a good reputation for getting people into fish or tagging out animals there’s a darn good chance they know what they’re doing. This is generally why women catch more fish on guided trips than men…because they listen. Some men are more concerned with rattling their sabers and sparring with their guides to show them up while the wife is listening intently and catching all the fish.

Damn I’m great…Just Ask Me

They’ve got the perfect cast, the finest of gear, they can hit a gnats ass at 2,000 yards blindfolded, and they’ve harvested the largest specimen of every single living creature on the planet. The DIGJAM is the self-appointed ideal human being. There are some legit DIGJAM’s out there, but they are few and far between. A guide friend who happens to be an ex-Navy Seal took a guy fishing for a few days in search of a world record chum salmon. The guy had broken line class records, world records, casting records, and DIGJAM records all over the world. In the end the guide didn’t get paid and said DIGJAM artist probably shouldn’t set foot in that river valley again. This cat was the perfect combination of DIGJAM and Pay-You-Later. No bueno!

Pay You Later

Most guides that I know live month to month and certainly aren’t guiding because of the money.  They are “living the dream”, so to speak. The deposit you sent in for the trip covers most, but not all of the expenses it takes to run the trip and receiving the final portion of the trip payment barely put’s them into the black. If you leave them with “hey, I’ll get a check in the mail right away” at the end of the trip your guide’s brow will furl and you’ll probably get “the look”. Don’t get lumped in with DIGJAM and Low-Holer…pay the guide their due.

Showing Up Late

Believe it or not ten minutes can spell success or disaster on most hunting or fishing trips on America’s public lands and waterways. This is particularly true on coastal salmon and steelhead streams when the rivers are super low and gin clear and the fish are spooky. If you show up 30 or more minutes late on a day like this your guide will fake like everything is ok, but the little voices in their head are saying “Told you so!” when hole after hole produces nothing. If the guide is new to the business they’ll act like everything is hunky-dory and it was just a “tough day”. Fish with a guide that’s been around for years and I’m afraid those voices in their head will be voices in their mouth. Do yourself a favor and show up on time or even better, a little early. Your guide will appreciate and you’ll hook a few more fish.

These are just a few things you can do to throw your guide into a tail spin. There’s plenty of things that a guide can do to piss off their customers too, and I’ll crank out a short list of those things soon. In fact, you can take some of the items listed above and simply turn them around and they’d fit nicely in the “7 Ways to Piss off a Customer” list. I’ll get to work on that one right away!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

Winter Steelhead: Sight vs. Smell

Steve with a winter steelhead caught on a yarnie. Photo by Rob EndsleyAn interesting question came up on my Facebook page the other day that’s often talked about amongst us steelhead fanatics. What’s the most important factor in getting a winter steelhead to strike…sight or smell?

I would say without a doubt that sight, and more importantly presentation, is the biggest factor in getting a winter steelhead to take a swipe at a lure.

Lets talk about presentation first. Whether your chucking spoons, pitching drift gear, floatfishing jigs, flyfishing, backtrolling plugs, hucking pink worms, or slinging bait most winter steelhead are going to want your offering brought in low-and-slow. Flyfishing guide Dennis Dickson has been preaching about this for years and after catching a couple of thousand steelhead myself I fully agree with him.

Now that you’ve got the presentation down the next step in the process of hammering winter steelhead is sight. Winter runs are attracted to brighter colors like pink, orange, peach, cerise, and red to name a few. If you only had a few colors in your vest I’d start with a combination of these colors and go from there. In certain water conditions purples and blacks have their place too, especially for the fly guys.

I guided the spring catch and release fishery for steelhead on the Skagit River system for around 18 years and I can tell you first hand that you don’t need bait or scent to catch steelhead. Don’t get me wrong…bait works great but it isn’t always necessary.That was an incredible fishery in it’s day and it forced me to be adept at catching steelhead using only artificials. If Washington ever went artificials-only for steelhead I wouldn’t miss a beat.

Having said that I will tell you that bait and scents are a great closer though. Steelhead are attracted to baits like sandshrimp, eggs, and coon shrimp at first because of their color. They have a color in their natural or cured state that sucks’em right in.

Once they get a mouthful of any one of these baits we all know what usually happens next…they eat them. It’s the sight of the bait that attracts them at first though and adding a little yarn or a colorful Corkie or Cheater makes this offering even more attractive to a steelhead. Bring’em in with the color and then close the deal with the bait.

Adding scents like sandshrimp, shrimp/anise, or krill to jigs, drift gear, and even plugs can have the same effect. The scent closes the deal once a winter steelhead swings by for a closer look. If I’m adding a gel type scent to a jig I’ll add it to the head only so as not to hamper the jigs movement in the water. Pro Cure has a great line of water-soluble scents that work great on jigs and they don’t matte down the jigs feathers.

If I’m adding scent to a plug, which is rare, I’ll add it to the bill only and not the body of the plug. Part of the plugs attractiveness to a steelhead is it’s metallic shine and scent can definitely diminish that and make the plug less effective. A perfectly clean plug backtrolled at just the right speed, in the right location, will draw just as many strikes as one with scent, however.

Skagit River wild steelhead caught on a swung fly. Photo by Rob EndsleyIf you’re swinging spoons or flyfishing stay away from the scents altogether. Spoons, like plugs, work because of the flash they create and they have a very large zone of attraction.

And, of course, adding scents to a fly isn’t cool at all…leave that one alone and pay your dues. Find the right water type and bring either one of these offerings in low-and-slow and you’ll catch steelhead.

There’s your order of importance for catching winter steelhead. Sight, presentation, and then scent, if need be, to close the dealio. At least that’s how I see it.

Thanks again for stopping by and don’t be afraid to share your steelheading stories over on the Outdoor Line forums. I fish for winter steelhead as much as I can over the course of the season, but on days I can’t fish I’m happy to live vicariously thru others. Good luck to you out there and I hope this was helpful!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

 

 

 

 

New Driftboat – Tricked to the Hilt

By Josiah Darr. When it comes to drift boats there are a fairly endless number of options and accessories available if you have the money and are willing to spend it.

Do you want a metal boat? Fiberglass? Maybe a classic wooden boat? Willie and Koffler make great aluminum boats and Ray’s River Dories makes a wooden boat like none other, but with friends already working for ClackaCraft Drift Boats, knowing how easy they were to row and maneuver, my decision to guide out of a Clack was a no-brainer.

Deciding the model was also a piece of cake. A ClackMax 18’ Sidedrifter with the flat floors and box seating is easily the most versatile and fishermen friendly boat I’ve ever been aboard.

Bill battles another while Ryan, his little brother Owen and their dad Brett look on.

Once the stickers were stuck and the rods were loaded I took to the water. Luckily the fall Chinook fishing here in the Tillamook area has been better than most people ever remember so it didn’t take long to get the boat bloody. And like my warm up trips with friends were supposed to do, they pointed out a few minor oversights in my options and design that I wanted corrected ASAP to dial the boat in even further and essentially create the ultimate river and tidewater killing machine.

Julieanne with her first ever chinook on her first ever trip into the Oregon Coast tidewater.

The first little add-on that was obviously was an oversight when ordering was the fact that there were going to be a lot of times when I needed a kicker besides just the sticks. With a little help from Rodger in shop at Clackacraft and a few minutes the drifter was ready for power.

The small plate Rodger installed not only gave me a place to put my kicker, but it did it in such a way that that I was able to leave the anchor centered. The plate kept the motor just high enough that is cleared the anchor are giving me full mobility. It also kept the motor tipped slightly more upright so the nose of the boat stayed down when I was cruising.

The motor mount easily supports a gas or electric motor.

With the elevated motor mount, the motor can turn freely.

The last little touch I needed just to make the motor mission complete was my prop guard, but not just any prop guard. We’re talking the mother of all prop guards made right here at Clackacraft. Not only is the guard made out of heavy duty galvanized steel right there in the shop, but it’s attached with a compression fitting so no holes need to be drilled in your new kicker. The guard with it’s oversized fin also helped keep the boat plained out when cruising along while deflecting any gravel bars or logs I might hit…..Okay, will hit.

The cage is ready for fish seeking navigation.

The compression fitting only take a few second to install. So easy even I can do it.

Another feature that I quickly realized I couldn’t live without with the bow drop front anchor. It’s so easy to use and when bobber fishing and especially backbouncing. I found out quickly precise boat placement is the difference between one fish and quick limits.

A simple tug on the front anchor rope and the boat settles right into position.

After a trip I realized when I’m running my motor I don’t need the anchor hanging in the way so one more call to the shop and 3-5 business days later the anchor holder was installed and the problem was solved. The anchor is in the water when needed, out of the water and securely stored when it’s not.

The anchor next keep the anchor when fishing or trailering.

Most the extra boat features like a walk-around rowers bench, upgraded Lamiglas oars and the holes drilled for the ability to place and secure the seat boxes depending on the type of fishing and type of fishermen were all already taken care of, but a few more little tweaks to the boat once it was out and fishing took the brand new Clackacraft from a really nice boat to one of the most functional boats on any river, anywhere.

The counterbalanced Lamiglas oars were an easy decision.

When it all comes together, it’s a beautiful thing!

Nate with his first ever backbounced chinook.

It doesn’t get much better than big chinook on the coast in the sun!

World Class boats for world class rivers….

If you’re interested in fishing the Tillamook area rivers for either salmon or steelhead out of my new Clackacraft give me a shout at (206) 660-1490. Fish On!

Josiah Darr – Outdoor Line “Young Gun”
JDarr’s Guided Fishing
Tillamook, Oregon
(206) 660-1490

Storm Introduces Self-Tuning Crank Bait

All I can say is…Finally!

Storm’s new Arashi crank bait could definitely be a game changer. The Arashi comes with a self-tuning eye that eliminates the need to gently bend the eye to the right or left to achieve the proper action. If you’ve ever done this you know how finite the bend needs to be to get some plugs to run true. With the new Arashi plug all the fine tuning has been eliminated.

A friend in the industry tells me that they’ve tested the same technology on deep diving bluewater plugs and they are achieving speeds of up to 15 miles per hour without any rollover. That’s a game changer my friends!

Here’s a look at the self tuning eye of the new Arashi plug.

Crank baits are an essential item in any smallmouth anglers arsenal here in the Northwest and with any luck we’ll start seeing some steelhead and salmon colors in theses plugs soon. For backtrolling in heavy and fast current for both salmon and steelhead the new Arashi plug could be just the ticket.

There’s a complete color chart for the Arashi crank baits on the Storm website…Arashi Crank Baits.

I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a couple of these to test out on fall kings and coho here real soon!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

 

 

Fly Fishing Bears

By Dennis Dickson

Fly fishing BC steelhead rivers is so magical. Sure, we have had our rain outs, wash-outs, busted boats, and broken vehicles. Somehow, these memories all jumble up in a warm and fuzzy place, and I can enjoy them time and time again. As I get older, I find myself pulling out these drawers of memories, for a taste of the good old days.

It would be easy if not tempting, to reduce these fishing stories to, “how many, how big” but that would simply never reveal the whole experience. In the many years of being out in a marvelous land, would you like to know what I most often reflect back on? The people. It simply wouldn’t have been the intriguing experience without the people, and for that, I am forever grateful.

I remember an invitation I accepted to fly fish the fabled waters of the North. Mick was heading North every year now. Frank was going up, too. I became  fishing buddies with both and subsequently jumped at the invitation.

It was there I met Plutonius. His  name was actually Pluto, but Frank dubbed him Plutonius, and somehow the name had stuck.
Plutonius was an artist by trade, and a full blown philanthropist at heart. His life was reduced to generating just enough money painting to spend the remainder of the year fly fishing for steelhead. A true fly fishing bum. A badge which he wore proudly.

Pluto wasn’t what you might call a great fisherman. Mick could cast farther, and Frank consistently brought more steelhead to hand, but Pluto loved his sport and loved the one Bulkley River pool he was successful in. We dubbed this drift the Maple Tree pool and it consistently held steelhead for Pluto each fall.

Instinctively, the other boys in camp seemed to know this. The rest of us fly fishers might jockey with each other to get first water on pools like “Blow Down,” or “Easy Money”, but nobody fished through “Maple Tree.” That was Pluto’s.

Maple Tree was an interesting piece of water. It was actually made up of two pools. Upper Maple had a good head, where the water would enter the pool strong enough that migrating steelhead would often hold before negotiating up through the rapids. The river currents spread beautifully, then scurried into a deep hole that was tucked in delicately close to the river bank.

A wading angler was left with no choice at the deep water but to leave the river and hike around to the downstream side of an ancient maple tree before he could wade back into the stream to fish the lower run. Hence, the Maple Tree pool. On a good day, Pluto could catch steelhead in both the upper and lower pools.

For all his many days in the wilderness, Pluto had his phobia: bears. For some reason, Pluto was deathly afraid of bears.
He bought and carried a magnum .45 pistol. Every day that he was out on the water, this gun came with him. I shudder to think what would have happened if he had ever had to use it. I almost witnessed it once.

Mick and Frank would often engage in drinking games at the end of a long day of fly fishing steelhead. These guys could get pretty soused on occasion before stumbling off to bed, of which I didn’t particularly mind. These both were expert anglers in my opinion, and a hard night of drinking meant a late morning to the water. I never drink so if I happened to fish down the river first, I naturally swam more fish. Pragmatic really. I liked it when they drank.

So this one night Mick and Frank got to drinking and playing. They came up with an idea! They should pretend they have a bear in camp! Now Frank was a big guy and stronger than a bull. Pluto was camped out in the back of his little Ford Courier pickup. Drunken Frank staggered over to Pluto’s truck and leaned his shoulder into it’s canopy.

Drunker than drunk, Frank starts rocking Pluto’s truck back and forth, while growling the most unearthly guttural bear sounds. Awakened by the noise, Pluto launches out of his bed, still in his skivvies, (not a pretty sight) and onto the cold hard ground. It took tipsy Frank all of a New York second to realize ……Pluto is not alone! He has his gun out and, though still half asleep, waving it around, ready to kill anything that moved! Right now that anything was Frank.

Do you know how long it takes to go from sloppy drunk to stone cold sober? I had no idea the human metabolic processes could move so quickly, but one look at that long barrel .45, and Frank fairly dove out into the pitch black Canadian wilderness, with un-clad, gun-waving Pluto in hot pursuit.

All we could hear was, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot! It’s me, Plutonius! It’s me!” Somewhere before dawn, Frank wandered back into camp, and, Pluto went back to bed. Eventually Mick and I stopped laughing, but that might have taken a couple days.

Somewhere in all of this, Frank came up with the idea that the whole thing must have been Pluto’s fault. He must be taught a lesson.
A couple of days later, Mick, Frank, and I spent the day fishing together. I so much enjoyed our time. Somewhere in the course of the day, the subject of Pluto and bears came up.

Now we all knew that in the daily report of who caught what, Plutonius would always innocuously ask, “So, did anybody see any bears?”  Today we thought we would be ready.

The day on the river finished up in fine fashion. I think Mick swam the most steelhead (which was very common), Frank caught the largest, and I had a good time with my friends.

Plutonius always joined in the fishing report ritual, and sure enough he piped in, “So’d, anybody see a bear today?”
Frank in his most straight-faced way answered, ”Yeah, actually Mick ran into one.”

Mick just nodded.

Although we just went on in the conversation as if nothing had happened, Pluto’s mind was smoking.

“So tell me about the bear,” he asked simply.

Mick turned to him and said, “Wow, I am not sure if you are going to believe this but you know how we saw those bear prints down at Home Run Pool the other day?”

Everyone in camp knew Pluto wouldn’t fish any pool that had had any bear activity. It’s just the way it was.

“Yeah…” Pluto hesitates.

“Well this time I stopped in to fish it, and there on the shore was a great big pile of bear pucky and it was like this!” (He is holding his hands out the size of an elephant swat). Frank and I almost lose it right there.

Pluto eyes get big and he says, “NO WAY!”
Heck, he is hooked into this story, already.

“Yup,” Mick continues, “ and guess what? It was still steaming!”

“NO WAY!” Pluto exclaims.

Now Mick is really getting into this. He leans forward as he lies.
He says emphatically, “TOTALLY WAY.”

Plutonius urges, “So what did you do?”

“I did what I came to do,” Mick answered, “I got out and fished.”

“So then what happened?” begged Plutonius.

“At first, I am thinking nothing, and then I hear something in the brush behind me!” Mick says.

“NO WAY!” Pluto yelled. You didn’t stay!”

I swear I thought this poor man was going to have a heart attack right there in camp!

Mick continues, “Absolutely. I see this really big steelhead just roll, right out in front of me. I mean, how could I pass that up? Right?”

“So what did you do?” Pluto kind of whimpered.

“I did what I always do,” Mick stated matter-of-factly, “I went back to fishing, until…..”

“I thought I hung up my fly on the brush in my backcast.” He continued.  “I turn to look, and I hear a huge ‘Woof!’” “Suddenly my fly line is peeling off my reel! Next thing I know, all my fly line, all my backing, is gone….!” Mick leaned back, sucking on his teeth.

“So did you get back in your boat?” Plutonius asks weakly. He is about spent just listening to this tale.

“Heck no. That’s an expensive fly line!” Mick proclaims.  “I went back into that brush to find my fly line, by darn!”

I interrupted, “Did you find it?”  Okay, even I was getting into the fabrication by this time, but it was a great story!

Mick turns from Pluto to me, and says “Yes. I did!  But guess what?”

Everyone in the group says, “What!?”

Mark leans closer to his audience and says really quietly, “When I bent over to pick up the line… it moved.”

Pluto all but screams, “NO WAY!”

Mick can’t hold it anymore, he busts up laughing! Pretty soon everyone is howling with laughter…..everyone but Plutonius. He is still wondering how much of the story is true. We all head off to bed.

Now Pluto was never known as an early riser, partly because he knew that nobody was going to fish Maple Tree before he got there. I really don’t think Pluto’s  gun slinging had anything to do with it, but I may be wrong.

Anyway, so next morning Frank heads his little pontoon raft off down the river like it is just another Bulkley River fishing day. What Plutonius doesn’t realize is that Frank is headed straight for the Maple Tree pool.

Knowing he is at least ten minutes ahead of Pluto, Frank rows his little boat into the shore at the lower end of the pool, pulls in, and stows his little boat and gear in the brush. He hides behind the Maple Tree. It isn’t long before he can see Pluto rowing his own little craft downstream. Pluto is headed directly for Maple Tree.

When you fish a piece of water, day after day, you kind of get it down to a routine. Pluto’s ritual was to park his craft at the head of the pool, wade and fish his way downstream, wade out and around the maple tree, then wade back into the river and fish through to the lower end of the pool. He wouldn’t hike back up to his boat until he finished. He went through this same drill, day after day.

The wading here could get a little deep, especially as one neared the water adjacent to the maple tree, so this was the one and only pool Pluto would unbuckle his gun and holster and leave them on the seat of his raft.

After fishing his way down through the upper run, Pluto did what he always did. He hiked out around the big tree and back into the water. Unbeknownst to him, he had walked within ten feet of the hiding Frank, lurking in the bushes.

Plutonius was still cursing his fishing luck. Although he had had a good grab in the upper pool, the steelhead hadn’t stuck. He recalled that he was contemplating fishing through the pool again.

As the events unfolded, Plutonius began reeling in, and walking back up along the shoreline as he finished the pool. He was about to enter back into the woods near the tree on his way to his raft.

Within his hiding place, Frank held a tree branch in his hands. He waited until Pluto got close. Frank broke it with a loud “snap!” Plutonius, not 20 feet away, froze in his tracks. He looked around. Instinctively, he reached for his gun. It was not there! He realized it was still lying on the seat of his raft…

Plutonius took a tentative step forward. Frank let out a low growl. Pluto had to get to his gun! Safety was only and all about getting back to the raft and his gun! He stepped forward again.

The woods rang louder, “Grrrowl”. Pluto simply could not go back through the woods, and the water here was too deep to wade. Poor Plutonius had another secret that only he and he alone knew…. he couldn’t swim.

Plutonius never made a big deal of this. Ever since Cabela’sTM came out with their water activated SOS CO2 Inflatable Life Jacket, he felt he could take on his worse-than-bear fear – - water!  As rivers may be the epitome of water, with his Cabela vest on, he felt he had conquered life in it’s most rudimentary form; rivers actually made him feel alive.

So how did life take such a cruel twist of fate? Bears and water at the same time?!  Plutonius looked around checking his options. He began cursing his late start. As all the other anglers from camp were already fishing downstream, there was simply no one left to rescue him in his predicament. Plutonius took a small feeble step towards the sound in the woods. Frank immediately let out his loudest growl, and rattled the brush, to boot.

Pluto later confessed he was ready to wet himself. Was he to die from drowning, or simply become B.C. bear fodder?  Which would be the least painful? With the despair of complete hopelessness, he waded back into the river.

Frank later confessed he didn’t actually make Plutonius swim. Starting with a snicker, he exploded into laughter so hard he couldn’t stand it.

It took Pluto a moment to realize what had just happened. To be honest, his first thought was his good friend Frank had somehow magically appeared, scaring away the monster bear in the process. He was saved!

When he realized he was nothing more than the butt of a most sadistically practical joke, Pluto became incensed.

“You are really sick,” he muttered.  Casting his eyes in the distance, he headed towards his boat.

Frank caught up with me while I was fishing the home run pool later that afternoon. He told me everything. We ran into some fish that kept us busy until evening. Neither noticed that Pluto had floated on down to the take-out. As we arrived at the boat launch, Pluto’s little truck was gone. He had left.

“Jeez,” Frank said, What happens if Pluto takes the prank poorly?” “A guys B.C. experience is kind of a sacred thing.

We shouldn’t have worried.

As we rolled into camp there was quite a gathering of anglers huddled around Plutonius. As we neared the group we could hear him say, “Yup, it was all I could do to make it back to my raft and gun, before that bear was all over me!” Frank and I decided, all is well. Pluto is just fine.

Such is life in the Canadian wilderness.

Dennis Dickson
Dickson’s Flyfishing
www.flyfishsteelhead.com

Steelhead Flies – Fact and Fiction

By Dennis Dickson

I would venture to guess, one of my most asked questions, the most misunderstood answers in steelhead flyfishing is; “So what is the hot fly?”

Steelhead has an allure as an illegitimate son. His noble cousin Salmo Salar, the Atlantic Salmon has a rich and traditional past, fished by kings and nobleman. Steelhead was almost found by accident and early flyfishers knew very little of this great fish’s behavior and life history.

When we approach the topic of “Fly Effectiveness”, I always think of the words of the great steelhead flyfishing pioneer, Roderick Haig-Brown.

He said ” It is good to remember there will be a lot more steelhead caught on a piece of yarn, than all the fanciest flies ever fished”.

This is sage advice, for the angler that comes to me is looking to catch a steelhead, which means he is looking for a fly that will be successful and assumes that some flies, like lures, are more effective than others. He may even be hopefully assuming that the reason for his lack success to this point was, he is simply fishing with the wrong fly. Let me explain something. Flies don’t catch fish…people do. You see, steelhead have a disposition just this side of a large mouth bass. If a lure or fly is presented well, and Mr. Steelhead is in the mood, he will hit just about anything!

Does such a thing as a magic fly exist? Sorry, generally no. Can he prefer types and colors? Sometimes. My point here is not to lead you farther down the path of finding a “Mystery” fly, but rather to teach you to recognize a better constructed fly, coupled with better presentation and more confidence.

I am reminded of an incidence that happened to me up on the North Fork Stilly. I was standing up on a high bank watching a pair of anglers fishing their way down through a popular run at Boulder Creek. The dozen or so steelhead holding here, looked absolutely mesmerized, literally frozen in place. These poor anglers apparently had thrown everything but the kitchen sink at these fish to no avail. A small alder leaf happened to fall to the surface and tumbled in the current. A very nice hen just lifted to the surface, ate the leaf and coasted back down into her holding position. Now I am not advocating fishing with Alder leaves, but rather to make the point, its not the fly.

My guide flies tend to reflect the parameters of the waters I fish. Seasons, water temperature, sexual maturity, (the fish silly, not me), lighting, water clarity, fishing pressure and presentation are but a few parameters that may dictate the fly I choose. Now, before you become overwhelmed trying to compute all these variables into a logical decision let me simplify.

For each river I fish, in a particular water condition, I will fish maybe two or three different fly patterns. Here is a general overview, but before we go there let me re-emphasize….its not the fly.

Early Season Native winter steelhead.

The steelhead that swim our northwest waters in late winter are the large, wild, sexually maturing steelhead (even though he may be rock hard and nickel bright). He is a big brawley, aggressive steelhead. He enters when the rivers are generally running full, and the water is cold. A larger fly will not scare him. Number 2’s and 1/0 are about right. I like to fish flies that swim well. I tell my anglers that if they ever loose confidence in the fly just bring in next to them and watch it play in the currents. A well balanced fly should look alive in the water. Unless I am fishing really dirty water I believe that less is more. The greatest knock that I see with the guys that meet me on the river is the flies they have bought or tied are so overdressed the thing looks more like a lure than a fly. Easy on the flash.

I tend to fish subtle colors like purple, cherise, and blue when the water is clear and bright and black colors when the water is off color. Stiff patterns like the General Practitioner, Poacher, Skunks, and other hair wings are good in the streamy currents that provide lots of action and a good silhouette of the bug. Marabou, bunny leeches, and spey patterns are excellent in the softer flows.

I pay particular attention to fly construction and I will admit, some of my ties are a little unorthodox. Why? Because many flies on the market today are tied to please the angler. The fly I hand to a client, well, it better please the steelhead. Different tying materials will react differently in the river currents and it’s good to know, what does what. For example, marabou plays seductively in mild currents but tends to collapse to strong flows. Hair wing patterns show very little action in soft water, but maintain a great profile and a lively action in streamy flows. Fly construction then is important to fly action, and fly action triggers fish.

I am reminded of an experience on the Skykomish River some ten years ago. I used to spend my March guiding anglers there. It was catch and release and the Sky steelhead enter early. I was fishing a couple gentlemen along this popular gravel bar pool when I happened to look down and find a fly that had fallen off someone’s vest. (I personally think these fly patches are a flyshop conspiracy because there is a lot more flies lost falling off the drying patch than from the river, itself).

I am always curious of other angler ties and I picked it up. I could tell immediately this fly was from a serious flyfisher. This fly was tied on a 2/0 iron, traditional upturned eye hook. (I don’t particularly like these hooks because the angle of attack is wrong at the eye, and the diameter of the metal is too fat) This cagey guy answered both these problems by breaking off the eye and tying in his own braided loop eye. He had also filed his hook point down to a long taper edged on three sides. This angler was good. I then began to examine the fly for color and action. I noticed it was tied fairly sparsely and instead of the long webby marabou that is so popular, but fouls in the hook so easily, he used the shorter chickabou.

The number one knock in materials like spey feathers and marabou is it fouls easily around the hook in the water. This kills the action of the fly. Any time you have a feather that extends beyond the bend of the hook, you risk fouling your material. Some of the most artsy twenty-hour flies are poor fish producers because they foul when fishing.

What should you do? Get to know your fly material. Different fly materials react differently in river flows. I mentioned a couple characteristics of marabou. Bunny fur tends to pooch out, shlappen feathers breath nicely but can also foul. I have swam many a fly (to my patient wife’s chagrin), in the bath tub while the water is turned on. It works really well. If the fly is going to foul it will do it here.

I like to think of the fly in two parts. Any material tied at the rear end of the hook is not going to foul. That’s why most tarpon patterns are tied in this fashion. Epoxy bait fish flies carry a good silhouette but are anti fouling because of the material – it’s hard to the bend of the hook. You should realize that any free flowing material ahead of the hook bend can and will foul if it extends past the rear of the hook. Try the bathtub test. You can see what your flies are actually doing as you nose it up to the turbulent flow.

Another Guide Trick:

“Show them something different.” The popular Blue/Purple marabou that you see in the shops today, is a fly I developed in the early days of the Sauk River, C&R. There was at that time, a goodly number of gear fisherman throwing the tradition bright colors of orange and florescent green in those days. Flyfishing winter fish was new. Even the most ardent flyfishers would often choose their gear rods over their fly rods at this time of year.I noticed that when the water was clear a guide buddy of mine was doing very well with a blue/purple Hot Shot plug. Now that was different. I simply copied the color combination in a marabou pattern. You talk about work. Those clear water fish went nuts for it. To this day, if I don’t mention what fly to start with, many of my long time clients will fish the blue/purple. Why? Shows the steelhead something a bit different from all that color everybody else is chucking.

Here are a few of my pet winter steelhead fly patterns:

Cop Car

Intruder

Articulated Flies

General Practitioner

Popsicle

Will steelhead ever show preferences in color and construction? Occasionally, but even for all these trick fly patterns you are generally better off to simply look for a fly that swims well for the waters you are fishing. Have just enough color to get his attention, fish it well, and let Mr. Steelhead do the rest.

Please feel free to check out more of our steelhead flies at Streamsideflyshop.com

Best of fishing!

Dennis Dickson
Dickson Flyfishing Steelhead Guides
www.flyfishsteelhead.com