About every nine days or so, the tides line up just right so that the bottom of a big outgoing tide lines up with sunset (plus or minus). I guess you could cut this cycle in half if you included the early morning as well – which can also be productive, but requires an early rise. As the tide runs out, and approaches its bottom, all of the suspended algae has been flushed out of the estuary and, for a few hours, the normally trickling river runs like a much bigger river. If the wind dies off in the late afternoon, the ingredients are in place. If a wall of fog comes crashing across the estuary about that time, then it’s icing on the cake.
Sight fishing for steelhead is the game. Most of the time they will be moving, giving themselves away with a distinct wake. Often, there is a lead fish with more, sometimes many more, behind and underneath. I don’t think I’ve ever hooked one of these pass-by fish. However, there are moments when the fish will station up in the outgoing tide and hold. Often they will give themselves away with just the tip of a tail pushing out of the water, or the subtlest swirl – these fish can be biters! I will go down there ten times, and maybe once all four things will come together: wind, tide, light level, and holding fish. If you can fool one on the fly, these are arguably the hottest fish on the planet at that very moment – screaming line of reels and ending up across the river before you even knew what happened.
I spent one morning casting to several fish swimming in a slow circle, the size of bathroom, say, occasionally showing themselves with a fin or subtlest of wakes. It was probably just like the ‘daisy chain’ that mating tarpon are known to form. Finally, after about an hour of careful casting (did I say that they were spooky in the low, clear water?) a fish grabbed and was instantly into my backing and cartwheeling hundreds of feet across the way before I could gather myself and restart my heart.
These fish are amazing and while the chance of hooking up can be extremely low, these fish, when hooked, are nothing short of powerful. The saving grace to all of this, is that the esatuary is a fantastically beautiful place to be while the sun sets – covering everything in honey-colored light if the fog stays away. If the fog comes in, the place becomes an eerily dark, quiet piece of water fading into grayness. Shorebirds usually dance along the flats at low tide adding to the amusement.