Speculations on the Movements of Steelhead

My last two outings have produced less than memorable numbers of fish – unlike my first few trips of the season.  Last night I walked the trail into a couple of decent runs.  The place has never been quantity water for me, although it definitely has the potential.  Instead, I’ve taken some of my best fish here, so I always walk in there with tempered expectations.  The weather was in transition as a weak cold front pushed cooler air through and left the coast covered in deep, drippy overcast all day.  Farther up the river, at the trail, the wind had died down and, although it was still a warm evening, it wasn’t on the heels of a “bloody hot” afternoon.  Still, though, I worked up a bit of a sweat walking in at a brisk pace to give myself ample time to cover the water.

I just got my new spey reel from the Spey Company – a true beauty and I had to try it out on the 5/6 wt even though I got it just for the 7wt (photos coming soon).  Regardless, it balanced wonderfully and I found myself in the groove with a cack-handed snap-T.  I also think I was casting too far.  I say this not to gloat, but because I missed a few grabs at the end of 80+ feet of line.  With all that line on the water, there’s just too much distance to come fast to a lightly grabbing fish in any meaningfully efficient manner.  Still, though, it was a joy to fish the far side of the river – right down in the slot.  But those missed grabs hurt and I need to temper my casting enthusiasm with the realities of hooking and landing steelhead on the two-handed rod.  I could have easily covered the needed water with shorter casts – but, well, I digress.

I see the numbers of steelhead passing through the weir have declined slowly and steadily over the few weeks of data collection.  The big push of fish in late August seems to have waned and surely another big push, THE big push is probably building.  Oh sure there are the fish magnet places – those dependable places where numerous fish seem to be expected, and I should probably fish those places more if I want the quantity.  But there is something to be said for walking a half mile down into a stretch of river where you are alone.  On the walk out, nearly dark in the woods, I found myself looking over my back often and up into the bushes.  That feeling of being watched that doesn’t come often.  Many times on that dark walk I looked back and waited to see that cat slowly creeping up behind me.  Walk faster, but don’t run! And carry a flimsy 13 foot long stick just in case.

I heard it mentioned once that steelhead, when they were more abundant and widespread, may have moved up the larger rivers in “tribes.”  I like this idea.  With this idea, the Fall Run can be decomposed into several “pushes” of fish upriver, maybe barely distinguishable as older fish linger in runs and new fish arrive to add to the numbers present.  At some point winter rolls around and transitions into spring and on into summer – no real distinctions in the runs, just ever-present tribes of fish moving upriver to linger for varying lengths of time here and there – hopefully right where my fly is swinging.

Tonite, the waning, but still nearly full moon rises through a web of clouds marching onshore and promising a chance of sprinkles later tonite into tomorrow.  This could well be the steelhead moon that signals the next “tribe” to begin their upstream ascent.  I need to get out on the river…

When I heard the storm I made haste to join it,
for in the storms ~ nature always has something for us ~
John Muir

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