The 26-year fish (and counting)

I’ve spent 26 years yearning to catch a fish on the surface on the long, slick tail of North-South run at low flow. I don’t know why I’ve never really tried. Many a night was spent dreaming about the lay of the water here – how it eases out of the bucket and across a field of cobblestones and small boulders. At low flows, three distinct boulders give away their presence with trailing slicks. Viewed at the right angle in mid-day, the water might seem too shallow. At sunset, from the hard bank on river right, it looks like a private steelhead garden: just deep enough to hide a few secrets but shallow enough to chug a skating fly over the heads of aggressive steelhead. Anyhow, that’s what I’ve spent years fantasizing about. Why I have never put in more skating time in the lower half of that run, where swinging sunk flies rarely pays off, is beyond me. Tonite it all came together. The skating window in mid-September seems to be on the order of 20 minutes. The sun is well over the hill and “true sunset” where the sun is dipping over some ocean horizon out west is most likely at hand. The light casts a golden hue across the surface of the water. This seems to be the 20 minutes when day turns to evening – it’s the start of something and it really doesn’t announce it’s coming. Somewhere along the way, stare at the water’s surface and it glows golden – it’s that simple.

Work down through the run skating and chugging a god-awful concoction of deer hide, elk and foam. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. Again and again, the little vee wake and splashes give away the fly’s presence on the long cast two thirds of the way across. This is not sleepy time work since the fly must be kept alive at all times. This is the most engaging fishing of all. The dressed hook is connected by a thin line 80 feet long to me via rod and reel. It’s my job to impart some sense of life to this thing – is it the skittering, fearful critter? Might it be a wondering, exploring, curious creature of both land and river? Pick a mood and stick with it.

The take is violent and will replay in slow motion in my memory for days. The large fish seems to curl around the fly, half out of the water, sending a splash sounding like a piglet falling into the water. The hook sets, the fish goes airborne and the line goes limp with a charge towards me. Dancing backwards along the cobble-strewn bank, the light comes tight and the reel churns out line with a clicker now whining with high speed discharge of line in a hurry. Hold tight for another several seconds before the line goes limp and the fish comes unbuttoned.

This fish was 26-years in the making. Let’s hope the next one comes a little sooner.

Water temperature: 18.2 C

Discharge: 650 cfs

Note that McMillan’s data suggest that optimal skating temps are in the neighborhood of 8C to 15C with his observations declining at 18 – so many skating days lie ahead!!!!!

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