Sketching Halloween’s Coming

Fishing the wide water
Fishing the wide water

Dark, quiet mornings linger almost to lunchtime before bright skies appear from nowhere. Here in the valley, this is late October in any year. A couple of rainstorms have put things in their place – the valley on its way into winter’s rest. A handpainted sign in front of the garden advertises free pumpkins and the tomato vines hang with rotting fruit still clinging fast. Out on the gravel bar, the water has dropped down nearly to summer levels showing a fresh stain of silt running along the edge from a good rain two weeks prior. In the foggy morning the river carries on with a soft murmering. Pumpkin-colored maple leaves hang over the water, waiting to test a soft breeze that might stir in the afternoon.

The mornings are always hard going now – soft grabs in the shadowed water make me wish I’d stop tying these flies with such damned long hackles. They just nip at the wispy trailing fibers – frustrating teases that come far too seldomly. The pass through campbell run is rhythmic and routine, maybe a bit impatient, since the best water always seems two steps below. I move down to fish the opposite side of the tee-pee and nab a feisty half-pounder right off, then get the one long, slow pull down deep – then nothing.

2:00pm. Move to new water.  Lowermost North-South. This run above the big bend at the bottom of the valley usually always holds a fish or two. The bright sun now shows the clear water sliding over the riffle at the bottom of middle North-South. I pause a minute to watch for moving fish. Nothing. Crossing is the usual half float, tip-toe dance down and across. I arrive at the lower run with fish showing up and down. Salmon porpoising – some bright, some dark. Steelhead splashing in the fast water. Sweet. By early afternoon the river is chattering away.

This is a long run and can consume the better part of an afternoon if fished thoroughly.  But the sweet spot is about the size of a car. Sure enough they soft-grab the swung fly and cannot hold on. Again and again, before it shuts off.  I leave the run to fish one more bit in this section that nearly always proves reliable and come up with a hatchery fish of maybe two pounds that tears into the backing before giving up and coming to hand. I move up to finish at upper North-South as the evening shadows creep across the water. Everything has gone quiet now. Evening here in late October is a subtle transition. Wood smoke filters down across the field in the still, heavy air. The pasture across the way bathes in honey colored light. And along the way, the river has returned to its shadowy mutterings.

Leaving Autumn Dreams Behind (with much reluctance)

Endless, golden October afternoon


There we found our river,

A simple quiet.

Our place.


Along ocean sand.

Under a setting November sun.

Another afternoon for us

Each walking little paths,

Soon shared.



We convened with water.

Falling from dark December skies.

We found ourselves then.

Picking up little bits

of the dreams to

Hold us tight.


We wondered along the creek

Through snow, woods and

All along the grassy hills.



At year’s end we met these places.

And we arrayed our dreams and desires

Like Christmas gifts under our tree.


I saw the blue green water dreams

Deep in your gaze.

You saw those places in my eyes,

Color of fall.


And I still want to hold onto it

Before you are even gone.


Now all those little dreams


Washing away in the rain,

Across the hills,

Into creeks, rivers and oceans.

Back to those places.


But these places,

We will walk again

On our own paths,

Gathering up all of those dreams

And the new stories they will tell.


Goodbye, my love.

I will always hold you

In my dreams.

Descent into winter

These days

Falling into hushed calm

Of mornings lingering

And afternoons brief.

I cannot say

Those fearful words

We’re done

And yet you persist

And I find you there.

Find me again

Along the river

Starved for rain

As I gather the last memories

As fast as I can.

Swinging through the tailout on a river starved for rain under an incessant sun.
Swinging through the tailout on a river starved for rain under an incessant sun.
Early December is here and, save for the fleeting days, it could as well be late October.
Early December is here and, save for the fleeting days, it could as well be late October.

rain, sun, rain

Started out early in the rain, then things briefly cleared to warm sun in the early afternoon, then a walloping downpour came through late afternoon.  It came slowly over the western edge of the valley looking like a giant wave.  Only one small steelhead to hand, but a slow and steady stream of mystery grabs to keep it interesting.  I was “asleep at the reel” for the best grab of the day.  Some late salmon showing in the runs.  Water was the color of very light tea and all of the traditional runs were very fishable at 1,900cfs.  No wind ever really appeared until the very end as the downpour commenced; making for a simple, quiet outing along the river now completely bathed in fall.  If nothing else, everything just seems quiet now and it’s easy to loose track of time altogether while working through the water.  I fished the new (to me) spey rod that Jonas from Norway sent me and it took me awhile to get in the groove, but once I did, I settled into an easy rhythm with it.  The pace of the day was easy, and the schedule was just right, getting me home in time for an early dinner.  Despite the lack of fish, it’s days like these that make me want to go back again and again.

River notes – November comes in on a storm

A certain tension, maybe, seems to develop as Fall progresses.  Teased on with a few light rains, the hills start to play the role with colorful trees and a few choice mushrooms showing.  But down below, the river still speaks summer with low, clear water.  I think that might have changed this weekend.  Maybe:

Follow him down the dirt road past the apple orchard, fruit still hanging fast, leaves half gone from the wind the night before the rain. Along the trail are the first shaggy manes pushing through the damp earth – good eating if they can be brought back home and cooked soon enough. Follow him to where the old road fades into a trail and winds through the blackberries. If you’re not careful to stick to the paths that the bears trampled down during the height of it all, you’ll find all that’s left are the leaves and arching canes full of thorns that have a knack for reaching out and grabbing passersby. Along the way you might see the tiny shriveled berries still there, like you could reach out and grab summer back again.

Past the berries, the silt on the high river bank is cool and damp; settled by the rain. The dust is all gone now. The old dried weeds through here are turning from golden yellow to light brown and slowly collapse under their own weight, aided on by a day’s worth of wind and rain, working their way closer to, and back into, the soil. Along the gravel bar, the cobbles and boulders are shiny new again.

The water’s edge has reclaimed some of this. The river rises slowly, over the course of a day. The last green grass stands knee deep in the water now, gently washed by the waves lapping up. And like the berries behind, the algae still clings to the rocks out further, but the currents slowly wear it away and carry it suspended through the run. The water is now the color of strong tea. In the pool below, waves of leaves and algae well up in the backwater and leaves collect here and there along the bottom, occasionally scooting along at their own pace. You can’t miss the bright maple leaves whisking by in the faster water. A small willow branch floats by, probably blown in on the wind.

It won’t get muddy until the next storms really let loose on wetter ground. The emerald green water of winter is still a ways off. Everything balances here now. Down here, summer passes by in the currents. Up there, summer works its way back into the soil. Out there, another storm is pushing winter in a tad bit closer.

Winter Cometh Soon and a Pause

The latest weather forecast paints a lengthy period of rain starting later this week suggesting rising rivers and a big step towards winter.  Granted, winter is still a ways off by the calendar.  We are likely on the cusp of the more classic fall – damp ground, the river valleys shrouded with smoke from woodstoves, a new round of fall colors, and a burst of mushrooms from the forest floor – rather than this faux summer we’ve been living through lately.

So far, looking back, the season started with a bang in August and then progressively got more difficult in terms of hooking fish – though, I must admit, some of the most satisfying days have been those with one or two good fish hooked.  And difficult is not the right word – intense, maybe?  If I had to talk about catching fish, it’s less of a number game and more of the cerebral quest of finding a piece of water, methodically working through it and being rewarded with one good fish. That seems to make the whole crazy thing worth it.  I won’t argue with the fast and furious early season evenings – those are special times.  But there is something to be said for the focused pace through a piece of water, getting the swing just right and, finally, on the 23rd cast, connecting with seven pounds of electrified wild steelhead and then finishing with nothing more than that.  Of course, a single seven pound steelhead probably qualifies as a good day in most people’s ledgers around here.  If it was all easy catching, that would soon get tiresome (I think), and if nothing were ever caught, then, well, that speaks for itself.  It’s about landing somewhere in the middle which is, in practice, rarely enough.

I think the satisfying thing about it all so far is that I’ve managed to fish the water I just needed to fish, covered the water I wanted to fish and found a few new spots along the way.  Best of all, the old water was revisited and fished in a new way this year.  I think if the rain happens just right and the rivers come up about a foot or so, it will all start over again.  Pause…

Suicide dogs

The dogs lie in waiting during the dawn hours.  A truck zipping by at 50 miles per hour constitutes fair game apparently.  Twice they seemed to just miss the front tire.  Maybe that was their version of success – game won.  Crossing and walking down to the bottom of the north-south run at the corner another pack of dogs wandered by, sniffing the morning air -making the rounds of their turf.  They were gone, my fingers were already turning numb by the time I worked out a first cast – fish on!  A feisty half pounder landed.  The sun had not begun to clear the ridge yet, the river was steaming off its accumulated heat, and the fish were right were they were supposed to be.  Everything was working.

A couple of missed grabs (that coulda been the ONE) here and there, a few more half pounders to hand, and I decided to try the wade across to the East-West Run: Steelhead Shangri-La.  In some years the wade isn’t doable.  At the crossing point the river crosses back to the near side cutting a slot along the willows with some sunken wood tangles thrown in to roughen things up a bit.  My first try was denied – the slot was too deep.  Moving farther up, I found I could cross by wading straight across past the slot, then straight downstream, then angle down and across to complete the mostly deep wade.  I’d have to remember the precise path coming back – and a long push of water wading upcurrent – else I’d catch the slot and get swept into the woody tangles and add to the growing pile of human carcasses that accumulates underneath the willows each year.

This was a source of some concern.  However, arriving at the top of the run I could only notice that it was better than ever.  What was nearly the perfect piece of steelhead fly water has subtly shifted to become, well, nearly perfect steelhead fly water.  That’s the thing with steelhead fishing and defining “good” water.  There’s all types of good water out there, and better yet, many variations on “perfect” water.  Just when you think you’ve found mecca, a better place likely lies just around the next bend.

Some things were still the same here, though.  Near the top, there is a rough line of boulders or bedrock along the far bank that creates a wonderful fast water lie.  And it was along the face of these boulders that my ruminations and reminscings came to a halt.  A big halt.  The swing just stopped and I came fast into a cartwheeling adult.  It all happens so hard and fast that describing the sequence of actions that happen from cast to hook set would just be guesses.

I finally managed to work a hatchery adult to the bank, snap a quick picture and send it on its way – hopefully to feed a hungry anglers family.  I’m not a big fan of the large numbers of steelhead and salmon that the hatchery cranks out – a whole host of issues.  Not the least of which are the thousands of anglers who travel to fish the upper reaches below the hatchery.  Up there the river is small, narrow and, in my mind, one long extension of the hatchery holding tank.  Steelhead fishing at its finest. Oh boy.  But here I am, happy to be swinging flies and hooking a hatchery steelhead.


Probably. Definitely.

Somewhere around ten, just as the river was starting to turn into an aquarium and the first gentle breeze was rustling the leaves, the off switch was hit and I left with the one adult and a dozen or so half pounders.  I need to get to work on some flies for this fast, shallow and clear water – my fly wallet has a few voids that need filling.

Welcome October Rain

This afternoon’s Eureka forecast discussion settles the matter:

Rain this morning with mor due in Friday and Saturday - just the ticket for a long, productive Fall
Rain this morning with more due in Friday and Saturday - just the ticket for a long, productive Fall


It all felt big and empty today.  A lonely wind tried to blow late in the afternoon but it got all hung up in the trees.  It seemed like it was trying to find itself and couldn’t quite get going.  Along the way it would pick up a few leaves from the trees and scatter them along as if was looking for something to grab onto.  It had come all this way looking for something – but whatever was here was gone now.  The whole place seemed like it was mourning something irretrievably lost.  I think it was the sad love songs I listened to on the drive over.  I shoulda picked something a bit more uplifting.

The fish were few and far between, consisting of half-pounders taken on a sinking tip.  I banged up my elbow a good bit climbing down a poison-oak ridden hillside downstream of Ice Cream.  One of those impacts where you hit hard and don’t feel anything right away.  Then the pain comes over like a wave.  It’ll probably hurt more tomorrow than it does now.  Felt soles and steep, loose slopes do not mix well, unless you’re into skiing, which happened unexpectedly.  Ironically, it was nearby and across the river where I banged up my shin last week.  That one’s nearly healed now.

Once on the water, I promptly hooked a fish in the shade of the cliff and then spent a long time just trying to figure out the wind.  After climbing out and getting out of my waders, which sprung a significant leak at some point in the day, I scoped out another reach to climb down into.  The road gives a peek at some potentially good water, but most of it is not visible from up high.  Looks like there is a weak trail that barrels down at least part ways through a jumble of oak, bedrock and fir trees.  Just in time for my healed elbow…On the way home, the late afternoon sun bathed everything in a soft light, bringing everything to a standstill.  I don’t think there’s much more summer left here.

And it’s probably time to ferret out some new music.

Something was different about the light today.
Something was different about the light today.

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