Dial tones

I come here for the wide open space,

Where the river flows across the valley

To the coastal lowlands.

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This is where I wanted to be,

but now the reality of all this space

Bites hard.

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A dying afternoon breeze swirls chilled gusts

Into my face, down my neck,

Into my bones.

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Off west a big wall of fog rolls across the lowlands

Swallowing up everything.

A giant dark wave that might stifle the wind,

Or send it running in every direction.

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Standing hip deep in the chilled water doesn’t help.

My legs have stiffened to stifle a shiver.

And I’m hopelessy hunched over

Like an old man worn by years of toil.

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The water is still off-colored, just clear enough,

Seducing me with clear green edges,

Closer, now, the brown-tinged center hides the river,

Calling for a painfully methodical pace,

So things can see and be seen.

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Here the river sweeps long against the bedrock cliff,

Tracing a classic slot for winter steelhead to sit.

Sitting and doing whatever they do.

Waiting?

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Minutes ago, this water gave up a ten pounder to me.

Now I’m hunting for another.

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Another grab at the fly, a quick swipe as the fly

Hangs down below me

In the deep seam at the edge of the slot.

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The cliff along the far bank is overhung by ferns,

All dripping steadily into the sweetest water,

Like a dial tone maybe,

Waiting for the ring…

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Another cast, another half step,

Repeat.

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Another swipe.

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Now the failing wind lets moments of glassy stillness

Cover everything

Just for a moment, before another push up the valley,

Announcing it’s coming by the ripples pushing up the long run.

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A third tag, this time just a peck.

The cold gets forgotten

Just for a moment.

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The fish rolls down below me, showing silver

Before disappearing back down,

Into the greenish brown mystery world where fish sit and wait,

Waiting for strange-looking concoctions

The quickest glance of feather and fur swimming past.

All things new

In summary: New rod, swung flies (mostly sparse, small purple intruders), the hard stop on the swing only to pull up to pulsing mayhem deep into the wood and cartwheeling antics sounding like a pig fallen into the river. Sassy, spunky, salty chromium beauties. One of those days that happens once in a great while…

11.8′ and 800cfs on the gage.

250 meters of hope

Water temp: 2.5C @ 2,480cfs

It dawned on me on the way home that the obsession with steelhead fly fishing is driven, in part, by the threat of missed opportunities. Each season, each storm, each day creates a set of conditions that becomes a must-participate scenario in my mind. Today was no different… I probably should have stuck with popular christmas tradition and visited friends, family and enjoyed the gala day of the season. But the scenario was set: a week of wet weather looming, meaning that I faced a now-or-never proposition. Further, the light rain forecast for today might bump up the water temperatures a bit, thereby reinvigorating the fish; or perhaps the barometer would throw the fish off balance and send them into new lies where they would forcefully hammer any intruders swimming into their new winter home. Plus, there was the larger scenario of record low flows presenting a near once-in-a-lifetime chance to be a part of this – to be able to one day say “yeah, I was there…” Finally, the simple lure of fishing a big, empty river at the extreme end of the temperature scale could not be dismissed.

All viable opportunities not to be missed.

So… I do a pass through the boulder house run where the depth and substrate make for an enthralling aquascape of dark boulders painting shadows in the clear water. Nothing doing, not even a grab. On to the main act. Ferry across to the far side and repeat last week’s perfectly choreographed session with hard-bodied wild steelhead. Here the broken skies begin to close in and the gray mist of light rain can be seen coming up the valley. The water temperature hasn’t budged, the air temps still hover near freezing and the threat of snow seems very real now. But there’s nothing like wading into the top of a long run set up perfectly for swinging long casts through water that moves with purpose around each and every boulder along the way. It’s the view of all those slicks painted across the water’s surface from bank-to-bank, the kind of water where you swim flies through each swing, and every moment is as real as the next. Standing at the top this place is a sight to behold. This is water so good that it is 250 meters of hope flirting with absolute promise.

An hour into it, the cast-swing-step falls into the rhythm of a winter river. The fly glides though a world of dark waters,hinting at light and shadow. Every nook and cranny of this place holds a secret of silvery ghost fish. Everything seems to move in one long fluid motion. It might be tempting to call this the “trance swing,” something akin to a runner’s high were everything just becomes effortless and present. But there’s more, it’s a very real connection to a cold, dark world unseen by most, with the angler teetering on the edge of fantastical, fish filled worlds, habitually refusing the harsh notion there might be nothing at all down there. All this tethered to the end of a long line dangling some god-awful concoction of fur and feathers. This is presence, meditation and thrill all wrapped into one package, tempered by ice cold river, and fed by the movements of water that will not wait.

Time is different now. Three hours passes and 250 meters of water has been covered as best as possible without even a grab. Regardless, the entire experience – fish or none – becomes embedded in the simple, quiet pace that settles in.

One more stop: Slate Creek and the promise of biting half-pounders if nothing else. A quick pass through the top yields nothing – not even a grab. Wow! What a difference a little weather, a degree colder, cloud cover, barometer … what is it? The lower half fishes silently until a soft, kissing grab yields a briefly hooked half pounder near the bottom. Ice rings portions of the river’s edge – a reminder that, indeed, things have gotten colder since my last 3.5C outing here. I go for broke and tie on the largest, darkest intruder I have to swim down deep – if this thing gets touched, it will be for real. Down through the run again and 2/3 of the way through the intruder swims trough the slicked water and there it is: the slow tug from down deep – leaving me with goose bumps and no more.

Scenario over.

The frozen edge of the river.

Finding the Soul of a Mid-winter river (or: caught naked in the sunshine)

Searching for ghosts
Searching for ghosts

At this flow, the tailout is infinitely large – and maybe a tad bit too deep to comfortably wade.  The water is running at six degrees this morning and a long pass through belly deep water would probably sap the life out of me – slowly and unknowingly.  So, I decide to drop the pram in the water and fish through it from the dry.  I didn’t know how the spey cast would work from the pram, thinking the edge of the boat might catch the forward cast as it left the water – not a problem and I managed easily with the circle, cack-handed circle and overhead casts.  I put the Blue Hope into the fly rotation – and, to jump to the punch line – the only grab of the day was on that fly – the slow pause on the deep swing.

I wade fished the run up top, below the bridge and did a pass through another piece of water and just could not get the fish to move.  I think there were fish in there, just too cold to excite them (though I don’t know who could resist pulsing yellow pheasant rump).  The water had a subtle green color, that gave just enough secrecy to the water to keep it interesting.  I ended up swinging a big piece of red meat (prawn) mid-afternoon thinking I could draw them from afar; shaking my head after each swing thinking it was nearly perfect.  Casting rhythm was good, lost track of time during each pass (lost in the swing), and generally fished everything well.  So maybe I did find the soul of this river today – passing along easily over the cobbles, happy in the doing, though craving just a bit more.

Amid bright sun and green water
Amid bright sun and green water

Preparing for the New Spey Rhythm on the Eel

Replacement camera arrived today.  Just in time for green water on the lower river.  I tied a few larger flies using pheasant rump and hackle-tip wings.  More to try out the camera than anything as the fly box is well stocked.  Hoping to do the early walk into Elinor bend where the river does a long sweep along the bank.

006

009

Searching for the Rhythm of the Eel

The river swings away from the highway for a few miles, winding through tall trees and underneath moss-covered everything.  Standing halfway through the run, bitter cold of morning stinging my fingers, I notice the water slows to a gentle sound – more like soft voice than the chatter up top in the riffle.  Here the river is in slow motion it seems.  Someone forgot to turn the LP speed up and it all comes to a wonderful, easy pace.  Once a rhythm is established in the cast-swing-step dance, this place becomes very big.  Each tiny step swims the fly into a whole new world of water.  This morning, the water is perfectly slate green colored with the first rays of sun casting beams through the redwood boughs onto the water. Spotlights.  An early grab on the giant marabou prawn is an adrenaline rush and every subsequent cast becomes more intense – this is the ONE.

Climbing back up to the bank, looking at the clock in my truck and realizing that nearly three hours had passed on that one run… “I hardly had enough time to even think.  I didn’t quite fish the bottom as well as I could have.  I should have…”  Well these are the things that signify success beyond anything.  A fish to hand is always nice but success can be found in other, perhaps more deeply satisfying, ways.

Where one piece of water is pleasant and time gets lost, another piece becomes more challenging.  The water is too deep, too slow, too fast, too much of this or needing more of that. Time becomes more apparent, something potentially wasted, time to move on.  Impatience is like sour milk – toss it out and start fresh. So we go to new places. Still, we go to those places again and again just to make sure.  Or maybe we’re looking to find that patience in all the wrong places so when we come to the right place again, everything will be just as it is and fall effortlessly into place. Late in the day, sun casting shadows and light across everything, I find the proper water again.  Still, nothing on the grab, just patience and rhythm.

To be continued…

Tying with Coot – The Spey Experiment

The new coot skin arrived!  Yippee..my substitute for heron feathers – or so I was hoping.

This really wasn’t an experiment – as others have used coot for a variety of spey flies.  But I had to see if it met my expectations of a good looking buggy fly with hackles that would stand up in the faster water fished this time of year.

The goods
The goods

Time to try it out.

I wrapped the hackle three times over the alpaca wool body to help it stand up.
I wrapped the hackle three times over the alpaca wool body to help it stand up.

The first outing confirmed it fishability and success.  The half-pounders couldn’t stay away from it.

I’m sold.