March Madness: Late winter steelhead, bigfoot reports rolling into the shop

We’ve gotten some great winter steelhead reports from Mike Bellmore (pictured), James Frasier and Dave Reese.

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James hiked roads less traveled and found paired up spawning wild fish in small coastal creeks as well as a “human-sized” barefoot print. “I was surprised to count 13 wild fish spread throughout the system, and have included some photos of a spawning pair I thought was pretty cool. They were in a perfect tail-out, and I was able to watch within a fly rod’s length of them by belly crawling up to the stream bank. Pretty cool to watch the male snapping at the little 4 inch dinks that kept sidling up next to them!

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“Also, I know how you guys at the shop get down about Bigfoot, so there’s a photo of a very curious track I found out there. While crossing a little rivulet that feeds the creek, I found this human-sized barefoot print. Thought it was a little weird though considering there’s no trail system out there, I hiked in a bit of a ways, and it is winter after all.”

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Mike Bellmore sent us the following:

Many of us aspire to be a Steelhead or Trout bum. We read Trout Bum Diaries and watch Skagit Masters 1&2. We sip single malt scotch and dream about being tough enough to enjoy sitting by a fire in the rain with a select crew of other enlightened chrome chasers. We dream of magical days on wide serpentine rivers, filling the hours with cast and step, cast and step. We imagine snow capped mountains, eagles soaring overhead, the occasional brown bear and the magical 20 lb steelhead slipping away from our grasp, evaporating into the gin clear water.

I am not a Steelhead or Trout bum! I suffer from a disorder that doesn’t invite wonderful narratives with glossy full page pictures in upscale fly fishing magazines. Although I’ve spent a great deal of time looking, I have yet to discover a video that addresses my addiction and pain! I am a Winter Steelhead addict! And , after 54 years of struggle and grief, I have come to realize that it is much too late for me! My hope and fear drive me! They wake me from deep sleep and cause me to engage in risks that my mind and body can ill afford to take. I fall of rocks into rivers, I slide down hills, landing in blackberry and salmonberry patches. I destroy equipment, bending wading staffs and breaking $600 fly rods. I am hopeless and lost and, that’s nor the worst of it! For lack of self discipline and control, I have exposed my son in law Jered to the virus. I can only hope and pray for his complete recovery.

Last weekend came at a desperately slow pace! I spent the week lusting for a new and yet unreleased Burkheimer Switch Rod. I left the house early in the morning, driving in the dark, on icy asphalt and trying to come up with a game plan. The Siuslaw drainage came to mind, recommended via a Matt Stansberry narrative on a recent Caddis Fly Blog. I was well prepared and eager to face the abuse of the day. I had the 6 wt Echo switch rod and Lamson reel that Chris had talked me into. Fresh new flies that son-in-law had tied for me, a big bag of sun flower seeds and a couple of diet cokes to get the morning rolling. This system has proven deadly for 7.2lb cookie cutter hatchery fish on the Alsea but, that part of the season is so over now. Gone are the crowds and the promise of abundant pellet heads returning to their concrete bedrooms. I was after the grey ghost, the wolf of the river, the enigma of my imagination, the cause of my addiction. I was in a stream that is free of the pressure that a robust hatchery program nurtures and develops. Gone were the beer cans, Styrofoam containers, nylon tangled willows, fire pits and well beaten trails.

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In my typical fashion, I crashed, stumbled and fell down the hill, landing sideways and slightly backward on an old rotting fir tree. A couple of tiny birds noticed my arrival and briskly flew on down the creek. I gathered myself together and took inventory of equipment and supplies. Rod, reel, wading staff and tackle pack-check! Waders… small tear above the left knee-ouch! Considering the angle of approach and the landing platform, a pretty good outcome and an excellent start to another canyon-rock hopping day.

The water is making its way through the tear in my waders. The leak is small, the water cold and my left sock is starting to get a bit soggy. I am forced to drop the rod into the water every 3rd cast in order to free the line from the iced up guides. I cast and step, cast and step. The system is simple and efficient. The eyes remain on the water, the left hand operates the wading pole, seeking out boulders and drop offs, the right hand continually operates the fly rod, casting and mending the line as needed. Cast after cast, hour after hour, day after day, mile after river mile. Day after day of endless casting, stumbling and mending.

The native buck came to the fly fast and secure. He had turned on the fly and was headed down stream when the Echo let me know that it was time to awaken from my dream and act like a Steelhead Fly Fisherman-SFF. He ran and I followed! We crossed the stream three times in ten minutes. He was amazingly fast compared to his cousins of the fin clipped clan. In slightly more than a hundred yards he took full advantage of my damaged waders, filling the left leg with water, he caused me to abandon my wading staff and had taken me into the backing more than a dozen times. As this fish came to the beach, I strategized on how to comfortably secure him for the inevitable picture. The smile on my face evaporated as he began a series of cartwheels, complimented by another long determined run. Again, I chased, stumbled and fell, eventually meeting him on a small sandy beach in the middle of the stream.

As far as steelhead go, this magnificent creature was a gem. Once he quit fighting and running, we had a good time together! He rested in the shallow water next to my rod and let me snap a picture. Release was just as easy! I slipped the fly out of his mouth and he gently turned and swam through the shallow water, over the gravel into the emerald green water.

It was time to start casting, to resume dreaming, to fall back into my sick addiction! I wonder when Chris will get that new switch rod in? Oh ya, thanks Matt! My adventure was the direct result of your past ramblings related to fishing above and beyond the hatchery battlefields. The rivers of scrappy cutthroat trout and spooky indigenous steelhead.

And a few days later…

Winter Steelhead are amazingly predictable fish! They enter the rivers on schedule and proceed to move upstream in a very organized and deliberate way. They are very social, like to hang out together and often travel in small pods. A run of winter steelhead will often pause during periods of cold water and interact with bank anglers. January fish play a game called “chucking and ducking”. This involves fisher men and women “chucking” large heavy baits, flies and lures at the same spot for the same fish until said fish gets tired of “ducking”, gets angry and eats the offering. A winter steelhead asks no questions! They will bite! You just need to be slow and patient in your presentation.

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Spring Steelhead are amazingly neurotic fish! Each enters the river on a high tide, preferably under the cover of darkness. They are typically loners, not interested in getting to know each other until days or weeks later when the bucks and hens meet on the spawning beds. A March fish hears you get out of the truck, watches you set up your fly rod and moves quietly out of the run as you approach the river. A March fish will take the swung fly or the high stick nymph with equal abandon. A March fish asks many questions: Do you see her in the run? Has she seen you? Are you able to crawl 40′ on your hands and knees through the willows? Can you side cast under the Alders? Can you get the right mend? Has she seen you? Is the fly small enough? Too deep? Too shallow?

On rare occasions when I have been extra diligent in my sneaking and groveling, I find a place where the March steelhead are rolling in the middle of the run and the cutthroat trout are slurping March Browns next to the bank. I’m pretty confident that none of them know I’m in the neighborhood!

And from Dave Reese:

Look who came to the party!

5:30 am seemed like a good starting point, I rolled out of bed just like any other day of heading out to the river. I got all layered and geared up to head out to hook up with a winter unicorn (steelhead). It started well enough in Eugene with grey skies and a bit of a chill in the air. As I made my way over towards Low Pass, snow began to fall, and had been for some time, as the roads already had a coating from Thursday and now some new flakes to make things a bit more interesting. Driving was somewhat dicey in places, but all-in-all, not too bad, considering the weather.

I fished a couple of places and not much happening, until about 9:30 when I hooked into my first metalhead, and in an instant my line went slack. Win some, you loose some, that’s why we call it fishing.

A short while and several local cutts later, I was greeted with a serious tug just as my bug began to swing up from the dead drift. Fish on. A nice 10lb hatchery buck made his way to hand. Skunk off!

I hit several other likely places, and no dice.

About 1:30, I decided to make my rounds again to all my favorite haunts. I dropped in at Green Creek and made about a dozen or so casts. Then it happened. I was talking with another guy there and my indicator slipped down slowly, as if my bug was hanging on the bottom. Lifting my 9’6” 8wt to pull it free, I felt just a tiny bit of movement on the other end. BAM! FISH ON!

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About 20-25 minutes later this big boy came to hand. Got his picture and slipped him back in the water, and watched him swim out of sight. This is the largest steelhead I’ve landed to date, we guesstimated him @ 36” @ 15-16 lbs. Needless to say, he put a big smile upon my face!

Send us your steelhead reports and fish porn! Thanks for sharing guys.

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2 Responses to March Madness: Late winter steelhead, bigfoot reports rolling into the shop

  1. mike doughty says:

    holy crap that top steelie is bright

  2. Nick Kenney says:

    Mike Bellmore,you are not only a superb fisherman but one hell of a writer.Congratulations on your hard earned native.That is one gorgeous fish. Back to your narrative– simply terrific. You should be writing for the glossy “upscale fly fishing magazines”.

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