Steelhead on the 4th of July

willamette river steelhead

The head coach of the Utah Women’s Basketball Team, Anthony Levrets, was in my boat last year on July 5th chasing Steelhead. Both he and his wife Sarah grew up in Oregon, have family in the area, and visit our “Steelhead State” often (sometimes on team business – ha). Both love the outdoors and both love to fish – so much so that they met me at the boat launch at first light (5:30 a.m. to be exact).

As we approached the first productive steelhead pool, Anthony threw out a very early exploratory cast as I was still giving the requisite disclaimers that guides give to manage expectations…. “these are fussy fish, steelhead are unpredictable and we might not get a bump at all today so enjoy the river, enjoy the scenery, enjoy the day – if we are fortunate enough to get a steelhead “on” there is about a 50 / 50 chance that we’ll put that fish in the ….&%$#@”
fish on!!!!
What?? It’s barely light and Coach Levrets has hooked up with a steelhead on the very first cast – you’ve GOT to be kidding… wasn’t he doing the obligatory listening that guests do to humor the guides during the “managing expectations” talk ??
Evidently, the Coach, was more interested in fishing than listening and just as his “first fly” swung beneath the branches of a tree – WHAM – a steelhead came flying out from under it and hit the fly it could barely see. With fly in mouth, it went streaking across the river making my prep speech completely irrelevant.
WOW… we landed the fish, ran some white water, had a great day of fishing, and I talked about the “fastest” hook-up in my boat for the rest of 2011. That was LAST year.

This year, 2012, Coach Levrets was in town again for the 4th of July and we went out chasing steelhead on the fly. We skipped the formalities of the “expectations” talk – the bar having already been “set” by prior experience – and went right to fishing. It was a late afternoon drift and the shadows were just creeping across the water. Since we had to be off the river by 7 for the evening festivities with family and friends, we worked hard and fast to find a fish for the grill.
If steelhead are the fish of a thousand casts, Coach was approaching that number with forward casts, back-hand casts, roll casts… and coming up with the same results = “nothin” but a few bumps. Arrrgggg (I wanted to remind him of my “expectations” speech from last year but couldn’t find a way to work it into the conversation).

It was approaching 7 and we were in sight of the boat landing. As usual, there was a handful of guys on the well worn bank with Styrofoam containers at their feet chucking big wads of lead and bait so close to our boat we could almost feel the splash. Anthony said “wouldn’t it be great if we could hook-up right now and yank a steelhead right out from under their bait-wads”? (or words to that effect)
As the designated time keeper, I announced “6:45 – Last Cast” and Anthony unfurled a long one out the right side of the boat and gave the line a perfect down-stream mend.
Coach, by the way, is one of the best “menders of the line” I’ve ever had in my boat… the mend is a cast within a cast, and when it’s done right, it’s an art. My opinion – the mend is more important than the cast for steelhead.
The pink fly on the end of that mend was swinging gracefully through the arc in the line through water which was pretty shallow as we approached the “V” of the tail-out.
Suddenly, Anthony’s rod doubles over. I immediately think – lost fly in the rocks at the tail-out – happens all the time!! Oooops. Wrong.
The rocks in this tail-out moved and the water exploded with a big steelhead on the end of a pink fly NOT a pink wad of bait!!! Ha ha Score one for the fly fishers!!
It was a lively fish and darted back and forth across the tail-out as if trying to decide if it should go through the break and make us chase it downriver or stay above the drop and put on a show for the “bankies” – I was prepared to pull the anchor but glad it stayed and played.

willamette river steelhead fly fishing

It gave a show and we had an audience. When we finally netted it, we got a smattering of applause from the gear-guys on shore and I looked at my watch – 7:05– yikes.
Coach made a quick call and asked forgiveness.
We pulled into the take-out, quickly gathered gear, and scrambled to our 4th of July festivities with a story to tell of the last cast and a pink fly.
Well done Coach…. Witnessed with great respect.

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3 Responses to Steelhead on the 4th of July

  1. River Dragon says:

    Great story! That looks like some great fishing. What kind of wood drifter are you using?

  2. Greg Hatten says:

    It’s a Tatman design – Mahogany and Alaskan Yellow Cedar.

  3. Nick says:

    Nice story, or stories since both sound like memorable fish. Good to stick it to the bait chuckers every now and then ;-)

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