The day started off perfect — warmer and sunnier than any winter steelheader might expect, despite the snow piled up on the hills around us. We were fishing new water, and right across from the put-in was a perfect spey cast run.
Spooky weather reports had kept most of the other hambones off the river. We’d gambled and won.
The first run didn’t produce a fish, but the current was sweet and the sun was out.
The next spot was a sexy little tailout with rolling fish leaving bowling ball-sized splashes in the river surface. A couple dudes down below were fishing the top of a run with bait. We watched one guy make a couple casts and then he got snapped off by a big native chromer. The fish were going off around our boat like they were trying to jump into it.
Little did we know that was the beginning of the end. We threw every piece of tackle in the boat at those rollers and nothing. We theorized their lockjaw was due to the fact that they must be coho, not steelhead, and decided to move down to where the fish were biting. In fact, the guy on the bank was hooked up with another one.
We slid in down below him and got out, swinging long intruder-style flies, throwing winter steelhead jigs under floats, egg patterns under indicators… and nothing. Then the guy above us landed another fish.
Either we were the worst steelhead fishermen in the world, or that guy was the best. Instead of pondering that for too long, we moved downriver.
We pulled into another nice run and set up river-right. There were a few guys on the opposite bank with tarps, fire pits, plunkin’. We had a boat, more tackle than a fishing lodge, and an only slightly deflated ego. They had lawn chairs and bells on the tips of their rods.
We weren’t close enough to hear their bells going off, but they screamed a lot to make sure we knew they had a fish on. And another. And another. Big shouldered, sea-lice sparkling, buck-headed steelies, bouncing off the bank and into these guys’ arms for a grin-and-grab. Word at the breakfast place was 25-to-1 wild fish, and they had to let the natives go.
We eventually pulled up anchor and moved over, sliding in between two groups of guys. They were unbelievably nice people, but when one guy was hooked up above us, and one just below us, and we hadn’t even sniffed a bite, we took it as a sign.
The sun was dropping behind the hills and we had a 2-mile slackwater push before the takeout. It gave me some time to think about my next move. It’s probably going to involve an inflatable couch, pyramid sinkers and some goddamn bells. -MS