Fishing a small coastal river for summer steelhead this weekend, we found low water and lots of angling pressure, the perfect combination for finicky fish. We’d been on the water since dawn, rambling up to likely pools, hoping for some deeper water, a little current, broken surface. We fished hard all morning and were headed back out of the gorge near high noon, and stopped one more time at water that had been occupied earlier in the morning.
Wild Bill and I spotted the big purplish fish right away, finning around in slack water at the head of a deeper pool. Damn near no current at all. He looked at us, and we looked at him like we were at the zoo, and knew right away it wasn’t going to happen. I plunked a fly on him, like a kid throwing a penny in a fountain, and he slunk off to the bottom of the pool, embarrassed for both of us.
Bill and I decided to let the pool rest, come back in 20 minutes. That fish wasn’t going anywhere.
We came back with a game plan. Sort of. We extended our leaders to 12 feet, tapered down to 8lb test. We got out the biggest golden stonefly dry we had. We got on some high ground and cast from 30 feet away from the edge of the pool. The dry fly didn’t annoy the steelhead, but it didn’t get him very excited either. We tried muddlers, nymphs, eggs, traditional patterns, switching off every few minutes to try another fly.
The closest thing to a take came when Bill swam a MOAL leech through the pool and the fish actually turned around for a second. It also spooked up a second steelhead we hadn’t seen, a smaller brighter fish. Eventually we gave up all pretense of stealth, and just walked right up to the edge of the pool and stared.
Both steelhead decided we were no threat and swam around freely while we watched.