Morejohn Mojo: Fly fishing for chinook salmon

If you’re a steelheader, you’ve seen Miguel’s flies. He’s one of Idylwilde’s “awesomer” guys, with a special flare for steelhead patterns. Morejohn’s Bantam, a slick little micro-Intruder, graces the bins of every respectable shop in steelhead country. His Scorpion Stinger is a go-to hairwing fly when skittish summers nip weakly at your tail fibers. And Miguel’s pièce de résistance, the fly that is poised to dominate the 2011 winter steelhead season, is his latest creation, the Spot-On Prawn. This fly will blow minds, and it will be inhaled by umpteen steelhead around the Pacific Rim in a few short months. If you’re curious, check out the underwater video on Miguel’s Wildfish Studios website.

It turns out this guy is more than just a well-connected fly tyer. He’s a brilliant illustrator, an accomplished photographer, and a damn good fisherman. Now that last point–the fisherman part–was sealed for me last week when Miguel came out for two days of prime-time chinooking. I had a feeling he would do fine, but he did way better than that. The guy was stellar. My initial instructions were simple: “Just use your intuition.” To which he immediately replied, smiling, “That’s how I like to fish!” Good answer. Then I explained that tidewater was like a big lake, and that chinook were like giant cruising rainbows. He nodded. “Cool. Wow, yeah. Got it.”

Miguel worked hard all day without a solid grab, but he never wavered. As afternoon faded into evening, after nine straight hours of double-hauling into a stiff breeze, untangling kinky running line, and being refused by thousands of tight-lipped salmon, he responded to a stop of his line with two powerful strip-sets, like a natural born bonefisher. The rod jerked down and the fight was on. I reeled up as fast as I could, pulled anchors, and got him into the sand-flats. I crossed my fingers, hoping for chrome, but the fish wouldn’t give us a peek. The fish’s bad attitude implied freshness, but we had no way of knowing. Less than half of the rollers we had seen were bright. Then came the silent drum roll as the fish seemed to tire. Then the lift! Almost there…it’s…it’s…oh, man. OH! Another long run…we laughed and breathed. And finally the mirror flashed. The perfect white belly rolled up, and we cheered. I scooped the net and made a grab for Miguel’s fancy camera. I fumbled around for a rag, hoping not to slime up the lens. It was a perfect fish.

miguel Morejohn salmon flyfishing

miguel Morejohn salmon flyfishing

That night we camped with friends on the edge of a small estuary. I barbequed a nice jack, along with meaty lamb chops, highlighted with fresh garlic and sliced jalapeno. All was sprinkled with sea salt and black pepper, then lemon was squeezed over the top. The small fish fed everyone, until we couldn’t eat another bite.

The next morning Miguel’s tennis elbow was burning. He said he should save himself for an upcoming Deschutes trip. I drove away, impressed by his control. But the pull of freshly minted chinooks was too much for him. He jumped in the boat mid-morning and hooked two more. Both his fish came unpinned, including one that seemed to be quite large. But he was amped. Finally, as the morning tide was slowing, I took a fish to the beach. My success owed much thanks to Miguel’s quick reactions with anchors and oars. The fish refused to come peacefully, refused to lay on its side as most any fish would do. The shiny buck came in for a three point landing, his wings holding him steady for one of the coolest king poses I’ve ever seen.

miguel Morejohn salmon flyfishing

Miguel got the shot, along with many more. He immortalized the fish and the weekend by being there. He was intent upon capturing the rush we both felt. We were intoxicated by adrenaline, and something else. Something much bigger than we could conceive, so alive and vital. We stood on a sandy beach, trampling on the fresh prints of pelicans and gulls. Seals hunted the water in packs of two and three. Fishermen dotted the far bank, faces locked steadily on the surface of the water. And the salmon! They splashed lazily for a half mile in either direction. There were forty- and fifty-pounders in the mix. The big fall migration had begun, and we stood in the thick of it. Nothing else existed.

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5 Responses to Morejohn Mojo: Fly fishing for chinook salmon

  1. Great story and a very cool pic of that king!

  2. Tony T. says:

    My right upper lip is beginning to twitch…

  3. Rick Allen says:

    That last part sent chills down my spine.
    Ive been in that moment, but nearly enough.

    I could stay there for a long time. A long, long, long time.

    But I cant! and it’s O.K.

  4. Nick says:

    I wanna go….!


  5. Jay Nicholas says:

    Sneaky Pete to Rob, over. Sneaky Pete here. Rob. Is that you? You’re breaking up, man. The chinook here are – – -, what was that? Ok, man I’m on the —–, and the tide is ——–, and I —- grab —– fish all over but they —— and I think I’m gonna ——- if I can’t ——, like, dude, you know what I mean?

    Seriously, I breathe the air of Autumn and share your thoughts. Thank you once again for a spectacular story. Makes me feel like I was in the boat with you.


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