Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Chasing the Steel

“Well, your stock just went up, my friend!” John Stuckey said to me with a smile, because not only did I honor his 5 a.m. meeting time, I was there just before he arrived, waiting.  
“You know me, Stuckey!” I said back with a smile and a firm hand shake.
“They’re calling for a 19 degree weather day.” Stuckey said, dropping his voice a octave lower, and a bit more serious.  It was true, a 19 degree day was the forecast for the Little Salmon River, but it would take a blizzard to keep us from steelheading. And we would most likely fish in a blizzard just to say we did! This is the kind of crazy mentality steel-headers get, especially guys like myself and Stuckey, who won’t let a little cold keep us from the water. 
“I wouldn’t expect anything less!” I said, and three hours later we were geared up and fishing for steelhead on the Little Salmon River. 

I set up a 7wt. Helios switch rod Ryan Spillers let me borrow with a nymphing outfit, while Stuckey rigged up his 8wt. Helios 2 switch rod for swinging flies. Nymphing is the most effective way to fly fish for steelhead during this time of year, but swinging flies is the more pure way. Because of this I was reluctant to pick a spot to fish when Stuckey offered my choice of water.  It is my belief that anyone who is fishing a more pure way should get first pick as to where they want to fish. Stuckey insisted I pick a spot, and it worked out because I ended up hooking into a rainbow trout!

“I thought your rod was going to break bringing in that fish!” Stuckey said with a laugh. 
“It took my pico-stonefly nymph.” I said back to him. 
“Oh, God!” Stuckey said, “don’t you have any other names to use for your flies?” 
“What are you talking about?” I said laughing, before we left to find a different spot on the river. 

The sun peaking over the ridge helped the temperature rise a degree or two, which warmed us up enough to shed a layer of clothing.  
“This is the spot where Ryan brought me last year, and we both hooked into steelhead.” I said, as we approached a turnoff. 
“Sounds good to me.” Stuckey said, and pulled over.  
Stuckey found a nice spot to swing his flies while I walked further upstream. 

I shimmied my way down the large boulders to the river's edge, which had enough space for me to stand semi-comfortably.  I worked the edge of a large riffle that looked like good holding water for a steelhead, and when I came up empty I readjusted my indicator to allow my flies to go even deeper.  I flicked my flies out and watched my indicator floating downstream, and then it shot underwater!  I set the hook with all the force that an eleven foot 7wt. Helios switch rod has to offer, and felt the glorious tug of a steelhead! 
Normally I’m quiet when bringing in fish, but with all the guys that filed in around me with hardware, I felt the need to put on a show. 
“Oh, there it is!” I yelled, getting some attention from my fellow spincasting anglers. 
“It’s a steelhead! It’s a fighter!” I yelled out again, as they watched. There was no hiding my happiness as I brought the fish in close enough to land.  I reached back for my net... that wasn’t there!  Great, I thought, after I brought all this attention to myself I now have a greater chance of losing the fish.  I brought the steelhead in close, and grabbed its tail to yank it from the river! LANDED, and there are no sunglasses made today that could dim the shine of my smile, as I looked from side to side at everyone watching. 

I told the story of catching the steelhead to Stuckey, who got a real kick out of the scenario.  Together we headed to another promising spot on the river to try our luck. 

We stopped at a nice spot that had deep holding pools for a resting steelhead. On the banks of the Little Salmon River it was nice to be fishing with a switch-rod.  The amount of torque you can apply on the line allows you to perform casts that require no backcasting, yet the ability to send your flies to the other end of the river with a well timed flick. 

Despite my ability to cover the water, there were no fish willing to take my flies in our new spot. 

I walked back up to see how Stuckey was doing. From a distance I could tell that Stuckey really knew how to handle a two-handed switch rod.  Perfectly timed casts sent his flies right on target, and made me realize how much more I need to practice my switch and spey casting. 

Another quick move took us further upstream to some nice holding water.  At first glance both Stuckey and I smiled; this definitely looked like steelhead holding water!  Stuckey fished the top tail-out while I waded downstream. On a long cast out I watched as my indicator went under and I set the hook hard. My rod doubled over, which got Stuckey’s attention. 
“Did you catch Idaho?” Stuckey asked, knowing full well what a snag looked like. 
“Sure did, and it’s not coming loose.” I said, and broke off my flies. 

“I would have lost money on that spot.” Stuckey said as we left the nice looking holding water behind. 
“I can’t imagine there not being a steelhead there.” I said, puzzled. The day was nearly over, but we were not ready to leave.  We stopped and caught zero fish at one last spot. 

The sun hid behind the big eastern hills that created the canyon we stood in, dropping the temperature back down to a chilling number. The wind started ripping through the riverbanks, which aided our decision to leave the water.  
“Hey, Erik, look at this.” Stuckey said, holding up his frozen fly and flicking it a few time to show how solid it was. 
“Well, if that isn’t a sign to end the day, I don’t know what is.” I said, as we geared down and headed back toward Boise. We stopped in Cambridge to have dinner at a small Ma-and-Pa restaurant, which had homemade ice cream! In the end, Stuckey ordered the pie for dessert, while I went with two scoops of ice cream to finish off a nice day of steelheading. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Josh Did it Again!

Local artist, Josh Udisen, acquired inspiration from a fish photo of mine last year and asked if he could create a painting.  Of course I was excited to hear that one of my photos was going be painted, and immediately gave my okay for him to proceed!  

A while later I asked if he would be interested in seeing another picture of mine that was so close to being a great picture, in my mind.  The problem was that the picture I had taken of a grayling I caught up near McCall, ID, had come out blurry!  I was so upset at this when I first saw it! I kept the picture on my computer, because I wasn’t ready to let it go. And good thing I did.  

Josh suggested that I send him the picture, saying that it didn’t matter if it was a little blurry... so I did!  And Josh loved it!  In a short amount of time, he sent me this photo of the finished product that breathed new life into my blurry one! 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Picture Perfect

About two feet of snow was being carved away by the flowing water, making Myrtle Creek the perfect picturesque winter stream.  At first I couldn’t wait to step in the water.

I have fished this creek before in the spring, with some success, and couldn’t wait to wet my line. Despite the clouds and snow that surrounded me, the temperature was not bad at all. 

I rigged up to do some euro nymphing and proceeded to work every rock that a small, unsuspecting fish might call home.  As I worked my way upstream, I came across a large undercut snow-shelf that had been carved out by the stream; underneath the shelf there were large icicles that exist only to the person stupid enough to be standing in the water. 

Just ahead was what I was looking for: a deeper hole that fish would hold in during the winter season.  In the winter it is crucial to carefully approach fish because they seem hyper-sensitive and will spook at the slightest disruption, even more than normal.

I crouched down to approach the hole like a heron, each step well thought out to make the least amount of noise possible.  I flicked my flies in the best spot, doing my best to stay out of sight.  

I stayed low while thoroughly working the spot, and was rewarded with nothing!  Desperate to see a fish, I walked through the hole while keeping my eyes peeled... I was now purposefully trying to spook fish, just to see if they were there!  Nothing, not one scurrying fish. Not a good sign. 

More snow-shelves meant more hidden icicles, leading to more pictures. 

Every snow-shelf I came across had icicles of all sizes, no two snow-shelves were the same. 

Some icicles were thick and some were thin, but this next seemed to be upside-down!

As I walked up the stream I half-heartedly fished behind bigger rocks and small runs...just in case. 

Every portion of this river looked picture perfect. The bridge just upstream was my ending point and, as you guessed, I was sure to snap another picture.

I went back to sweeping my flies under large ice and snow-shelves for the home stretch, and in the process I stopped to snap another picture of hidden icicles.  Apparently I like taking pictures of these things.

Catching was nonexistent today, but I still enjoyed every minute in the stream.  Obviously the icicles alone were enough to make me happy, not to mention being surrounded by snow on a stream.  It’s days like this that remind me of how much I love doing what I do.

In the end I took 173 photos of the day on the water, which is a bit extreme, even for me!  I crawled my way onto a large ice shelf that looked thick enough to support me and walked back to the car skunked for the day, not at all feeling as though I had walked away empty-handed.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Just This Morning

I going to be honest, I was dragging myself out of bed this morning to meet up with my buddy, Ryan Spillers, to go steelheading on the Boise River.  My hope was to catch a fish before work, which limited my time to just under an hour and a half. My expectations were low, and so was my enthusiasm. 

"Erik!" Ryan yelled over to me as he stepped out of his truck. 
"Ryan!" I yelled back. 
"Ready to catch a steelhead?" He asked, sounding peppy as he gathered his gear. Ryan has been chasing-the-steel in the Boise River a lot this year, and is dialed in to their locations and what the fish may be feeding on. 
"Hell yeah!" I said back to him, finding his can-do attitude uplifting.
"Then let's do it!" He said, and with everything rigged up, we walked to the river. 
"Hold on, I want to get a picture of you coming down the embankment." Ryan said, as he shot down it like a squirrel, then turned with his camera ready.  
"Okay, here I come." I said, as I started to make my way down as naturally as possible.

We got to the river, and Ryan was quick to point out a promising spot. 

We split up and started fishing. For me, waiting for an indicator to go under is boring, and is probably the reason I was dragging my feet to get up this morning. I watched as my indicator floated by again and again while talking to it, and to myself... "Okay, now!" I said, willing my indicator to shoot under to indicate a fish had eaten my fly... but nothing. 
"Now!" I said again after another cast, but the yellow ball of an indicator stared right back at me, lifeless.  This went on for a good hour, and I was losing patience. Which is funny, because I got into fly fishing for my lack of patience.

The day was starting to clear up, which meant time was running out. I shot my line out again and watched my indicator floating downstream, then it jolted under! No matter how long I have been waiting, I am always ready to set the hook, which I did! Boom! Boom! Boom! The tip of my fly rod jolted hard, and my raincloud-mood lifted to a bright sunny day! 
"Ryan!" I yelled, as I started walking towards him. 
"You got one!" He said happily, before taking out his camera to snap a picture of the fight.

"Ryan, this just made my day!" I said, as the ten foot five weight fly rod was doubled over with the weight of a steelhead. 
"I'm glad you got one." Ryan said back, as I wrenched back on the rod to bring up the head of my fish, and slipped it into my net. 
"There we go!" I said, after the steelhead was securely landed. 
"Yeah! That's a nice steely." Ryan added, as I picked up the fish for a picture.

"What did it take?" Ryan asked. 
"You're not going to believe it." I said, as I held up the fly. 
"Ohhhh!!!" Ryan yelled, "it took the Pico Stone!"  
"Yes it did!" I said, laughing. 
The funny thing about the Pico Stone, is that I never liked it well enough make it public. It was an ugly fly that I kept in my fly box for a while, because I felt it needed more work. Whatever reason I decided to use a fly I disliked was similar to the feeling I got that made me not want to go fly fishing this morning.  And in the end, I was glad I did both... It's going to be a good day today!