Sunday, January 31, 2010
Nine years ago, Rachel and I took a two-month trip to Chile and Argentina to sample some of the region’s best trout waters and spectacular landscapes. Our itinerary included stops in Chile’s Lake District, Coyhaique (the country’s fishing equivalent of West Yellowstone), Torres del Paine National Park, and wrapped up after a boat ride across the Straits of Magellan and ten days on the Rio Grande. The trip was perfect. The fishing conditions on the other hand, were not. After fishing mostly high, often dirty water north to south, we hoped for a change on our final week. We caught our first glimpse of the Rio Grande shortly after the pavement gave way to dirt on the Estancia Maria Behety and confirmed the rumors: The unusually wet January shot the flows to a level that would test the skills of both guides and anglers.
We woke to bluebird skies that first morning, fished through our beat without a touch, then hooked one between us that evening. Back at the lodge, the allure of a drink and fine company quickly pulled Rachel and I towards the bar and, with ten other guests gathered, the wine and stories flowed freely. Over the course of the week, the wind howled, the sun shined, the flows dropped, and the fishing improved. Despite better conditions, it still wasn’t easy. High water meant long casts to the far slot, heavy current required serious tips to sink the fly and constant, head-on wind, stuffed sloppy presentations. On the Rio Grande though, brown trout under seven pounds are dismissed as runts, any cast could yield a twenty-pounder, and everyone landed a lifetime fish.
Tomorrow morning, Rachel will board a plane bound for Buenos Aires and then another to Rio Grande. She’s spent the last decade building relationships with outfitters south of the equator and serves as Fly Water Travel’s South American travel specialist. Ten months ago, we welcomed our son into the world. He pulls harder on our heartstrings than any fish pulls line and made the decision to pack her bags difficult. Yet, Rachel is an angler. She fished winter steelhead on the Rogue while nine months pregnant and gave a casting lesson hours before going into labor. She will see three different lodges over seven days and recent reports from guides and returning guests all suggest that she will be blown away. Go get ‘em Rachel.
This past weekend, Matt and I made an annual trip to the coast in search of winter steelhead. The trip remains at the forefront of conversations throughout the year and sparks late-night tying sessions, extended weather watching and exhaustive strategizing. Finally, after one last look at river flows and the jet stream Friday night, it was on. We met at a Chevron parking lot at 4 am Saturday, drove hundreds of miles and crossed five rivers in search of water that did not mirror the color of our coffee. Experience has exposed the fragile nature of these systems due to natural and man-made causes and it is those factors that continually change the window of opportunity. The window changed again. After two fishless days, another stop at the taco stand fueled the drive home and the conversation about next year.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Thursday morning I suggested that we drive east and fish the upper beat through Lewiston. It made sense as neither Darrell nor Alan had floated the section, and as CalTrout board members, they might find the recent steam renovation work interesting. We fished through several consistent runs without a take including a particular piece of water that rarely keeps the net dry. Nonetheless, it did today and I reminded myself of a simple truth Larry Dahlberg once said, “The fish are where they are, not where you want them to be.” This morning, the first steelhead came from a shallow tailout. Darrell broke the spell and earned another dollar. Just beyond the halfway point of the drift, the river snakes its way left, right and left again, eventually straightening into a textbook steelhead riffle. Wading knee deep, Alan proved it again and again and again.
One of the more appealing aspects of steelhead fishing revolves around their migratory nature. Some days, a perfect piece of water will not hold fish while a pair will rest in a knee-deep depression. This behavior not only keeps things interesting, it gets me thinking about where I will find steelhead on any given float. Will I find them scattered throughout the drift, concentrated in the first few runs, or on the last casts? Darrell and Alan, both Trinity River veterans, stood ready to answer that question. The first two runs started the morning perfectly as Darrell connected to a hen and Alan took a buck. A short time later, Darrell landed his second of the day and then, nothing. Beautiful run after beautiful run yielded only the pleasure of fishing them well until Alan hooked a fish that flashed silver then, like the setting sun, was gone.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Predicting weather and fishing conditions seem to share a common thread. While certain factors might point towards a particular outcome, ultimately things do not always unfold as previously thought. This morning, three different meteorologists forecasted anything from no precipitation, to a rain/snow mix in the late afternoon, to snow in the late evening/overnight hours. By noon it snowed hard and continuously. We opted to fish a different beat, one new to Kevin and Mike and we had some company. The bite dropped off substantially from yesterday with three adults hooked throughout the drift. At the height of the snowfall, Mike simply reeled up, relaxed, and reflected, no doubt warmed by memories of a steelhead he landed after it cleared the water ten times!
Mike landed his first steelhead ever on November 13th, his son Kevin, did the same the following day. Ultimately, both fish left impressions that called them back to the Trinity for two more days on the water. Conditions seemed ideal as flows continued to drop from recent storms and overnight cloud cover kept morning temperatures warm. The river seemed renewed as steelhead rolled just above the launch and, throughout the day, dead drifts produced solid takes instead of twitches. Kevin found a buck in the first run, Mike took a hen at the take-out, with enough steelhead in between to prompt a couple of trout bums to ponder the reality of ever picking up four-weights again. On the drive out the discussion centered around the seasons of the Klamath and Rogue confirming the onset of two more cases of steelhead fever!
Sunday, January 3, 2010
I feel very fortunate to guide the lower Sacramento River and often marvel at the size of the native, wild, rainbows that thrive in it’s cold currents winding through a city of 90,000 people. Matt, Dan and I all hoped to find rainbows concentrated behind spawning late-fall Chinook and welcomed the heavy overcast skies as dawn broke over the horizon. The morning light revealed a touch of color in the water that only heightened our anticipation as the hum of the jet fell quiet and lines were cast. A couple of drifts into the morning and both rods bent simultaneously under the strain of redsides; a symbol of what would continue throughout the day. Mid-day rains triggered a baetis hatch so intense, we paused to witness it unfold, reveled in virtual solitude under the watchful eyes of bald eagles and pinched ourselves. What a river!