Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Scratching One Off the Bucket List...Steelhead Trip

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Every fly fisherman has their own version of a bucket list...specific waters you want to fish, species of fish you want to catch or even just certain methods of fishing you'd like to experience. If you're like me the list is long and seldom does anything get crossed off (although new things are always being added). Last week I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to cross one of those long dreamed of trips off my personal bucket list, the steelhead trip. A large group of fellow miscreants, some that I'd previously met and others that I hadn't, put together a weeklong steelhead trip encompassing three different states and a multitude of waters along the way. When I got the call about going I wasn't about to miss out on the opportunity, come hell or high water.
After finagling the work schedule to allow me the 10 days I needed to accomplish the almost 16 hour drive and sweet talking the wife into still being around when I returned back home, I was able to start making plans for the trip. There were flies to be researched and tied, shooting heads and sink-tips to be organized and last but not least, I needed to work in some two handed spey casting practice. While the planning and prep kept me off the water for the couple of weeks before I left, this was one of those trips where getting ready is half the fun.
Talking to some of the guys who had actually visited this area and fished for steelhead before I was a little apprehensive about my chances of actually catching one. Obviously, with any anadromous fish, water flows and temperatures are a dictating factor in how many (if any) fish are actually in the body of water you're fishing. While I'm used to fishing in tough conditions where the fish seemingly have lockjaw, the idea of fishing in a river where there literally might not be any fish yet was a little intimidating. I was also told that if I chose to fish with indicator rigs and egg or sucker spawn patterns my chances would most likely be better regardless of water conditions. While the idea of catching a steelhead obviously appealed to me, I had already convinced myself of the fact that I wasn't driving halfway across the country to chuck egg patterns under an indicator. Come what may, I intended to swing flies on the two-hander and take my lumps as they or no fish.
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The first four days were spent with a smaller group of guys bunking at one of the locals houses. There were five of us from out of town and three or four local guys who showed us around some of their favorite water.
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Our first day of fishing started off tough, with waters that were off-colored and still high from a recent rain event. After a little on the road research we were able to locate a fishable river and although it wasn't the first choice, we enjoyed a great afternoon of swinging flies on a beautiful river and drinking some beer with a great group of guys.
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Unfortunately the steelhead didn't cooperate on this day and when the sun had set we headed back to formulate a new plan.
The next three days were all spent on a different section of river (several rivers actually) and on top of some of the most beautiful scenery you could have while standing knee-deep in the water, fish were actually caught. This Kansas boy was the first one on the board out of the group and I have to admit I don't think the smile left my face for the rest of the week.
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By the time we got around to packing it up and heading for our next destination I had managed a landed fish every day since day one, and every one of them was taken on a swung fly fishing the spey rod. If the trip had ended right then I would have been totally happy,but this party was just getting started.
The second leg of the trip was attended by a much larger contingent, just slightly over 30 guys descended on a large campground right next to the river and basically took the place over.
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From this location we had the opportunity to fish three different states all within a couple hours drive of base camp and before the week was over I owned a license from each of those states. The fish continued to cooperate amazingly and I was able to land two more fish in the next three days.
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While I won't lie and say that I wasn't thrilled with my success fishing, maybe the best part of the second leg was hanging out with a big group of like-minded individuals. In typical fashion we ate like kings, drank too much, stayed up too late and basically had one hell of a great time.
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Just the knowledge alone that I was able to glean from some of the folks I fished and visited with was worth the trip in itself. Without the help of others who were more than willing to offer instruction my trip might have ended up differently.
I'm pretty sure that at this point I'm ruined, the steelhead bug has taken a big bite out of me and I'm already trying to figure out how I can afford the next trip.
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If any of you reading this live in steelhead country and happen to have an extra bedroom to crash in....feel free to send me an invite, I'm all in!!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Fall Colors

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Got out last week with a couple of buddies on one of my favorite Ozark rivers. The weather couldn't have been any better, cool mornings where a jacket and a cup of hot coffee was much appreciated and warm, sunny afternoons. While I had hoped to get some photos of great Fall colors while on the river I was a little disappointed in the leaves this year.
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With a very dry late Summer we ended up with lots of yellows and browns and not much red or orange. But there were still enough colors in the trees to make the hillsides glow as the morning sun hit them just right, Mother Natures palette.
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This trip was more about just getting out and enjoying some good company on the river before old man winter sneaks back into the picture (which is right around the corner in case you havn't checked a calendar lately).
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The river was low and clear, typical late Summer/early Fall conditions and the fish were spooky because of it. The conditions weren't right for hucking big flies, which happens to be the preferred method of almost everyone I fish with, so we broke out the small wooly bugger patterns and the indicator rigs for the weekend.
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The fishing wasn't what I would call tough although all of the better sized fish seemed to see us coming before we could get a cast off. The joys of fishing in gin clear water!
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Although the fish were all on the small side, the fact that you're catching wild rainbows (and annually stocked browns) and not just some 12 inch "trucker" from the local hatchery definitely increases the enjoyment factor. One of these small wild rainbows tends to fight as hard as one of their stocked brethren that are twice their size. And although the trees were lacking in vibrancy, the fish seemed to be sporting their Fall colors nicely.
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When you take into account the wild fish, beautiful Fall weather and some great company to share it with...I'd venture to say that it was definitely time well spent.
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