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!!


  1. Great report and good job! Pretty rivers and fat steelhead. You aren't a rookie anymore. (Keep telling yourself that the next time you go and don't get a single bump.)

    1. Thanks Jim...I fully realize that I was totally spoiled on this first trip and that it's not always like that. One of the guys I fished with has made that trip for 4 years in a row and this year was his first time to catch a fish. Ill take it though!

  2. Jeff....awesome. Bright steel, swinging wets, and wonderful company.

    1. You pretty much summed it up with that one sentence Alan, I can't imagine how it could have been any better. I also really enjoyed getting into tying those spey flies. Have to keep at it now since I've acquired quite a stash of blue-eared pheasant, guinea feathers and spey plumes. I'm anxious to see what my local trout think of a downsized spey type wet when swung.

  3. Glad you finally got to do some steelhead fishing. Were you up Erie Pa. way?

    1. a matter of fact I was. We actually stayed on a PA river but the water levels were just not conducive to swinging two-handed rods so we had to go in search of bigger waters. Definitely envious of all that water you guys up there have access to along the lakeshore.

    2. Yes, our steelhead fishing are narrow creeks compared to New York and Ohio. I was up there the past weekend. I would have stopped by had i known. I'm pretty sure you met up with a few acquaintances i know who were camping and also swing flies. If you ever get a chance to come back, let me know.

    3. I'm sure there were some folks who were talking about our large contingent...we kind of descended on the place like a plague Thursday afternoon.
      I'll definitely be going back, really enjoyed the diversity of water and the steelheading itself. Next time I'll give a shout when I'm in the neighborhood!

  4. Congratulations, on your first steelhead, and kudos to you for catching it the way that you want to, on a swung fly. It sure does look like you all ate like kings. Looks to have been a very memorable trip. Really awesome that you caught your steelhead the way you wanted, and gives me some confidence going in to my steelhead adventures this winter. I tied up egg patterns, because, that's what most of the guys around here in the Midwest use for these non-wild steelhead, but I really don't want to catch one that way. I want to catch it on a streamer, and you doing it your way gives me some confidence that I will not have to revert to what everyone else is doing. Thank you, for sharing your trip!

    Did you tie your own steelhead flies?

    1. Thanks Justin. I have to say that honestly I didn't feel at much of a disadvantage swinging flies for those fish. Sure a couple of the bobber guys had a few better days but there were also days where we outfished them. You definitely don't have to fish eggs to catch fish up there, this TR is proof of that. Stick with what you enjoy and then when you succeed it will be that much better.
      Yes. I tied all of my own patterns for the trip. If I was fishing streamers I'd tie up some patterns that resemble emerald shiners and gobies and give them hell! From what I saw the important thing is to get the fly in front of the fish, they're not as particular about color or style as they are proper presentation...just my novice two-cents.

  5. Nice! That's one thing I have yet to cross off my list.

    1. Thank's definitely a good feeling to knock something off the list instead of just always adding new ones!

  6. Man that looks too good for me. Everything about your trip is a "red flag"...I'd never leave. I would never work. I would never see my friends and family again. I can never go steelheading. Thanks for the heads up! Awesome trip.

    1. Thanks Drew...I'm pretty sure that if I can manage the addiction anyone can, it's not an easy path but worth every minute!

  7. Too good to be true! My bucket list has one thing on to fish next year. Very nice trip Jeff, I hope you get to do it again. Oh, one more thing. Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures

    1. That's an item on my bucket list as well Howard...may we both accomplish that simple goal (and hopefully repeat for many more years). This was one of those trips where I feel like I might be satiated enough to stay home with the family for a couple weeks and just remember the last trip, those don't happen for me very often!
      Thanks Howard!!

  8. Beautiful. I believe I predicted this trip the second you posted that spey that was hard to do. Way to go on your first steelhead. You only get to catch your first fish once.

    aka..Much Maligned Bobber Guy

    1. Thanks Dave...No extra points for figuring that one out, that's kind of like predicting that the sun is going to rise in the East tomorrow morning!
      I've already broke it to the wife that a Spring and Fall steelhead trip will probably be in order every year from now on. She took the news pretty well, I'm guessing she already had that predicted too!

  9. Sounds like a hell of a sweet time! Good good times

    1. Best fishing trip I've had in a long, long time. The rivers, the fish and the people all added up to create a very memorable time. I'll be spending more time swinging with the two-hander...that shit is just fun!

  10. looks like you all had a blast! beautiful areas and some great looking fish! food, drink, buddies (aka like-minded individuals) - i'm guessing can't be beat!


    1. Those kind of trips are always a good time, regardless of the conditions the company usually makes up for it. This was just one of those lucky instances when everything fell into place for a great time!

  11. Wow, Jeff! Sounds like you have a special knack for Steelhead! VERY well done!

    1. Thanks Dave...but No, I just got lucky. The water conditions were good and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time is all. I'd much rather be lucky than good though!