Some magnificent Scott Travis flies(some of these got wet)
The elation that comes from hooking and landing a perfect wild winter steelhead in a new river in the very first pool you fish is unreal.I felt blessed to be where I was, and was so content to just be there.......I didn't even need to fish anymore,the day was beyond a success. It was about 9 am in the morning and I was just tickled to be alive and fishing and sharing the river with great people. Satisfaction is a word that only touches the edge of what I was really feeling.
This outing was my first meeting with Marty. After reading their blog and chatting with him over the previous months I knew I just had to go fishing with him. It was just my luck that Mia, who was chomping at the bit to get her cast on too, decided to come along. I'm glad she did. Besides being an awesome wife,mom and delightful person,she can fish circles around most guys I know. She can also cast a long belly line 150+ feet.
At the onset of the day, the prospects of finding a place to fish let alone finding a willing participant to eat a fly was minimal at best. The credit to even pulling into this spot goes to Marty. He had a knowledge of the river and levels that told him this place may just work.The credit for finding the fish in this particular run goes to Mia. She is the one that swung the fly into the one area that the fish had found to escape the raging currents they had been fighting for days. It was her skillful technique that alerted her and us that we had found a little steelhead Shangri la. She stuck with it in her first pass through, persevering after breaking off several flies in the danger zone.A lesser fisher would have made a few swings, found rock, lost a few flies and said" I can't fish this, it's too snaggy and slow" Not Mia. A lesser fisher would have packed it up and left the run before adjusting fly size and sink tip weight. Mia knew there were fish in there and she located them. I took note of how she fished the run and made full use of that knowledge.I watched her pick her way through and then adjusted my setup to allow for a swing that suited this slow,snaggy holding water. I listened and noted what she said about the run after her first pass. This was a very hard place to get a good swing in but the fish were there.My part was easy. She warmed um up and found all the structure and most likely holding water. In the process of losing a few flies, she delineated the best part of the swing zone, making it easier for me to stay in the goods and avoid those snag zones. This was team sport at it's finest.
I just got lucky and got one to go.Spending some time at this spot after some action was key.Having multiple rods in the water fishing different tips,flies and colors truly made the magic of this spot come alive. I believe many, many people would have passed right by this little corner without a glance.Even Marty and I marveled at how she had found these fish in such an unlikely spot. If it wasn't for her this could have turned out to be a very different day indeed.
Now we had found a little bucket in an unlikely spot and both Mia and I had touched a couple fish. The thoughts of heading down to fish somewhere else that may or may not be fish able weighed heavily on our minds. We had a small pow wow at the boat and discussed the recent events, laughing at our surprisingly good fortune so early in the day. It was kind of funny, no one wanted to leave this little bucket. We all knew what we were gonna do next, and basically at the same time we all kind of said "You don't leave fish to find fish!"
Back to the top of the run we went as Marty, then Mia marched back through this small bucket at the top of the run. Both fished through the run well and Mia again had a subtle player that would not commit. She worked the fish putting multiple drifts back in his window to no avail. This latest action for Mia kept us all keyed up and focused as we followed each other through the run again and again. Just as we would think about leaving, someone would feel some funny business on the end of the line and we would keep swinging flies through unable to leave a plucky or grabby fish behind.
I was on my second or third pass through now.I started back in at the top and followed them through. Passing the spot where Mia's first fish grabbed. I continued down,passing where I had recently hooked up and started covering water I had not gotten to yet.This water had just been fished perfectly by both of the Sheppard's.There was no rhyme or reason to what these fish were doing, as the randomness of the action portrayed.We just knew they were here. We were all using different color flies and fly styles. I was actually fishing one of Marty's tube flies when I hooked the first fish and saw no reason to change it out. I gave it a quick hone after nicking a rock and continued down. Another swing through and I was hung up bad. I waded out a little and threw slack to the outside of the snag hoping it would be pulled free by the faster current. I jacked around with it for a minute or two and it finally came off.Without even looking at my hook for possible damage I double speyed a cast out and was fishing again. I should have checked that hook I think to myself as the fly searches deep and slow. I can feel the fly and line scraping over structure and can hardly resist pulling it out of there before I hang up again. I fight off the urge, leading the fly inside.
Another gorgeous wild buck smashes the fly and proceeds to go ballistic.I hoot aloud again just like you hoot when you are skiing waist deep powder on a sunny day. My joy can't be contained. He heads for the outside current and manages to get into it momentarily, spinning my Daiwa 812 like you read about. The pawls growl angrily against the gears as line pays off the reel. I palm the reel lightly getting my thumb in the way of the handle and getting exactly what I deserve. Whack! The handle hits my thumb at 13,000 rpms and I barely notice, fully immersed in the euphoria of the moment. I battle back and drop my rod to the water and apply side pressure which immediately turns and stops the fish from his hasty retreat. I continue to pressure the fish hard and get him to the shallows where I can grab the leader and tail. Marty is behind me now, and grinning a grin he snaps a quick photo of this moment and my second amazing wild fish. I was doing nothing different then either Marty or Mia at all really, it was just one of those deals. I was in the right place at the right time when one yawned. Totally random action but it does give me renewed confidence in making multiple passes through a run with several different offerings before moving on. Sometimes it's a subtle change in cast angle or current speed that presents the fly differently. It may take a couple passes through just to see how the run fishes and then concentrate on those areas where swing and structure are most conducive. I am a firm believer in the tag team approach and it worked wonders here. It helps when you have tag team partners like Marty and Mia.
Now that we had touched a few fish and spent a couple hours in this spot it was time to move on.I was blown away after the first fish and was in another world now after hooking and landing two stupendous wild winter bucks. I was just dumbfounded. It wasn't even 10 o'clock yet.
Just for fun, and because they are so awesome,I had brought with me a box of Scott Travis flies. I met and fished with Scott last year and he has become a great friend. His flies speak for themselves. It was super high water and the temp was right around 40 degrees but by golly we were gonna get some of these beauties wet on this trip. I opened the box and told both Mia and Marty to grab and fish whatever they wanted.
Mia grabbed a couple, one being the orange fly with the jungle cock cheeks on the left hand row in the above picture.(Sorry Scott, I do not know the name.)Marty followed suit grabbing a couple in purple.We floated down with guarded anticipation knowing we may have already seen and fished the best spot this river had to offer. Still we looked at likely water as we floated. I would say to Marty "Hey that looks good" he would answer with "Too fast"and he was right. His experience with this river was apparent as many of the likley looking spots I would have probably had to actually fish before I found out what Marty could tell floating by. There is nothing like a home court advantage and Marty and Mia were wearing the local jerseys.
We beached the boat at another run that was clearly a favorite. The current water levels made the wading and casting very difficult. I was content to watch Mia fish the bucket and jaw jack with Marty on the beach. The rain fell and the wind blew. Marty went in and fished downstream of Mia poking into small slots in the willows and trying to get a cast off without hooking a tree. I walked down below them both trying not to drown as I too tried to do what I could down into the tail out. The current was so strong even 10 feet off the bank. I was stumbling my way though the run at times moon walking as the water lapped at the top of my waders. The uneven bottom would drop away unexpectedly every so often and I would find myself literally bobbing down the river until I could grab terra firma with my wading boots. I am a strong wader and feel confident in most conditions but I bailed out before getting all the way down to the tail. It was honkin my friends!
I walked back up to find Mia grinning ear to ear with a spectacular summer fish with that very same orange Scott Travis fly stuck firmly in it's jaw. This fish was caught on her second pass through the same upper bucket. She picked her own pocket!
Mia proves persistence pays and summer fish will move to small flies in 40 degree water
I ended up hooking one more fish on a Scott Travis fly although it was an outbound kelt. That fish actually jumped and ran all over the place making quite a showing for himself.The overall experience was amazing. It exceeded my wildest imagination considering the conditions. It was so good to meet and fish with two people so obviously passionate for the sport and so interested in sharing that passion with others. I have seriously not had that much fun fishing in a very,very long time. The excitement of being on a new river was intoxicating. Sometimes I can get complacent and in a rut when I fish my home river. This experience made me appreciate the river I fish more but also gave me a fresh perspective on the other great opportunities that are available in this great state. We are so lucky to live in Oregon.
It was so fun to hang out with fellow guides and just fish. It was fun to exchange info,talk shop, techniques and rivers. I felt like I was with old friends after about the 1st hour of the day. The Sheppard's were more than gracious to agree to take me fishing. I hope to return the favor this summer and show them my home river.
In conclusion I want to highly recommend Little Creek Outfitters for all of your steelhead adventures.With guided trips on the Sandy and John Day they truly have this steelhead thing down. Marty and Mia run a first class operation in every way and you would be hard pressed to find anyone more knowledgeable on the rivers they fish.In addition they are genuinely awesome and humble people who walk the walk and talk the talk.They are the real deal for sure and I am glad to now be able to call them friends.
Thanks Marty and Mia that was an April Fools day I will not soon forget!!