Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Myth of the Steelhead

I've heard stories of ocean-going rainbow trout that every year return to their home streams in the northwest to spawn. Stories are told of fish reaching 20 or more pounds, and 30 or more inches. Fish that will take a skated dry fly, or a carefully swung offering of marabou or rabbit fur. Fish that will run up and down river and leap acrobatically. Fish that will destroy fly rods and reels.

But I still don't believe they exist. Not until I catch one for myself.

This was the second year I've ventured to Oregon in October to chase Steelhead as they make their epic migration from the open ocean to the rivers and streams of their birth. And for the second year I came home empty handed, which is pretty much what I expected. This, I've been told, is how steelheading works. You have to put in your time. Which is exactly what we did. One day I hope to be rewarded, but until then I'm having a great time learning a new aspect of a sport I love.

Last year was the North Umpqua, this year the Deschutes, John Day, and Grande Ronde rivers. We fished our asses off for 5 days and didn’t catch a thing. But seeing that country was a real treat. Incredible rivers, and I can’t wait to return.

The Deschutes near Maupin was just begging to be floated. Sweet daily sections, some class IV peppiness. Sweet dory float at or around 5500, which is what it was running while we were up there. But no place to take lightly. This was big water, and hard to fish. People were hooking steelhead while we were there, we just didn’t manage to hook up.

The John Day at Cottonwood Canyon is a classic desert river. Unbelievable scenery, and just a beautiful river. The water was low. Would have made for a bony float at this level, but with some spring runoff, this is also begging to be floated. Supposedly an incredible small mouth bass fishery in the summer months when the water is warmer. In the fall and winter when the water is colder, it gets a strong run of wild steelhead. We fished for a few hours with no luck. One guy we talked to from Steamboat got a powerful hit on a marabou leech fly. The fish took about 3-4 inches of Marabou off the end of his fly, but didn’t manage to find the hook.

We ended up on the Grande Ronde near Troy. A more beautiful place to fish for steelhead I can hardly imagine. But once again we didn’t manage to find the fish. People were hooking fish all over, we just didn’t get on them.

Steelhead fishing on the fly is an interesting pursuit. Get up at the crack of dawn, and if you're me, put on leaky, cold, frozen waders and wet socks from the day before. Wade into 30 deg. water up to your balls, cast out as far as you can, and hope for the tug of a lifetime, all the time fighting frozen appendages. Over and over again. It’s a very slow game. But the slight possibility of hooking up a fish that could melt your face just looking at it, is enough to make me want to come back. I can’t wait to go again.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dory building on the cheap

Brad Dimock, Colorado River guide and author, along with his good friend, Dan Dierker, built a drift boat to the lines of the original McKenzie using plans in the book "Drift Boats and River Dories" by Roger Fletcher ( The hull was built in six days. Yes. Six days. Brad then took another couple of weeks to design and complete the interior, all designed with camping in mind. He oiled the hell out of it using a gallon of pine tar, linseed oil, turpentine and Japan drier. He writes, "The boat drank the whole dang thing. Smells good and looks great."