Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Been tough for a gear guy lately.

I keep threatening to break out the fly-rod and having witnessed as many hatches and slurpers as I did this morning... it's bound to Spring into action soon...

Some photos below and a report to follow...

Benny's purdy gurlz:

My 'not-az-purdy boy'

Time to sleep, zzzzz

Well I woke up finally.

Actually have slept very little and fished a very lot in the past few weeks. I could write volumes on what I've seen, done and learned in this spring transition.

The highlight from this trip well downriver from Sunrise... was the 12# chrome hen Benny and I watched as it cartwheeled and tail walked away from rather than away with... my silver BC Steele 2/5oz. spoon. The spoon bite's been tough.

Benny managed the one small hen in the photo above on one of his poor-man ESL rigs. We didn't see much more action but didn't see another angler or a boat either and that's worth it's weight in chrome...

What's most amazing is that Benny could even concentrate enough to hook and land a fish without his chew. He left his tin in the truck, damn that's gotta sting. I helped him by with a few Marlboros, gawddamn nicotine sucks!

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Spent most of the day fishing between the willows above the pipe and the willows below it.

I watched the fly-liners come and go and cringed as they sight-fished and lined steelhead.

I lived and died by the bait, fishing roe under a float for nearly the entire day. The fish just didn't want to eat.

The fact that fly-guys hooked many fish and the roe hooked none, was a clear confirmation of my suspicions that it was the 9 ft. of dangling leader and two hooks (flies/beads) below an indicator... that led to their success (if you wish to call it that) and not the fishes' preference for plastic over real eggs...

Old man Bruno came down and fished for a couple of hours and a couple of hookups that failed to bring fish to feet...

As more people showed up for the afternoon 'bite'... I decided to abandon the crowd and find some solitude below the last of the hovering anglers.

I probably wouldn't hook a steelhead but at least I wouldn't see anything that would make me want to kill someone...

I got back to basics, ditching the float for a simple bottom-bouncing rig (split shot, a tiny piece of lead, a #8 hook and a chunk of worm).

The crawler got railed on my second drift.

Ted came down to give me the poacher report and firm up our plan to remove the wing dam built by wing nuts over at the 'crack-pipe'.

As he approached, I was tugging on a cute, pudgy little resident rainbow.

She had eggs and would have made a fine meal but I would have shamed Ted and myself carrying the little thing out dead so I let her go and tried for a bigger model.

It wasn't to be and with a little light left in the sky, I packed it up and headed out.

We had fun destroying the break water and a couple of feisty adult steelhead swam up the falls to say thanks.

The whole time I was imagining a game warden coming down and citing US for tampering with the streambed and molesting the fish. Ironic shit like that happens to all the wrong guys sometimes.

We left unscathed and fish-less to pay Starbucks an unreasonable amount of money for a cup of coffee while Ted tried talking me into a trip to 'The Albatross' (Thunder Valley Casino).

Times are tough...

No water in the river and very few fish worth talking about. There's two new spawning gravel restoration areas on the river and no wardens to police them and keep snaggers out of and off 'em.

No money in the casinos and very few machines worth talking about. There's a new multi-million dollar hotel on the property and no money in the bank to hire and pay the union labor wages enough to complete it.

Fishing on the AR for steelhead is a lot like gambling at 'Blunder Valley'.

I need a new day job.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Never judge a man by the sort of his stick nor the package he carries. Just as any experienced woman could tell you... it's neither the type nor the size of the gear he sports but rather in the way that he uses it...

I headed out to the 'crack-pipe' today (my Mark-ism for a spot below the Nimbus Hatchery where people go to get their fishing (if you can call it that) fix.

They hover like pack dogs over bloody meat at a man-made spillway which they've 'enhanced (actually ruined) by constructing a cobble wing dam to further entice the fish in to a 5x10 ft. area to which they neither drift nor swing but rather plunk, sweep, line, and often snag fish that they usually see before they hook.

The greatest offenders foil their lack of fishing skills behind a fly rod, which of course is attached to a 9-ft leader, two skin-piercing hooks and an indicator (bobber) to let them know when one of their two flies has found itself ensnarled in the head, back, belly, fin, ass (tail) and/or an occasional mouth of a steelhead believing it has found the freshet (pipe) in to which it will travel and eventually spawn.

In the words of a man who has fished the American River since 1949 and who to this day still catches steelhead ye ole-fashioned way (with a 12-16" leader and a wad of roe)...

"If Bill Schaadt were alive and he saw this... he'd come down here, snatch up every one of those rods... break 'em over his knee and toss 'em in the river" That aint' fly fishin'... That's trule dippin'!"

A fly rod in hand doth not an angler make...

And I am NOT rippin' on (legitimate) fly fishers by any means. There are many fly dippers, drifters and swingers on the AR who actually read and fish the water... who cast, who mend, who drift their flies to willing grabs and takes from fish. These ladies and gentlemen employ wisdom, experience, skill, and ethics in their angling and wouldn't be caught dead standing on redds at Sailor Bar, sight fishing above the spawning gravel adjacent to the hatchery nor site-fishing, lining, 'tule-dipping' at the 'crack-pipe'.

I try and split my time between fishing the lower stretches of river where one has a slim but possible chance at an up-runner, bright adult and fishing in the upper river where 90% of the winter fish in the system are concentrated and where, lately many of the newer, spring fish have also decided to venture...

Will I fish the pipe? HELL YES! but there are vast differences between the way my friends and I fish it versus the way the tule-dippin' pack dogs do it...

Just two weeks ago, the only redeeming quality I saw in a float (bobber, dink) was that it didn't weigh my vest down nearly as much as my bag of pencil lead...

My first bobber-down experience which yielded a nice little steelie changed my attitude and made be a believer in the float... I've since progressed from believer to strong advocate...

Low clear water, spooky fish, countless dead (actually very much alive when you tangle up in one...) lines deposited on the river bed (courtesy of the long-lining, snagger majority) has made bottom bouncing a thing of the past.

Enter the float... it allows one to dead drift roe, worm, egg, or other offering in the zone without dredging the bottom. It allows nice, slow drifts in 6 ft., 4 ft., 2 ft., 1ft., or even 6-inches of water without much worry of losing terminal gear. And since reeling, sweeping or jerking the line would stall the float, upset the drag free drift and in most cases... spook the fish, it makes for a clean-presentation method with an extremely low to zero probability of foul-hooking a steelhead. Two other factors make snagging fish while float fishing pretty much non-existent:

1) I typically run a leader length of 8-14" and 16-18" when I feel the need to get down a bit deeper. Keep in mind that I'm fishing a veritable creek of a river which normally runs at an average CFS of 3000-5000 in the winter but this year runs at a 'skinny' (CA term) or boney (WA. lingo) 750 CFS...

2) Regardless of leader length, I stagger split shot evenly between my float and my hook so the leader presentation is always vertical and never horizontal (for more than the 8-12" between my lowest, BB split shot and my hook.

I got down to the river at around 0900 this morning. the 'usual suspects' were there with their 7 WTS taking turns at the crack-pipe-holding-pen... I made a few drifts. I was afforded most of the run there because the dippers were pretty much plunking flies at their feet and just waiting for the bends...

Three passes, no fish, time to move. I worked my way downstream but not very far so as not to end up floating over and disturbing spawner salmon and steelhead on redds... Heaven forbid... I wouldn't either wish to disturb the 'fly flinger' who sat their perched, making short cast after short cast over and through said redds...

I backtracked 100 yds. upriver and made several unanswered passes in front of the willows before my float suddenly stopped and sunk. It UN-sunk faster than I could say BOB and faster than my reflexes could tighten the connection between a sunk float and a suspecting fish...

On my next drift, I walked slightly behind and alongside the float keeping line and shadows off the water but no amount of stealth can yield a bite where there isn't a fish so I reeled up and went back to my original spot just west of the dippers. I traded my wad of saggy, wet roe for a small bundle of bright, glowing, uncured eggs all stitched up in a small sack of "spawn net" (nylon). I hadn't much faith in 'the sack method' on our little river of late but it looked great under dark, cloudy skies.

One cast, one drift, one stopped heartbeat and one scrappy though fairly fast, single-handed fight later... I realized that hungry hen steelhead aren't put off by nylon mesh when there's 'eggs for breakfast' to be had...

I took a couple photos...

I thought about the encroaching 25-40 mph winds and thunderstorms and about the fact that I myself had not eaten breakfast... I thought momentarily about how the fly guys would think their judgments about my killing a hatchery brat despite that they have no problem lining and snagging their penned-up fish over and over... I saw the many line imprints across the fish's laterals and the hook scars on her head, shoulders, back and belly... and then I took note of her body cavity... distended yet firm beneath her all white but slightly-graying head and chin. Her cloaca just breached her vent so she'd be at least 2 if not 3 weeks out from dropping any eggs. Down to less than 1/2 a skein of roe in my 'bait tank' I knew it was time to dirty my report card.

Looking at the tail of the fish, I could see no caudal V-clip so this girl had never been up the hatchery ladder and likely was a more recent (early spring) arrival.

I held a moment of silence, gave thanks to the grand provider and then pulled gill arches out from inside 'er. I told the others to enjoy the day as I left to go have breakfast, a hot shower and to cure some much needed roe.

I'm proud to be a harvester and not a hoverer...

Give a girl somethin' tasty...

and she WILL BITE!


Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Hit the river late this morning. Woke up at 0700 and felt the frostiness outside. It was enough to scare me back inside for a cup of coffee.

I must be gettin' old. I used to live, thrive, run, play and laugh at ice, snow and sub freezing temperatures but now my bones get chilled by 40-degrees.

I managed to get my saddlebags packed and my steelhead horse mounted by 0900 hours.

Got down to the river to see all the usual suspects... The action was 'fly-flossin' at the 'crack-pipe'... not really my cup-o-tea so I worked the drifts above and below the crowd.

I had several hits but no sticks. Down to my last skein or two of steelhead roe, I was using quite conservative amounts on a size #6 and then #8 Daiichi single egg hook.

Big George hooked the nicest couple of fish I saw early on. He came down to say hey. George is a giant but one of the gentlest and kindest souls on the river once you get to know him. He also has ethics and skills and knows how to get the steelies to bite.

He left the hole to go home and take care of his doggy and I stuck around.

Ole-man Bruno came down sometime shortly thereafter with his usual smiling face and cheery demeanor. He's another regular on the river that hooks fish. He not only hooks fish, he falls in love with the whole experience and each new fish he connects with is as magical to him as the first. Bruno embodies the spirit of everything good on the river we all share and love.

It didn't take long for Bruno to hook a steelhead but it had other plans than coming to hand... He landed his next fish but it was bright orange with a down-turned bugle for a mouth.

Bruno said he had something for me and asked me to grab a bag out of his fishing vest pocket. The 1/8" diameter pencil lead weight I can never find in stores. Bless his heart. The man is always thinking of his friends.

I placed the lead in my vest for later and moved a ways above Bruno to float some roe in shallow seam water. My bobber stalled up and went down slowly but I came up with a hook stripped of all but two eggs embedded in saggy slink of skein.

As soon as I turned my back on Bruno, I heard a splash and craned my neck to see his flyrod doubled over and his mouth creased with a that Big Bruno smile. I reeled up, put my hook in its keeper and grabbed the Nikon to catch some action shots.

As I approached him, Bruno put out his hand and said something about his heart and handed me his rod. Bruno had a pacemaker put in last year and though his spirit is strong as an ox, his heart sometimes beckons his caution. We traded rods and I tried to play catch up and run the big fish down but after many fast steps and a few knuckles busted I knew the fish was foul-hooked and so popped it off.

We took a breather together and then walked back up to find another willing and hopefully, more cooperative fish.

What the hell... go for broke... I fished out the biggest, juiciest wad of roe I could find and folded it over three times under my roe loop. As soon as my bobber hit the water it went under and one fast swoop of my rod tip sent a semi-ripe hen leaping out of the water.

I landed the fish in pretty short order, snapped a couple happy snaps and turned her back to do her business.

A few minutes and a couple of casts later my bobber sunk again and a smaller, brighter hen showed herself. She was a pretty scrappy lil miss for her stature of only 2 pounds and change. Once at my feet, I could see her eyes and throat were bigger than her stomach.

She'd managed to suck my hook through a gill raker and in to her gullet.

I'd intended to harvest a hen today and this wasn't the one I was looking for but she'd have to do. I retrieved the hook from her gut, bled her and walked out with Bruno.

Bruno must have been a Boy Scout cuz' the man is definitely a firm believer in the BE PREPARED! motto... He afforded me a bag for my fish, some sav for my dried out hands and a even hooked me up with a bag of extra baked goodies his wife packed him for lunch.

Thanks Bruno!

Hopefully, I'll get up and out to the river tomorrow early enough to fish a bit with you and Ray.

Monday, February 9, 2009

BOBBER DOWN! Slowly mastering a new technique~Float fishing for Steelhead

Once again I have Ray Hartley to thank for his prodding me along towards a deadly technique for Steelheading in low, clear water.

A few years ago he convinced me to invest some time and money in expensive, plated brass and thus my introduction to the BC Steele spoon was born.

I at first was very skeptical about steelhead grabbing a large slab of far too flashy metal.

I ordered the spoons to the tune of nearly $100 for 20 pieces (without hooks or split rings).

My first frustration was getting the damn split rings sprung on to the spoons without spreading 'em... On the water, I was unsure what the perfect drift looked or felt like. I knew it wasn't the right drift when I rolled along the bottom and caught a rock or some snagger's 12-15 ft. dead-line leader and had to break off and lose my spoon to Davy Jone's locker...

That first mission was expensive and fishless.

My second time out, I think I started to understand and feel the klippity-klop, flutter, wobble, whomp... that Ray spoke of.

My third time out I actually hooked and landed a respectable fish and Ray's words of wisdom echoed through my mind... "Just stick with it and you'll start hooking up." "Pretty soon the spoon will be your GO-TO method and you'll be wondering why you didn't start using them years ago..."

I can honestly say that in the past few seasons I've hooked more steelies on spoons than on any other method and that nearly all of my larger, chrome-plated fish have succumbed to the BC Steele silver, gold or copper 2/5 or 1/4 oz spoon.

Thanks Ray and Thanks Sarah and Bobby Killingsworth at Pen-Tac.

This year, I caught spoon fish early on. The months of October, November, and December each produced at least one fat upriver bright steelie by way of the STEELE.

But January was a tough month. Whatever fish had been holding downriver or slowly pushing their way upriver... suddenly seemed non-existent.

In the skinny waters near the hatchery, hardware has been a tough go. The water is low and clear. Most of the fish that far along the system have been flogged by flies, pummeled with plugs, bombarded by liners and snaggers and are in fear for their lives so are reticent not ravenous. The drift up there has changed significantly not only due to the low flows but also because of the restructuring of the riverbed in order to create the spawning riffle further up river.

Add to that... an exponential decrease in the numbers of steelhead and increase in the numbers of those pursuing them and the odds are long for having a multi-fish day on hardware or bottom-bounced roe.

The runs which were so good to me 2 and 3 and 4 months ago are now strewn with dead line and sunk sinkers deposited by the many anglers (if you can call them that...) who just can't get away from the long leader and big chunks of molded lead... To get a drift with even a split shot is a major challenge.

What does one do? Certainly not give up...

For almost as long as Ray had told me to drift spoons, he'd also belabored the merits of float fishing. Two season ago he gave me one of his high-dollar, fancy-schmancy Drennan Loafer floats. I may have rigged it up a time or two as I had done with other, various store-bought versions: Thill, Eagle Claw, etc...

I always had issues either with the casting/tangling or the rigging/weighting or with the drifting/visibility factor.

One day last week, I pulled the silly little transparent pendulum with the bright orange tip out of my bag of tricks. Amazingly... after 2 years of careless storage... I still had it and it still floated. I rigged it up and decided that come hell or high water (actually more like hell and low water...) I WOULD STICK WITH IT!

Again, reflecting on Ray's advice... he was 101% RIGHT!

I hooked my first float fish in 2 feet of water under blue-bird bright day conditions!

I've been committed to the float ever since and in 3 outings, have banked close to a dozen steelhead.

I'm still tweaking and tuning... figuring out the perfect weight balance, split-shot sizing and spacing, leader length, and most optimal travel lanes for the float. I have much to learn but I'm well on my way and above all... I now have confidence in something that before only frustrated me. Thanks again Ray for your opening my eyes to the path of least resistance, the bright, orange tip of a Drennan float and the ultimate rush of BOBBER DOWN!!

In my many days on the river I've seen how terribly these poor fish are treated by many... Dragging fish up on rocks, holding fish in sandy, muddy water with fingers near gills, pulling fish out of water to take photos and then handing them off (after dropping the poor creatures on the rocks) to their friend so he can also have a 'glory-shot' holding the fish. Finally, they carelessly release the fish back to the water backwards and upside-down... In fact, one guy actually KICKED his escaping steelhead up out of the water and on to the bank so he could get a photo of it and then release it!

Alas, I have made it a point to NOT REMOVE any fish from the water unless I intend to kill and eat it. I have had many fish swim away as I got my Nikon geared up but that's okay.

Here's some photos of a few cooperative fish who didn't mind posing before being gently up-righted and sent back to their aqueous environs.

PS: YES, some of the fish were photographed more than once. I think there's 6 unique fish shown. Of particular, ironic interest is the 3-4# hen with some FLY-GUY'S bead-head "Prince Nymph" embedded in her side while THE GEAR-GUY'S (that would be ME) #6 hook with roe skein is just slightly impaling the tip and corner of her upper palate. Proof yet again that conventional (bait and gear guy...) steelheaders are much easier on the fish than MANY fly-slingers...