Yesterday started out late as neither James or I could get to the river before 1:30pm. We ran the shuttle and loaded my 18' Clackacraft with nothing more than spey rods and small boat bags. We would be running light, no cooler, no stove, nothing but flies, Jake (the dog), and spey rods. Yesterday was going to be a series of hit and run stops and some recon. James and I talked about the game plan. We would hit river left, bellow the launch, then river right just bellow the rapids, shoot down and scout river left above the lawn, hit the cabin and finish with the boulder garden. We were ready, and we pushed the clack out into the current.
River left has been fishing well for me all season, so I figured it would be a good start to warm up our arms. two-thirds the way through the run, I made a long single spey cast out beyond a mid channel rock. The line unfurled and landed softly on the water, the current gently pulling it into that perfect curve. As my fly floated by the rock, I was surprised not to get a grab, everything was perfect, hmmm. Ten seconds later as my fly was finishing up its swing I feel that familiar pull. I let about six inches of line slide through my fingers and the line comes tight on my Orvis Battenkill V Click and Pawl reel. The weight was still there, this was a fish! As the steelhead felt the fly pull tight into the corner of her mouth, the realization that danger was imminent turned her from quiet casual take, to violent eruption of muscle and determination to live. She ripped across the pool tearing line from my reel, making it sing loudly, god I love the sound of a click and pawl screaming. Several minutes later, James stood twenty feet bellow me net in hand ready to bag a beautiful steelhead that had jumped, ran, and gave us everything she had. I turned my 13'7" spey rod toward the shore and started gliding her in. It was then that she decided that she just was not ready to give up, not ready to quite. One more head shake and she pulled free and swam away. James and I looked at each other and just giggled. Today was starting out very well for two great friends.
River right bellow the rapids didn't produce, but a few quick pics of casting and Jake (the dog) and we were off to the next stop on our day. This next spot I have never fished and neither had James. I saw fish in it quite often but it always just felt a little fast to fish. Yesterday was a day that we were both going to fish it anyway. James was not interested but he said he would fish the run to satisfy me. I said to give it a chance and we were off. James started in the top and was quick to bomb out 110' cast with his 16'7" CND spey rod. I started bellow the boat and was more than happy fishing 80' with a scandi line. Just as I am settling into a groove and starting to let my mind wander back to the fish I lost earlier, I hear James yell "Fish!"
I look up river and see James' rod bucking as a fish pulls hard at the end of his line. A few minutes later and we are landing a nice 8lb hatchery hen. We are officially on the board and both smiling from ear to ear. This day was really starting to turn into a good one, 3 runs, 2 fish.
As the afternoon progressed it slowed down and we kept right on casting, swinging, and stepping. There is something zen like swinging flies for large anadramous fish. Standing in a river that started on a glacier, and flows to an ocean. Bald eagles standing on barren branches on large maples. Osprey diving and pulling small trout from in front of you. The chatter of King fishers as they buzz along looking for even smaller fish. All of us predators focusing our efforts to make contact with the bounty of a healthy river. Cast, swing, step, cast, swing, step.
I watched as the rain made it's way upriver and overtook us. Mother Nature was telling us that the storm was coming and little did we know just how powerful it would be. Water poured from the sky and made the river dance like boiling water in a pot. I had to stop fishing and take some photos, this was something I had to document. I made my way back to the boat and retrieved my camera. James kept working the run, like only a true steelheader can. It takes a certain kind of individual to swing flies for steelhead. And the photos that follow document that individual perfectly. We all love those sunny pictures of guys in short sleeves holding big steelhead high. Crisp clean and beautiful they are nice, but there is another side. I've been hunting to document it for some time. The grainy, out of focus, wild raw powerful images of a man fighting mother nature, in search of her bounty.