Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Steelhead Slump


12 days on the water.
1 steelhead on.
1 (small) steelhead landed.

Depending on the reader, these stats will seem either pretty darn good or pretty darn abysmal.  Before my latest trip to the President's River, I was in the prior camp.  After seeing a large number of steelhead landed by everyone but myself last week, I'm now in the latter camp of statistical interpreters.  I was deeply humbled by the steelhead, and for once, even the beautiful surroundings weren't much consolation for a steelhead skunk.

I began making fall steelhead trips three years ago. It's about a five hour drive to the intended stream, so I usually stay at least three days and make the trip once or twice each fall. Like musky, steelhead are called, "the fish of a thousand casts," which seemed an accurate description after the first several years on the water. During my most recent trip, though, they seemed more like "the fish of a hundred casts," with everyone in my group landing multiple steelhead during our three days on the water. Everyone, that is, but yours truly.

There was a likely explanation for the zero steelhead stigma I earned this time out: pure stubbornness.

I haven't had enough success steelheading to warrant deep-seeded preferences, yet I still have a preferred method of fishing for them. If you've ever spey casted, you can recognize the Zen feel of the motion that goes with this type of fishing.  The President's River isn't as big as rivers out west where spey casting is more popular, but it can still be used effectively here.  Since trying it with some friends a couple years ago, it's become my favorite method of fishing for steelhead.  Swinging flies on a switch rod just feels right to me, and I know this approach works much of the time, as supported by the seasonal steelhead stats of friends who utilize it. Unfortunately, swinging flies were not preferred by the steelhead last week. Possibly due to a low flow and clear water, they instead chose snelled yarn, which was used by everyone in my fishing group who landed fish. As a result of my purist tendencies, I turned my nose up at dead drifting small lengths of yarn, which I guess is why I hooked into zero fish.

I started off the trip with high hopes. I had spent several hours tying up variations of the fly pattern that had successfully attracted the attention of the one and only steelhead I landed last season. I felt I had a good idea of where to find steelhead in the river, and I was confident they would choose my fly if I swung it past them. After the first ten hour day on the water with several hook-ups and steelhead landed by my yarn fishing companions, my confidence was deeply rattled. By the second day, I was severely questioning what I knew about steelheading. I even relented a bit and began trailing an egg pattern behind my original fly of choice, but I still went another day without even a grab. By day three, I gave up all my preconceived notions and dead drifted snelled yarn behind a weighted stonefly nymph. Unfortunately, it was too little too late. The fish had shut down and none were landed that day by my group, which made me wonder what would have happened if I had tried swinging my original fly through those holes........

Normally, I prefer to use particular methods of fly fishing that are most enjoyable to me even if that means catching fewer fish.  I still manage to catch enough fish to enjoy my time on the water, but will my preferences hold if it means zero fish in an indeterminable amount of time?  Apparently not because I'm planning on tying up some egg patterns today for a return trip to the river where I hope to redeem myself.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I'm happy I stuck to my guns the first two days, but I'm also happy I learned a new method of fishing for steelhead that can be tucked away in my growing fly fishing arsenal. I'm also kind of glad to be humbled. Sometimes it's the failures as much as the successes that keep steelheaders coming back for more. I think this past trip has taught me to be more flexible in my fly fishing methods. There's something to be said for being able to change the type of fishing you do to match the desires of the fish, which I'm sure is a characteristic shared by the most successful fly fishers.

When I head back up to the river next week, I'll still be swinging the flies I tied up with so much anticipation earlier this fall, but I'll also have a newly tied supply of large weighted nymphs and egg patterns for my fly box. I'm still not totally comfortable with fishing egg patterns, even though at their core I guess they're just matching what the steelhead are zoning in on---"matching the hatch" if you will.  Steelhead aren't really even feeding this time of year anyway.  Regardless of the flies I tie on next week, I know this personal conflict of mine will be forgotten the instant my line is zipping downstream behind a chrome torpedo (**fingers crossed**).

Monday, October 8, 2012

WI 2012 Trout Closer

Fall color is in full force in Wisconsin.  Who knew after a summer of so much heat and dryness that we'd be rewarded with such an amazing show.

I managed to squeeze in one more afternoon of Driftless fly fishing before the closing of the season.  The fish weren't real active, which seemed to be the norm the last few weeks of September, but, as usual, the surroundings easily made up for slow time on the water.

With the forced senescence that occurs every September 30th for inland trout fishermen in this state, it's now time to move onto fly tying, daydreaming, and steelheading (in no particular order).