Josh and I made a break for the coast. With the help of Todd Rettmann from Water Time Outfitters, we all braved Snowmageddon 2019. Like stated above, all the rivers out on the coast were low and clear so expectations weren’t high, but all of us know its winter steelheading so who cares. It’s all about big flies and cold fingertips.
We started out the day with a coating of snow across everything. After a short drive and slide, as in Todd sliding down after his boat on his butt, we were floating down the river. It was a surreal experience with snow-covered trees and not another soul on the river. These are the days I really think of when someone says winter steelheading. You feel deeply engulfed in your surroundings, somehow connected to it all. Of course, you want to connect with a fish but it no longer matters as much. You just enjoy the day.
As our float continued, and we fought off the numbness of the cold day, we filled the fishless moments with heavy laughter and good eats. Toward the end of the day as Josh fished a tail out of a run we heard a loud cry of joy come out Josh. His number came up, and a Steelhead grabbed his fly. Unfortunately, just like us, his fish was so lethargic from the cold water it swam right for the net. Josh was now thinking he had caught the smallest steelhead ever with such a short battle but was surprised with a beautiful wild fish.
Our day ended with most of the snow melted and an easy drive back over the pass. The lesson with this story is even with bad conditions, and low fish counts, expectations set to your current situation makes for a great day. Take what you can get, and if you get lucky your day just got that much better.
Our plan was to have a semi-casual day. We got up around 5:30 AM. To our surprise, there was an inch or two of snow on the ground. Immediately I knew this would be a great day. Winter steelheading in the snow is one of my favorite things.
We drank a little coffee and headed for the boat launch. We were the first boat on the water and it seemed like it would probably stay that way all day. Last year Todd and I fished together and immediately he was giving me a hard time about a slip I took at the boat launch. I was telling him to watch out as it might come back on him when low and behold we pitch the boat off the trailer and Todd was yanked off his feet. He was basically being drug down the boat launch by the boat. It reminded me of a scene from Spies Like Us where Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd are in training. They get yanked off the dock by a ski boat and drug around a lake. It was a wild scene!
The river was low and clear with a blanket of snow making for awe-inspiring views and high hopes of fish catching. We fished every piece of water first. The three of us were pounding each run with nothing to show for it. By late afternoon we were approaching tidewater and a run where Todd and I had previous success. Todd fished through the run first with no fish.
The run is big, wide, and slow. I switched up to slower sinking tip and an unweighted pink fly. I was fishing through the run and was getting towards the tail out. I waded halfway across the river casting to the other bank thinking about this being one of my last casts and then it happened.
Well, something happened anyway. There was a soft pull, no head shake, no yank, just a soft pull that took line and kept pulling. I set the hook knowing it was a steelhead. I gave out a yell and reeled trying to come tight on the fish. After about 30 seconds of reeling, I was doubting if it was really a steelhead and thought it could be a sucker. I was a bit disappointed and confused.
I got the fish within 40’ and finally could see it. It appeared to be what looked like the smallest winter steelhead to ever swim up a coastal river. At that point, I voiced my opinion to Todd who was standing right next to me. I got it closer and could see not that small after all and it was actually a nice fish. Maybe it was colder than we were, or maybe it had moved up into the tail out where I hooked it. We netted it and snapped a few pics before sending it on its way.
I’m still marveling at the weirdness of my encounter with that steelhead. And despite the cold fingers, it was a great day!