Steelhead Fishing and The New Normal Part I

Discussion in 'Freshwater Fishing Forum' started by Sharphooks, May 10, 2016.

  1. Sharphooks

    Sharphooks Well-Known Member


    For a scary number of years now, when it’s April going in to the cusp of May I start obsessing over springers. Not the springs you Canadian guys think of when you hear that word. For me a springer is an April run steelhead

    I start thinking of a river that still hosts a very robust population of these stunning fish and it never ceases to amaze me how for all these years, the population has remained stable and comparatively large while the rest of the world seems to have come apart at the seams.

    All this from a diminutive lake-fed river system way up high in the boreal that minds its own business and just keeps on doing what it knows best

    But change is afoot---yet another winter with zero snow pack...... and endless rain. So no snow invited the river to start heating up months before it normally should be doing that and with the accompanying mosquitoes (never seen THOSE things up there in April) and hummingbirds flitting through the rainforest, I suppose it wasn’t a surprise to see the fish show up two months earlier than normal.

    I heard of a 67 fish day in March. “All springers” according to the guide who did all that tender lip ripping with his clients. Unheard of to see fish that early on this river

    So suspecting that zero snow pack would rearrange the furniture up there I booked early this year

    Here's a 'holiday snap of my first morning back on my most favorite river---God it felt good to have escaped the computer screen and make a successful run for the border--I’m always just flattened by the thought of standing in a river's moving water and here I was doing it one more time---at my age---freaking miracle!


    First night on that river I hooked a fish just at dark. It came out through the river skin, chrome flanks hanging at least two meters up in the air. It crashed back into the water, then duplicated that same crazy jump 7 times in a row. What a nice welcoming home committee--- and to think they took the time and all that effort to arrange this diversion just for me?

    But then the rains came. And came. And the winds with big shoulders came in off the Gulf behind the rain and drove it sideways---six days of sideways rain. And there was I, trying to make a new camp every night in a nonstop deluge, frantic trying to keep the inside of my tent and my sleeping bag from getting sodden----up in this part of the world hypothermia is just around the next bend, Global Warming be damned

    I cherished my rain forest spots---even the tiniest bit of bough cover overhead keeps you sane in your tent when the rain drops fall and keep falling and are the size of stainless ball bearings and just won’t quit all night long


    And so while I row row, rowed my boat gently down the stream, I mused on the fact that I was probably drifting through Ground Zero for climate change. No snow. Confused fish. Hummingbirds pretending they're eagles.

    American Exceptionalism has been now been superceded by permafrost as the new oxymoron...

    I am generally not the wagering type but I would in a heart beat, while putting up with brazen mosquitoes and seeing dying steelhead in April on the river bank, wager that I was catching a glimpse of The New Normal, and that climate change was driving that bus.

    Fish spawning in April. Already dead on the river bank. Are you kidding?


    For some reason I felt compelled to document the early passing of this buck —the otters and eagles had already gotten to him before I did and surely they recognized their good fortune---they are one of the few winners in this New Normal---- easy food and lots of it. Why even bother eating the whole thing? Lots more where that came from.
    Last edited: May 11, 2016
  2. Sharphooks

    Sharphooks Well-Known Member


    Which brought up bears: grizzlies are common up here but you generally don’t see them until the summer and fall when there are chinook and coho in the river. But this year, with zero snow and steelhead in easy reach on the river bank I fully expected to see bears in profusion. But that never happened.

    My thoughts on this: it’s abnormally warm with zero snow pack ---they can stay up high because there are already lots of berries and legumes to forage. No need to leave the 'hood if it’s warm and cozy and well provisioned

    I did have one moment of glorious sunshine during the trip---I timed it---it lasted all of 9 minutes before the monsoon hit again. I was able to capture a Bali dancer out on the riverbank busting one of her elegant moves:


    Sorry, I like that gal so much I just have to post her again:


    And this time with a rainforest selfie:


    Of course not all the fish were spawning. In year’s past it was not uncommon to see hundreds of fish move in on one tide. This year, if you saw 5 or 10 fish in a group, acting furtive and hiding in the bushes, that was the clue there were springers in the neighborhood.

    And all you need is one of them, so get out the rod!

    One night I found a fresh pod and decided to string a bead on my gear. I’d tried beads last year and had one crazy night with them when I could do no wrong…. so I tried again ---that night I got 5 in a row, plucking them out from underneath bushes in a stiff current.

    I use beads sparingly (even though sometimes they can set your day on fire) ---to quote a guide I ran in to on this trip as we commiserated about the tough fishing conditions:

    Yup, beads are deadly and just about always work…. until they don’t

    But this night they did. I just love chrome flanks and a jet black back---springer fresh in on a tide!


    The next day I stuck with a fly rod. That was my penance for using beads on a gear rod and for catching more fish then I deserved. No split shot, no float like the chuck and duck crowd---just a floating line, a long leader and a wooly bugger just under the surface.

    This fish almost took the rod out of my
    hands on the take-down:


    What a
    stunning specimen:



    A few casts later I think I got his girlfriend:

    Last edited: May 11, 2016
  3. Sharphooks

    Sharphooks Well-Known Member


    Ok, I exaggerated---there was another 5 minute interlude when the rain stopped. I just had to capture that moment it was so surreal: This was just a few river bends from tide water and the open Pacific. I could hear huge waves crashing just around the bend when I snapped this shot:


    And then there was that sad moment when the clock runs out on all that fun. There’s nothing that makes me happier then packing for a fishing trip.

    Pulling apart all my gear at the end of a trip knowing I have to head back to the city….not so much:


    hat Helly Hansen "old school" commie rain coat in the foreground? I don't think I took that think off for 6 straight days!

    And then out to the airport and the end of another year and another springer trip—always makes me feel a bit sad and pensive when these trips wind down------my first email I opened at the airport informed me that I had two hours left to sign a document pertaining to a real estate transaction I'd been in the middle of when I left for the north country ---if I didn’t sign IMMEDIATELY the deal would go off a cliff…

    Welcome home. Ha ha

    But as I stepped on the plane I shoved all that stuff aside. The Russians have a catchy phrase for moments like that:

    …”Don’t worry about the wolf. He’ll be in the same place tomorrow, waiting…”

    So with that being said I sat back in my seat, watched the St. Elias range slide by the plane window, huddling like chastened sheep under tawdry patches of what appeared to be snow on their exposed flanks, then proceeded to fight and re-fight that big glorious buck again and again on my 6 weight trout rod and yes, I could now call it a trip
    and wow, it felt good to be back!
    Last edited: May 11, 2016
    ChilliSpoons, SFBC, Snowbeard and 5 others like this.
  4. UkeeDreamin

    UkeeDreamin Well-Known Member

    Awesome, thanks for sharing!


  5. hambone

    hambone Well-Known Member

    Tough conditions but looks like another once in a lifetime trip for most people! Thanks for sharing.
  6. Hyde-N-Seek

    Hyde-N-Seek Member

    Wow, very nice yearly adventure. Really enjoyed the read and thank you for sharing. Looking forward to next year.

    Take care.
  7. Derby

    Derby Crew Member

    Great adventure again, thank u for sharing.... love the Russian saying" so true"
  8. kelly

    kelly Well-Known Member

    Fantastic! What a refreshing post and report.
  9. the fog ducker

    the fog ducker Well-Known Member

    always a treat SH
    unreal.... thx for posting .......

  10. leaseman

    leaseman Active Member

    One of the best threads I have ever read!!

    Thank you for sharing!
  11. Sharphooks

    Sharphooks Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the kind, comments, Gents--much appreciated.

    I mentioned how bead fishing could light up a day.

    I went back through my pic file and found this pic I took of a slick way to set up for bead fishing. I'm sure there are some steelhead guys out there who already know this but maybe a few that don't?

    You thread a bead on a pre-tied leader, then pass the line back into the hole in the bead and then back out again.

    You're using the leader to form a loop which you'll use to pull a small piece of rubber band up into the hole of the bead (producing enough friction to act as a stopper, allowing you to adjust how far the bead is placed up the leader from the hook----about the breadth of your hand above above the hook seems to be the ticket for bead placement

    Trim the rubber band and you're good to go. Bounce it or hang beneath a float.

    Way better then a tooth pick (bruises the leader) and WAY better then using the leader to tie a knot around the bead----seems like a good way to produce major stress on the leader and lose a fish

    :Last but not least---how did I get the sexy texture on that bead? I took a rattle can of white spray paint, sprayed some paint into a paper bag , dumped a handful of plain beads into the bag, shook them around briefly, then let them dry on a piece of cardboard


    Thanks again!

    Last edited: May 13, 2016
  12. kelly

    kelly Well-Known Member

    Give bead pegs a try. Slide the bead onto your leader and then pull the rubber peg (essentially a rubber toothpick) through. Much easier to adjust, the bead won't pop off and it won't damage your leader.
  13. Hyde-N-Seek

    Hyde-N-Seek Member

    What Kelly said. They are like round soft plastic toothpicks that tapers. Comes in different colors too and make by trout beads. Then you don't have to have those extra lines hanging out. Really like the white spay paint idea. Any preference on the spay paint?

  14. Sharphooks

    Sharphooks Well-Known Member

    Thanks for that Kelly and H n' S: sounds easier to use one of those bead pegs then the loop method, especially when it's cold and wet.

    Sray paint: this year I found a can of rustoleum gold paint in a rattle can hiding in my garage and I shot that into a bag: I got all my fish this trip on the beads with that gold color---not sure how critical it is---the Alaskan crowd is really into pearl pink nail polish dabbed on the beads they use.
  15. Hyde-N-Seek

    Hyde-N-Seek Member

    Thanks Sharphooks, I think it's the contrast that might make a difference some day. We do know that steelheads like shape and color contrast. Might see you one day on the mighty T. Sure missed fishing up there.
  16. Visland88

    Visland88 New Member

    If my eyes serve me correctly I'd say that system starts with an "S" ? .....a trip I'd love to make one day

Share This Page