The Mid-Season

Once the weather started to clear and things began to dry up sometime in the first week of October, then the rivers got the break they needed and so did we. Finally it seemed like we could really move on with the season and just get down to fishing this river, instead of dealing with high water. During all that high water, my morning routine always included a quick drive down to the bridge three kilometers from the house, just to check the river conditions so I could make my plans from there. It felt so great to finally not have to do that.

One of the features of the dropping water levels was that the water clarity improved rapidly, much faster than the volume decreased. So we had this wonderful, long period (three weeks) where the river was fishing very well, with excellent clarity but the water levels remained relatively high. The land was so saturated with water that it took three weeks to finally run it all off, and that of course takes us into the late season....

In my opinion it was that great full flow for about three weeks through the early and middle days of October that really set the stage for what would turn out to be some of, if not the very finest, classic steelhead fishing that I have ever seen.

As the water cleared and the fishing improved, it became very evident that we were looking at a river full of fish. The high but gradually dropping flows were very condusive to fish movement, and indeed what we saw was waves of fish moving up the river. Fresh, bright, active fish. Fish that were ready and eager to come to the fly.

And that really made for some exciting steelhead fishing. Strong hard takes, long active runs right off the take. It is hard to put it all to words...I just have not ever seen a period spanning weeks - as I said about three - where the fishing was as fine, and as consistent as this; but not only "the fishing" but the response of the fish to the fly. So aggressive! It was an absolute thrill and as much a pleasure as a privilege to be around such fine fishing. Of course having seasoned and excellent anglers in the boat makes it all that much more fun....
That fishing came on gradually though and it was by no means throughout the river. Certain beats, particularily the middle to high beats, were where the fish were headed. This plays directly into my theory that full (not high, "out" conditions where fish are just resting and waiting it out) and good flows move fish. And there really was no question about it this season: the fish were moving and pulses and waves of incredibly aggressive fish were moving up the river like I have never seen before. The lower river was a real crap shoot ; with the water so high the fish had little reason to hang out in the lower, faster reaches of the river, they could swim, and swim they did. If you were really lucky you might have run into a wave of fish in the lower end, but over-all my most consistant fishing was relatively high in the system. The Resthaven beat was so amazingly consistent for my boat. It seemed to always have good numbers of fish spread throughout those several kilometers of river. There were more double digit days on that beat than on any other. But it was the beats above where the real story was playing out. I think that those fish all wanted to move as high as they could on the river with the good full flow that we had; they wanted to get home. But on their way there we found them at various places lower down the river.

Dick Jacobsen working on the "Walker" run, as well as working on his vibes...

"Chopping wood, carrying water"

The turning point. Finally we had some clear skies This was the first really clear and cold morning on the river. The mountains show the weeks of precipitation that came as snow on their flanks and as rain in the valley bottom.

Over the last few seasons I have been lucky in my avoidance of really crowded situations; partly from staying higher on the river and partly from Serendipity. This day however, the day pictured above with Dick and Ted Jacobsen....we got all the crowds that I had missed over the past few years in one ridiculous day. As boat after boat after little (one-person) boat floated by us (we lost count at about sixteen), we really got to wondering what this day might have in store for us; more to the point: what would open around the next bend? A steady hand on the tiller and an eye on the compass by the captain of the boat, with all (highly trained) hands on high alert we managed to navigate through all the traffic and find a fish or seven (I think we were five for seven, or even eight that day) in amidst the circus of anglers that were clogging the river in their little boats; each taking up a run as they worked their way down the river. With the river still so high, but very clear, one had to look at runs with a new eye as the flows were opening opportunities in the runs which would not be there in lower (more typical) flows. Such an opportunity presented itself down the river closer to my home waters. As we worked our way down this labyrinth of spey rods and little boats...we found one small and wonderful spot that was open and overlooked amidst the crowds and from that place we hooked and landed two very fine fish.
Ted, his vibes steady and strong, head down cast by cast worked his way into a 37" buck, which was lying in just the kind of place that only the high flows would allow; in a few days, with the water levels dropping slowly but steadily, this lie would no longer be attractive to fish. Then Dick, really digging in, drawing on those deep Jedi steelheader reserves of concentration and understanding...."Chopping wood, carrying water..." connected with what was clearly a very fine large fish. He played it for nearly 45 minutes as we were in a very awkward spot and could not get a good angle on to really tire it out. Instead, it was tiring Dick out. But in the end the tug-of-war was won by my Jedi knight, the Force was with him and we landed what would stand to be the biggest fish of the season, a very heavy 41 inch buck. The photograph below does not show it but this fish carried its girth like few I have seen. A real "boxcar," with the girth carried well into the wrist of the fish.

The Jacobsen Brothers, Ted (above) and Dick (far left) demonstrating that all Jedi knight steelheaders always keep those famous Jedi proverbs in mind when things are not going as planned....

"Chopping wood and carrying water..."

"Wherever you go...there you Are"

and of course that other time honoured saying:

"The fish are where you find them..."

Conard Metcalf weary, but happy after a 40 minute tug of war, in one of those "impossible to follow" places. We walked this fish back up into the run, out of the fast water, about three times before it finally decided to stay.

And what is the guide doing anyhow?

Pat and Conard Metcalf joined me in early October, just before the Jacobsens. They arrived at the critical transition time and were the first to see the river when it started to really drop and clear, although we still had a couple of very murky days on the lower beats. On their last day in the middle river, we really got into to a pile of fish and had a huge day. We also found this fine big buck a couple of days earlier, which Conard battled for a long time.
What I found really interesting about these middle weeks was the hydrological aspect to it. In my several years on this river I have not seen such a long protracted period where the water stayed so high and full­yet clear­for so long. It was like the relationship of the water level dropping to clearing was way off its normal pace, with the clearing happening at a much faster rate than the dropping water levels. It was during this full strong flow that I experienced such fine, such amazing fishing. Rodger Fagerholm and his party were privlege to this fishing. We had a week, where nearly every day we ran into good if not great numbers of fish. But the story was so much more than the numbers, it was the hot active fish that we were finding. It really did make for some excellent stories and good times on the river.

By the time Jim Bos arrived things were really hopping and happening on the mid-to-upper beats. Waves of fish were rolling in.

After an eleven fish day on one of those beats with Rodger and Earl I thought I couldn't miss by re-floating that beat with Jim for his one day with me. Well, did that ever prove to be an insight into the movement of the fish.

Rodger Fagerholm and Earl Cohen pondering the pleasures of this double header and the fine fishing they found themselves in.
We found a couple of the stragglers from the wave that had been there just the day before...and that was it. Jim's slowest day with me right on the heels of a great day of fishing. I guess when there are waves of fish, there have to be troughs as well. The trick, I suppose, is to learn how to surf....or at least to get back on that wave when you fall off. So it was back up to the upper beats in search of big waves and more "tubular" steelheading experiences with Ralph Gaudio and his wife Lauraleen.
Jim Bos releasing a well earned buck

Ralph and Lauraleen arrived at a transition time. The river was definitely settling down from the full flows of the previous two weeks; and while not low, was in that middle to average flow that in some runs can still feel high while in others feels on the low side.

In any case Ralph was ready for whatever the river brought him, and so we began another tour of the upper beats. And what a week we all had. The fishing was excellent as well as the humour . . .

We were never lacking action or laughs . . . both of which seemed pretty common in the boat this season.

Lauraleen Gaudio taking a time out with hot cocoa and a warm fire on "The Enchanted Island"

There was this one day though...

We were floating along, having found a couple of fish, but not a boat-load . . . and it was getting to be lunchtime­for some . . . just not for Ralph. It was also pretty cool out and with the water being cold, Lauraleen was getting a bit chilled; so for the first time this season a fire was called for. Fishing, lunch, fire . . . I was on the lookout for a location that would satisfiy all three of those things. Floating, as we were, in a semi-canyon section of the river, finding a site that would satisfy all three criteria was difficult. To make a long story short we found the perfect spot which I now call "The Enchanted Island." Firewood was in abundance on the river bank, lunch was warm and the run right at the island was a beautuful glide over large fishy boulders and ledges. It didn't take Ralph long to hook up several fish. One of which was a spectacular "sight" take where he saw the fish move for the fly and turn completely upside down as it took the fly. What a magical moment this lunch stop was and a memorable afternoon on the river.

Ralph went on to have his best week of steelhead fishing that he has ever had. And Lauraleen caught her first fish on this river, and went on to catch a really nice big buck down at the "home waters" of the bed and breakfast they were staying at.

Ralph Gaudio tallies another fine fish

As is the case with all experienced anglers­those who really put their time into it­they will eventually hit a river in prime condition with great fishing. Many seasons of hard work and patience dealing with all of the endless variables that make fishing what it is are always behind those rare days (let alone weeks!) where everything falls into place. Ralph and Lauraleen without doubt hit it just right this season; a reward for years of dedication to fishing for steelhead on many different rivers and a wide variety of conditions.

Chop wood, Carry water...

But the season doesn't stand still for anyone and the winds of change were blowing through the trees as the Gaudios left. A clearing and cooling trend was in the works, but I was not prepared for the radical change that would come to the river in a few short days.

I had three days off, leaving the river as it just started to get a bit on the low side. The change in conditions was dramatic when I got back on it in the Late Season...

Early Season
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The Late Season

Todd & Kathy Stockner

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