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Reelin' In the Steel ... High Counts This Year Will Lead to Better Fishing

Times-News - April 11, 2002
by James J. Krunich, Times-News correspondent

A fisherman emerges from the pre-dawn darkness and walks slowly along the river. Time is of the essence, not that daylight has yet arrived, but it is time to find a favored location before other anglers arrive and begin to crowd this stretch of water. Some steelhead will be moving upstream and holding in particular pools while other fish of this species will be powering through the current and migrating upriver in quest of spawning-size gravel.

The angler raises his hand, shielding his eyes from the reflection of first light off of the water. Even with polarized glasses, a steelhead could easily be lurking in the shallows just in front of him. The hand drops and casting begins -- a fish has been sighted.

After 10 casts, the steelhead remains finning leisurely in the current only 15 feet away -- a quick change of the pattern and casting resumes. Ten more casts, 15, 20 and the count is lost.

Suddenly, and if for no reason, the steelhead moves to the fly. His jaws open, the large kipe visible as the mouth closes. Upward goes the angler's arm and the rod arches. "ZZZZZZZZZZ" and "ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ" and "ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ," the reel screams as the steelhead turns and runs with the current. The chase is on as the fisherman runs downstream. Dodging boulders, bouncing off a log, the fisherman battles to hold the rod upward while navigating the force of the current.

Two more runs and the steelhead slides into the net. The fish is well over 20 inches, colored bright reddish-orange on a dull silver background, reflecting beautifully in the sunlight. The angler moves the hook and moves the steelhead slowly in the water to revive the fish. A broad smile ensues and the fisherman looks upriver. No one has yet arrived, and he knows that more fish are on the way.

Stories such as the one listed above should be fairly common this year. Steelhead counts are substantial; much, much better than during previous years. Anglers should be able to land fish in the upper reaches of the Salmon River, as they always do, by utilizing several fishing methods and varying forms of tackle and lures.

Fly fishermen typically have excellent success as the steelhead arrive at the upper reaches of the Salmon River. One reason is that the river isn't nearly as deep as further downstream where more tributaries deposit their volumes into the Salmon. Since the fly must be fished at the same depth as the steelhead (generally close to the bottom), the logical choice is to search out shallow pools, holding runs and, of course, spawning redds.

To sink the fly to the depth of the fish, anglers utilize weighted flies, often adding split shot when needed. Another variable is to use a sink-tip fly line that effectively pulls the fly to an even greater depth for fishing in the deeper pools or runs where some current is also present. The point is that varying methods must be used to get the fly to the depth of the fish. Depth of water and the current are the two factors that determine the exact method to be used at a particular location.

Fly patterns vary pending water color, the brightness of the day, what the steelhead appear to prefer and personal preference. Standard patterns are skunks, eggs, leeches and a myriad of others. Bright days may mean dark patterns with the theory that they will show up better with the sharp contrast of the day. Cloudy days typically mean the opposite, so brighter patterns are used. When one examines fly selection, the best choice is to load the box with a wide variety of patterns in various sizes and colors and start casting to determine what the steelhead want (the fish really are in control).

In deeper reaches of the river, fly fishing takes a back seat to spin-casting or bait-casting techniques. One of the more popular methods is to slide a drift boat into the river and tie on a lure such as a Hot Shot. This type of lure is deemed neutrally buoyant, meaning that the lure will not begin to sink until pressure is applied to the line. These lures have "lips" of sorts on the front that dig into the current, causing the offering to wiggle seductively back and forth in the water.

The back-trolling technique associated with the use of these lures is that the oarsman pulls the boat slightly against the current as the boat drifts downstream. The lures are cast into the water. Since the boat is moving downstream slightly slower than the current, pressure is applied to the lures and the lips dig into the current. The lures begin sinking and additional line can be released to control the depth and the distance of the lure from the boat.

Whatever technique a fisherman employs, he should expect some very good responses from steelhead this year. The odds are vastly improved since the salmon has so many returning fish. The key to success should be to have numerous flies and lures -- and to be on the water before the competition arrives.

James J. Krunich, Times-News correspondent
Reelin' In the Steel ... High Counts This Year Will Lead to Better Fishing
Times-News - April 11, 2002

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