Thursday, November 14, 2013

Steelheading without the Leaves

By Spider Rybaak

Nice hen steelie taken on a wooly bugger.

One of the most frustrating things about early steelhead fishing is putting up with fallen leaves; they’re floating on the surface, suspended in the water, carpeting the floor. Come November, they can be so thick, it’s like fishing in a kaleidoscope.

To the uninitiated, that doesn’t sound so bad. After all, kaleidoscopes are entertaining, giving idle hands something to turn, bored eyes symmetrical patterns to feast on.

But fishing is serious business, and the Salmon River ain’t a romper room. If you have to spend half your time clearing leaves off the hook, the other half dodging leaves while trying to present a bait naturally, especially when you’re watching fish shooting the rapids, it can amount to an exercise in frustration, and that can make you grumpy.

So I went up to the Salmon River on Veterans Day to swing some streamers through the rapids with my Spey-casting equipment, conditions permitting.

Much to my delight, the conditions are super. Oh, a few leaves are still blowing into the water. But they’re so few, I only hooked a couple in the hour I fished.

Best of all, I hooked a steelhead weighing about 5 pounds, too, on a chartreuse wooly bugger I swung through the rapids behind a 10-foot Rio Spey VersiLeader, with a sink rate of 2.6 inches per second.

And I wasn’t the only lucky one on the river. A couple guys hooked steelies on beads they were float-fishing with centerpins in the Long Bridge Hole. Another took one in the rapids on an estaz egg he was chuck-n-ducking in the bottleneck, at the curve, about 100 yards upstream.

I was Spey-casting in the pool between the Long Bridge pool and Village pool, a relatively shallow spot with heavy rapids; two features that discourage normal anglers--which normally means there’s fish and room.

You see, most guys fishing the Salmon River think like humans, and concentrate on deep, slow moving pools.

I like to think like a fish. Right now, the water temperature is in the high 40s, and trout are still very active. Since they’re as lazy as I am, they hang out in fast water (they’re streamlined, the current goes effortlessly around them) where eggs float down to them and all they gotta do is open their mouths and suck ‘em in. And if a streamer swims by…well, that’s icing on the cake.

Steelhead are running the river right now in search of easy pickings; which means they can be anywhere…and they’re hungry.