Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Coho Confab and Steelhead Pilgrimage: Part 3

Steelhead fishing

I awoke to the sound of the coffee grinder. Still dark. Where's my stuff? Where's the door?
Packed a lunch and we're off. Through the fog and darkness, as the caffein kicked in the stories began to flow. "Over here there's a hole, up there has been hammered, all wilderness up that drainage, etc etc"

We pulled up on a bluff overlooking the river shortly after sunrise. A mist hung along the forested slopes, not a soul around. We grabbed our gear and set off down the hill. "Poison oak." "Watch the toads." "A bear was here." "Deer tracks."

We tied on our lures, and started fishing. Easy enough, cast, sink, retrieve, work that riffle, ready for action. Then, "whoa!" "Got something here!"

A steelhead! Like an excited kid I landed the fish and posed for the trophy photo. This is a hatchery steelhead, identifiable by the clipped "adipose" fin on the spine. Hatchery fish are legal for harvest, so this one was destined to return home with me.

We fished for another hour, without luck, and then hiked back up the hill. After buying some ice to keep my souvenir fresh, we drove upstream. The river here is wild and free-flowing, with large meanders, pools, and riffles.

Driving onward, we parked at a well used pullout and gathered our gear. "Bring the snorkeling stuff this time."
Hiking down a steep trail, we gained glimpses of the river below. We arrived at a large, deep pool, which looked promising. Over the next hour, many fish rose to the surface, lures were cast, but nothing. We hiked down to another pool, same results.

"OK. Let's see what we missed."

"Yea, right," I thought, "there's no fish in here."

We donned our mask and snorkel, and slipped into the surprisingly warm water. As I expected, nothing, just cool clear water and a deep pool next to the cliffs. Then, as I led the way through the tail end of the pool, several schools of a dozen or more steelhead flashed past me. "You see that?" "Yahoo!"

I have been diving in the ocean for 30 years, but until this I had never even considered using a mask in a river. This was a whole new world!

But the best was yet to come. We dropped into the rapidly flowing river below the first pool, getting whisked downstream in the flow. Several more steelhead flashed past, spooked from their resting place in an eddy. As we entered the lower pool, I dived down deep into clean, clear water about 25 feet deep. As I reached the bottom, still rushing along in the current, another school of steelhead, then a school of silver Chinook, unmistakably different even to a neophyte. Wow! One was way bigger than the rest, perhaps a 40 or 50 pounder. Look what we missed!

We returned to town with only one fish to show for our efforts. But as I thought about it, that steelhead was truly a gift from the river. And it made my trip all worthwhile.

Many thanks to the people who made this possible!

(These stories are true, but places and names remained anonymous to protect the innocent)