Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bad weather = Good fishing....Right?

This is what it looked like outside Friday Morning as I was driving to Sandy creek. Not pleasant to say the least. However, to a dedicated steelhead fisherman such as myself, conditions like this mean the world. No people! Who in there right mind would stand out in the cold and snow for hours casting a fly to a fish. Yes I said "a fish."

Well.....I was not alone. Luke joined me for a spirited attempt at fishing today. And I must say it was an adventure.

Luke was already taking a "warming back up in his car break" when I arrived at the rt. 19 bridge. He said he had been on the water for nearly an hour and had no fish to show for his efforts. The water was high due to the release of canal water. And if matters were not bad enough, there were weeds, branches and small trees floating down river all morning. When he asked what we should do, I said we should get back at it and fish the seams and deeper pools. Note to self....when you meet a friend at a fishing spot and he is taking a break before you get there due to poor conditions and no fish, MOVE! This would be great advice to someone who had common sense. I apparently have none!

After two hours or so of picking ice out of our guides and trying to warm our hands, we moved. I know what your thinking...."finally they are going to a new stream where the water conditions are better." Nope! Instead I drove us to a new location on the same stream in hopes of changing our status from a bunch of "crazed wackos" to that of "courageous fly fisherman" who brave the elements to catch at least one steelhead. After all isn't that what separates the men from the boys? That transformation never happened. We flogged water for at least another hour with the same pitiful results.

Lunch! That would help right? We stopped at a local gas station and filled up with greasy pizza and coffee. We felt better, at least for a little while anyway. We let the pizza settle as we drove to our new location. And on the way, I thought about how the day was not all that bad. No one had fallen in, we still had feeling in our fingers and faces, and we still had hope of catching a steelhead or brown trout at our new location.

Oak Orchard creek looked much better. The water was high but not unfishable. And our walk upstream revealed 4 or 5 small steelhead on stringers. Our hope was renewed! That changed however in an instant when we were told that those fish were all caught during a small run that moved up at around 11:30 am. It was now going on 2:00pm and nothing had happened since. We slowly walked upriver fishing every likely run that we could find. Finaly, Luke found a slow run on the opposite side of the river. He had found some salmon and was drifting his fly downstream from them in hopes of finding a hungry trout. I positioned my self upstream from those fish and started casting a white beadchain woolly bugger. It did not take long and my stike indicator went down and I was hooked up. Fish on! My excitement faded a bit when I realized it was one of the salmon. But, I must admit at this stage of the game any fish was welcomed. Soon we had her at our feet and with a quick picture she was off to fulfill her duty.

That was it for the day. One fish! Not a trout, but we'll take it. I did mention we were dedicated, not insane....right?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

More Sandy creek trout

This morning I found myself and Ethan heading to Sandy creek. We drove through thick fog to get there...boy, it's tough sometimes to be a fly fisherman! Any way....the creek is still low, but not too low. And after a little walk down stream from the bridge we found fish. We hooked into a nice sized salmon and after a 5 minute fight we had landed our first fish of the morning. Then we spotted a trout! A steelhead trout. It wasn't big, but it would be my first steelhead of the year. And after a few drifts, a change of flies and a few missed chances I was hooked up with my first steelhead. And you no what? It jumped. About two feet in the air. Who knew these fish jumped...ha! I certainly didn't tell it too! But what a great way to start my steelhead season. I'm not complaining at all!

As we were taking some photos of the steelhead we heard more fish moving their way up through the riffle sections just below us. And after a 10 minute break to untangle my line(Ethan wanted to hold the fly rod while I was taking pictures) we resumed our search for fish. We walked upstream this time. We needed to be back in time to pick up Katie from school. But before we made it back, I spotted two good sized brown trout moving slowly upstream. Then, at the head of a run one of the fish stopped and held in a small riffle section. After some adjustments and careful drifting, I had the big brown peeling of line from my fly reel. With my rod tip jumping up and down every time the big brown shook it's head, I tried to apply the right amount of pressure to move the fish without pulling the fly out of it's mouth. This seemed to work really well and soon I was able to direct the fish into the shallows where I could get my hand around it's tail. A very nice gentleman who was fishing just upstream from us was kind enough to take a picture to end our morning of fishing. And he was the only other person we saw the whole time we were there.

There are definitely fish just need to go and find where they are!

On another note.....taking pictures by yourself of yourself does not always work well. The photo of me holding the steelhead was done by putting the camera on the bank and setting the timer. I am going to have to work on getting better shots when I am by myself.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sandy Creek, November 4th

Today was a great day to be on the water. I was able to fish with both of my boys. And after we dropped Katie off at her school, we headed up to the Brick schoolhouse road section of Sandy creek.

Conditions did not look good from the start. Low water, weeds and most fish! We trudged our way upstream looking at every run, riffle and little pool hoping to find something. Then we found a salmon holding in a riffle section. It looked pretty old and ragged, but Jonathan wanted to try and catch it. It would be his first Chinook salmon ever on the fly rod. The fish stayed in the riffle section running here and there, stopping only to shake it's huge head in an attempt to get rid of the fly in it's mouth. With Jonathan straining to keep the fly rod's tip up, I coached him on putting some side pressure on the fish and soon we had his first salmon tailed. A quick picture and he was on his way. What a great fight!

We spent the next half hour looking for more fish. Walking downstream, we past the bridge and searched the water for any fish looking shape hiding along the greens and browns of the stream bottom. Then another salmon made it's way in front of us and within a few casts we had hooked our second fish of the day. This would not last however, as the fish brook off a minute later.

We then continued our march downstream and came to a slight bend in the creek where there appeared to be a good riffle section that would hold fish. As I began to scan the water below the riffle, two fish worked there way up into that riffle. I could see two beautiful brown trout holding in the current. A few casts, and "Fish On!" Jonathan held on as the brown trout ran up and down that run 3 or 4 times before I could get my hand around it's tail. Our reward was a beautifully colored male of about 7 lbs.

With fish number two landed, photographed and released, we headed back upstream in hopes of finding one last fish before we had to go back and pick up Katie from school. And just as it was looking like we would be done for the day, I spotted a really big brown trout holding in the tail out of the pool under the bridge. It was a very large female brown trout and it took a little while of careful presentation before I could say "Fish on" for the last time today. This fish put up one of the most memorable fights that I have ever seen. Jonathan strained to keep the fish under control, and soon it had all the fly line off the reel. He then had to work the fish back upstream gaining a little line here and there between runs. This went on for 5 or 6 minutes before the the fish went near the bank and some under water brush. Jonathan stood upstream with fly rod in hand waiting as I tried to find the fish. A tail appeared in the water under some brush. I tried to grab the tail. The fish went nuts swimming around me and tangling the line around my feet. At this point I thought it was over. I tried as quickly as I could to get that line unwrapped but it was not working. And then, in an instant I was free and Jonathan still had the fish on! After another minute I had my hand wrapped firmly around the tail of a 12 or 13 lb. female brown trout. What a fiasco! What a fish!

There were not a lot of fish moving today. In fact, I have seen a lot more salmon and trout during this time of year. But, we also don't have the water either. If we get a good amount of rain or water release from the canal, it could change everything! The weeds would get washed out and the fish that are waiting to run will have enough water to do it in mass numbers. On a good note......I was able to cast many times to a fish until it took a fly without spooking it. This means that the fish are used to their surroundings and not being pressured by lots of anglers. And most importantly, I was able to share a morning of fishing with my two sons, Ethan and Jonathan.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Oatka: Late fall and Winter

Fly fishing the Oatka in late fall and winter can be a real treat. It is a refreshing change from the crowded tributaries, and often fishes better than their counter parts. This is probably due to the fact that the fish are not as pressured and the variety of insect life is greatly diminished by this time of year. You can often fish your favorite stretch all by your self.

There are some guidelines however. Especially if you want to be successful. To small flies is probably a good idea. I'm not talking about a #16 pheasant tail or hare's ear. I'm talking #18 and down to #26. This is small fishing at it's best! Small heavily weighted nymphs with even smaller midge larvae as a trailer works like a charm. And don't be surprised to see small midge and BWO hatching late morning through late afternoon depending on the temperature. So bring some #20 to #24 griffith's gnats and bwo for some dry fly action. And don't be afraid to tie on a really small egg pattern or san juan worm to mix things up. This is also one of the best times of the year(besides spring) to fish a streamer pattern. Weighted or unweighted, and with or without a sink tip. Cast slightly upstream throw in a mend and let it dead drift for a little while or start stripping a foot at a time across the current. There really is no bad way to fish a streamer. The fish usually let you know what they are looking for. When spring starts to rear it's ugly head, I'll do a post that describes a more in depth approach to streamers and how to fish them.

Here are some of the best flies to try during the late fall and winter period on the Oatka. See you on the water!
Heavily weighted #18 and #20 tungsten bead head flash back pheasant tails or hare's ears.
Midge larvae and pupae in #20 through #26 (black, white, red and crystal flash)
Egg patterns #16 and #18 (Oregon cheese, Niagara gold, etc) and San Juan worms (red and brown)
Weighted or Unweighted woolly buggers #6 through #12 (black, white, brown and olive)
Weighted or Unweighted muddler minnows #6 through #10 (a #8 conehead version is my favorite)
Bucktail streamers #8 through #12(brown/white, olive/white, micky finn, etc...)
Griffith's gnats #18 through #22
BWO in #18 through #24
Emergers in #18 through #24