“Should have been here” were the first four words that started each phone call from Chris in the last several mornings.
Although taunting, reports of fish catches are music to an angler’s ears. It loosened the tension while slaving away by the computer desk, but it motivated me enough to bring out the drift rod and tie some roe bags for the first 2009 trip to the Chilliwack River.
5:00am the alarm sounded off. It was so tempting to tuck under the blanket and forget about the one hour plus drive, but visualization of a chrome bullet in my hands won the tug o’ war. There were still over two hours until daylight, but Chris said we needed to be at the run first. Someone obviously has the steelhead bug.
I pulled up to the parking area at 7:00am, the blue Leaf Mobil was already there and the occupant was no where to be found. I quickly dressed up and trekked out to the river. It has been three months since I last visited the Vedder, which has of course changed. I wondered if I could find Chris in the dark without tripping over newly formed side channels. It took a slight detour but I managed to reach the destination. We stood and chatted in the cold for ten minutes before the game began.
Chris directed me to the “Hot Spot”. “Cast into that slot, that’s where they were biting yesterday.”
Sure, free guiding is always welcome. Knowing where they were biting is an advantage, but I had to remind myself that steelhead are always on the move. They maybe here one day and gone on the next.
It only took about a dozen casts before the float went for its first burial. It was definitely not a snag, as the float depth was set very short and past drifts went through freely. I set the hook and the entire rig with a ripped sac at the end flew over my head. It was a disappointment, but perhaps it was a sign of a great day to come. I shook as the anticipation and cold hands took over the body.
A great day, or morning, it was not. The first float burial turned out to be the only one for a few hours. Chris and I fished up and down with no success. The icy rain did not make it that much more enjoyable. By 10:30am, the steelhead bug was starting to wear off. The brain started turning with ideas.
“Have I missed the bites by a day as usual? Kind of hungry… Hmm, deluxe classic burger, farmer sausage, sunny side up… Cookies Grill…”, I thought. I suggested the idea to Chris, he agreed too.
Meanwhile, I looked upstream and a familiar figure was making his way down to us. It turned out to be Marco, who apparently just arrived on the river! He casually walked and casted, as if he couldn’t care less if he would not catch a fish. We chatted briefly, suggested Cookies Grill to him. “I just got here! I need to fish!”, he said.
We decided to do a few more casts with him and worked the slots where I initially had a hit. While chatting away, I watched Marco’s float took a sudden dive but there was a short delay at the other end of the rod. The hook came up empty.
It seemed like a change of presentation did the trick again. Marco had a box of freshly pumped ghost shrimp, which can be so deadly for steelhead.
Its effectiveness was confirmed a few casts later, when the float took another dive in the faster slot. This time, the fish stood no chance. Marco set the hook precisely and the soft rod bent to the cork immediately. Seeing the kicks on the rod rejuvenated our spirit. Sometimes it is just good to see someone has a fish on when you cannot find one yourself.
The chrome doe took several sporatic runs before surrendering herself in the shallow water. The absence of the adipose fin confirmed that it was a hatchery fish, which Marco wanted to keep. What happened after that is probably the funniest misplay of 2009, and January is not even over yet.
The fish flipped gently in the shallow water by the beach. Marco was ready to bring her up to dry land and I was ready to say, “Looks like someone is coming to breakfast…”. Suddenly the hook popped out! Marco panicked and began kicking the water like a peewee soccer player, attempting to keep it in the shallow water.
The fish bounced once against the nearby rocks and back in the shallow water, made a short burst toward Chris, who began kicking the water like a peewee soccer player too! Why both of them did not bend down and use their arms still baffles me to this minute. The whole fiasco took 15 seconds and the steelhead managed to find a light in the tunnel. She used one more burst of her energy and shot herself back into the run. The three of us stood motionlessly and were speechless. Did that just happen? Laughter then bursted out from all corners, but the fish obviously had the last laugh.
Yep, now it was time for breakfast.
The fries, coffee, burger and sausages sure hit the spot. Sometimes a short break is needed, otherwise it is too mentally tiring.
We returned to the hot spot at 1:00pm. Perhaps things would heat up in the afternoon. Instead of roe sacs, I decided to switch up to a Jensen egg and wool combo. I used a combo that has produced fish for me in the past – orange egg and chartreus wool.
Marco flogged the same slot with more fresh ghost shrimps with no takers. Chris went through it with his big roe sacs. I wedged in between them, threw the combo out. After a couple of drifts, the float did a short dip. It did not completely sink and popped back up before I even reacted. I looked upstream at Chris, who was retying. I looked downstream at Marco, who was focusing on his float. What was that? A fish perhaps? Or a snag that we had hooked up before. I whipped the combo out once again to just above the same spot. It only took a second to drift down and the float was once again pulled down. This time it was a decisive pull. I yanked the rod back as hard as possible, thinking that it was most likely a snag. A silver flash appeared under the float. I looked in disbelief but was absolutely excited at the same time. “Fish on!” and my neighbouring anglers brought in their rigs and watched the show. It was not a very big fish, which rolled and rolled without doing a single leap. I carefully slid the fish into the same shallow spot where people had been playing soccer earlier. Marco reached down and did a fine job tailing the fish. It was another hatchery fish, so I decided to keep it to end my day of searching. I let out a sigh of relief. This was in fact the first steelhead that I have ever kept, as all my previous fish were wild.
I watched the gang fishing some more, but no more fish were interested in the offerings. Meanwhile Dion made his way down to our run. We exchanged information and it seemed to be a slow day overall. I was one of the few lucky ones who managed to tangle with metal head. The trip ended at 3:00pm, the cut-off time for hatchery to pick up broodstocks. For me, this was an excellent start for the 2009 steelhead season. Hopefully more trips will resemble this one in the next several months.
Good luck to all who are heading out this weekend. It should be a fantastic one.