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Archive for February, 2012

A late birthday reward

Published on Saturday, February 25th, 2012

I was hoping to tangle with a steelhead on my birthday this past Wednesday, but the river did not want to cooperate. Heavy rain deteriorated river condition so we had to wait until Thursday when condition was more favourable. I gave Chris a phone call in the morning for the usual early report before venturing out for the afternoon excursion. The morning crowd seemed pretty thick but it quickly thinned off as expected after we arrived at 12:30pm.  We saw a few fish landed and lost, a good indication there was a pretty good push so I was quite optimistic.

After trying for two hours, there finally was some action. We waited for two anglers finishing a stretch that produced for me two weeks ago. One of them already had a fish on the beach while the other worked his way through. Once they were done, we moved in to give it a go. It took me three casts for the float to disappear. Actually, the float didn’t really disappear, the fish grabbed the pink worm just as I started retrieving it. The sudden tug felt almost better than the sight of a float dive.

Fighting a winter steelhead

It was a hatchery marked fish, not a mis-clipped this time. The fish was estimated to be over 10lb, but not much bigger. It was short, but broad. The tail was quite thick so my hand couldn’t get a good grip of it. Although it was a retainable fish, I noticed it was not that silver. The body had a bit of coppery shine to it and the pink cheeks were starting to show. I kept it in the water while deciding for a few seconds whether I wanted to retain it or not.  Nina took a few photographs. I decided not to keep it and was about to hold it up for one good shot of the fish, but it slipped away from my hands easily and swam away quickly.

Releasing a Chilliwack River steelhead

The float went down for the second time half an hour later, almost at the same spot, but this time it came up empty. The rest of the afternoon produced nothing for us, but it was once again very nice to be fishing without many anglers in sight. Being able to land my first fish of the year and a late birthday present was a rewarding bonus.

A tug erases all doubts

Published on Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Despite of being disappointed after each trip to the Chilliwack River this winter, we are determined to bring a steelhead to the beach. After all, persistence is the name of this game. As my friend Chris always says, “You are one cast closer to the next fish.” so the only way to succeed is to invest lots of hours and don’t repeat past mistakes. Our trip usually starts with “today is the day!”, followed by “I can’t believe how unlucky we are” at the end of the trip. One has to wonder why anyone would put themselves through these psychological roller coasters for a tug on the line.

Earlier this week, we returned to the same spot where I lost two fish in a row during last week’s outing. We decided to give first light a go, but that simply did not work out. After hunting for these elusive bullets for a few hours, we were pretty tired and obviously came home empty handed. An early start is definitely not my cup of tea for steelhead fishing. Most of my successful outings have been in an afternoon start, when you can relax and scout out where the fish may possibly be. Sometimes late afternoon can be just as productive as early morning. The morning crowd usually disperses by Noon, leaving the river pretty vacant.

On Thursday, Nina and I decided to give it one more go after hearing success stories from our friends. We arrived at the river bank just past Noon. The weather could not have been better for steelhead fishing. It was cloudy and drizzling at times. Water was also not too clear. It silted up slightly as the day went by, providing some cover for unsuspecting fish.

We picked a different spot this time. After walking and fishing through the same runs for three weeks, the repeating scenery was getting rather stale. Instead, we were advised by Chris to try out a few spots where he has had some luck recently. When we arrived at the chosen spot, we were delighted to find only a couple of anglers fishing in the area.

The spot where we started was a potential holding hole for fish, but not so great for landing a fish. The fast water ran tightly along the bank, making it a steep drop-off directly in front of us. The tail end of the spot had another channel feeding into the main run, so there wasn’t any shallow spot where we could simply bring the fish in. But who cares? It’s kind of silly to worry about landing a fish when hooking them has already been a struggle.

I baited up newly tied roe bags on both of our hooks and started drifting through where we thought the fish might be. Within a few casts, my float quickly took a dive! Not only did it disappear, the fish also pulled the rod tip down, yet for some reason I was asleep at the wheel. I did not even lift my arm! The pathetic performance was obviously not rewarded. The brief tension instantly vanished before I even realized what had happened. I was both excited and frustrated, explaining to Nina what she just missed. She didn’t pay much attention, focusing on her float that was wandering pretty far downstream. She drifted it past a log jam a few times before it was finally her turn to battle with a steel.

When she started retrieving her roe bag at the end of one drift, a fish suddenly grabbed it. Totally surprised by the unexpected take, she held onto the rod while the fish bolted downstream with the strong current. Adrenaline was pumping high, we now had to quickly figure out how to bring this fish in. The only option I could see was to cross the feeding channel so we could follow the fish downstream. To do so, we had to walk upstream and away from the bank slightly, but the angle of the line would bring the fish toward the log jam. I guided Nina upstream. She slowly walked backward while attempting to keep the fish under control. I took the first step into the fast flowing channel and anchored myself so I could grab her as she followed. Both of us took several firm and slow steps across the channel.

Fighting a Chilliwack River winter steelhead

Once we were on dry bank again, I told her to make her way downstream fast to avoid the log jam. It was too late, I could see the float caught up on a twig sticking out from the jam. I ran down to free it and expected to see a fishless hook dangling by the branch, but I was quite relieved to discover that the fish was still on. Once the line was freed, Nina could start gaining some control. We were not out of the woods yet, because the fish somehow brought her back to the same twig again! I freed the line for the second time and surprisingly the fish remained on the line. “Keep the rod high!”, I shouted. Eventually she was able to clear the entire log jam and brought the fish to a shallow opening.

By this point, Nina’s arms were ready to give up. Who knew steelheading can be quite a workout? She tucked the rod under her left arm and used her entire upper body to guide the fish in. It was a magnificent fish, roughly around 10lb. I could see the adipose fin, meaning it was a wild fish which needed to be released. She slowly brought it into the shallow, but it made a few more darts as soon as its belly felt the submerged gravel. Finally, after several minutes of uncertainty, I had a firm grip of its tail. Nina’s first steelhead of the season was landed!

Landing a Chilliwack River winter steelhead

We took a couple of photographs before removing the hook and releasing it. I opened its mouth slightly and the hook slipped out without any pressure being applied on it. The leader was frayed nicely from its teeth and the log jam. This fish would most likely not have been landed if it took a few more runs.

Wild Chilliwack River winter steelhead

Both elated and exhausted by her catch, Nina took a break while I returned to where I thought the fish might be. It actually did not take long before my float was swiftly pulled down. For some reason, I once again did not react! There was no doubt it was a bite. The depth of the water was a lot deeper than my float depth. I turned around, waved and explained frantically to Nina what just happened as if I had witnessed a car accident. Usually when a miss occurred, the fish will come back so I drifted through the same spot many more times. During one of these drifts, a fish suddenly surfaced and rolled at the exact same spot where the float went down! This confirmed that it was indeed a fish earlier.

We worked through the run for another half hour without any success. It was time to move. Even though we knew the fish were there, sometimes it is best to keep going and find fish that are more willing to bite. We took a walk downstream, found a few more runs where the fish may hide and did some casts. After two more hours of scouting around, we returned to our original spot with one hour of daylight left, hoping for an evening bite.

I, of course, started out at where I saw a fish rolling earlier. A dozen drifts went by and it didn’t seem to like my roe bag. Seeing my lack of success, Nina decided to try the same spot while I moved a bit further upstream. Perhaps it was the roe bag, the drift, luck, or dare I say it, the angler’s skill, Nina soon connected with her second fish of the day! It happened so fast. I was actually taking a break from the rod and hoping to capture some photographs of her fishing. While adjusting the settings on the camera, I looked up for a moment and saw her rod kicking furiously. She turned around and looked at me in disbelief. I did not need to tell her what to do, since she already brought one in at the same spot!

Another winter steelhead!

Perhaps it did not have the strong current or the log jam as its advantage, this fish was more manageable. Nina was able to bring it in without much struggle. I tailed the fish in the shallow, checked for an adipose fin and saw a healed scar but a tiny remnant of the adipose could still be seen.

A mis-clipped hatchery steelhead

It was clearly a hatchery-marked fish, but a mis-clipped, meaning the fish’s adipose fin was not completely snipped off during its juvenile stage at the hatchery. Pretty confident that it was not a wild fish, I asked Nina if she would like to keep it. “Sure!”, she said of course, since we did not have much daylight left for fishing anyway. It was the perfect end to a day of steelhead fishing on the Chilliwack River.

Chilliwack River hatchery-marked steelhead

I concentrated my effort on fishing through the same spots with the little amount of time left, while Nina patiently waited with a large grin on her face. The river was not about to reward my mistakes on this day. After all, I also had two opportunities to dance with a chromer but failed to grab them. I was both excited for Nina’s catches and also the possibilities in our future trips. When you go on without a single bite for so long, you often start doubting your bait, your spot and yourself. Those doubts are instantly erased when you’re greeted by a tug, then the whole process repeats itself. For newbies, this is an ongoing love and hate relationship with this ridiculous activity that we call steelheading.

Still much to learn about steelhead

Published on Friday, February 3rd, 2012

As many of you have noticed, I have been rather inactive in the blog for awhile now. After last October’s spectacular coho salmon fishing season, fishing has been put aside, not by choice of course, until now. I originally had planned some sea trout excursion during my visit to Denmark in December, but influenza and pneumonia scratched those. January is typically a very busy month when it comes to the business aspect of the website, therefore spending hours in front of the computer screen becomes my priority. It was only a matter of time before cabin fever sets in, especially with the abundance of good steelhead fishing reports from the Chilliwack River.

I have mentioned it often, I consider myself a rookie when it comes to steelhead fishing. It has been exactly ten years since my first steelhead experience. It was February 19th, my friend Dave and I stood in the cold rain, hoping that he could show me a chrome bullet or two during my first steelhead outing. The day ended with more than what I had requested. Three steelhead sympathized this beginner. The grin was as big as it could get and I thought every steelhead trip would be this rewarding. That expectation was lowered soon after as the number of my steelheading days on the Vedder built up. Most trips resulted in a blank, while occasionally the float dips to remind me why we keep persevering.

The beginning of each season is always a bit rusty. I forget where steelhead would be resting and cast into the wrong waters more often than not. The river is always changing so new runs have to be explored. I stop paying attention to how steelhead should be hunted and focus too much on where others are catching them. After several trips, experiences that were gained in the past slowly regroup and the chance of shaking with that chrome grows bigger. For a casual steelheader such as myself who only fishes once every week or two, results are often inconsistent but once awhile we get lucky.

Since returning from Denmark, I managed to get out a couple of times. Both trips were nothing to brag about. After hearing some positive reports this week, I decided that it was time to go again. Perhaps I was being a bit too eager and leaving common sense at home, I decided it was a good idea to go during a morning after it had rained heavily. Of course, the river was in poor shape upon my arrival so the chase for steel was cut short. After being told that river condition had improved yesterday, Nina and I hopped in the car for an afternoon steelheading session.

We arrived just after Noon and found that quite a few anglers had the same idea as us. While this might be considered a “busy” for steelheading, there were still plenty of free spots to work with. We started working on a couple of riffly tailouts, where Nina had a good take-down after trying for an hour. The entire roe sac was ripped apart, meaning a fish probably received a free meal. Meanwhile, a fellow further upstream from us was surprised to tangle with a small steelhead, which made several splashes on the surface before swimming away freely. These were good signs, I was beginning to have high hopes.

Chilliwack River winter steelhead fishing

At 1:30pm, we met up with our local friend Chris, who is looking for a wild fish or two so he could capture for the broodstock program. While out enjoying steelheading each day, Chris carries a tube that can hold wild steelhead for the hatchery staff to pick up. He decided to follow us until the 3:00pm pick-up deadline, hoping that we could provide him a fish.

As we walked along the river, Chris showed us where the fish could be holding. While I have been given these tips many times by him in the past, they are still invaluable. It is good to be reminded that we are no longer targeting salmon, the fish are sometimes hiding at where you think they are not. We worked hard through several runs without any success. 3:00pm had gone by so the pressure was off. Chris decided that it was time for his coffee while we kept up our effort until sunset.

Nina and I worked our way toward where we started. The plan was to save the best for last of course. There was one run where I thought would be good if others failed us. We reached it with about 30 minutes until darkness and the run looked beautiful as expected. The riffles upstream from the run feed into a slightly steep ledge, where fish may possibly be sitting. At least those were my guesses.

Wanting to start fresh, I threaded a new roe bag onto the hook and pitched it not too far out from shore. As the float landed, I looked down to adjust the pocket on my jacket. By the time I looked up, my eyes caught the float being buried completely. The tired arms jerked the rod up as much as possible and I could felt a couple of weak kicks immediately. Funny, quite often the first few head shakes make you think that there is a small fish at the end of the line. As if that’s how long it takes the steelhead to wake up, the deceiving shakes are usually followed by a powerful pull. This was no exception, the fish wasted no time to head downstream like a freight train.

The Islander Steelheader spun wildly while I did my best to control the trembling of my hands. It seemed big, even though I had not seen it. Before I knew it, it had taken me 50 feet downstream from where I woke it up. After several minutes, I was finally gaining some control. I started gaining some line, but the fish was still not showing itself. By now, Nina grabbed the camera and I told her, “Take an action shot before I lose it!” Just as I finished the sentence and a photo was snapped, the dreadful slack occurred.

Fighting a Chilliwack steelhead, shortly before the dreadful pop

My heart sank of course, but surprisingly I was not too disappointed. The adrenaline rush was already satisfying enough, even though it could have been better with a photo of possibly my largest steelhead so far.

Knowing that time was running out, we quickly returned to the head of the run to see if another fish was waiting for us. The roe bag that tricked the first fish was completely intact, so I started throwing it back to the same area right away. Another dozen or so casts went by and my float suddenly dipped again, right before I started retrieving it. The tension from the current made the fish hooking itself. This time, it was a much smaller fish. At first it appeared to be a trout, but it would have been a pretty big resident trout. This fish was perhaps 5 or 6lb large, so I brought it to shore in no time. It laid on its side in the shallow water, while Nina prepared the camera to finally get a shot of today’s catch. As I walked toward it, the hook suddenly popped out! Sensing that it had been given a second chance, the fish darted into the run even before I screamed out.

While we said farewell to the second fish of the day, two other anglers were working their way downstream toward us. They began drifting through the spot where I hooked my first fish and one of them connected with a fish after only a few casts. Unlike my failed attempt, the angler played it nicely to shore and was rewarded with a hatchery marked steelhead, weighing roughly 10lb.

Our third trip of the season ended without a fish to hands, but at least we are now thinking more like a steelhead. Perhaps there will be more hook-ups during the next trip now that we are more familiar with the runs. Perhaps the landing ratio will improve. Judging by the number of fish and the size of some catches so far this steelhead season, it appears to be shaping up like our last coho salmon season. It is only February, one can always hope. Good luck to those who are giving steelheading a try this weekend.

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