Still much to learn about steelhead

Published on February 3rd, 2012 by Rodney

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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