Friday, September 30, 2011

North Umpqua and Upper Willamette Steelhead

Chris working a favorite upper river (North Umpqua) run as towering Douglas Fir tree's provide a little early morning shade.

The past couple of days have been a blast for me.  I spent them with some new clients who can get it done on the water, plus they're just a lot of fun to be with! 
Yesterday morning I was on the Upper Willamette with Chris and Steve.  Chris owns the Walterville Feed Store and Fly Shop on the McKenzie.  Steve owns a business that makes custom rod grip wraps that really enhance your grip on any rod.  While Chris knows his way around a spey rod, Steve is a former Bass Pro who is just getting started with learning how to cast a spey rod.  So by morning's end, we rose four fish, hooked three solid and landed one.
We swung some new prototype tube flies that I've been working on and the fish loved them! When Chris and Steve met me at daylight at the boat launch, Chris had his own spey rod.  Steve had a typical 6 1/2' bass stick with a level wind?  I didn't say anything about the bass rod.  I knew Steve needed some gear so I brought some extra twigs for him to cast and fish with.  I just wasn't really sure what he planned on doing with the bass tackle. 

After raising a nice fish on the spey rod, Steve asked if he could use his bass gear?  Why not.  "It's your day" I thought to myself.  What happened next, was one of those rare moments when you just can't even believe your own eyes.  I apologize that I've been sworn to secrecy and its not fair to the readers to even mention this event, but suffice to say, "Steve the Bass Pro" knew his gear, knew what to do with it to draw the attention of some upper willy summer fish and really taught me something about steelhead behavior that I didn't know.  Steelhead can be made VERY AGGRESSIVE if you know how to do it.  

So in the afternoon, Chris parted ways with Steve, picked up his buddy Brad and both met me on the North Umpqua.  I was off the clock for the evening so I fished some of my favorite water and brought Chris and Brad along with me.  Brad is one of those guys who's friendly and so enthusiastic about fly fishing for steelhead that you just have a great time being on the water with him.  He's been fly fishing for years and spent many seasons guiding up in Alaska for trout and salmon, but spey rods and steelhead are a new thing to Brad and he's as passionate about both as much, if not more, than anyone I've ever known.   

Since it was my evening to fish, I used my cane rod, silk line and 60 year old Hardy Perfect "Taupo" reel to skate my dries over a couple of my more reliable runs.  I ended the evening raising two NU fish before the bats started gobbling up the October Caddis that began to take flight as the sun set.

Chris, Brad and I camped at one of my little primitive camps, drank a few Ninkassi's (and a few more PBR's) ate some great grilled brat's and slept under a cloudless sky while the North Umpqua babbled a few feet away.

This morning we got started before daylight.  I was back on the clock and working while Chris and Brad got after'um! In the first run, Brad rose a fish on the dry and like everyone does, when he saw the fish try to snarf the skater, he pulled the fly away! literally snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  A few minutes later, and a little further down the run, Chris had a fish crush the prototype tube fly he caught the fish on yesterday, but somehow the hook didn't find a solid purchase and the fish was gone a moment later.

In the next run I was helping Brad with his casting and put the skater across the run to a distant seam that always hold fish.  Like clockwork a chromer swirled on my little skater as I twitched it across the glassy tailout, but like so many fish the past few summers, we couldn't get the fish to come back.  "One rise wonders" is what I've come to call them.

We continued on through the rest of the morning without another rise and I decided to move to the upper river above Steamboat Creek.  It was amazing how many spring chinook were in the upper river.  I haven't been working the upper river this summer.  So many more fish seem to be in the lower part of the fly water so I haven't worked up there yet.  I haven't seen this many salmon in the upper river since the 2000 season.  If you end up on the north umpqua in the coming weeks, PLEASE be careful wading around on any gravel and avoid the redds. 

We ended the day with Chris hooking (and loosing) another fish on my new tube fly.  So by my fuzzy "guide math" we rose ten fish over the past two days.  Certainly didn't land all that we rose, but overall, not bad fishin' and what a great treat to share that kind of fishing with three new friends!  Thanks guys!!!! 

The next few days will be spent chasing late season trout on the upper McKenzie.  Saturday our deer rifle season starts and I've got some boys chomping at the bit to fill a deer tag.  As hot and dry as its been the last two days, this weekends forecast for rain should have the deer moving.  Next week is booked solid with more days on the North Umpqua and I can't wait!