The older I get the more I see connections between fishing and life in general.  One thing that I have reflected upon a lot lately is how so many things in life are completely based upon the relativity of the situation.  What constitutes “good fishing” or a “good fish” can be based so much upon the circumstances.  A 20″ ‘bow in one river might be considered a monster, while in another river, that same fish would be considered an average fish.  I’ve found the same to be true with my schooling.  English and writing have always been a strong point for me.  On the other hand, science has been difficult for me to be proficient in since high school.  A couple weeks ago I had a big paper due for English class that would be worth a hefty portion of the final grade.  Yesterday the paper was returned and I was excited to see the number 95% written on the top, indicating that I had earned a solid “A”.  I also had an important test to take yesterday that would determine to a large extent what my final grade would be in one of my science classes.  I studied hard, but as usual felt that it was arbitrary and in the end my efforts would not be reflected in the score I received.  As I exited the testing center and looked up at the score board, I was relieved to see the number 76% next to my identification number.  I was caught off guard by what was now the highest score I had earned on a test in this class.  In fact, I was even more excited to see that number 76% up on the board that I was to see the 95% that was written on the top of my English paper.  On the other hand, if I had received a 76% on my English paper, I would have been very disappointed.  It all comes back to relativity.  I recently made this connection while on a steel steelheading trip.

Two Papers Down…One more to Go

Steelhead fishing is not something that I am very familiar with and I have not done a lot of it.  Most of my experience fishing for steelhead has consisted of waiting for the hatchery truck to show up at the Boise River and then immediately trying to catch them when they are dumped in.  It doesn’t take much of the skill that is necessary for catching steelhead in their natural habitat.  Needless to say, I was excited to go chase steelhead in the Salmon River when the opportunity presented itself last week.

My First Steelhead…Courtesy of IDFG planting them in the Boise River

I have often heard steelhead referred to as the fish of a thousand casts.  This was definitely the case for me last week.  Right now the steelhead are holding in deep water, and that makes fly fishing for them rather challenging.  Drift fishing was the way to go, and it was a totally foreign way of fishing to me.  Chris knows his stuff when it comes to drift fishing for steelhead and he picked up a couple of nice fish at the first hole we tried.  As the day went on he picked up a couple more as well.

Getting the Skunk Off

Chris with a Beautiful Wild Steelhead

A few hours had gone by and I hadn’t even had as much as a bump (at least that I knew of).  I continued to break off and was becoming a little bit frustrated with having to retie the rig so often.  I decided I would go back to what I know how to do, even if it wasn’t the best method, so I busted out the fly rod and set up a nymph rig that would ride along the bottom of the river.  The particular run we were fishing had a nice shelf at the top of the run, before dropping down in to a deeper pool.  I began covering the run and  a few minutes later my bobber stopped moved and I had finally hooked into my first fish of the day.  The fish made a few good runs and with the help of Chris I was able to land my first and only steelhead of the trip.

Another Fish That Fell for the Glo Bug

The small hen was pushing 22″, a dinky steelhead in anyones book, and definitely not much of a fish to brag about, but I was pretty dang excited.  I never did pick up any more steelhead, but I was 100% content with the fish I did catch.  It all comes down to the experience.  I know places that I can go and catch 20″-24″  trout that are much closer to home than Salmon, Idaho.  In fact, my chances are probably greater at those rivers than they are chasing steelhead in the Salmon River.  With that said, it is amazing to catch a fish that traveled all the way down to the ocean, lived there for a year or two, and then traveled all the way back up river to its native spawning grounds in Idaho.  What an incredible fish to be able to catch.  There is something special about chasing steelhead that you don’t get from your average run of the mill fishing trip.  It’s a humbling experience and makes you appreciate every fish you catch.  In most situations, I would not consider a one fish day very successful at all, but when going after steelhead for the first time in years, I considered the trip a great success.

The Path Less Traveled

A few weeks ago I received an exciting invitation to go on a backcountry fishing trip with my friend Brent from Uprising Fly Fishing.  All of us spent the weeks leading up to the trip in great anticipation of what we might catch.  The location was fabled to have large lake trout and trophy browns that would readily chase down a well placed streamer in shallow water.  Like most places that are worth talking about, a little bit of work would be required to get there.  When your mind is so caught up on catching what could quite possibly be the fish of a lifetime, all logical thought processes seem to disappear.  For example, instead of thinking about resting so you have the energy to hike 14 miles, you pull an all-nighter tying up some new patterns that you think might work for lake trout.  The logical thinker would go to bed but the obsessed angler sticks to the vise until it’s go time.  Chris, Brent, and I were scheduled to meet up at 4:30 AM so we would have plenty of time to make the hike in.  Despite the blue bird skies that have been the norm this entire year, we received a warm welcome with one of the wettest days I have ever experienced in my life.  Rain, sleet, and high winds would be the norm for 90% of the day.  I quickly reminded myself why I was there and the weather didn’t seem so bad anymore.  A couple hours later we made it to our destination and got to fishing.  It was neat to look into the crystal clear water and see schools of lakers swimming together.  Most of the year, these fish are in the depths of the lake, nowhere to be seen.  I decided to tie on one of my new creations and went to work.  It didn’t take long to hook into my first laker on the fly.  I was really caught off guard by what a strong fish they are.  The fish we caught were only small fry.  I can only imagine hooking into a monster.  Unfortunately, the streamer only produced one fish.  We all made the switch over to eggs and proceeded to catch a few more fish.  The mack fishing started to slow down a little so we decided to explore some more of the river and went in search of some browns.

My First Mack on the Fly

Chris and his First Laker (Note the Torrential Downpour Taking Place)

The brown trout fishing started out slow to say the least.  They were extremely skittish and not interested in anything we had to offer.  I tried a small streamer and eggs, while Chris and Brent stuck to the bigger articulated streamers.  Eventually Chris decided to tie on his Magic Dragon Pattern and that did the trick.  We walked down a good ways until we stopped seeing any fish and decided to fish our way back upriver.  Chris continued to catch a few more nice browns and during this time, the sun decided to come out, the wind died, and we were all able to warm up a little.

Chris and his First Brown of the Day

An Awesome Underwater Shot From Brent

Chris With Another Dandy Brown – Check out Those Teeth!

We eventually made it back up to where we had first started and I had yet to land a brown.  I had multiple chances and just wasn’t able to capitalize on any of the opportunities.  In fact, shortly after Chris hooked his first brown of the day, I had the same fish hit my fly three time!  I just couldn’t connect with him.  The first area we had fished was in the shadow of the trees and full of whitecaps and I figured the fish would be way less skittish.  My first cast in I missed what felt like a great fish.  I hurried and punched out another cast in the 30 mph+ winds and whitecaps and was able to connect with a fish this time.  I was expecting it to be another laker but upon closer inspection it was a beautiful brown.  I had accomplished both of my goals for the day and was pretty dang excited to have finally have landed a brown.

My First Brown of the Day

Another Shot of the Same Brown

We only had a short time left before it was time to head out so I hurried and threw out again.  A couple minutest later I hooked into my second brown of the day.  It was another beautifully colored male that made all the efforts of the day worth it.  Brent was still downstream from us so I hollered for him to come up and explained that the browns had moved into the hole and were hitting like crazy.  He threw out a few casts and was able to hook into another nice brown.  It was a hoot watching the browns crash up in to the waves to hammer our flies.  It was as if a switch had flipped that said “feeding time!”  We all missed a few more fish and then the fishing eventually slowed down again.  We didn’t want to be hiking out in the dark and decided it was probably best to hit the trail.

My Second Brown of the Trip

Brent with his Brown Trout

About ten minutes into the hike out, we realized we had taken a wrong fork in the trail.  We quickly turned around and made it back to the main trail.  Throughout the day, we heard and saw massive trees crack in half and fall to the ground.  Nature can be very brutal.  The wind caused many of the massive trees to snap in half like twigs.  As we made our way up the trail, it became evident than many trees had fallen along the trail that had not been there earlier in the day.  One tree was balanced in such a way that I have no idea how it was still standing.  I’d have taken a picture but I didn’t want to be anywhere near it, for fear it would fall over.  As we hiked back towards civilization, I reflected on how blessed I am to live in such a beautiful part of the world.  People travel from all over the world to come and visit in what could be considered my “backyard”, so to speak.  Fly fishing is all about the experience for me.  If I wanted to catch brown trout, I could just go to the Henry’s Fork or the South Fork of the Snake.  I love both of those rivers but there is something about being in the middle of nowhere that is hard to describe.  We didn’t find any of the fabled Ten-Pound browns or monster lakers, but we all agreed we’d go back again in a heartbeat.  Spending a day on the path less traveled is exactly what it is all about and encompasses everything I love about fly fishing.

The Setting Sun on the Hike Out

Camp Fires and Cutthroats

This weekend marked my first camping trip of the year.  Phil, Josh, and I headed up Friday afternoon and were down on the river by 3:00.  The fishing wasn’t as fast and furious as last time but the quality of fish was far better.  Around 5:00 I happened upon this pig of a cutthroat trout.

Two Footer

We continued to work our way down stream and caught a few more average sized fish (18″ or so) but nothing else too spectacular.  Of course, we missed a couple more monster cutts.  There were also a few more brookies thrown into the mix.  We called it quits around 8:00 and went to set up camp.  It still gets pretty cold up in the mountains this time of year so we wanted to get a fire going before dark.  The next day we woke up pretty early in hopes of getting to one of the more productive holes.  Unfortunately for us, some people had already beat us to it.  We ended up fishing a few different runs and had another productive day.  It was another successful trip with over 80 fish landed.

Josh With a Fat 22″ Cutt…His Personal Best

Streamer Eatin’ Cutt

Best Brookie of the Trip…Chowing Down on Eggs