This year I took a few buddies out on successful expeditions to the woodland to pick mushrooms, hauled along some visitors from Germany to get up close and personal with a few elk, and shared a few hours with a bunch of kids learning the ins an outs of archery.
But my favorite activity to share is an exciting day out on the stream chasing salmon and steelhead.
The problem with this pursuit is that it is rarely a sure thing. A couple of years back, I shared an action-packed weekend with my brother and nephew in a little tidewater stretch drifting for chum salmon. The fish were so thick that you could tie into something almost every cast. The fish were too old and beat up to be of any food value, and it didn’t require much technique to get them to strike, but the action was non-stop and we hooked dozens.
The trouble with most steelhead fishing in my favorite streams is twofold. First, you need to have just the right water level. If the water is too high and fast, it gets murky and the fish can’t see the lure. When the water drops too low, the fish can see you coming and take off, or they stay down in tidewater where the fishing is neither scenic nor much fun.
Waiting on the Weather
My Uncle Tom, an avid Deschutes angler, had shown an interest in joining me on the streamside, and I was pretty excited to take him to some of my favorite haunts. I’d been having some outstanding fishing for late-run silver salmon and early steelhead, and was trying to set a time for a fishing adventure. But the weather just wasn’t cooperating.
One of the driest Novembers I could remember was playing havoc with my fishery. A wet early fall had been excellent—lots of water in the stream and plenty of fresh fish were the rule. But as winter approached, I couldn’t buy a good storm. Fortunately, Tom had his own airplane and could be here in an hour, but I couldn’t get a good hour. Week after week went by with sunny days, or just a dusting of sprinkles. Tom was beginning to think that I didn’t want him on scene.
Finally, in mid-November, a really good storm hit, maybe a bit too good. Several inches of rain hammered down, driving all of our streams to flood stage. No problem, I’d just wait till the water dropped a little and cleared, and would give him a call. Nature, however, was not going to give me a break. Just as the water dropped, another shower pumped more wetness in to the rivers, bringing muddy waters and floods. Then the rains stopped.
Looking for Action
I dropped out to my favorite hole to check it out. When I arrived, I saw a handful of locals at the stream. “Not much yet,” was my initial report. But the water was still dropping and this was my day. On my first cast I popped my bobber and a cluster of salmon eggs right where a waterfall hit the stream. It was a little shallow most days, but I figured to have enough of the receding floodwaters to float my offering. Just as the bobber reached the falls, it stopped. I collected my line to try to free the hook from a shallow ledge when the ledge exploded! Even before I could get in all my line, a huge slab of silver took off across the swollen waters. The big steelie tail-danced all the way to the far shore, I reeled frantically to retrieve my line, just in time to have him dash downstream fifty yards!
Panicking, I realized that I had yet to set a hook. I hadn’t been able to recover enough line to feel the charging fish. Reeling like crazy, I finally felt his weight. “Whack,” the barbless hook slammed into his jaw. “Whirr,” the line screamed off my spinning reel as the fish charged upstream, allowing no time for me to catch my breath. The critter was big and fresh and was using the high water to best advantage, taking angles that gave him much more power than I could hope to control!
Following him up and then down the stream, I was finally able to wear him down a bit. I could get him close to shore, but he’d use his big body to pull out even more line. I had little chance to beach him. Stan, one of the anglers downstream, offered to give me a little help with his net. Sensing that I might never get the fish in, and also that my fellow anglers wanted to do a little casting, I nodded my agreement, and within a few minutes the big hatchery fish was flopping in the net.
What a beauty! The bright shiny monster tipped the scale at a little over 13 pounds, pretty big by this year’s standard, and it was a fin-clipped hatchery fish. We’d have smoked fish for Thanksgiving! And I’d only made one cast.
It took me a few minutes to get my gear ready to fish. The big battle had taken its toll on my leader. It felt a little frayed to the touch. One more good pull and I’d be out of luck and some fish would be fining around with a hook in its nose! Nothing much happened during the time it took to put on a new outfit. Maybe I’d hooked the only fish on the river. I baited again and found a good spot on the bank. “Plop,” my big cluster of eggs sank into the rushing waters. Just as the bobber reached a little rip in the current, it dove out of sight. Frantically, I raced to get the slack out. It was probably a rock, but…. I stood stunned as a huge silver salmon tail-walked across the river, dragging my helpless bobber behind it like the tail of a hurricane-driven kite. I guessed it was time to give Uncle Tom that call he’d been waiting for!
Next issue: great expectations for Uncle Tom.
Bob Ellsberg’s column, Fishin’, appears monthly in RV Life and rvlife.com.