It has been a little while since my last post, so I am only going to report on the next week, even though more has happened since then. James and Dick had left, and I was on my own. After five days straight of getting up at 5, preceded by over 24 hours of not sleeping at all, I was in serious need of a rest day. I tied a couple key flies, including a couple "Bulkley Leeches", which are basically just a black string leech with blue Angel Hair dubbing. After clearing the idea with Todd, I made plans to float one of the rivers we had fished with him the next day. I was a little bit nervous both about the shuttle I had set up, which, if it didn't come, could leave me out in the wilderness with no cell service with the sun going down. I was also nervous about bears, as the week before Todd had seen two curious young male grizzlies that were reluctant to spook off. But, people will do far more for a steelhead than fish where there might be some bears, so I got up somewhat early, but not crazy and drove to the put in, where, after inflating it, I had to carry my boat a good ways over very awkward rocks. I was probably on the water fishing by about 9.
We had finally gotten some rain, just the tiniest little bit, it seemed to me, but up in the mountains that amounts to significantly more, as more wet coastal air is thrust upward, where it condenses and precipitates. The river I was on is pretty sensitive, and blows out easily. The color looked about what I would expect the Queets to look like on a good day, or the Hoh on a pretty good day. Visibility was maybe a foot and a half, or less than a quarter what it was when we fished it with Todd. Because of this, I selected our 132 Run Commando Tip to pair with my 375 Grain Commando Head on my 11'6" 7-weight switch. I floated a short ways down to the run where James had pulled his second, superb fish behind me. I believe it was also the bank where Todd saw those curious bears the week before. Now, I prefer to fish with other people. It's nice to be validated when you catch a fish, to have someone else with whom to share a memory. And yes, it's nice to have someone else to take the picture. But today I was alone. I worked my way down the run, one-stepping it because of the clarity of the water. In slow, clear water, I figure you can easily afford to take three or four steps between casts, as the fish can see your fly clearly, and they can move to the fly easily. In faster water, I slow down, and in fast, dirty water I slow down even more. I was nearing the end of this run, which was a beautiful, steep, swift run with a break on the inside and a real money zone that was about six feet wide and three feet deep- perfect conditions for the Run Tip. I was just about to strip in, at the end of my hang down, when I got an almost imperceptible pluck on the end of my line. Hmmmm. I had a second or so to just think about what that was, what I should do. It really didn't seem like a steelhead. But bull trout don't usually pluck a fly, they usually take the whole thing. Straight below me like that, with such a soft take, I didn't think this fish, whatever it was would ever hook itself. I decided to set the hook, hard, and low to the bank. BOINNNGGGGGG. My rod doubled, absorbing the weight of something heavy. Nothing happened for about two seconds. And then the rod started to throb. Good call, Ben. It was a steelhead. Right away it was clear this fish was a buck, and a nice one. It was a prolonged tug of war, more like a Stalingrad than a Midway. Both sides exacted their toll on the other, never showing the extent of their true forces. The fish never made anything like a real long run, and I stood my ground. It was a war of attrition. Eventually it got to the point where I could roll the fish's head back, and after a couple of attempts I landed what might be the steelhead of my life. It's hard to say- I caught one on the Sol Duc in 2010 that was very close, and I've caught one on the BC coast in the spring that's very hard to beat, but I think this one is the biggest buck I have caught. This fish was worth the wait:
Ok, the skunk was off. I had a little mojo back, such as it was. I finished off the float, somewhat surprisingly, without touching another fish. It seemed like good "moving conditions" for the fish, so maybe they were all trucking upstream. I was just happy to have my one chance. I did begin to manifest an anxious feeling that maybe my fish, since it was caught in the same run as James' and about the same size, was the same fish. Luckily I went back later and confirmed by spot analysis that it was in fact a different fish.
Luckily, my shuttle actually showed up. I could have probably made it down the steep track to the river in my Subaru, but I decided to be cautious and hump my stuff up the hill anyway. It was probably my most intense workout of the second half of 2018, maybe the whole year. I packed up my car and headed a couple hours upstream to go stay with my friend Will in his wall tent.