Dave Pinczkowski, early devotee of Skagit, fishing guide, practicioner of the "crayfish hop," die-hard fan of The Allman Brothers Band and midwest legend, made his now annual trip out west. Dave came out in 2018 and experienced very high water, but was able to hook four fish on the Sol Duc. He lost them all, proving that I'm not the only one who loses fish sometimes. OPST has had a close connection with Dave, now an OPST "ambassador," for years, and James Millard, James Iwase and I made plans to fish with him on the Skagit for a few days, followed by a few days on the OP. Dave's plan was to fish with us on the Skagit, and then stay with his OP guide friend Ryan Celusta for the remainder of his trip on the OP. Also joining us would be Caleb Hanna, a 34 year old Skagit regular and OPST ambassador (you get a special pin and trophy, tattoo optional) who has more days experience than most fishermen twice his age. That is no exaggeration. His landed fish counts for one month on the early season of the Skagit alone often exceed the lifetime total of many serious steelheaders his age. The reason for that is fairly simple: he structures his year so as to not work at all during the winter. Everybody was pumped for this OPST hoedown/throwdown. At leas that's what they told us. They might have just been there for the free food. We met Caleb in the evening at our cabin, and began sipping on some beverages. Flies were tied, and we made plans to shoot some tying videos later in the week. As Val explained in the masterpiece "Tremors," we like to plan ahead—that way we don't have to do anything right now. Dave wouldn't get in until around midnight, if he got in at all, so we all stayed up in anticipation of reconnecting with or meeting this character for the first time. We were also looking forward to sharing some new prototype lines with both Caleb and Dave.
Dave eventually snaked his way through a small sea of cabins and trailers to our three bedroom cabin. He arrived in typical fashion—jovial, pysched to be in steelhead country, entertaining us with his signature Upper Midwest lingo, and wearing an Allman Brothers T shirt. Dave joined in the festivities, using a measuring cup for his water and beverages due to a lack of glasses in the cabin. I turned in at around 1, having a bit of anxiety as usual about getting up, inflating my boat, putting on waders, etc. But the party went on until 4. James Millard's booming voice, honestly a bit excessive even under normal circumstances (sorry James but it's true), reached decibel levels approaching a Texas high school football game.
Dave likes to have breakfast, so James Iwase showed up at around 7:50 to caravan a couple of us to breakfast. A couple of us were hurting a little bit and didn't make it to breakfast until 9, not naming names... So, after shuttling our rigs down to the takeout, we didn't make it onto the water until around 11. Nice. We're diehards, you guys. Caleb assured us that the bite had been strongest in the afternoon, so we weren't going to lose any sleep over our late departure. We would lose sleep over other things, like drinking. James Iwase and I embarked in our little one woman boats, and Caleb, Dave and James Millard set out in James Iwase's three woman raft. The first run was right below the put-in. Classic, long, easy to read, easy to fish and wade, this run is a dream. Dave went through first without touching a fish. James Iwase started way down below him. Nobody got any bites. Dave, like any true steelheader, was stoked just to be out fishing good water.
We spent the rest of the day fishing excellent runs. Most of the runs on this float are pretty easy to read, but there are some that aren't quite as obvious. As is often the case on big water, seemingly small features are in fact quite significant. Everybody on this float was fishing either a production Commando Head or a prototype, which consisted of various conformations of intermediates... stay tuned for those. I really didn't make a note of exactly which line everybody was using on which rod. I have better things to do, like watch crows and take slow-mo video of water going over rocks, and peel oranges. If you're wondering what Commando Head might work on your rod, please email James Millard at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is more than happy to help you out, which he will gladly do even if he is fishing, or on his way to fishing thanks to the fancy bluetooth speaker system on his Sherman tank-sized truck. But the important thing is that both Dave and Caleb, serious steelheaders, choose to fish Commando Heads. We know the product is great, but the real sign that they are exceptional is that fishermen like them choose to use Commando Heads.
I fished a little bit, but my main focus was to get footage of Caleb and Dave. Fishing is fun in the moment, but coming back from a week-long trip and having to explain just what exactly I accomplished can be a little bit awkward. Dave, an excellent caster, struggled with one of the premiere rods in the industry. Opinions varied on whether the damn thing was underlined of overlined. The rod is so stiff it's hard to tell. I didn't like it much better. Well, long story short we didn't get any fish that day, except Dave, who caught a dink little bull trout. Like any respectable equal opportunity steelheader, he pretended to be somewhat excited by it. We stayed on the water until we could see stars, and we hit Annie's Pizza in Concrete, which was VERY fortunately open until 9. We rolled in around 8:45 and had some very good pizza, apparently voted best in the valley. Dave and I chose chicken bacon ranch, Dave's half with no onions. We didn't make it to the cabin until around 9:30.
We returned to the cabin for another night of revelry and fly tying. We shot a couple of fly tying videos, one of Dave and one of Caleb. Dave tied his Carpet Spider, which is, as usual, comprised almost entirely of craft fur, and Caleb tied a more classic version of an intruder than most people see these days. Be on the lookout for both of those videos, as I'm pretty sure I was in focus for at least half the time.
Night Two was a little more mellow than Night One, which isn't saying all that much. James Iwase had to bail to take care of some family matters, which meant that James Millard could move off the couch. The next day we decided to do a lower float on the Skagit, one that would close on February 1st, today. Speaking of Skagit closures, you may have heard that they are opening the Skagit from Feb 1 to April 30th, from the Concrete bridge upstream to the bridge at Marblemount, and including the Sauk River. You didn't hear it from us. It's such welcome news though, and it should really take a lot of pressure off those poor OP fish. This was a shorter float, so we took our time. Kind of the same deal as the day before. Nice water, easy to read, no fish. On the last run of the day we were treated to an exceptional sunset.
Even though I didn't fish much, the float was worthwhile for me from a fishing standpoint. In a stretch of water I usually float by, thinking it's dead, Caleb showed me a beautiful, very subtle little river right break. It's pretty hard to fish, but worth it. I hope to catch a fish in this piece some time during this extended season. Oh crap, I'm just realizing I actually can't because this spot is below where the river will be open. Damnit!