Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Winding down...and up

Summer is at an end.

I noticed it Sunday morning while in Walla Walla. The gusty, desert wind carried the unmistakable air that heralds autumn's advance, an apparent breaking point to the otherwise dry, hot summer the region had been enjoying until our arrival.

Two days before, I stood in a similarly stiff breeze, three hundred miles away, knee deep in uncharacteristically cold water, even for the last few days of August.

Under the thickly clouded sky, drizzle flicked at my cheeks, a minor annoyance compared to the antagonistic, on-shoulder wind I battled.

It didn't matter, I had a few precious hours to burn before surrendering my weekend to sun, mid-seventies, good food and, of course, multiple wine tastings. ;)

Tongue and cheek aside, I felt compelled to fish, if anything to maintain the little edge I had developed, even if it was only a perceived one.

They say confidence is a considerable factor--some say crucial, even--in becoming a successful steelheader. I extend that sort of confidence to my equipment, which is, consequent to my belief, an extension of me. Fishing approaches also follow this logic and in the case of this particular afternoon, both were in play.

So with, (new) rod in hand, I tinkered with a slightly different line set up, a modified fly design and some recently-studied techniques to a familiar testing ground.

Instead of looking for fish, I watched how the fly turned over, the speed of the swing and how the fly fished. Not to say that if I didn't stick a fish it would have bothered me. ;)

Based on my limited experience, I liked what I saw.

And that's a building block for confidence.

While the summer my be winding down, I know that summer steelheading on my home water should start to finally heat up.

The only question is whether the upcoming fall colors will include chrome or not.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cutting into the learning curve

Spent last Saturday with Steve Buckner.

It was only appropriate that the guy who got me hooked on spey would get me further hooked on steelheading.

Given all the tinkering I've been doing with different lines, flies, etc., it's no surprise (or is it?) that I only have one steelhead to show for it.

By enlisting Steve's help, my intent was to distill things into the basics.

Some things I learned that will see future application include:

(sorry if some of this is cryptic--it's the only way I'll be able to remember some of this stuff)

1) Floating lines can get the fly deep, too.
2) Study the flow of the water (the back of the legs thing)
3) Closer anchors
4) Crescent lift more often, especially in tight quarters
5) Orange
6) Keep the sun at their back
7) Keep pressure on the fish--8 lb Maxima is stronger than you think
8) Never give up

Combined, this list created a great steelheading day.

Though I lost both fish (we'll get to that), each hookup and subsequent fight felt more like a result of applied knowledge rather than just dumb luck. And in that regard, I really felt no loss.

I felt like "that was just steelheading."

Ironic, given my last experience with a steelie, huh?

Now about that fish-losing thing...

I think I may have that problem solved...

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Still processing...

Despite my attempt to get over it, I have been plagued by thoughts of last week's event.

At first I thought relating my story to friends and getting their input might somehow dissuade the lingering sense of failure.

"That counts as landed."

"I'd say you landed it."

"You touched the fish, which is better than a leader grab."

But their offerings brought no solace.

Without a picture, with no proof positive, the experience is incomplete.

It's just another damn fish story about the one that got away.

My own personal demon to struggle with, the whole photo thing is further inflamed by the (my) relative infrequency of hooking steelhead. On its own, running into one is precious enough. To botch a landing...well, some would simply say "that's steelheading."

On one hand, I can agree and appreciate that point of view--it's not a competition, after all, and numbers should take a backseat to the experience. Fair enough.

Despite that Jedi perspective, I still can't help feeling like this:

Am I the only one who's ever felt this way after ruining an otherwise awesome experience?

And if so, does it ever go away?

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Hooked a nice fish this weekend, check out the narrative on my other blog:

Click here

Not the kind of ending I would have preferred.

I'll publish my thoughts on this experience after digesting things over the next couple of days...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


It's what steelheading has given me so far this season.

Or, more accurately, what I've taken away from it. From what I understand, everything you get from this pursuit is earned.

Reflection has been ever-present in my fly fishing experiences. Without it, I'm not sure I would have been able to develop any reasonable level of skill, much less write about it.

Since starting this blog, I've maintained a religious steelheading schedule.

If it seems that I've nothing to show for it, so be it.

It's part of being a beginner.

I recently came to grips with that on a particularly windy day. Presented with a strong on-shoulder breeze, I had no choice but to cast cackhanded. That didn't worry me at first--my cacks had been pretty consistent--but for some reason, everything was falling apart and I couldn't figure out why. To make matters worse, fish began surfacing in the fading light.

"Not much time left," I thought to myself.

Consumed, I continued to flog the water in futility.

No takers.

Disgusted with myself, I gave up...and thought about my first days with a single hander...

When I started fly fishing, I couldn't do anything right. Cast, tie, find the fish, you name it--I was incompetent.

Through observation and study, I began to shed some of my inadequacies, identifying my bad habits and rethinking my approach.

"Why should this be any different?" I asked myself, attempting to cool my frustration.

It shouldn't. You have to start somewhere.

Now, with a spey rod in hand, it's simply time to do it all over again...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cast Development: Single Spey

Of all the casts I've learned up to this point, the single spey has been the most troublesome.

I don't take any comfort in knowing that it's the hardest cast to get down properly, either.

It all goes back to the whole head vs. long belly thing. Sure, I was able to pull off a pretty decent single spey with a Scandi head, but I could never get the anchor stroke and timing down with anything longer.

And it's been eating away at me for a while, to the extent that I've committed to using a Delta in all but the most challenging situations.

As it relates to summer steelheading, traditional (a.ka. "long belly") methodolgy arguably exhibits a more aesthetically pleasing approach to covering water. Prodigious lengths of line, sharp D-loops and a graceful, sweeping casting stroke mark adepts of this style. And on the Sky and rivers like it, lower summer flows offer a novice like me the opportunity to pursue steelhead in the same way spey's ancestors angled for Atlantic salmon.

Sounds good, doesn't it?

There's just one hitch: it all starts with single spey.

Ergo, my committment to the Delta.

Of the numerous milestones I'd like to reach this summer, one of them is to at least hook a steelhead on a clean single spey.

I think I'm almost there, you be the judge (you'll probably have to watch it a few times--sorry again about the quality!):

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Cast Development: Cackhanded Snap T

There's a particular spot that I've grown fond of lately.

It's a fairly long run stretching about 200 yards and is loaded with fishy-looking holes to swing through.

The problem is that it's river right--not my strongest side, but I'm working on it.

Over my past few outings, I've concluded that the reverse Snap T is the most efficient cast to use in my current repertoire of tools. It allows me to position the anchor more in line with the target and delivers the fly at the best angle to get it fishing the quickest.

That is, it does these things when I do my part correctly. :)

So during my last trip out, Don shot a quick video of me practicing. It's not the highest quality, but if you study the last half, you should see the loops.

In this instance, I'm using a head (specifically, a RIO AFS 4/5), but I'm also working on it with the Delta. With any luck, the translation to the longer line will work itself out.

I'll try to post a clip of that for comparison.

Monday, June 30, 2008

On to longer bellies

"To me, heads are for people who don't want to learn how to cast."

There's truth in that statement, if you emphasize cast, and I'm guilty of it.

So in an effort to enrich this thing called steelheading, I picked up a Delta spey and have started practicing my single and traditional double speys.

It's been challenging, especially on a 13 footer, as you can see here...

But after a couple of days, I settled it down and I think it's starting to come together.

Now if I can just catch a steelhead... :)

Monday, June 23, 2008

What's all this about?

That's a good question.

I'm actually not sure.

I could stick with the obvious and just say it's about summer steelhead but that wouldn't be a fair description of what I'm hoping to do here.

I can say that the idea for this blog originates from a humid, late summer morning last September. On that day, I enjoyed a glimpse of what draws anglers to steelhead.

Up to that point I hadn't given steelheading much of a chance--I was perfectly content with my single handers. The choice between a dozen resident coho or the possibility of hooking a steelhead was an easy one to make.

Ignorance can be kind like that.

For some reason, I broke from my habits. Maybe I had heard enough stories, maybe I just needed something new to do.

Either way, the urge took hold and I threw myself into it. I recognized the risk for making such a commitment--the beaches were fishing fairly well and trout fishing east of the mountains was starting to peak.

But it's just like a friend of mine used to say:

"No risk, no reward."

Of all the words I've used to describe the experience, the one that comes to mind in how I'd relate it to this blog is clarity.

Though brief, what little clarity I experienced I wanted more of.

Any mediocre chance to steelhead suddenly overtook a good chance to hit a beach.

The Sky, the Snoqualmie, the Methow and the Deschutes replaced the Sound in importance and even when I did hit the salt, I did so more often with a two hander.

Addiction. Obsession. Call it what you want--steelheading had bitten me and there was no going back. I couldn't wait for the next season.

I know, "Why wait for next season?"

Simple--I tried fishing a river in the bitter cold. It sucked.

There, I said it.

I'm a tropical kid, after all.

With the summer solstice just a few days past, it's officially summer.

And there are steelhead to be had.

So back to the original question: what's this all about?

Let's find out.