Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Prospecting for Steel

Prospecting for Steel
Oct. 11, 2009
There was a woozy feeling in my noggin when the alarm went off in the wagon. It took a moment or two or three to figure out why I set the clock so early anyhow? I then recalled I was to meet Flyfishingdave and bugdrifter for some prospecting for steel in the middle part of Elk Creek around 6:30am. The alcohol consumption the night before was still having that woozy effect in my head. I’m sure the tequila was the culprit and not the wine or beers I drank. I broke camp just about daybreak and got the wagon moving. After stopping at the nearest town merchant for a cup of joe, I headed in the direction of our meeting place. The hot dark roasted coffee was a wake up call compared to the tea I’m used to drinking in the morning.
There were a few other wagons on the stable grounds when I rolled in. Anxious 09’rs were gearing up to search the crick for steel also. I got out of the wagon and proceeded to putting my prospecting gear on and assembling my tools. I put a chaw in my mouth and headed through the brush. Down at the crick I saw Flyfishingdave and bugdrifter right off. They had already staked claim in the first deep large pool. They evidently woke up before the cock crowed to lay first claims. When I was close enough they said they had already picked up a few and lost some. I joined in to help them uncover some more steel.
Ffdave would produce a chunk of steel now and then with his tandem set up while bugdrifter seemed to be pulling on fools’ gold below the surface. He would continue to pan the very bottom of the crick and continued to hook up with rocks and snags more than with steel. He rerigged often enough that he was getting short on some of his supplies. I searched along with them and finally hooked up with my first drift with an orange thorax hares ear nymph. It didn’t take me very long to lose both the steel and the nymph to bad knots. We continued our search in the area showing a few chrome for our efforts. Around 10:00, I’d say, dream catcher and Tex Cobb showed up, dream catcher was carrying a mug of coffee along with his gear.
Eventually ffdave moved up crick with bugdrifter soon to follow. I kept claim to the large pool with DC and Tex Cobb joining in to help pick up some steel. After a bit I was rerigging on an old log when DC found a whopper. With the fly rod bent the steel showed him the way around the pool. DC hung on and circled the large pool at least once trying to muster up the big brute. After a while DC figured it might have been foul hooked and tried forcing it in which only broke him off. Don’t really know if the steel was foul hooked or not but it sure was comical watching the big steel towing DC around the pool area the whole time.

I headed up crick and spotted ffdave and bugdrifter staking claim to a long run of faster moving water. I watched as ffdave hooked onto fresh steel. Keeping his rod high and line out of the current as much as possible, he fought the steel as well as any seasoned prospector would. He got the steel to shore and the morning sun glistened off the wetness of its chrome steel side. The bluish hues along its back proved its freshness as well as the clean silver sides. He held it firmly before releasing it on its own free will. Just then bugdrifter hooked into and brought a nice one to shore. Olive buggers seem to be the attractor in the faster run of water. Downstream from ffdave I drifted an olive bugger through and hooked up also. We found that drifting the buggers in that long stretch of water produced more steel than in the slow long pool area.
Pretty soon DC and Tex Cobb moseyed on up and started panning the waters below me. A few minutes later Jokerball101 and rookie showed up to try their luck also. After about an hour loopy came walking down from upcrik and he and bugdrifter started to jabber jaw. Loopy casted into the long run and just as quick pulled out a chunk of steel. We hung around a little longer but our bellies were rumbling for food. About 12:30 ffdave, bugdrifter and I headed back to their camp for some grub.

After a bowl or two of ffdave’s chili to warm us up we headed back out to Elk for some more steel searching. Bugdrifter and I decided to do some exploring up crick to unknown territory to us. We left ffdave in the lot as we packed up our gear and headed up crick. We passed a crowd of tin pans and even kept hiking passed some water that looked like it might hold steel. We were in search for a mother load, should there be one, and continued our venture up stream.
Bugdrifter found some shining steel in a partial deep tail out of a long narrow stretch of rumbling water. I don’t know if it was my trout finding instincts or streamside awareness but the area looked good where I was to begin my search. In the narrow stretch of water there were a few down logs along the far bank along with some shore line brush. I tied on an olive bugger and drifted it up against the downed logs and through the faster water. I noticed something following it when it got to my side of the stream and out of the fast run. I stood motionless until it gave up and returned into the faster water. On my knees I roll casted the bugger again and kept as much line out of the water as possible. From under the white capped water I felt a good strike and connected with a good chunk of steel. Forcing him out of the fast current was a good challenge and after the squabble of who’s who, I landed it successfully. With another search I missed a tug. I called down to bugdrifter and motioned to him that I came across a fertile claim that needed explored further. I was still in the mood for more exploring and left the claim when bugdrifter moved in.
Continuing up crik I came across an old tin pan and his two boys. His boys were having some success producing steel in a deep pool as he sat on a log observing. I worked the bank on my side of the crik but didn’t come up with any chrome. When they left with their successful catch I walked above the falls and was proceeding to cross the crik when out of nowhere an old geezer came out through the brush and jumped claim. ‘No matter’, I got to the far bank and continued my search upstream.
Moving slowly, on the bank, I kept my eyes searching the calmer, opaque waters for a glimmer of steel. I found a dark gray mass strung out about 30 feet off shore in a good seam. From upstream I worked a bugger within the area without success. I tried a few other imitations but failed to lift any steel.
’Maybe a little sparkle’ I thought.
With a bead-head yellow meth I roll casted out to mid-stream and mended upstream which put the meth in the current seam before the gray mass. I held back the line for a nice slow presentation. The meth disappeared into the gray mass and my fly line tip sank instantly with conviction. With a healthy lift I felt the resistance or a heavy steel nugget. The gray mass dispersed with the implosion within. Chrome glistened beneath the water from the penetrating setting sun rays. The rod bent instantly in an arc into the top quarter. The steel shot to my side of the bank in the confusion and I got a better glance of the big find. A quick turn, with lightning speed, the silver nugget headed for open water. The rod flexed into the mid section of the 9 ½ footer as I let line slip through my fingers with slight tension. The slack line went through the guides quickly and I was soon palming the spinning fly reel with the escaping nugget already ¾ down and across the stream. It was if the steel stopped momentarily just before I watched it eject itself out of the shimmering water. Light glistened off its wet chrome sides as droplets of water sprayed outward of the air born steel. Reentering the water it got its bearings and shot upstream. I quickly brought in loose line through the eyes to catch up with the quick moving steel heading my way. Directly in front of me the water rose like a geyser as the steel showed its ascending power. I tightened up my grip on the cork as he fell back into the water expecting the next burst of energy. The steel bolted upstream as the line ripped thru my curled fore finger up against the rod shaft. The steel was exerting high energy as I kept the fight to his side. On his next bolt I let him fight the rod and the reel drag. He finally turned and suddenly came towards me in a heap. I backed up nearer the bank to give him more room to continue his quarrel. We argued with pulls and tugs until I finally slid him into the shallower water, my rod bending possibly beyond its limits. I reached down and detached the hook from its inside lip skin. Before I was able to grab him, with a tail slap he propelled himself back into the open water.
As sun dipped further behind the tree tops I caught a couple more smaller nuggets when I noticed steel starting to move upstream. In distorted oblong figures I watched as they slowly stopped now and then to rest. A long dark steel caught my eyes ¾ the way ‘cross stream. I flung the yellow bead-head meth upstream calculating about 8 feet of leader. I mended a good arc of line upstream to put the meth within sight. I assumed the meth was directly across from me when I seen the big steel starting to move upstream again with the others. My drifting line stopped and the tip started to move upstream. With my left hand I quickly took in slack before raising my rod higher and setting the hook with a back whip of the rod. I seen the tail end of the steel dart upstream like a spooked fish, with my line following. With line slipping through my fingers in a smooth motion I tightened up the line momentarily and quickly pulled back to let the steel know I was tracking him. The rod force was unexpected and stunned him from moving upstream in his casual manner. I could picture him as stubborn as a mule trying to be guided in a direction he didn’t want to go. He was in no mood to cooperate as his head and thick shoulders surfaced with awkward, uncontrollable, rowdy pulls and jerks. He was like an agitated bucking bull. I kept fine tension as he fought more in his own made turbulent water.
‘I wasn’t letting this big one get way!’
He turned downstream and I lifted the rod to take up line tension. He turned again into view then lay suspended into the current straight out from me. After winding in some slack I tightened up the drag a little tighter. I pulled back on the 7wt. with just enough force to not let the leader break. The steel stayed put in the current. Here I was again with big steel that wouldn’t budge. There I was looking like I was hooked onto a log jam. I was sure, with the side pressure, I had to be doing something to tire him out in the current. Slowly the steel made his way towards me as I slowly wound in line. Near the shore he turned and forced his way back downstream. We played the old tug of war with me finally winning out getting him close to shore. He wasn’t going to give up just yet and forced his way back out a bit. I had enough of the warfare and decided to force the issue. We had a good long battle and if I lose him so be it. I backed up onto dry land as the rod flexed more near the butt section. The line was as tight as a bow string. I was gaining ground until the steel felt the pebbles beneath its belly. As if giving me a last wave with his tail he flung water trying to build up energy. I felt the rod flex even further waiting any moment for something to break. My bare hands gripping the cork handle tightly as I could feel my forearm muscles tighten beneath my skin. I refused to let my arms drop in submission with the steels last jolt. The big fish was slowly backing up towards me trying desperately not to turn its body. Then it turned downcrik and with one more burst of energy and headshake he broke free. My line flung back as the big male swam back into the flowing water. Later with one more landed I decided to head down crik to see how bugdrifter was lucking out.
Wading down stream, around a bend, I came to find bugdrifter with a bent fly rod and a weary face. He said he had been fighting the big steel for at least 10 minutes in the same narrow channel I had left him in. I grabbed the net and waded in behind the steel. I could see the brown bugger hooked into the corner of its lips. Twice bugdrifter tried to ease him back into the net but twice the big steel jolted forward. After the third attempt the steel gained enough line to get him into the faster current and the leader snapped. Somehow the line got caught up in the reel and failed to release upon the escaping steel. Bugdrifter said he had stayed put the whole time and found quite a few steel in the claim.

With the fading light upon us we trekked back to the fast run we had met with ffdave before noon. Bugdrifter drifted a bugger through the middle of the crik as I followed from upstream. I just got done tying on a gray bodied, blue marabou tailed bugger when a steel splashed up against the far bank. Bugdrifter as well as I seen the steel as it fell back into the water. My second cast fell upstream against the shale cliff. I watched the line swing into the steels vicinity and when it stopped I yanked back and set the hook. The steel came shooting out of the water like a fired cannon ball. Silver shined from its sides as it splashed down. Within seconds it came shooting out of the water again and again splashed like a cannon ball into the water. The action so fast I hadn’t time to think about how to react to such actions. My line was slack as the steel again shot up from beneath for the third showing. I found my line never did tighten up again after the first initial find. “Oh well, quick release” I said to bugdrifter as he watched on. Drifting buggers as we waded downstream steel surfaced against the far bank. In a mid back-casting position I laughed, so bugdrifter could hear me, and directed my cast towards the splash. Another hook up and the steel surfaced rising out of the water. After a short fight I almost got him to the bank before he set himself free.

With that we hustled to the stables before it got to dark. Ffdave had pulled his truck to my wagon as I was changing into riding wear. We talked about prospecting in ’Fisherman’s Paradise’ and the Little J some time next spring. They were spending another night at camp and were prospecting again Monday ’till noon before heading back south east towards their home. I had about 1 ½ hour drive home, so I bid them fare well and got the wagon rolling again.
Rolling east on I90 I reached in the cooler and pulled out a half eaten sandwich from the day before. After a good swig of ‘juice’ to wash it down my belly had quit it’s aching. At the 79 cross roads I headed south. I lifted the small wooden cigar box and laid it on my lap. I slid the top wooden panel open and pulled out the last imported cigar. I unwrapped the cigar and smelled the fresh natural tobacco leaf. The ring band read ’PUNCH Gran Puro Rancho’. I nipped off the end and stuck the big cigar between my lips and gripped it between my teeth. I struck a matchstick and lit the long cigar. Thinking about the past weekend at the ‘one fly’ and prospecting with a few friends made it enjoyable.

I was only a few miles from home when the cigar burnt down to its last draw.

That was a great 1 ¼ hour ceegar. I’ll have to put in an order for one of those long lasting ceegars next time I see rippinlips………


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