In Like a Lion
March 1st & March 2nd
It was 28 degrees when I left home at 8:45 Friday morning. It was still 28 degrees when I parked along Elk Creek at around 10:00 am. I had already greased up the rod guides, line and leader with lip balm before I left home. All I had to do was put on my gear, grab some smokes and my coat and be off. Joe said he’d meet me around 11 so that would give me time to explore and maybe see some steelhead holdings.
Stepping out of the warm truck I met outdoor winter reality. Though there wasn’t any breeze to speak of, the cold definitely didn’t have me too thrilled to be out.
People have asked me whether I ice fish. I simply tell them no, that it’s too cold for me to ice fish. I just couldn’t picture myself sitting in an ice shanty only as big as a two seater outhouse huddled over a hole drilled through the ice. I do picture a few of my friends ice fishing in their propane heated ice shanty’s though. A bottle of bourbon chilling on a small snow mound and smoking a fat stogie biding their time. That sounds good if I’m looking for solitude in cramped quarters out in the wilderness but I’m not sure I can sit in one place hour after hour drinking bourbon and still be able to find myself towards land afterwards. In the meantime I’m not sure breaking ice to find steelhead in the open freezing weather is much of a better way to practice fishing during the winter.
I followed the stream glancing out into the open water looking for any sign of fish. The first area I figured was a good holding place but I couldn’t see any movement below the water flow or above the creek floor. That’s not saying there weren’t any fish below but I was hoping to see some before fishing for possibilities. I continued downstream walking the waters edge, wading through the shallows and crossing on snow covered ice shelves into the more forested area. The big deep pool was nearly covered with ice near shore and I wasn’t about to take my chance walking over it to where I could see through flowing water. I was the first tracks down this far so I figured I would have time to search the stream for steelhead pretty good before anyone happens along.
Down creek I caught sight of a couple of tails extending beyond an ice shelf on the far side of the creek. There was a good flow of current entering the area from a shallow riffle upstream. It channeled the water between the banks making for a deep pocket of water. I couldn’t see any fish out into the open water but I at least know there were a couple under the ice shelf. I laid my sling pack on the snowy pebbles and took off my gloves. I already had a tandem rig of sucker spawn knotted on to my leader. I pulled a length of line out and casted into the riffling water notating in my mind how the current is going to take my indicator. I got a few good casts into the slower water that swirled just ahead of the far ice shelf. While high sticking the rod the indicator slowly made its way towards the ice shelf. I took in a bit of line as the indicator bumped up against the ice edge. By the way the current flowed I figured my offerings just might be pushed under the ice to where the fish were holding. The indicator went under and I reared back with a side setting yank. The line tightened, the rod bowed and a steelhead darted out from under the shelf like a kid unexpectedly coming out of hiding and sprinting for the home base to be free of being caught in an outdoor hide and seek game. I held the rod up as the length of rod arced towards the fighting fish. When the steelhead went back under the shelf I had to angle the rod practically horizontal with the surface water to keep from the leader scraping against the ice edge. As I was fighting the fish a couple more steelhead swam out from under the ice shelf getting clear of all the commotion. I had a tight grip on the cork handle and all thoughts of the cold weather never came to mind. The stronger current in front of me would be tough getting the steelhead to shore so I coaxed the fish downstream as I walked the shore line. It wasn’t long before I landed my first March steelhead and it was a doozy.
Using the same technique I hooked into another fish from under the shelf. It took off up creek through the faster current. Line peeled off the reel as I palmed the spool to slow it down. It tugged and jolted still trying to escape up creek until the hook let loose and came flying backward. My guess, the way the fish took off and acted, it might have been a foul hook anyway.
I took a look at the hooks and none were bent and the sucker spawn wasn’t tore up. I looked up creek and still didn’t notice anyone around. Looking over to the far bank I figured why not? I crossed the creek through the shallow riffles upstream and walked the stony bank back to the ice shelf. Slowly and carefully I broke up the ice shelf exposing most of the water beneath. The ice sections slowly floated into the swifter current and bobbled and spun their way down creek. I saw a couple steelhead swim from beneath into the faster run. Some of the ice shelf was too thick that I couldn’t break up and didn’t want to take a chance of walking too far out on it. I returned to the side of the creek I came from and proceeded to try for another.
It took some time and a different offering to get another strike. I had knotted on a Woolly Bugger and was drifting it near the ice shelf I wasn’t able to break off. I let it dangle beneath a few seconds at the end of the drift. It was if a hungry fish swam out from underneath the ice and swiped at the bugger. The line pulled downstream and, holding the line in one hand, I jerked the rod upstream for the hook set. This steelhead was a frisky one like a freshman college student heading his way to his first college dorm room party. It was like no stopping it where it was headed. The steelhead had enough energy, this late in the season, to give me a brief skyward acrobatic air show. It splashed down and immediately continued its underwater antics. I walked down the shoreline again coaxing him towards me and landed a nice looking chromer.
Well, that deserved a reward and I lit up a Maduro Fuma.
I looked up creek and I saw Joe checking out the big pool of water I had looked over earlier. He took his time coming down towards me. We talked a bit and I told him about the fish I had caught and I still believe there are a few more beneath the ice. While he rigged up I decided to cross the creek again and fish from the other side. In the meantime, as the sun shined down upon us, rocks and pebbles gradually started to slide down the dirt cliff, gathering up more stone and small rocks, and fall upon the far side in which I was headed. Some of the rocks took to bouncing and rolling far enough to reach and plop into the water. I knew I had to be careful but I figured I might be far enough from the cliff not to have rocks bounce off my head. It would definitely be considered a hard hat area.
I was getting good drifts along the ice ledge but couldn’t get another strike. While Joe was fishing I decided to explore a little more. I followed the creek downstream but didn’t see anything to my liking. I went back upstream to the big pool area and decided to try and break up some of the ice as the day was warming up some.
Cautiously I took my time of breaking up sections of ice. Now and again I saw fish scatter about. I saw a couple of nice size brown trout also in the mix. As some of the bigger slabs slowly drifted towards the faster current some of the steelhead swam and kept beneath the slabs as if they didn’t want to see the sunlight. I watched as the sections of ice slabs slowly floated and made there way downstream like puzzle pieces sliding off a tilted table top back into the box.
Drifting sucker spawn, it wasn’t long before I hooked into another steelhead. It had a bigger area to give me a battle and I let him tire himself out before I got him landed.
I lost another before Joe finally made his way up. He went to the head of the pool and was fishing a bugger in the oncoming current. I happen to look his way and his fly rod was bent good, arced and wobbling like he had a good fish. He called down that he had a nice brown trout. I grabbed the net and went up to where he was. He got the brown close enough I was able to net him. The brown sported a nice hooked jaw and beautiful side markings.
Later on I went back downstream. I have to admit I hooked into and lost two big males before Joe walked down and told me he was taking off. I wasn’t far behind him when it started to get colder. The eyes of my rod started to freeze up and the freezing water was finally bothersome on my feet that I had to start moving. Up creek I just had to try for another steelhead in a run I’ve caught fish earlier in the season. I surprisingly hooked into a steelhead I fought well. The only thing was I hadn’t broke the shore line ice shelf near me and the fish went beneath and was holding. I waded in to my knees and, with the rod angled out towards mid creek, coaxed him from underneath. I tried to lift him upon the ice shelf but with the pressure on the line and hook, the hook came undone from its mouth and he got away.
I caught another and practically the same circumstance happened. One more and I changed tactics and finally landed my last fish of the day.
Teasing Them with Triple Threats
Saturday March 2nd
Saturdays weather seemed to be a bit colder and never did warm up much. I returned to the same area as the day before and there already were a few people fishing. I tried my best offering the steelhead all different colors of sucker spawn and streamers but they weren’t being fooled. I didn’t see or hear any of the other fishermen that passed by say they caught anything either. When the three fellows upstream moved I decided to move in and see what I could do.
The water of the big pool was pretty clear and I could make out a couple of small pods of steelhead in the distance on this side of the wavy current. They were just sitting there in the slower current looking like they were just enjoying the peacefulness. I tried drifting sucker spawn to them but there wasn’t much current flow to get my offering to drift towards them. I guess I could have dropped my cast on top of their heads but I’m sure that wasn’t going to produce anything but spook angry fish. I came up with anther solution.
I knotted on a Triple Threat streamer with a couple split shots up the leader to help get the streamer on their level. My idea was to over throw my cast into the faster moving current and let the Triple Threat swing and drift near the pod of fish. After three casts my line finally quit drifting and started to straighten. I quickly yanked back for the hook set and a wild and frisky steelhead put on a battle that made the slow water erupt in commotion. I held the rod up high and watched as the steelhead made its run around. Floating ice bumped up against the leader as the fish raced upstream. After a couple of initial runs I put a little more resistance on the fish and brought it to the bank.
I missed one more on my Ghost Pattern and after not getting any more strikes changed colors. After the same teasing I got another to hit a black and gray Triple Threat. It too gave me a run for my time spent and I enjoyed every second of the tugging and forcefulness of the fighter.
I lit up a stogie and continued on teasing the steelhead.
When they quit hitting I changed tactics. This time I knotted on a Golden Triple. The first three casts I quickly stripped it in when it got near the pod like a fleeing minnow. I just figured being as lethargic as they were they weren’t going to put up much effort to chase down a fleeing minnow. My last cast I let the Triple Threat drift right into the pod as well as I could tell. I twitched the streamer for just a little more action and a steelhead grabbed the streamer with just enough force I seen the line twitch. I yanked back and had another on the end of the line. The steelhead battled hard and even came to the surface a couple of times trying to shake the hook loose. I held the rod grip as tight as I could within my cold hands and clinched my teeth on the stogie. I got it near the shallow water a couple of times but she pulled away with a little more force and quickness that I really didn’t expect. I finally got it close enough to bank it and kind of chuckled when I seen the golden streamer partially hanging out of the steelheads jaw.
There were three gents fishing the deeper run that had good flow. I thought I seen one of the guys hook into a fish but lost it before I got close to them. When I got to the hole I fished the riffling fast current while the others fished the tail out. No one was catching anything and eventually two of the guys left. The other guy and I continued to fish the hole but weren’t getting anything to bite. The lines were freezing up and it felt like casting a semi-stiff rope. The iced line would hit the surface like a branch falling into the water. With the ice on the end of the tip top made the rod feel heavy. It wasn’t long before both of us gave up and I called it a day.
At the truck I leisurely changed clothes while sipping on an appropriate ice beer. And what a way to end a two day steelhead trip but to enjoy a fat barber pole Cohiba stogie for the long drive home.