Sunday, December 7, 2008

Getting Schooled

An older gentleman -- a term that gets harder to use with each passing year -- schooled me on the Rocky River on the Sunday after Thanksgiving (flow 250 or so and water temperature 33 degrees). He and I often fish the same water, although I've never learned his name. He likes to use a peacock-bodied nymph and uses it quite effectively. He's a slow, patient fisherman who casts well, but focuses more of his energy on getting a good drift.

While I tend to cast upstream and try to mend the line as it comes back my way, he's a downstream drifter. He casts slightly downstream and throws out slack line and uses his rod tip to check the speed of his drift. While we've often fished near each other, I cannot say that I've noticed him landing that many more fish than me -- except for Sunday.

I arrived at one of my favorite spots on the Rocky and was pleasently surprised to find it empty of anglers. It's a spot where the river makes a hard right turn as it tumbles over shale and into a hole with a sandy bottom. This sandy run holds steelhead on their way south when the water has that green tinge that is the favorite color of all Great Lakes Steelheaders. I normally fish the head of the pool and work my way downstream. Because the water was close to freezing, I decided to try the tail first, assuming the fish would be in the slower water.

The pool is about 15 yards wide and about 20 yards long. After covering the water for about 20 minutes I hadn't raised a fish, but I also had only covered about half the pool. Over my left shoulder I heard a hearty, "good morning" and turned and saw the older gentleman had made his way upstream from where we had bumped into each other earlier in the morning. We chatted as he slid into the head of the pool. He made a modest downstream cast and while his drift was going to squeeze me some, there was plenty of room for the two of us to fish. I was encouraged when he quickly hooked a fish, at least there were fish in the run. The fish turned out to be foul-hooked, and he landed it downstream and quickly returned to his spot. He then promptly hooked two more fish. Three fish in 10 minutes of fishing is good, no matter what one is fishing for.

Meanwhile, I kept flogging the water, dredging the bottom, changing flies and doing everything I could to not be skunked.

After another 15 minutes or so of fishing the run without luck, the older gentleman bid his farewell and wished me luck. I needed it. If nothing, I'm stubborn. I knew fish were in the run and I wanted to get one. I worked my way upstream and tried his technique without any luck. I crossed the river and fished the far end of the run from the island. The water barely flowed near the island and a small circled the water back upstream. I tried to cast the inside seam of where the depth dropped a few feet. Getting a good drift was challenging as the current varied from very fast to almost stagnant up against the island. A well-placed cast brought the fly moving slowly on the inside seam. A pause in the drift prompted a hook set into a rock. Or at least I thought it was a rock. I moved upstream to dry and free the snag, but on the second jerk the snag moved. A large, male steelhead came skittering across the surface headed toward the bank that I had started fishing from. The fish did a cartwheel and just that fast the fight was over. Was it hooked foul after the snag popped free? Or was it just a frozen fish that didn't move until the second hook set? The hooks were scale free, so I'll never know for sure. Another mystery in steelhead country.

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