J & J had headed home, after a long, cold day on Elk. (CFS on Brandy Run at 5.5 and falling after peaking four days earlier at nearly 200. Air temp started about 24, dropped during the day, before rising after noon to about 30 degrees). I was waiting for Gerry and his son, Kyle, to head upstream to the car. I decided to fill the time by trying the fast water near the parking lot. The water was carried a light green tint and a few dark steelhead (or were they rocks?) held steady in the fast water. Two quick foul hooks assured that there were indeed steelhead in the run.
I tied on a green estaz with bead-head and a ice nymph fly and tried to fish the slightly slower, inside edge of the run. I backed up to make sure the drift didn't run too far into the middle of the current. I considered adding another BB split shot to get down in the faster moving water, but I wasn't sure if my fingers were up to the task of adding another shot after a long day of chipping ice from line, leader, guides, hooks and even the weights. I mended the line and bounced the weights along the bottom. The line paused and the slight take of a steelhead transmitted up the line. I set the hook and the rod bent under the weight of a heavy fish. The fish quickly shot out of the run and crossed the river, sending the reel spinning in reverse. I slowed the reel with my fingers. Gerry and Kyle arrived at the car. This would be the last fish of the day, and I wanted to at least see it -- no mystery fish this time.
The fish wouldn't turn back toward me, and instead headed downstream with more speed than I expected after a day of fishing sluggish steelhead in 32 degree water. I wondered if the steelie was foul hooked, but the rod wasn't vibrating as it does when a fish is hooked in the side or tail. I chased it downstream, past two older gentlemen who were fishing the slower water below the run. One of the men observed that it must be a big fish and he offered to net it for me. I welcomed the offer of help, but knew tht I first had to bring the fish to shore. I pulled hard on the fish, keeping the rod parallel to the snow covered bank. The 7 weight, 10 foot Scott Rod bent into a full C. The Ross Reel's drag protected the 3X tippet and slowly I cranked the unseen fish toward shore. Finally, the fish turned and began to swim toward shore. The man with the net waded in to scoop the fish. But the fish had other ideas. He ran back to the middle of the river, returned to my side and dodged the first scoop of the net. It's not uncommon for a fish to be knocked off the hook by an errant net. But fortunately the fish stayed on and the man scooped up the fish on the second try.
He lumbered out of the river and declared the fish at least 15 pounds. I looked at the massive male (although the picture is forcing me to rethink the sex of this fish...certainly looks like a female now, but my memory - faulty as it is - says it had a bigger head than the pic shows and bigger jaw...) and thought no matter how much it weighed it was the heftiest steelhead I'd ever caught. Not the longest, but certainly the heaviest. The beast's broad belly was swollen like a female, but had the head of a male. I removed the green fly from his mouth and marveled that the hook had held, considering it was now bent to nearly a 90 degree angle. His tail was nearly as broad as broom. This creature had surged upstream more than 12 miles before having his journey disrupted. After a quick -- poorly staged -- photo, he was back in the water, swimming off to hopefully complete his journey.
An amazing fish at the end of a harsh, cold day. Steelhead are a powerful fish that never cease to amaze or surprise.
Thanks Moldy Chum.