Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tribs of Steel

After a few fairly unsuccessful hours of searching for steelhead in the main creek I decided to follow Rem up an even smaller tributary that I once hiked up about 15 years ago but never tried to fish. Good call, Rem. Melting snow and a light drizzle filled the tributary with greenish brown water that was murkier than the flow in the main creek. Much of the trib is narrow enough to jump across, but in a few spots it widens to about five to ten yards across.

Rem explored a few fast moving shoots as I walked under the pine trees and went in search of a pool. About 50 yards upstream the tributary filled up an elongated pool at the base of a large bluff. Knotty pines stuck out of the bluff at crooked angles, their branches hanging over the water. At the head of the pool the water came plunging out of run, crashed into the bluff wall and turned left. At the tail, brownish water backed up before rushing into the top of the next run. Three steelhead could be seen in the tail and the water appeared deep enough to hold several more. Branches from a small tree hung over the tail of the pool, making a cast in the tight spot even tighter.

Fishing small tributaries for large fish can be challenging. And it's definitely a change of pace. Roll casts are required. Quick, small mends help get the drifts right. Hook sets need to be gentle to avoid sending the flies into the overhead branches. Once the fish is hooked, the fight usually ends quickly. Either the fish heads into one of the many deadfalls and breaks off or is successfully pulled to shore. There just aren't a lot of options for the fish in these small ribbons of water. Fishing these small tribs can be both productive and fun when the conditions are right -- rising, murky water. Fishing them when the water is low and clear is pretty much out of the question, unless you like using your hands (illegal).

On one of the first drifts through a mid-sized male steelhead holding unseen in the deeper water hit a pink egg fly and put up a modest fight before coming to the gravel bank. I turned the pool over to Rem and kept hiking upstream through the woods. The water thinned out over the shale bottom and there were fewer holding spots. A narrow channel turned up a fresh looking skipper with a light pink gill plate that eagerly inhaled a black stonefly. He tried his best to wrap around a deadfall before sliding onto the bank.

After hiking upstream about a half mile, I headed back downstream and hooked two more out of the first pool. I'm not sure if conditions will ever be right to fish the trib again, but the memories will last.

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