Flyfishing the Rogue River for steelhead the day after Thanksgiving offered up an interesting event. It is not often that one gets to work a steelhead with fly patterns as one would an Atlantic salmon. Sight fishing for summer steelhead on the North Umpqua River of Oregon comes to mind. On the Rogue River during cold November steelheading is seldom so glamorous.
I’d put in a long afternoon flyfishing a popular stretch alongside fellow steelheaders. The action was slow. No one was hooking anything. I caught a trout or two and felt only the brief sensation of one good pull. The afternoon waned and as the cold chill from the water settled in everyone packed up and left. I gave it up too, but only on this spot. I wasn’t quite ready to go home yet. There was still a hour or so of daylight left.
I drove quickly to a nearby spot. Most people wouldn’t give it a second glance and in fact often walk or float by. I know it as an easy and quick water to access and fish. In the past it has often held surprises. Particularly at last light of day, and that is what I had in my favor. This stretch you can approach and swing flies down into. Most people will tell you that you don’t swing flies on the Rogue during November because the water is too cold. I’ve heard myself giving that advise to many inquirers. The thing is though, I don’t always follow it myself. I knotted on a Green Butt Skunk wet fly that I had made the day before.
I’d tied a couple flies the day before, that GB Skunk and a Ferry Canyon. Though they are wet flies, I’d weighted them slightly with .015 lead wire. I waded into the stretch carefully. This Fall’s salmon redds are evident at the top. I probed the water with casts, first short and then longer. I moved along a rocky bar carefully. There was deep water here that I hadn’t seen in the past.
Suddenly there was a swirl beyond where my flyline ended. That was a good fish and all things point to it being interested in my fly! I cast the GB Skunk again and again to the location, but nothing happened.
Fly change! I’ll try something different. With numb fingers I knotted on a fly called Pablo’s Special. It is a heavier, dark pattern with a brass beadhead. A couple casts to measure the distance and there came another big swirl. Alas no hookup and again additional casts of this fly brought no further notice from the fish.
The daylight was fading and my cold fingers were shaking. I had to try another fly. I thought of the purple Ferry Canyon. I’d never fished this pattern before, but I’d been inspired to tie one. I knotted it on and cast it out upon the dark current. The fish came again and this time I felt the take. The fish had been stung, but had not been hooked. I groaned. That was probably it. They seldom strike again after they have tasted the hook.
With grim determination I thought, “Let’s give it one last chance!” I tied on the indefatigable Carpetbagger Nymph in the Midnight Rainbow color. So often I have called upon this pattern. Would it work in this circumstance? The fish took the Carpetbagger on the first cast. Wahoo, fish on and a good steelhead from the feel of it! Headshakes, boring down…a nice fish. I should have it landed soon.
And then things got out of hand! I worked toward the bank where I should have an easy go of it. The fish then decided to let me know what I was dealing with. The run began slowly and then gathered speed downstream. I was not able to stop it. There was no where for me to go, but to follow. Down along the thick bankside vegetation I slogged into the deep water as the green flyline disappeared from my large spey rod reel. As I tip-toed through the near wader-top water the white of my backing line was soon ripping off the reel.
At last the fish stopped as my footing found higher bottom. I looked downstream and there he jumped far away, but even at that distance obviously over ten pounds. I began to work the fish back in. Another jump and I held my breath waiting for another streaking run. The run didn’t come and I gingerly, so as to not excite the fish, worked my quarry a little bit closer. Part of the green flyline was back on the reel. I was beginning to feel in control of the situation. Ever alert for another run, I worked the steelhead in closer still. Then I felt the hook pull free and the line went slack.
Take a close look at the Carpetbagger Nymph. See the bend? That fish bent the hook sideways and earned it’s well deserved freedom.