by Andy Schneider
The winter months in the Pacific Northwest can be a little dreary, gray, cold and almost always wet. Winter sports are a great way to fully enjoy our too short daylight hours; skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, muddy-trail hiking and fishing. To some an ‘adventure' outdoors this time of year is hitting after Christmas sales with a skinny-peppermint-not-too-hot-grande-mocha. But to the rest of us that need to feel the crisp winter air in our lungs or hear the sound of a heavy coastal mist dripping off our Gore-Tex; Winter Steelhead Fishing is what keeps Seasonal Depression at bay and keeps us checking river forecasts through the work week.
The start of the 2013/2014 Winter Steelhead season has presented us with low and clear coastal rivers and local rivers bouncing between too high and too low. But despite some challenging river conditions my crew and I have made it out on a couple successful trips. Last week with low and clear water conditions on the coast we targeted as low in the system as we could. While our target species of the day was a Winter Steelhead, we ended up finding only Chinook willing to bite our Steelhead sized plugs. Good friends; Tom VanderPlaat and Pat Abel joined my son and I for a low water float. We were not alone in our desire to get out on the water after the extended cold stretch and we found ourselves competing for valuable holding water. But we were persistent and slowly worked anything that looked like it could hold a fish or two; with over 6-feet of visibility in the water that didn't leave too many options.
Pat deployed his favorite Steelhead plug, a 3.5-MagLip lovingly called, Dr. Death and was rewarded with a hookup almost instantly. But after an extended battle the Chinook was lost. During the fight, we drifted down and were now positioned at the top of the next hole. After the plugs were deployed, I hadn't made but a couple of strokes of the oars when Tom's rod folds over, only to come back wiggling with the action of the plug. With all our attention on Tom's missed opportunity, we missed that Pat's rod was completely buried and line was screaming from the reel at an alarming rate. Since we were still positioned at the top of the hole, I pulled us higher into a small back eddy to fight the fish. But Pat protested any boat movement upstream, since he was still quickly loosing line. Thinking that Pat may have been ‘codling' the fish, I went ahead and dropped anchor only to see Pat's fish roll at the very bottom of the hole and seeing the backing peeking through the braided line. So I pulled anchor and we chased Pat's fish. It wasn't until the fish was in the net did Tom and I truly appreciate the size of the fish; which weighed in at 40.8-pounds, minus guts and gills at Pat's house.
After such a great battle with big fish on extremely light Steelhead tackle; we decided that a shore lunch was in order. Tom put on a gourmet lunch of Moose Brauts, grilled hoagie buns and fresh veggies.
While lunch was cooking, Ayden took time to perfect his line mending with a Bobber and Jig.
There was only one more bite for the day and it again came on Pat's, Dr. Death. But the fish quickly shook the hooks loose, before they could even be set.
While our target species eluded us, the fun of watching a Fishing Guide battle a monster of a Chinook that left him with the ‘Shakes'; definitely made the day.
Our next adventure took us to the same Coastal water, just a little higher in the system. I joined Tom, and our friend Kent, in his drift boat this time as we plugged and side drifted our way through almost 10-miles of low water.
The day was very heavy with coastal mist, saturating our raingear within the first hour of fishing. But even though the mist stayed consistently heavy, the beauty of a Coastal Rainforest still shone through.
In an especially deep hole, I was able to hook into my first Winter Steelhead of the season.
We continued our search downriver and Kent had success side drifting a Bobber and 12mm Bead, he was a little shy holding such a monster and let Tom hold it for him:
Kent was on fire and hooked another on Bobber and Bead, within 50-yards of the last fish; Kent handed the rod to Tom and Tom was able to land his first Winter of the season.
While the heavy mist continued all day, the fishing slowed to a standstill and we didn't see or hear of any other action the rest of the drift. But we were all happy to be on the 'books' with our first Winter Steelhead of the season, with hopes that there will be lots more to follow.