Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
The Fisherman

Steelheading In Kamchatka

Rate this topic

13 posts in this topic

At least that’s what it felt like. If you breathed in hard through your nostrils, they stuck together. When you exhaled, your breath formed an icy cloud that danced around your head in the motionless air before disappearing into the night sky. And the hard-packed snow under your feet made a sound like you were walking on a bunch of crushed packing peanuts. The weatherman said four degrees below zero. That felt just about right.

 

But, the illuminated sign said “Super 8.” The road was Route 13. The arctic air mass was the Alberta Clipper, not the Siberian Express. The desk clerk didn’t speak Russian. Yes. We were definitely in Pulaski.

 

As we prepped rods and reels for the morning, we chuckled at our folly. What were we doing up here in this kind of weather? It seemed a little reckless. But I had no illusions about why I was here. It was because I could be. When you have a wife and kids and a job and responsibilities, you fish when you can. Besides, the unfavorable elements would make it an adventure we could embellish in the coming decades (“Remember that time we went steelheading, and it was so cold our lines froze the moment we took them off the water?”). Besides, the fish were there. All we had to do is find them. And figure out how to make them bite. That’s the real trick, isn’t it?

 

By 8:30AM the mercury had climbed into the positive side of the ledger, albeit still in single digits. The sun was bashful about showing its face, hiding behind a thin veil of clouds, bathing the snow-covered ground in an eerie orange-yellow light. The river plowed along, dark and frothy. It not only felt cold, it looked cold. And foreboding.

 

It was the kind of day you find out if you are cut out for Great Lakes winter steelhead fishing.

 

I had applied Stanley’s Ice Off Paste to my rod guides and line the night before, and like most people seem to agree, it’s good for bout a half hour of sub-freezing fishing. It really helps if you limit the amount of wet line you run through the guides. It’s hard to imagine that anything, even a cold-blooded creature like a steelhead, would want to eat in such an environment. But eat they do.

 

The first hour always goes the quickest. It was cold enough to snap a fly rod, and sadly that’s what Bob did to his while attempting to clear the guides of ice. While he was off to grab some new tackle, a spin angler moved into position above me. He was a nice enough fellow, and we chatted each other up as we slung our wares. Suddenly he exclaimed, “There he is.” No, not Bob. A steelhead. I was immediately overcome by envy – and hope. Dammit, he hooked up and I didn’t. Cool! There are fish biting in here. After a short, drag-testing struggle, his line went slack. The angler was nonplussed. I admired his courage. Then he said, “I got him right were you’ve been drifting your fly.” Of course you did, I told him. Story of my life.

 

My turn came at 11AM. I had decided that I would go through a lot of patterns today, not only to offer up something fresh for the fish eyes, but also to ensure sticky sharp hook points. On went a light blue Estaz egg. The indicator disappeared, and like my friend upstream, there he was. I turned to look for Bob, but he was on the shore dealing with an equipment issue (those seem to increase exponentially as the thermometer drops). I was going to shout to him that I had a fish on, but I decided I would wait until the scene played out a little longer. The steelhead moved upstream, and I thought I’d give him another whack to make sure I had a good hookset. That was my downfall, as the hook point relinquished its hold on the fish. Better to have lost him now than a couple minutes into the battle.

 

One of the more intriguing aspects of steelheading is how much of a love-hate affair it is. No other kind of fishing I’ve experienced can have me thinking at one minute, “OK, just four-and-a-half hours left…and then you get to go home,” and then, moments later, “Crap, only four-and-a-half hours left to fish…I wish I had longer.” I was in the second state of mind when we headed off to another spot.

 

It felt good to go for a brisk walk, but there didn’t seem to be much going on in our new workshop. I moved about 150 feet above Bob, where we could keep an eye on each other if the going got good. By now the sun was out, it was after noon, but the water and the bite remained awfully chilly. I looked upstream and saw that the first spot we fished was completely empty. I formed a quick equation in my head that went something like, “Two fish hooked up there is greater than none hooked here.” I hightailed it upriver.

 

At 1PM it was time for me to play again. This time I was fishing a bigger fly, a soft-hackled hairwing adaptation of an Alaskan salmon fly called the Rajah. I was pretty sure this one was going to go in my favor. After I set the hook, the fish rose to the surface and rolled; in the past, I’ve lost plenty steelhead when that happened. But not this time. I got a good look at him, a big dark horse of a buck. This would be a nice battle. He sounded and set a course for the reservoir, pausing mid-current. I took this opportunity to reset the hook. How does that song go? Oops. I did it again. Out came the hook. Off went the steelhead. Still, I giggled.

 

But, my day wasn’t over. I’m not a gambling man, and if you offered me a bet that I could get a steelhead to chase my fly on the swing in 33 degree water on a day when the bite was bad, I surely would refuse. But that’s just what happened a half hour later. I was dead-drifting another soft hackle, then, out of pure laziness, letting it swing, when I saw the water bulge and then boil right where my fly would have been. It took me a moment to connect the two. The steelhead didn’t touch the fly, but the fact that he rose to it filled me with wonder and made me pleased I had spent the last six hours standing in a river in early January in upstate New York.

 

For those of you who haven’t fished with Bob, he is the kind of angler who doesn’t take kindly to losing fish. With just minutes to go in our trip, Bob got into a nice steelhead. When it came off, he responded with a verbal torrent that was noteworthy for its duration and creativity. There is something cleansing about colorful language at a high volume.

 

Despite my exhaustion, I had a skip in my step as we trudged through the snow. Maybe it was because we had braved the unrelenting elements. Maybe it was because we accounted for half the fish we saw hooked all day. Maybe it was simply because we had gone steelheading.

 

I usually spend part of the drive home planning my next trip. The prospect of waiting until spring or even this coming fall to do it seemed so bleak. Would I dare do this again, this winter?

 

Da, tovarich. Da.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Nice write up chum. But even you can't make this sound pleasurable!

 

The more I question any future trip up there in December/Jan, the more I doubt I'll fish the very upper river. More than anything I think it's the prospect of standing routed to one or two spots for hours on end that has already lost its appeal, certainly in the depth of winter. Alternatively, I like the thought of going down to the DSR and swinging flies on the move to find fresh fish. There's something about prospecting more water this way that just sounds more conducive to me. If I'm going to rinse and repeat I might as well be casting and moving :-)

 

Jonny

 

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Im leaving in T-24 hours for my trips.. yee hoo.. I will experience one thing IVE NEVER EXPERIENCED before up there this time.. RAIN.. Ive never seen rain, its ALWAYS snowed.. In fact, Ive only fished up there in weather colder than 32 degress once in my life and that was in November last year. river is running 900 right now.. supposedly still pretty clear.. Im equipped either way if it dirties up or not.. we'll see

 

Steve, in that weather, you gotta go spey.. no icing of guides makes your trip 75% more enjoyable.. plus being able to wear warmer gloves = bliss.. LOL

 

Bc

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Go get 'em, hoss...hope things heat up. Water is running nice and clear.

 

I was using a 10.5' rod that doubles as a two-hander, so the guides are plenty big. Santa brought me some Thinsulate-lined rag wool mitten/gloves that were just ~capital~ with a pair of hand warmers in each. :-)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Good luck... They're boosting the flow up to 1200 on the dam website, and the actual flow rate is >1400 right now... :shock:

 

I was thinking about going this weekend, but not unless they drop it a good chunk... Over 1000 is pretty tough (at least for me).

 

Hope you get into them, plenty of fish in the LFZ.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I saw the flow was high.. I know what to do upto 1500.. if it gets over that, I may have to do a little exploring.. Ill be at the LFZ area by first light Fri morning to claim my spot, hopefully hook into a couple fish and then continue my trek down river hitting a few spots.. I only had one occasion there where the water was over 1500, 1800 to be exact, and had a hard time in my usual spots but did find one place that was perfect in that fast water.. I have a buddy who has been a guide up there for 20 years and Ill speak to him to get some help if I need to.. worse come to worse, Ill hop on with him and float to spots that are fishable from shore.. hell be happy to have my gigantic ass in the boat ith more than 350, last year he struggled getting us down river in that low water, had to hop out a few times.. LOL

 

Ill post a report when I get back!!

 

BC

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to register here in order to participate.

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.