The Alley 12/01/18

3 12 2018

Earlier this year I told myself that I was going to put more effort into Steelhead fishing.  Ever since my last successful Huron trip (1/2/2016) I have been half-assing it and not really trying.  I was putting more emphasis on what fly I was using instead of working on my mechanics or presentation.  With that in mind, I made the effort to get my Switch rod and line combos tuned in and practiced whenever I could.  The week in Alaska helped a lot but I should have devoted more time to using my two hand rods.  I’m to the point now where I just need some fine tuning on my casting and presentation.  As with walleye fishing, it doesn’t matter what fly I’m using if I’m not putting it in the strike zone.  Now that walleye fishing is pretty much over for me it’s time to concentrate on Steel.

A few weeks back I contacted Patrick Robinson of Steelhead Alley Outfitters (SAO) to set me up for a full day guided trip.  Pat put my trip together for Alaska and I have already fished with the owner, Greg Senyo, and one of their guides.  I thought about getting a trip booked with my previous guide, Nate Miller, but I wanted to learn more and I figure time spent with other guides would be beneficial.  So I just let Pat decide and he signed me up for a day with Josh Trammell for Saturday, 12/1/18.

Josh kept tabs on the flow rates throughout the week and told me the day before we would be fishing Elk Creek in the morning.  SAO fishes the Erie tributaries from The Vermillion in Ohio to Elk Creek in Pennsylvania.  Flow rates determine which rivers are fishable so the guides pay attention to them daily.  I was doing the same thing and I figured we would be fishing the creeks in the NE corner of Ohio.  Josh told me where to meet him Saturday morning at 6:45 am and from there we headed towards Elk Creek.  SAO has access to some private land on the creek which is nice.  This river can get very crowded but with it being deer season more people were hunting instead of fishing.  Once we got my 7 wt Chromer rigged up Josh pointed out where to start fishing and I did just that.  The first run didn’t produce anything so we moved down to the next run.  At the end of the drift on my 5th or 6th cast I started to go through the motion of giving the fly a couple of “pulses” to try and entice a follower.  I do this by just pulsing the rod back and forth while the fly is straight downstream from me just dangling in the current.  As I was about to strip line in I had a hit.   It caught me completely off guard and instead of keeping my rod parallel to the river with my hook set I did the Orvis straight up and out of his mouth hook set.  Just that quick the fish was gone.  I regrouped and about 5 minutes later I had another hit.  This time I did everything right and I drove that hook home.  A few minutes later my first fish of the day was in the net.

After a few pics and a successful release I made my back up to the start of the run and started over.  On my next cast I had another hit as I was mending my line.  Needless to say I didn’t get a good hook set with the slack line and my rod being pointed upstream.  I fished the rest of the run anyways with no further luck.  While all this was going on Josh was on the phone with another SAO guide who was out with a Father and his 9 year old son.  They weren’t getting into any fish and he was checking to see how we were doing.  Josh asked me if I wanted to fish another river and I agreed.  Josh told them they could have the hole and we moved. on.  I found out later that the boy (Augie) ended up catching his first steelhead from that hole.

While we fished the next run Josh asked me if it was okay for him to point out a few things on my cast.  I said “please do” and he told me to slow down some and quit forcing the cast.  Let the rod do the work and keep that line at a 45 degree angle to the river.  He went on to tell me that when I cast straight across I get a big bow in  my line and the current will point the fly head on to the fish instead of to the side.  A side view of the fly will produce more strikes then a head on shot.  This is what I wanted, to “tweak” my presentation.  That run didn’t produce anything so we decided to try Conneaut Creek next.  That was fine with me since it was west and closer to home.  We stopped along the way and picked up my car before we drove to our next stop.  There were more fishermen here than at Elk so we headed upstream and away form the crowds.  The first two stops didn’t produce any fish and we were running out of time.  We tried one more hole and I started casting.  I was about 20 minutes in when Josh told me that after a few more casts we would be BAM. AIRBORNE, FISH ON!

 

Talk about a last second fish.  After a couple of pics we sent her on her way and headed in before the rain really started to fall.  After getting rained on all last weekend I wasn’t looking forward to it happening again.  I went 2/4 today, all on the swing so I wasn’t going to complain.  After today’s lessons (leaders, line management, presentation, reading water) I feel confident that I can be a little more consistent with my success.  Of course a lot of that will depend on the fish.  Steelhead are nothing like walleye.

Advertisements




Thanksgiving Weekend Steelhead

26 11 2018

If there was one thing that was consistent about this weekend it would be the rain.  It started sometime early Saturday morning and continued on into Sunday.  As a matter of fact, it changed over to snow when I convinced myself I should just go home.

I knew the weather was going to be miserable but even though it was going to rain I knew that the area wouldn’t be blown out.  With the gates controlling the flow it wasn’t going to matter how much rain we got.  Unfortunately, the October rains gave an estimated 2 trillion extra gallons to Lake Superior.  All that water has to go somewhere so the gates were wide open.  The concrete berm I normally stand on to fish certain runs was completely under water.  Not that it mattered, trying to wade to it was completely out of the question.  I got spun around more than once by the increased flow and not so sure footing.

Knowing all this I still went out.  I have yet to catch a Steelhead here and I definitely won’t catch one sitting in my hotel room watching the Wolverines get their ass handed to them.  I figure one of these days my timing will be perfect and I’ll catch one.  As it turns out it would not be this weekend.  I could see fish rolling around and I saw a few swim by me both they were all salmon.  I figured they were either Atlantics or small Chinook.  Around noon I managed to hook one as I was stripping line in for my next cast.  Based on the color I thought it was a small Atlantic.  I was wrong.

Wasn’t expecting a coho but there she was.  Nothing like the ones I caught in Alaska but it was still better than nothing.  After I released her I waded back to shore to let my legs thaw out for a bit.  While I was there I talked to a local angler who was also taking a break and smoking a “Recreational Cigarette”.  He told me that the Steelhead have been slow but there were a lot of salmon in the area.  He had also caught a couple of Coho and an Atlantic.  He also told me that the gates will be turned down on Dec. 10th.  He told me that he expects the fishing to be good for a few days after that, even if gets any colder.  I doubt I’ll drive back up though.  I may stick to the Alley or some west side rivers.  I like fishing this area but those 6 hours drives get old after awhile.  After a 20 minute break I waded back in and resumed fishing.  I was joined by another fishermen who set up downstream from me.  He was chucking a pink spoon and I watched him catch one Steelhead and about half a dozen salmon.  The fish are in but they were in a pool that I couldn’t reach.  If the levels were down a couple of feet I could.  Then again the fish might not be in that spot as well.  After about 6 hours of 40 degree water and rain I packed it in.  A warm meal sounded better than subjecting myself to any more abuse.  Besides, I still had tomorrow morning to try again.

Well I tried again Sunday morning.  I should have known something was up when I arrived and I was the only vehicle in the parking lot.  I tired for a couple of hours but when it started snowing I decided to give up.  I was going to have a long drive home and I wanted to get ahead of the storm that was expected to arrive later that night.

I did manage to catch one fish, lost a couple of flies and I was able to stay dry for most of the weekend.  One of these years I’ll catch it just right.  I’m not going to hold my breath until then though.

 

 





Day 5 – A Day of Remembrance

22 08 2018

The fifth day of my Alaska trip fell on the three year anniversary of my Father’s death.  It is also around the same time that he, my brother and I were supposed to go to Alaska.  Needless to say this was going to be a tough day.  I would have a lot of time to reflect on this.  We were headed downstream to an area only 6 miles form the ocean.  We would be catching fish fresh from the ocean and hopefully I would get my last 2 fish of the Pacific Salmon 5, a Silver Salmon and a Pink Salmon.  The downside of this was the 1 1/2 hour boat ride down and back.  Time that could be spent fishing if we were closer to the lodge.  The upside was the scenery and wildlife.  As it would turn out I would see more Bald Eagles than I ever have in my whole life.  I couldn’t get a decent picture of any of them though.  I was either getting bounced around on the boat to much or they were to far away.  It was still awe inspiring to see so many eagles hanging out on the cliffs waiting to do eagle stuff.

Our first stop was on a sand bar called the “Barge Bar”.  Don’t know why it is called this but somewhat felt the need to write it in the sand.

We spread out along the sand bar and started fishing.  I was using my Redington Chromer today and it didn’t take long for me to have my first fish on for the day, a chrome hen Chum.  She was just starting to show the darker bars I was used to seeing on these fish.  During the picture taking process the fish jumped and the line was wrapped around the tip of my rod.  When she took off she snapped the tip off of my rod.  Her last great act of defiance deflated me.  My favorite rod and now it was broken as well.  I am so glad I bought my Scott Flex.

Next up was my first and second Pink Salmon.  The run had just started and they would turn out to be the mainstay of my visit.  Not the biggest fish but they sure are scrappy little guys.  Later in the week I would scale down my rod weight and really have some fun with them.  Right now it was all about getting my 5.

Letting her go to do her Pink thing.

After that fish I waded back out to my spot and got back to business.  The people around me were catching fish as well so in between casting I was watching all the action.  I was watching John bring in another Pink as I half heartedly stripped my fly in.  Without warning a fish hit and took off.  I set the hook and bent the rod parallel to the water.  Once I did that she jumped and I quickly realized I was hooked up with my Silver.  Tim saw this and yelled out and I got deadly serious.  I wanted this fish bad so I made sure I did everything right.  While Tim was hustling over with the net I worked my way to shore to make things easier.  About 5 minutes later she was in the net.  While Tim got the hook out I reached into my waders to pull out a picture I had brought with me just for this occasion.  It was a picture of my Dad and Grandfather from the early 60’s heading out to go fishing for Coho Salmon and Lake Trout in Traverse Bay.  Jacob, the other guide and picture taker, realized what I wanted and helped set it up.  He told me not to rush, I had hooked this fish deep and she was bleeding out so we were going to keep her anyways.  I slowed down, took a breath and got everything set.

After that I took a couple of the standard “Grip & Grin” photos but this time Tim wanted in on it.  This picture would make it to the Lodge’s Facebook Page.  Tim also wanted one for his own collection since he needs to advertise for his guiding services as well.

Once we were done I just sat back for a moment and took it all in.  I had just completed my Grand Slam of Pacific Salmon on a fly rod.  The ultimate goal is to do it in one day but in order for that to happen I would need a day where it was just Tim and I and free reign on the whole river.  It wasn’t that important to me.  I got the picture I wanted.  Everything else from here on in was just a bonus.

After that fish we moved on to two more spots during the day.  The next one was called “Sesame Street” and the last one was called “John & Mary”.  Again, I have no idea where they come up with these names but I really didn’t care.  I was catching fish at all of them.  As a matter of fact I would land 12 Salmon today and I didn’t lose a single fish.  The last fish I caught was a male Chum.  Jacob had just started to tell me I should move when he saw my rod double over.  His next comment was “Never Mind” and he waded over with the net.

It wasn’t to much longer after that when we started for home.  We had a long boat ride back and we have to be back at the lodge by 5.  If we aren’t back by 5:30 pm. they start to wonder if something happened and shortly afterwards will send out boats to find you.  There is no reliable way to communicate out here so setting meeting times is the safe bet.  Besides, I really couldn’t complain about the view on the way back.

 

 

 

 

 

 





Day 4 – Sockeyedelic

21 08 2018

Normally the Sockeye run is over at this time of the year.  Fortunately for me a fresh push of fish came in the weekend we arrived.  This would give me a short window of opportunity to put some fish in the freezer.  With that in mind we piled into the boat and headed to The Black Hole (love the names they give these fishing spots).

I figured fishing for Sockeye salmon would be just like fishing for anything else.  Drift a fly into a hole, strip it in and hang on.  Not quite.  Sockeye are continuously moving upstream at about 2 mph until they hit their spawning grounds.  During this time they don’t feed on anything.  Our guide Tim then explained to me how we were going to fish for them……flossing.  I’ve known about this method and have never done it.  Basically you are trying to bring the line through the mouth of the fish and then hook him in the corner of the mouth.  Totally legal but back here in Michigan it is a method that is hotly debated.  Once we got set up I took a position at the head of the hole and started casting.  It took a few minutes but soon I was hooked up with my first Sockeye Salmon.

After that the fish came pretty quickly.  Unfortunately on my second fish I broke my Orvis Helios 2 rod in the first section while fighting a fish.  I brought a spare (Scott Flex 8wt) but I was still pissed that it broke.  As it would turn out I would really put the Scott Flex to the test.  It ended up being my mainstay for the rest of the trip.  I also discovered just how important these fish are to the food chain.  My third fish had a scar on it from a seal.  Tim told me that about 1 out of every 10 fish will have a scar from a seal attack on it.  I ended up catching 5 with scars.

These fish we had to let go because the bacteria in the scar ruins the meat.  Because of this it took me a awhile to get my 5 fish limit.  Once I did though I told Tim that John could have my spot.  He was fishing downstream and wasn’t hooking into much of anything.  He wanted to take some fish home as well and I was glad to help him out.

My elbow and wrists were already getting sore so I needed to take a short break.  Once John got his 5 we packed it in.  Between the 3 of us we ended up keeping 13 fish.  Plenty for John and I, Phil didn’t want to take any fish home.  All that was left for this spot was to take a couple of more pics.  This is the picnic table that they use whenever a client wants to have a shore lunch.  Nothing big about a table except that earlier Tim was standing where I took this picture.  He looked up and there was a bear standing on the other side with one paw on the table.  He yelled and the bear ambled off.  Of course I had to go take a picture of the tracks.

From there we headed further upstream to a spot called The Confluence.  This is where the Nonvianuk and Kukaklek rivers merge to form the Alagnak River.  John and Phil would be fishing an eddy where the two rivers merged.  Tim told me to take my Redington Chromer 7 wt switch rod and head upstream a bit and fish the Novianuk.  I made lots of noise as I walked through the grass and waded out to my starting point.  The current was wicked fast and keeping my footing was problematic.  I started casting though and worked my way downstream.  Tim told me to take two steps down after every cast which I did.  At this rate I figured I would be done with this run in about 10 minutes.  This was the first time I had cast this rod and line combo since June so I was trying to test it’s true potential.  So far so good, even Tim commented on how well it seemed to cast.  As I worked my way down I was getting closer to Phil.  I figured that after a few more casts my fly would be ending up right near him and I was starting to debate my WHAM!!!!!!

Just that quick it happened.  Here I was planning my next move when a train swam up and slammed my fly and took off downstream.  I didn’t know what type of fish it was, all I knew was that he wasn’t going to stick around to let me find out.  I yelled out and just about that time he jumped and we all could see it was a King Salmon.  Things got very serious after that.  Catching a King on the swing is like the crown jewel of fly fishing in Alaska.  Phil got out of the water.  John got out his GoPro and started filming.  Tim started giving me instructions and all I did was pray I wouldn’t fall over in the current.  I was finally able to work my way to some slack water where I could plant my feet and dig in.  Now began the see saw battle between me and the fish.  I would reel my line in to where I could see the leader and then he would take off again.  Back and forth we did this for what seemed like an eternity.  On several occasions Tim would go to net him and he would just take off.  Tim told me the longer we take the more likely the hook would work free.  That wasn’t helping my anxiety at all.  I kept the pressure on though and after 25 minutes we were finally able to get him into the net.  We kept him in the water while we got cameras ready.  The numbers of these fish are extremely low and we were doing everything we could to return him unharmed.  The return this year was estimated to be between 45,000 and 65,000.  To put it in perspective the Sockeye run was numbered in the millions.  Once I was ready we did a quick “grip n grin” and sent him on his way.  After that I was done.  I was hoping to catch all 5 Pacific salmon species and I just got the hard one out of the way.  All that was left now was a Silver Salmon and my chance at one of those would come tomorrow.