Steelhead report: Wreck of the Old 97

Number Three Son Gordo and I fished the Salmon River for two days last week and it was a slow bite. Conditions were about a s good as you could expect for this time of year: 875cfs at the Pineville gauge and clear water. Monday was in the teens to start and it never got above freezing. Tuesday was another frosty launch, but we were in the mid thirties by noon. This was a float trip with my guide friend James Kirtland, aka Row Jimmy. We did the mid-river run (Pineville to 2A) both days. I was happy with this as every boat we spoke to coming down from Altmar described crowded shore and drift conditions with a nearly non-existent bite. So if the fishing’s going to be slow, I’d rather be mostly alone.

Monday. The plan was to cherry-picked marks that had recently produced. The first was a blank. The second provided a classic “Life isn’t fair. Neither is steelheading.” moment. I had drifted through a patch a half dozen times in the previous hour and the indicator had gone under every time due to a shallow. On the seventh time it was a fish, and I nonchalanted the hook set. Fish on, briefly, then off. Operator error.

In the afternoon, we spent some time picking pockets and seams and Gordo was rewarded with a standard-issue dark horse buck. Skunk’s off for the boat, and that always feels good. Sadly, nothing for me, although I do have to say that my precision casting game was on.
Holy chrome hen, Batman! I missed my shot as I was rigging up while the guys were covering water. Jim hooked it, Gordo landed it, and we were all blinded by light. About a half hour after this, my indicator dipped, and I set the hook. The line screamed upstream at a breakneck pace, then went limp. Clearly, that was a fouled fish. It was also our last touch of the day.

Tuesday. We expected this to be a better day, since the temperature would be rising and we now knew where there were pods of fish. As it so often happens, just when you think you’ve figured it out, nature smacks you upside the head. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Move the boat. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Finally, I hook into a good-sized dark horse buck, somewhere in between the size of the two fish pictured above. He realizes he’s hooked, runs, and leaps. I regain line. He runs again, and leaps two more times. But I can feel that that was his last big run. I’m not letting him breathe, cranking that reel handle. This will be steelhead number 98. And then, he’s gone. I look at Jim. Jim looks at me. We both opine that this was simply a case of bad luck: fast hookset, hard hookset, well-played. What else can you do? And that, ladies and gents, was our only touch of the day. It really is a cruel sport sometimes.

Where baby stoneflies come from. These early black stones, size 16-18, were all over the place. It may have been a function of lack of steelhead, but I didn’t have any takes on stonefly/natural color/soft-hackled patterns. We also saw midges (very tiny).
I got to visit an old friend on Tuesday. This little slice of heaven didn’t produce any action, and it was a hard hoof through the snow, but it was worth the few minutes we got to spend together. And so, dear reader, I remain stuck at 97 steelhead landed. Better times are surely coming. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Steve Culton ties the 60 Second Redhead on HAN’s Yankee Fisherman

The host of Yankee Fisherman, John Kovach, was kind enough to feature me tying one of my favorite steelhead flies, the 60 Second Redhead, on the 12.10.15 show. The segment was recorded at the Arts of the Angler show back in October. You can see it here; I come in around the 17:40 mark. And of course there’s also the official currentseams tying video elsewhere on this site. Thanks again to John and Yankee Fisherman for their continued support.

Yes. The 60 Second Redhead catches steelhead. From November 2015.

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Soft-Hackled Bead Head Pheasant Tail

Consider the humble Pheasant Tail. Basic brown. Unpretentious. Traditional. Looks like nothing specific and a lot of things in general. Add a bead head — copper, if you please, which feels more understated than gold. But let’s not stop there. Let’s give our fly the breath of life. A soft hackle will do. Webby brown hen that pulses and moves and whispers to the fish, “I’m alive.”

If you told me I had to choose one fly to fish for trout for the rest of my life, it would be a soft-hackled bead head Pheasant Tail.  You can fish it like a nymph, fish it like a wet, or do both. All on the same drift. Woo-hoo!

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Hook: Orvis 62KC size 8-12 (steelhead), 2x strong/2x short scud size 10-20 (trout)
Thread: Brown 6/0 or 8/0
Bead: Copper, sized to hook
Tail/Abdomen: Pheasant tail
Rib: Small copper wire
Thorax: Peacock herl
Hackle: Soft brown hen
When I first tried to catch a steelhead with a fly that used all-natural materials and drab colors, I chose this pattern. Mission accomplished, and now it’s a staple.
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The Soft-Hackled Bead Head Pheasant Tail Rogues’ Gallery:
Late winter Farmington brown, size 18.
3-10-14 Brown

This Week: Presentations, Words, and Tying Videos

A busy week at currentseams. Let’s start with the presentations.

“The Little Things” Presentation to TU Mianus, Tuesday, October 13, Waveny Mansion, New Canaan, CT. For directions and times, visit mianustu.org.

“The Little Things” Presentation to TU Farmington Valley, Thursday, October 15, (I believe it’s at the Whinstone Tavern at Stanley Golf Course, New Britain, CT). For directions and times, visit fvtu.org.

Hope to see you, and as always, be sure to say hello.

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I have a humorous piece on steelheading in the Fall 2015 issue of The Drake. I haven’t seen it yet. More details when I get my hot little hands on a copy.

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Just finished a new tying video on the Copperhead Stone, one of my favorite steelhead nymphs. It’ll be up soon. It’s fair to say that lately I have been steelhead dreaming rather deeply…and sweetly.

I remember you. Morning. Cold. Wonderful.

Steel&Stone 11-13