Another November ritual completed: the refilling of the steelhead box. (One of them, at least. This is my main box.) It’s emptiness or fullness before I begin is usually a good indicator of the previous season. Did I go on a lot of trips? (An average number.) Did I lose a lot of flies to the bottom gods or to the unyielding material of a steelhead’s jaw? (Not so much. Slow year.) I will restock the box with old favorites, and perhaps a few new experiments. The order of its contents remains a comfort. Nymphs, soft hackles, stoneflies to the left; eggs, attractors, and junk flies to the right. Such a contrast between dull blacks and browns and the riot of fluorescence. Which patterns will be the hot item this year? Only one way to find out.
Why wait till November when you can have steelhead April? And so it was that Gordon and I found ourselves drifting under the Altmar bridge at 7:15am Thursday morning under the skilled oarsmanship of my favorite SR guide, James Kirtland, AKA Row Jimmy.
So. If you remember, the fall 2015 steelhead run was — ahem — disappointing. This spring’s run has been its reflection. Still, one can’t complain with full sun, temperatures rising into the high 50s, a couple cigars, your youngest son’s steelhead baptism, and no clients calling or chores to be done. I’d never been steelheading in the spring. (It’s quite civilized compared to the fall.) Now, all we needed was the banishment of the dreaded skunk.
Dad kicks things off with a still winter-dark buck. Got him in some fast water on a horrible double egg pattern I tied up. If you look closely, you’ll see why I nicknamed him “Uncle Milty.”
I took his little brother about 50 yards down river. Shortly after that I dropped a good fish moments after hook set. I don’t know what happened there, as I was quick on the draw and had a sticky sharp hook. Such is the game. Next, it was Gordon’s turn.
Gordo’s a true DIYer. He cast, managed the drift, set the hook, and fought the steelhead all by himself. We’ll call this the action shot.
Jim is an exceptional guide. Tremendous knowledge of the river, always with the positive waves, and some serious netting skills. And let’s not forget he’s a good teacher, seen here congratulating his star pupil moments after the battle won.
Proud papa. You think?
I had one more fish on between Pineville and 2A, but I forgot I had ratcheted my drag down to an unforgiving level to free a snag. Rats! The fish ran, and let’s just say there was not a favorable result for me when the line came tight. Little things, Steven. Little things.
The day in numbers: 750cfs above Pineville, 1,200 below (and with some color). Water temp 42. Final boat tally, 3-for-5 (I’d sign for that any day). Gordo 1-for-1. i
Taken as a whole? Most definitely a 10.
Calling all steelhead fanatics and soft-hackle aficionados: this article, appearing in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of American Angler, is right up your alley. It features six of my favorite winter steelhead soft-hackles, including detailed photos, pattern recipes, and a little story about each fly. Also included is my winter steelhead indicator setup.
I have several more articles in the pipeline for American Angler this year. Stay tuned.
Also, I just finished a piece for the Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide on fly fishing the Farmington River in winter. That should appear in the next issue, out in early 2015.
I’m not sure this really needs a how-to video, but the 60 Second Redhead is such an amazingly productive steelhead fly that I had to share it.
It’s easy to tie. It’s a fast tie. It catches steelhead. ‘Nuff said.
I found this fly a while back on Randy Jones’ Yankee Angler site and was intrigued by its simplicity. The fly got its name (Randy calls it “Tom’s 60 Second Red Head,” Tom being Tom Wilson) because you can supposedly crank them out at the rate of 60 per hour. I’m no speed tyer, but I can get pretty close to a minute on this one if I hustle. Part stone fly/nymph/larva buggy bug, part egg, the pattern certainly lends itself to all kinds of color variations.
The 60 Second Redhead
Hook: 2x strong scud/shrimp, sz 10-12
Body: Black Krystal Dub
Head: Red Ice Dub
I tied up a bunch of these, and they sat in my box until one fine Saturday afternoon. On my very first cast with the 60 Second Redhead, I hooked a steelhead. That was years ago, and this fly is now a core pattern in my steelhead box.
Tying notes: The original recipe calls for medium red copper wire as the tying “thread.” This adds a tad more weight to the fly. I find the medium diameter difficult to work with, so I use small red copper wire when I’m not using thread. High-tack wax like Loon’s Swax ensures the dubbing sticks to the wire. The original also calls for a complex mixture of furs and flash: for the body, a mix of beaver, angora goat, and black flash. Since speed is in its name, I figured why not just be done with it and use black Krystal dub? Ditto the head, where the original calls for beaver, angora goat, and red flash. Buy a pack of red Ice Dub and you’re cooking with gas. Last year, I met Randy on the Salmon River at the Pineville Boat launch. We had a detailed conversation about the Red Head. I thanked him for introducing me to this fly, and told him it was now an old standby. Randy said to make sure not to tie it with a thick profile, but added if you’re catching fish on it, you’re doing something right. Wise words. What you see here is my standard issue tie.
Also, play around with other colors and materials. Here is the 60 Second Copperhead:
Hook: 2x strong scud/shrimp, sz 10-12
Body: Black angora goat
Head: Metallic copper Ice Dub
60-Second Copperhead Rogues’ Gallery:
Chrome hen, Salmon River, 11/9/14
You’re up before the sun. As you hike to the river, there’s a distinct chill in the air that tells you in another month the trail will be covered in snow. Once you get to your spot and wade in, you can feel the gripping cold of the water against your legs. Should have worn the neoprenes. Maybe not, though. It’s supposed to get up to the high 50s today. It’ll be warm enough later. But for now, damn, you’re just about shivering. You’ve already had your coffee, but you want something else. Something warm. And sweet. A cup of hot chocolate would do nicely. The kind your mom used to make after you came in from outside on a snow day. Hmm. Maybe the steelhead would like some, too. A little chocolate brown stone, just like the ones you saw hatching yesterday morning. A hot orange bead to get their attention. Soft hackles that say, “I’m alive.” And a buggy body because that’s what fish like. Once you get that first steelhead on, you’ll be downright toasty.
The Hot Chocolate Stone
Hook: 2x strong, 1x short emerger, size 8-12
Thread: Hot Orange
Tail: Brown Coq de Leon
Body: Fiery brown angora goat, dubbed roughly
Bead: Hot Orange
Tying notes: This is a pretty straightforward tie. If you want to add a little more weight to the fly, you can seat the bead with about 8 wraps of undersized wire. Coq de Leon and grouse are beautifully barred materials that naturally create the illusion of segmentation. Angora goat is one of my favorite body materials; it’s spikey and rough, and you can get it in all kinds of colors from muted naturals to fluorescents. Use a dubbing loop to get than uber-buggy look. Play around with different bead colors at your discretion; the fish will always tell you if they have a preference.
The Hot Chocolate Stone Rogues’ Gallery:
Salmon River (NY) November 2012