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January 5, 2021 Feather River Steelhead Weekday Trip; Denis Haire

January 10, 2021 7:33 AM | Rob Farris (Administrator)

Sometimes things line up just right: the moon, the stars, the weather, and a great group of fellow fly fishers. Having heard reports of how challenging these fish can be (being skunked is a real possibility) and the recent success of our fishmeister, my first-time steelhead adventure had me nervous and anxious. The three-hour drive to the river gave me time to think about what lies ahead: cold water, wading staff, heavier tippet, small flies and the need for a bigger net.  Little did I know the net size would be a clue.


Todd rigging it, while Alan and Rob wader up

Our group for the day consisted of Alan, Rob, Todd and myself. Being the newbie, I kept my eyes and ears open for as many tips as I could absorb. One comment that stuck with me was Rob’s comment about seeing a smaller net: ” What are you going to catch with that? Butterflies?” Again, another clue. 

On a glorious sunny and bright morning, Alan led us down the path past the hatchery to the wonderful little side channel just off the main river. The pool we would be in for the day was full of riffles and good current, and later what I would discover to be “bathtubs”. The water temperature was reported to be a balmy 49°F. The water was surprising clear after the recent rain. The glare on the water was a killer, so the challenge was on.  After a quick refresher on high sticking and working a small float and even smaller flies (size 14 to 16) through the holes (almost euro style), I was on my own.

Of course, it was Alan who had the first fish to show us they were there! I had the opportunity to watch him play the fish (especially on lighter gear) as I ultimately netted his fish. It was then I realized why you need a big net! Having never seen a steelhead I was amazed by the coloring and size of this majestic fish.

Alan doing his normal thing terrorizing Steelhead

Having learned from that, and dancing around the riffles and listening to Todd say “They are stacked up here” and “another one just went by me” I hoped I could at least hook one. Understanding the hooking (and on barbless no less!!) to landing ratio is about 30%, I felt fortunate to simply see these fish.

As I was drifting a San Juan worm and small (size 16) flashback pheasant tail on a seven-weight rod I saw a slight hesitation of my indicator. Hmmm…. I gently raised my rod and noticed a slight tug. After this subtle hit I could feel the bend in my rod! My first thought was please do not do run downstream over the falls as I am not the nimblest in the water.  As it turned out he turned and ran upstream and I had to chase him down. This is where those “bathtubs” and the encouragement of Rob (my net man) came into play.

After navigating around and sometimes through these depressions I ended up in a flatter area which made the anticipated landing easier. Rob’s wisdom of playing the fish ultimately helped bring the fish to his net. And boy was his net full! After stopping to catch my breath, I took a look. A beautiful 24-inch wild steelhead, and as thick a football that took the small nymph. After taking pictures and helping the fish recover, I released this trophy back. This is truly stuff of dreams and things lining up just right….

A beautiful first Steelhead.  Congratulations, Denis!

Being gentle with the release

The rest of the day proved to be productive for the others as I did not get another strike (at least I think).

The strategies for the day included Euro style presentation with larger attractors including olive and black rubber legs as well as squirmies. Trailers included red butt nymphs, black mayfly nymphs and red copper johns. I heard Alan was using a perdigon style fly for one of his many fish. Typical tippet used was 3X on a 7wt rod.    All of the fish in the system we saw, both hooked and landing, and jumping out of the water were all so big and healthy. The total count for the day was around 6 fish landed (maybe more) so believe our landing ratio was well above the average.

Rob thought this was a small one...LOL

As the day came to a close, one thing came to mind: being grateful. I am so grateful to the club for offering these trips and making them very accessible. And to those on this day trip to help stretch my comfort zone. Having the luck to catch maybe a fish of a lifetime is one thing, but to have the friends to share it with is even more important.

My final reflection on the day can be summed up in a quote from Charles F. Orvis-

"More than half the intense enjoyment of fly-fishing is derived from the beautiful surroundings, the satisfaction felt from being in the open air, the new lease of life secured thereby, and the many, many pleasant recollections of all one has seen, heard and done."

Tight lines,  Denis

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