To say Nick has unbounded energy might be an understatement but when it comes to steelheading his optimism often outweighs the challenges of the fishing conditions we face. He gets to fish with me about once a year for steelhead and each time he does it’s a blast with Nick catching more than his share of fish and lots of smiles, candy eaten and good photos taken. This trip was no exception.
With waters low and clear we decided to float one of our favorite rivers despite the super low flows and lack of anglers. On arrival at the boat ramp we saw the river had jumped up a bit and had a small amount of color in it. A big change from the super low, clear, cold water we had been dealing with. We set out to swing flies ahead of the boat carefully approaching each run and considering casting angles and wading lines so we did not spook the fish.
After several runs Stig the man hooked up and landed a dandy wild buck. We got some great photos and high fives all the way around enjoying the solitude of the river with eagles, ducks and herons our only company. Working our way down river Nick connected with a big fish just two holes up river from where he had hooked and lost a monster the year before. This fish fought deep and was unyielding. Nick was using a #7 weight switch rod and had a good bend on it. That fish was moving up and down the run just slugging it out deep. I mentioned to him that I hadn’t got a good look at the fish but if it was a truly big fish he might want to be ready to get in the boat and go after it- just in case.
That proved to be prophetic when moments later the bruiser made a reel blurring run to the opposite side of the river then proceeded to head up river on the far side of a large boulder into a small shallow channel. I thought surely he will turn in that shallow water and head back for the deep- he proved me wrong as the backing quickly started to dissipate upstream! Nick hopped in the boat as I rowed briskly across my intent to get across and unwrapped from the rock. Reaching the other side the fish was still going upriver and melting off line as he did. I hopped out and yanked and pulled the raft as fast as I could upriver with Nick holding fast and leaning into the supports on the boat. My legs burning and lungs aching we reached a point where we caught up to the backing and started regaining line. Thank God! I’m apparently not in good running condition (at least not pulling a boat and angler up river against a strong current).
Finally the line closer and the rod a steady bend we started to feel like we might be gaining some control, this was a short lived thought as the bruiser had a new tactic. Running across the river back to the other side he wrapped the line through some branches stuck underwater on some boulders. I hit high gear on the oars and spun the boat towards the far side and our new challenge. Reaching the other side Nick bailed and headed the rod into the water trying to work the line off the branches without effect. I quickly jumped from the boat grabbing the net and ran to Nicks line wedged into the branches. I couldn’t reach the branch the water was too swift and deep, Nick’s plunging rod tip extraction technique had not worked either. I decided to try the net. Plunging the bulky net into the fast water I had to make several attempts calculating for the strong current to get the net to the branches. I pushed, pulled and worked at it- finally one of the branches got twisted into the rubberized mesh net and came free from the boulder. There was Nick’s line double wrapped around the branch!
We quickly dislodged the branch from the line wondering if the fish was even there. Nick reeled fast, as the line lifted off the water we found it went all the way across back to the other side of the river where as Nick worked it; it popped off not one, not two but three different boulders. Then, the throbbing pulse of the steelhead far upriver- it was still there! At that time Stig shouted the boat is floating away! I yelled for him to run it down. (Apparently in all the commotion the line had been knocked out of the anchor cleat). Off went Stig to rescue the boat as Nick bared down on the beast.
Rod doubled over and many more shorter runs Nick finally worked the big fish to the net. When I finally lifted the net we all let out a shout! This was a beast of a steelhead and Nick’s largest to date (38.5″ long). And thanks to Stig we had a boat to float out and finish the day!