June 2008

June 2008
June 2008
June 2008
June 2008


by Barry Thornton

Summer steelhead behave differently than winter steelhead. One summer I had the opportunity to watch three experienced river fly fishers hook and release summer steelhead by employing a very effective technique I had never seen before. Their tactics seemed to trigger summer steelhead to strike as the fly was stripped back upstream past them, and on several occasions fish darted from areas where they were holding and grabbed the flies in exciting, smashing strikes.

They were using a deep-water system referred to as “dredging” or “scooping” a pool. We were on a 12-day rafting/camping/fly fishing jaunt on a West Coast mainland river. It was three-to-one in terms of fly fishing techniques, for I am a “dead-drifter” with my flies and was loath to switch. Fortunately, I didn’t have to except to experience this method, for the steelhead came to my technique and flies almost equally as well as they did to my companions’ effective tactic.

The scooping technique is quite simple: A 12- to 20-foot lead-core fly line is attached to either a floating fly line or a sinking line by using loops, or by attaching them with a short length of 30-pound test monofilament line.

The loop system was the easiest, for various lead-core line weights could be easily changed as the pool depths changed. We were fishing a glacial river, which did not require long leaders in the milky-colored water. Attached to the end of the lead-core was a short butt of 20-pound test monofilament, then a shorter section of 15-pound test as a tippet. The total leader length was no longer than 20 inches.

To fish with this tackle, an angler waded out as far as possible at the top of a pool. Naturally, a dogleg pool (right angle) was the easiest to fish. Once positioned, the angler cast across the river at about a 45 degree angle downstream. Time was allowed to let the lead core and fly sink to the bottom, or as near as possible. If necessary, the line might be mended to keep it as straight as possible for the strip retrieve. The angler then began a slow-strip, fast-strip, varied-strip retrieve, keeping a firm grip on the fly line as it came back through the guides.

Because the angler was out in the river, possibly standing in chest- or waist-deep water, the retrieve continued until the lead-core line reached the rod tip, for there could be fish holding close by. After a few casts and retrieves, the angler stepped downstream a few feet, then repeated the process until he felt the pool was fully covered. Strikes rarely occurred as the fly line sunk, rather, while it was being stripped back through the pool.

The “dead-drift” retrieve requires a much different technique, utilizing a sinking or sink-tip fly line. Using this system, an angler stays close to shore and casts upstream, mends the line, then allows the fly to dead-drift through the pool or run. Strikes occur as the fly drifts downstream, and rarely when it swings after the drift.
Summer steelhead are deep-water fish on return to their natal streams, much like coho and Chinooks, hugging low down in locations where they have a steady current in which to rest. However, unlike spawning salmon, summer steelhead often feed while in a river. It is this active feeding desire that allows fly fishers to target them with bait imitations and dry flies.

In both the scooping and dead-drift systems there are exceptions. One such for me occurred on the second day of our trip, while I was dead-drifting the upper section of a pool close to a rock ledge. My fly had completed its drift and I was fast-stripping in the loose fly line to prepare for another cast. A 20-pound summer steelhead buck came out from under the rock ledge, grabbed my swinging fly, then shot back for the ledge. The bite of my barbless hook sent him a good six feet into the air, then he shot downstream. I had no chance to set the hook or gain control of the flipping fly line before it started peeling from my reel.

This was one of those real knuckle_dusters, for my fingers received a number of sharp raps before I could turn my hand to palm the spinning spool. Fortunately, the fish dashed downstream in a straight line and I was able to gain a modicum of control before he began the characteristic rainbow trout leaps and powerful head-shakes. By this time he was directly in front of my partners, all of whom offered sage words of advice, and eventually a helping hand on my shoulders to steady me as I waded back to shore. We finally brought to beach a beautiful, chrome-bright summer steelhead that we quickly measured as 39 inches before releasing him. This one highlighted the many we were all so fortunate to beach on this trip.

Would I recommend the scooping fly fishing method for river fishing? You bet! However, I also recommend just as strongly, dead-drifting for steelhead and salmon in rivers. The lessons I learned when I did experiment with scooping gave me one more tool in my arsenal to effectively fly fish in our West Coast rivers.
British Columbia provides vast opportunities for steelheaders to pursue this supreme trophy trout. In addition, new fly tying materials offer a kaleidoscope of effective patterns, and new fly lines and the methods developing to fish with them provide almost unlimited possibilities with which to experiment.

This is an excerpt from Fly Fishing Canada - From Coast to Coast to Coast.

Available at www.flyfishingcanada.net

Huxley’s Run: 


by Dr. Adipose Huxley

It was a truly evil e-mail. It popped up on the incoming mail when I least expected it and froze me instantly. Horror-struck, I could only stare at the monitor for the longest time, virtually unable to move. I had foolishly thought that everything was safe and secure, but there before me was the potential destruction of all that I love and cherish. It read: “What were you doing on that beach Sunday evening? I saw your vehicle. I saw you all alone out there. It looked like you were fishing. So?”

With trembling fingers I typed, “Busy now. More later”, depressed Send and then switched off my computer. I was shaken to my very core. Still stunned, I simply sat there, staring at the darkened screen, trying to collect my thoughts.

The telephone rang. I picked it up quickly, glad for the respite. “Hello, Doctor Huxley here,” I said. There was no reply.

“Hello? Doctor Huxley here. Can I help you?”

Irritated, I was about to hang up when a flat, emotionless voice said, “Doctor Huxley.” It was a statement, not a question.


“I believe that you drive a red Jeep?”

“Yes.” The voice seemed familiar but I couldn’t quite place it.

“I believe, also, that you wear dark brown fishing waders and a dark brown hat?”

I could feel icicles forming at the back of my neck. I was gripping the receiver so tightly that the plastic was cracking. “Yes,” I said through painfully gritted teeth. “Why?”

“Because I saw you,” the voice said, dripping pure evil. “Sunday night. I stopped my car to watch this ‘fellow’ who was out on that beach -- all by himself. He was wearing a brown hat and brown waders.”

Panic stricken, I blurted, “So? That could have been anyone!”

My tormenter chuckled derisively. “Sure, it could have, but I have binoculars in my vehicle, Doctor, and it sure looked like you. And do you know something else?”

My chest was tight and I couldn't breathe. “What?” I croaked.

“I saw those fish all around you. What were they, pinks?”

This was it! There was nothing for it now but to lie. Maybe I could throw him off the track. “Oh, those? I’m not really sure -- there were a couple of fish jumping, but not many, and none were taking so I....”

“Liar!” he snapped. “Not five seconds went by without a fish jumping. There were more than a few, Doctor, so don’t lie to me.”

“Okay. Yes, there were fish around. Yes, quite a few.”

“What colour fly were you using?”

“Green,” I said.

“Liar! My binoculars are quite strong -- I saw the colour. Why do you lie to me, Doctor? You were using a pink fly, with a little silver thrown in. A traditional pattern to be sure, but it certainly wasn’t green. I think I shall have to punish you for lying.”

“Punish me?” I asked. “You don't mean?...”

“Hahaha!” His maniacal laughter was merciless. “Frightened, Doctor? Not going to sleep tonight? That’s right, Doctor -- spam! The mass e-mail! The world will know your dirty little secret in a matter of mere seconds. You’re finished, Doctor Huxley. Do you understand that? You are finished!”

Faint with abject fear I almost screamed into the phone. “No, please! Not that! I’m sorry! I’ll do anything to make it up! I didn’t mean to lie to you. Please, don’t do it. I’ll do anything, name your price.”



“Beer at Fisherman’s Lodge around five. You’re buying, and then you’re taking me with you. And bring flies, Doctor, lots of flies.”

“Sure, Fred,” I groaned in utter defeat, “anything you say.”


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