Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Anatomy of a Steelhead Shit-show... version 1

I look forward to posting some more of these as the season progresses.  The winter steelhead guiding game is a roller-coaster of highs and lows. Heart-pounding adrenaline rushes while frantically pulling (or pushing) on the oars to get the fish away from the boat, or pulling your hair out after fishing a dozen spots where you regularly catch them without a tug. Sometimes the greenest anglers rope the most fish and the best sticks you could ever have in the boat catch nothing, all while working prime water in normal conditions. We theorize on flies, methods of fishing those flies, boat-work, where fish will be based on the tides, weather, precipitation, changes in snow level, the list goes on. A good steelhead guide is constantly thinking, analyzing, theorizing. The rewards of this lifestyle come in so many forms, but the bottom line is the ability to put my hands on many steelhead each season and successfully release those fish back to the river, then shake hands or high-five the angler who caught it.

One of my favorite parts of this game is the shit-show moments that come from hooking some of the hottest fish found anywhere in the world, the wild winter steelhead. We hook many of these fish just hours after they enter fresh-water. With white bellies, dark backs, and sea-lice... to say these fish are ass-kickers would be a severe understatement. This brings me to the point of this post and a story that happened earlier this season.

Brent and Jim Hardy are a father-son duo that are hardcore about two things, waterfowling and steelheading. I've had the pleasure of fishing with these two out here on the coast several days as well as the Methow and Klickitat for fall steelhead. They are great anglers who have each fell victim to the steelhead shit-show on multiple occasions. Perhaps the best I've seen this season involved a joint effort by all three of us to land the fish. 

Brent's bobber went down on the upstream side of a shelf in pretty heavy current. At first I thought he had snagged the shelf like every other angler I've had continue the drift late into the zone. Only this time, Brent set the hook hard and knew right away by the heavy headshakes, "FISH! FISH! FISH!" 

The fish bombed upstream at mach 12, while the heavy current took us downstream at the same pace. I swear the water on Brent's reel was evaporating as it screamed for mercy. Brent went into panic mode as he realized the fish was still running upstream and he was easily 100 feet into his backing. I yelled back to not worry about it but be ready for the fish to come back downstream towards the boat. Sure enough, now approaching the 100 yard mark on the backing the fish turned and came down through the heavy rapids towards the boat. Brent did his best to stay on the reel as I pushed like mad away from the fish. When he realized cranking the reel wouldn't work he went to stripping the backing but it was too late. A pile of slack in the backing wrapped around Brent's rod tip several times, now making it impossible for him to strip as the fish came back towards the boat. 

Somehow the barbless hook stayed pinned, mainly due to the giant downstream belly and heavy current. I jumped up and untangled the mess from the rod-tip, but the pile of backing in the bottom of the boat ended up in  a giant knot. As I tucked into the beach several hundred yards below where we initially hooked it, the large fish passed the boat on its way downstream. Brent bailed out of the boat and sprinted down the gravel bar with a pile of 100 yards of backing in a giant knot, unable to clear the first guide down the rod. Now the only method to fight the fish was truly on foot, due to a giant rapid below the bar we stood on. Jim followed Brent about 80 yards to the end of the gravel bar carrying the pile of backing. 

Our only hope to landing the fish was to work it into a soft pocket at the bottom of the bar. For another ten minutes, Brent ran back and forth across the tip of the bar chasing the fish as it ran out towards the current, with dad right by his side carrying the tangled mess and me standing waist deep with a net screaming at him to put the pressure on the fish. The father-son duo did a hell of a job and we finally nursed the fish into the slack water and got the net under him. It was Brent's largest steelhead to date and one of the most exciting battles I've seen in many years of living this awesome lifestyle. I can't wait for the next shit-show, but it will be hard to top this one. Congrats again boys!

The shit-show comes to an end...

Happy Brent
Big dawg with sea-lice
We currently have some last minute cancellations for prime space in March. Dates are March 9-13 and 17-23 space for two to four anglers depending on the date. Our normal rate is $475 per person per day for guided angling and fully hosted lodging with 5 star meals and all inclusive wet-bar. Our cancellation rate for the space advertised above is $375 a day for the full show. Both dates are as prime as prime can get for winter steelheading. Give me a call at 509-460-9519 or send an email to and lets go hunt chromers!