Winter steelheading is by no means easy. Usually the weather is cold, its raining, and you cant feel your hands as you strip in your line to make the next cast. We anticipate that grab, the moment that makes an anglers heart skip a beat! This is what many die hard steelheaders look forward to, long days and cold nights with dreams of that 20 lb chrome buck that just might grab our fly on the dangle.
Last night was one of those nights when it was hard to fall asleep with so many thoughts running through my head. Are there fresh fish pushing in the system? Is it really going to be worth the 3 hour drive? What run should I fish first? Should I fish a 3" long black string leech or a 1.5 Mahoney? One thing was for sure, I was anxious to get to one of my favorite not to be named coastal steelhead rivers.
On arrival I was shocked when I stepped out of the car to 60 degree sunshine and very little breeze. Its the end of January and I am fishing for winter steelhead in a short sleeved shirt. I know it sounds crazy but welcome to California! While mid 60's temperaures are abnormal in January, winter steelheading in the sunshine is not. Typically, if it is raining the rivers are quick to rise and discolor and you might get lucky to have a day or two of fishing before they blow out. I cant say that I was overly excited by the weather because high pressure and bright sunshine are usually not a great recipe for good steelheading. But when the fish are in, I guess it really doesn't matter.
After a few minutes of deliberation, I tied on a 1.5 Mahoney, one of Dec Hogan's fine creations. A classic feather wing spey, this fly glows in the water under bright light. I was confident I made a good selcetion. I steeped into one of my favorite runs with no one is sight. Shocking considering the weather and the fact that this is one of the few rivers that has enough water in it to fish. I worked half way through the run when my line began to slow and I felt a quick jerk, dropped my loop and nobody home. I made the same cast again with no grab. I fisnished out the run with no other grabs but was certain there were fish around.
I made my way to another favorite run that looked to be a bit on the low side but what the heck, there just might be a fish on the soft inside seam. It was a nice swing through most of the run but the swing on the bottom end was a little slow for my liking. I was thinking that there was not enough current or depth from here on out to hold a fish. I was going to give myself a few more casts and then head for another spot. Just as the fly finsihed its broadside swing my line just stopped. I dropped what little loop I was holing in the in my right hand and the line went tight. Immediately, the fish came to the surface and splashed. It looked big but I wasn't feeling its weight yet. As soon as I took a turn of the reel the fish took off down river cartwheeling two more times as I neared my backing. This fish was big! Each time I tried to gain line, the fish would make another quick run. Just as I thought I could not gain any line on this fish it decides to turn and run upstream. I reeled as fast as possible but could not keep up. After a few seconds of reeling as fast as possible, the line went limp and the steelhead won the battle. While I was a little disappointed, just feeling that grab and seeing that fish fight that hard was well worth it. As I sat on the bank and pondered for a moment, I couldn't help but smile and think, "There is nothing like the grab!"