The Steelhead Plan

If your interested in a little Steelheading Humor you can read this story in the FlyfishUSA’s newsletter.

This beautiful Steelhead was landed and photographed by Steve and Greg Holt.
This is Steve Holt. I often use stunt doubles in my blog posts for myself and my fish.

The Steelhead Plan

By Tim Rawlins

Every successful Steelhead fisherman knows he must have a Steelhead plan. Not a plan for where to fish or when to go there or even how to cast, mend, step, swing a fly, read water or pack your toilet paper in a water tight plastic bag. I’m talking about having a rock solid plan for what you will do when a fish takes your fly.

I say this as someone who has in the past displayed the knee jerk reaction of wildly setting the hook at the faintest hint of a nibble. I’m talking shoulder dislocation here. I came by it honestly. As a kid fishing for Trout and Chub in the pristine waters of Pudding creek I was often admonished by my mentors to set the hook to keep from loosing fish that had taken my nightcrawler. I dont think I had a problem though until I learned to bounce my pencil lead and Okie drifter along the bottom of coastal rivers and swing for the bleachers at even the slightest pause in the bouncing. I didn’t catch many steelhead that way but boy did I sure set my fair share of hooks, mostly into rocks and submerged logs. Later, dry fly fishing for Kamloops Rainbow, the adrenaline rush of seeing a big trout boil for my Tom Thumb made it all but impossible for me not to snap my tippet. I did manage to land a few trout with really tough lips which Is exactly how the Kamloops Rainbow Trout got its name. Kam is Latin for tough and loops means lips. Trust me on this.

So I have had to reprogram myself to let the fish hook itself. This has not come easy. Before my reprogramming, a fish would have to be very subtle, cunning and stretchy to hook himself and stay hooked while I pummeled away at his lips. That’s how the Steelhead originally earned the Latin name O.mykiss. It started out, Oh my aching Kisser but was later changed for brevity by Lewis and Clark who were fierce lip rippers themselves.

Not that I hadn’t landed my fair share or at least slightly less than my fair share of fish.

There was the time my fishing partner and I were sharing a run on a famous Northwest Steelhead river. We had each fished through the bucket a couple of times and stopped to visit and swap outfits for a little casting competition before walking back up to the car. When he handed me back my rod there was a Steelhead attached to my fly. Neither of us realized it until I started stripping my line in. That was the most unsatisfying fish I have ever landed. It was a little embarrassing. Had I hooked and landed the fish alone I could have done some modest gloating about my stealth and skill at swinging a fly because I had landed a wild steelhead on a crowded river and my partner had not, thereby making me the superior fisherman and possibly a superior being. Instead, he rolled his eyes, an annoying little habit shared by many of my fishing partners. Since neither of us could take credit for the catch we both just shrugged our shoulders and meekly released the fish without so much as snapping a single photo. Photos would have been most inappropriate for such an event.

When one has a concrete plan which does not include ripping the fly away from the fish and one implements the plan it is very rewarding to land that fish. It is for me anyway. Upon feeling a grab, my original style hook set involved a several tiered approach which unfolded in the following order, 1) panic, 2) Jerk violently, 3) (AAHHGGGG! 4) slump, 5) relocate shoulder.

My new plan involves the following: 1) remain calm, 2) do nothing, 3) steady the rod as the fish is allowed to swim away with the fly, 4) nonchalantly set the hook, 5) panic (after the fish is landed) Some fishermen leave a loop of slack running line hanging off the reel that they let slip through their fingers in the event the fish takes their fly. I do that sometimes but it’s very important to double check that your running line has not half hitched itself around the butt of your rod or reel or partner or anywhere else where it could tie off hard and fast resulting in a do-over of steps 3 through 5 of my original style.

I am not recommending my plan, just my philosophy which is to stay calm and do as little as possible until the fish hooks himself. This philosophy led me to my most triumphant and glorious Steelhead landing experience which happened just recently.

I had been fishing a run on another fabled river in Oregon. I stuck fish on several consecutive Friday afternoons on my way home from work but was unable to bring one to hand. So I had a very good idea of the general vicinity of the best lie in the run.

On this particular Friday afternoon as I swung my fly through the lie I felt a faint peck. I remained calm. My standard practice of shortening up and swinging a smaller fly through the run produced nothing but I did manage a funky knot in my aging mono running line. I decided to loose this mess of running line which I did by way of chopping it off and, ever the conservationist, stuffing it down into my waders.

I’m now perched precariously on a submerged ledge that I have somehow waded to, seventy feet out in the river, almost directly above the lie. A young couple on a romantic evening stroll walks out on a nearby hand bridge. About 50 yards away as the crow flies, and high above, they are perched in perfect observation of what they will soon come to believe is an expert spey fishermen. Little do they know, it is only me, stuffing something down my waders. They watch for five minutes while I fix my running line and bag the comeback fly idea. The water is warming, lowish, and clear but my confidence is murky. It’s Moal leech time. My big, purple, red dumbbell eyed Moal leech with gobs of tinsel. The single best producer in my box, or in this case, outside the box. I take a deep breath and compose myself with the thought that my toilet paper is dry. With fresh mono running line I launch a cast so far that, indeed, the last time I launched anything remotely close to that distance it was the tip section of my partners “Deathstar” into the Deschutes river when I tried to impress some young rafters during the waning days of the bikini hatch. Nothing. Two more identical casts, only further. After a big tight line mend, the Mother of all Leech’s swings through the lie so slowly I could not have replicated the action had I swung it from a sideplaner off a 20’ bamboo pole. In slow motion the fish hits. KEEERWUUMP. I implement my plan by standing there calmly as it peels off a very respectable amount of line. I lift my rod, stop my reel as the fish hits the end and flies plumb out of the water. I stifle a yawn. This thing has a tail like a floor broom. It makes a few mad runs. Comes out of the water again. Sounds like a draft horse out there plowing through a swamp. My caged clicker screams. The mono running line burns my fingers a little bit as I slow the reel down by fingering the spool. I manage to fight this creature while stumbling my way back to shore so I could land it standing flat footed on the beach. I don’t know how long the fight lasted but it must have been a quite a while because when I tailed the beauty she seemed to have shrunk somewhat from her original behemoth size. But for once, everything was perfect. The couple on the footbridge witnessed almost the entire episode. They left right before I subdued the beast, presumably to fetch their fishing gear. I guess they missed the part at the end where I expertly brought the fish to hand. Then I panicked. Right after I took the photos.

This is the actual fish that starred in the article.  She was a little embarrassed about the thing in her mouth.  She left in a huff.This is the fish I landed in the story.