I discovered two handed casting and steelhead fishing in 2012 after moving back to Idaho. A friend took me steelhead fishing on the Little Salmon River, and I caught a hatchery hen on my 5 weight trout rod. Alex caught a 30 inch buck. I was enthralled.
Late last month, while visiting one of my favorite bike culture blogs, I came across an opportunity. Blackburn, the venerable bike touring accessory manufacturer, hires six "Blackburn Rangers" to ride a bike from Canada to Mexico. Along the way, the Rangers test and report on new gear, and create social media buzz about the trip. A journey like this has always appealed to me, but I want to add a fishy twist...I propose riding the Pacific Coast bike route, from Vancouver, BC to the Mexican border, while hauling rod, reel, waders and boots in order to fly fish for steelhead along the way.
I am very lucky. I fish a lot. I even get to take a week off and search for steelhead in far away places, two steps and one swing at a time. My latest trip took me and M back to Idaho. Our destination was the Clearwater River around Orofino. While this is classic steelhead water, prime time to fly fish this river is not winter. Late fall is preferred since the warmer water temps mean the fish are more willing to move to a swung fly. But when you don't have steelhead in your home waters, you have to search for them whenever you can, and sometimes that means winter in Idaho.
Its September. Every day there are salmon and steelhead climbing fish ladders around dams that clog the once free flowing Columbia and Snake Rivers. As the fish pass the dams, there are counters that record the number and species of fish that pass each day. Fisherman and women across the northwest eagerly watch these numbers which foretell the return of these miracle fish. I was one of these number watchers.Alas, the past year has seen me move farther inland, where steelhead and salmon don't swim. No longer am I in short driving distance of a prime steelhead river. But the lure of swimming chrome is not so easily lost. Not unlike the internal motivation inherent to each anadromous fish on their return journey, my steelhead compass has switched on. Its time to go back to Idaho. Its been a busy summer for N and I both, and we've both agreed its time for a vacation. How about two weeks in Idaho? Perfect. It will be full of friends, biking, Boise-ing, and maybe even some bird hunting and trout fishing. But what really has me going, is the chance to go back to Secret Creek.
On my first trip to Secret Creek, I hooked 4 steelhead, and landed my first on a skated dry fly. It would be a fallacy to call the motion of which the fish hit the fly a "rise" or "take". That fish flipping destroyed my fly! literally leaping 4 feet in the air in the process. I was dumbfounded; screaming with excitement; unable to contain myself. It was a good trip.
On the second trip to Secret Creek, I woke up with what felt like a hangover. The single beer I had the night before was good, but not what you'd expect to cause a hangover. I ignored the discomfort and continued on with plans. N forgot her boots. Backpacking 3 miles through NorthWest blackberry brambles in sandals is not fun. We also treed a bear about at about 15 feet. By the time we got to the camp, I was exhausted. Not the type exhausted you'd expect. It was 3 miles of downhill hiking. A walk in the park. I struggled to find the motivation to string the rod up that night... I did manage it though. Just long enough to teach N how to spey cast. The rest of the trip saw me in one of two places: sprawled out in the tent napping/sweating, or running in my underwear to the shelter of a nearby sagebrush that offered the only cover to dig a cathole and take care of business. It was not a good trip.
N had better luck. She picked up the Snap-T spey cast in no time, explored the canyon, read a book, cooked camp food, traded beer our beer for Gatoraid, and, oh yeah, hooked, fought, landed, and released her first steelhead. I slept through it. I think she had a good trip.
This brings me to this year. Its redemption time! While the trip is still a month out, I've started to make preparations. My internal steelhead compass has started pointing west. Last night I had a dream I was fishing a coastal stream with my brother. A steelhead took my fly. Like a stone cold natural, I dropped the loop of slack in my hand, waited for the fish to weight the line, and set the hook towards the bank. Easy as that. There was no diarrhea or pre-digging catholes in my dream. Go figure.
This morning, I loaded up my 5weight switch rod and made a detour on the morning bike commute to work. I'm blessed to have a world class tailwater 4 minutes bike ride from the house. With only 40 minutes to spare, I tied on a classic steelhead fly, the Lady Caroline, and promptly caught a nice cutthroat. Nothing like casting a two handed rod with classic steelhead flies to get you prepared for a fishing trip. I'm ready. I can taste the redemption at Secret Creek. I will dream of it tonight...