Oct 15, 2011


     I’m not going to lie to you: I honestly don’t like steelhead fishing, and that’s the truth. Most of the time its freezing cold, rain and snow are common tag-alongs, and usually I fish all day hoping for maybe a bite or two. This is problematic because I have the attention span of a four year old – any longer than 15 minutes without a bite and I’m miserable. A good day steelhead fishing for me is one in which I land one fish, anything more than that is an exceptional day. In fact, depending on the time of year, I would guess that on up to about a third of my steelhead fishing trips, all I catch are big smelly skunks. I have however made peace with this sad reality because I’ve realized that you have to smell the skunk every once in a while to be able to appreciate those magical days when the stars align and you really get into the fish.
     Early in October 2011 the stars, planets, sun, and moon must have been in a perfect row because suddenly steelhead fishing became almost predictably easy.
     One of my office mates at school has taught me quite a bit about fishing and showed me some really good spots. My favorite of which is close to the town of Lewiston Idaho – I won’t say exactly where as requested, but If you hit the spot at just the right time and swing the right spoon through the hole just right you can really stick it to the steelhead – or so I’d been told.
     I found out about this spot last year and went down and tried it during the first week of October 2010. The first night fishing there I managed to hook three and land this chrome bright hen – my first steelhead of the season.
First chromer of the season. Oct. 2010
     I awaited the right time with great anticipation this year, and about mid September three of us from the office started making runs down there to fish for two or three hours every Tuesday morning before going in to work for the day. On the second trip I caught my first one which was an amazing experience because that early in the season and at those water temperatures (before it gets too cold for the winter) the fish put up one heck of a fight.
     The next Tuesday I happened to go down by myself. When I got there (at O’-dark-thirty) I expected to be early enough that I could get the good spot, but not so that day. There were two fly fishermen right in my favorite spot, already standing out in the water waiting for it to get light. I decided to set up upstream from them and began casting. 15 minutes went by and I hadn’t had any bites, so I was restless, and the fact that I wasn’t sure if I was even in a good spot at this point made my uneasiness worse. 15.5 minutes after I began fishing I decided that it was no good and reeled in to try my luck downstream of the fly-guys. They eyed me as I walked past them for the second time that morning as if to say, “Wow dude, you have the attention span of a four year old!” I just politely nodded and continued on.
     I got to a promising looking spot where my buddy had caught one a week before and began casting. Up to this point we were getting the best action by swinging our spoons across the current, letting the current do the work, but at this particular spot that wasn’t really a good option because I kept snagging the bottom. So I started improvising. I cast 45 degrees upstream and reeled across the current back towards me. I almost dropped my rod out of surprise when I hooked up on my second cast! I reeled it in – all the while making sure the fly-guys saw - and quickly released it once I got it to shore. I retied my knot and began casting again thinking that it was probably a fluke. But sure enough about five minutes later (well shy of the 15 minute requirement) I hooked up again! This one was a little bigger:
About as silver as they come in Idaho!
     I again retied and proceeded to push my luck. On the very next cast I hooked what felt like a massive fish! I was almost giddy by this point – in a manly, beard sporting, mountain-man sort of way of course. 
     This fish didn’t really do much at first, but I couldn’t budge him. He drifted downstream while giving powerful but deliberate head shakes for about 75 yards. Finally he stopped and soon I started gaining line. This whole time I had been searching for any clues as to what sort of creature I had tied in to. I had heard of people catching big fall Chinook salmon at that time of year, and that was the only thing that I could think of that would be as big as this fish felt.
     I managed to pull him within about 20 yards. He still hadn’t done anything really drastic yet, he just felt big and strong. I guess the fish decided that 20 yards was close enough and what had been a fairly calm fight - powerful and intimidating - but calm nevertheless, turned into a scrappy dogfight. He rolled at the surface, showing me some pink on a very wide flank, and then took off on the fastest reel-screaming run I’ve experienced since tuna fishing, and he didn’t stop for over 100 yards!
     This scenario played out a few more times, but each time the runs got a little shorter and I could sense that he was finally tiring. The fact that I had seen pink when he rolled was eating at me. Most of the fall Chinook I had seen were dark grey in color sometimes with reddish tints – but not pink. This led me to think that maybe it was just a big steelhead, but I still wasn’t sure.
     When I finally got it close enough to see it clearly, I realized that it was it wasn’t a steelhead or a Chinook; it was a coho! This was a dream come true. I love catching new species, which this was, and to do so by catching such a specimen was incredible. I finally pulled her into the shallows and got a good look at her. She was about 12 lbs, just starting to turn pink, and had the beginnings of the trademark coho “Gonzo” nose.
12 lb coho! My favorite catch of 2011.
     I snapped a couple of quick pictures then watched satisfied as she swam out of view. I didn’t really know what to do after that. I thought about taking a nap, going home, buying a lottery ticket etc. but I just stuck to what was working; I retied and continued casting. I quickly caught one last steelhead before I had to leave, but I honestly don’t remember anything about it other than the fact that it came after my coho. I decided to be a good responsible student and head to school at 8:30 having landed 5 fish in 2 hours. My arms hurt so good.
     Two days later I couldn’t stand it any longer and I had to see if it was a fluke, so at 0’-dark-thirty Thursday morning I headed back down and hit the river again. Sure enough I had two fish to the shore in no time. I continued casting. I got a bite and missed, so the next cast I put the spoon right back in the same spot and almost immediately I hooked up. This one felt equally as big as the coho! Could this be my big fall Chinook? The style of the fight was different this time. The coho fought with what seemed like a deliberate and methodical pace with some crazy runs mixed in, this fish just seemed frantic and mad the whole time, but equally as powerful as the coho.
     He made some huge runs, not as fast as the coho but this fish just didn’t stop. I had to chase him down river two hundred yards as he bull-dogged me. I slowly worked him closer gaining five feet then loosing 4 (sometimes loosing 50). I finally saw the beast and it wasn’t a Chinook after all, it was however, the biggest steelhead I had ever seen – and that’s saying something since I’ve seen probably two or three thousand of them at work! I finally landed him after what seemed like forever and being sure my line would break at any moment. I didn’t have my camera or my tape measure like usual but I measured lengths of fishing line, one for his length and one for his girth and took them home to measure later. I took two quick pictures with my cell phone (neither of which turned out very good at all) then released him.
Crappy picture but massive fish with foot for scale...
     Apparently my juju was used up for that day because after I resumed casting, 15 fruitless minutes went by, so I got bored and headed to the office for the day. The first thing I did when I got back was measure the line and figure out how big my fish was. The official tally was 39 inches long with 19 inches of girth! The internet is home to dozens of formulas for calculating weight given the length and girth of your fish and they’re all a little different. I found one that was calibrated specifically for steelhead so that is the one that I chose to use: weight = lenth x (girth squared)/690. According to this formula my big buck weighed in at 20.4 lbs!
     Saturday night found me in Lewiston again, this time with my family but I managed to squeak in a half hour of fishing with one fish to show for it just before it got dark.
     I tried to continue the trend the following Tuesday, but apparently by that time the stars had gone back out of line and I didn’t catch any, I missed one, but couldn’t hang on to it and got to smell the skunk again. The streak, sadly, was over. But it sure was sure fun while it lasted. The final stats were 9 fish landed that week in 4 total hours fished for an average of just under 27 minutes per fish landed! I don’t know about you but that’s pretty good for this Idaho boy!

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