Visited the river I usually fish in summer on the east slope of Washington’s Cascade Mountains yesterday with my good friend Corey O’Donnell and his dog Henry. The flows are down as you would expect for mid-August but the water temps are still trout friendly at 63 degrees at ~8:00 AM. As usual our hopes were high for great fishing, but tempered by a general lack of success over the past couple of seasons. Of course, last season we were in a serious drought and I curtailed my fishing early in the season when water temps were around 70 in early June. I’m starting to wonder if the apparent difficulty in finding feeding fish this season might be related to last summer’s drought.
The point to this story is the similar circumstance of low flows. The last time I fished the river last year I was able to wade out far enough in a particular spot to reach a large eddy that I knew would hold nice fish, but have never been able to reach it. There is a high bank to my back and fast and deep water in between. But with the low flows last June I could wade out close enough to gain some backcast room and handle the faster current between me and the seam I wanted to fish. I was pretty excited at the prospect of finally reaching this water, so went at it with a “hopper/dropper” rig. On top a purple Chubby Chernobyl and below a small beadhead nymph. Can’t remember the latter for reasons that will become obvious.
I don’t recall whether it was my first cast, second, or third but it was right off the bat that I hit that current seam just like I wanted. Time slowed to a crawl as I saw a large dark form shoot up from the bottom and nail that dry fly. I was able to wait for the fly to disappear and raised my rod to feel the weight of a heavy trout. Unfortunately, that feeling only lasted a few seconds as a poor clinch knot at the fly parted at the start of the first run. As I stood there, totally crushed, that damn fish jumped; I swear to give me a good look at its size. That fish has haunted my dreams since and I wondered when I might have access to it again.
Fast forward to yesterday and the low flows of mid-August. To say the fishing was slow would be an understatement and reflective of the season, so far. Corey and I have been exploring some different water and have found some amazing looking runs and pools but few fish. Yesterday we tried the new water until lunch. It was hot so after a quick lunch at the car we decided to go down river to our old haunt to find shade we knew would cover the car in the afternoon. I was also motivated to see if the flows were low enough for me to approach the cross-river eddy.
After the hairy scramble down the steep basalt bank it looked possible to reach the seam. The river level would allow wading to mid-river yet the current along the seam was very strong. Fishing a double nymph rig under a strike indicator I started working a deeper slot between me and the honeyhole. The point fly was a funky wire body stonefly nymph that has proven to be more of a fisherman attractor than fish a attractor. Below that a San Juan worm. Don’t know why I selected those flies because neither has been very successful for me. Eventually I started working the seam at the edge of the strong current and after many casts and working it over well I was about to move down the run. Then as the indicator was passing over a large rock it jumped and I reflexively lifted my little 4-weight coming tight to a solid fish. Wasn’t sure how solid because it started running down river using that strong current. As it started peeling off line its weight became evident and I started looking for slower water to move it into – there really wasn’t any. At the same time it seemed the drag on my reel was tightening itself, then instantly it stopped mid-run. Simultaneously I saw the problem and there was a gut-wrenching pop as the leader parted from the flies. The last few wraps of fly line on my reel over-lapped the line coming off. This parting of the ways was more crushing after so few hookups lately; I had to sit on a stream side boulder and collect myself. But I did and rebuilt my leader and duplicated that rig.
So big deal, you say. This confirmed my judgement of that seam holds big fish. Could this have been the same fish – don’t know and didn’t really think about that possibility until 45 minutes later. After working the pocket water upstream and then dropping down slightly below where we parted company I was looking across the tail end of the current seam from above when a large trout jumped clear of the water trailing a short piece of leader. Damn that fish is still taunting me, but I will be back next week to get justice…and my flies back.