I don’t know if it is the scenery in places where rivers run, interesting conversation shared in a drift boat, or just a general tendency to daydream, but I invariably lose focus on the object that will indicate a fish has taken my offering. We tend to put fishing guides on a figurative pedestal of expertise and try to be on our ‘A’ game when fishing with them. We have listened intently to their pre-float instructions on what they want us to do to be successful and are making every effort to do just that for fear of doing it wrong in their eyes. The simplest one of those things when fly fishing a nymph or streamer under an indicator, be it bobber or dry fly, or fishing just a dry fly is to keep your damned eyes on the thing and react to a “take”. How hard can that be?
If every fish in the river is jumping all over your offerings every 10 seconds missing this tell-tale event is good for a laugh, but when you are halfway through the drift you paid $500 for and you guide is working his butt off to ensure a good tip, this is an unforgivable sin. When the guide is hollering SET, SET as you are looking off at the passing warbler and you turn to see your indicator gone then pop back up, it is embarrassing and you can feel his glare burning a hole in the back of your head. Well folks, this happens to me all the time, whether on an expensive, guided float or when fishing with others. As a matter of fact, it happened this past week while fishing with Nate on the Clearwater River in Orofino, Idaho for “B” run steelhead.
At the recommendation of our guide, Mike, we were fishing various ‘baits’ (e.g., jigs, beads, salmon eggs) under bobbers or floats. This is a very common technique fishing for steelhead and salmon in Pacific Northwest rivers. The rig involves a braid running line on a spinning or bait casting outfit, bobber stop to set your depth, a float or bobber, weight, swivel, leader of fluorocarbon to the ‘bait’. We used steelhead jigs mostly. The rig is set up to offer the jig just off the bottom.
After launching in the pre-dawn, things started off well at our first stop down river from the ramp with two “bobber down!” calls, though one came unhooked (barbless hooks are required) and one broke me off. The third bobber to go down rewarded me with a beautiful “B” run fish, which was released after a quick picture. The action slowed down and Mike suggested we move down river to a hole he could see was vacant and had been successful for him a few days earlier. I think he just wanted to warm up rowing down there.
Mike pointed out the “trick” was to let your bobber rig float downstream from the boat, through THE SPOT, and wiggle the line every couple of feet of drift to cause the jig to wiggle and draw the fish in. Well, as I repeated this process over many, many drifts the attention started to wane and I began focusing on how nice the warming sun felt as it skimmed the south rim of the canyon. In a calm, but insistent tone Nate awakens me from my daydreaming with; “Uh Steve, your bobber is down.” The auto-response to those words found me attached to a strong head throbbing and heavily bent rod. With guidance from Mike not to horse the fish in, we finally netted my largest ever steelhead (Great Lakes or Pacific Coast). Being a hatchery hen I was allowed to keep it, but I could no longer fish the rest of the day – that’s the law. Even though it was before noon, another fish this size was not a sure thing so it was harvested and my catch card completed to document the catch. This fish taped out at exactly 33 inches and estimated to weigh 13 pounds. Not a monster by “B” run standards but it provided enough fillets for Nate and I to share and he collected two large skeins of eggs for processing into next year’s bait.
Thirteen pound Clearwater River hen.
I suppose I will always have trouble focusing intently for hours on end, but I don’t have to, because I get lucky often enough to stick a few big fish.