Lately I’ve been keeping a calendar in the desk drawer of my computer station. Next to the calendar I have a sharpie pen. Every time I talk about planning a trip with someone I’m writing it into the calendar in order to make certain the trip actually goes down. Doesn’t get lost in the everyday shuffle of all of our lives. It’s working out pretty well. The weekends fill up fast and the rods are staying bent over lately…which I’m grateful for.
Which brings us to Friday night, February the 3rd. Two days ago. I didn’t need to check the calendar to know I had a full weekend of small river angling in my future. The original plan had involved two days worth of floating rivers from driftboats and whitewater rafts. Reports of fish catching dwindled on the rafting trip and were up in the air. The drift boat trip to the coast was rock solid, however, going into the evening. I checked my gear bag for the proper mix of jigs, plastic, leads, leader, bobber stop material etc. Check. Time to sleep. Didn’t really happen. It was kind of like a one-eye-open the whole night type of deal. Nothing really strong coffee in the morning wouldn’t cure, I knew.
The Saturday trip was to involve one of my new fishing partners and the husband of one of my oldest friends, Jennifer. You know him as Luis El Padron Rivas. You’ve seen him here on www.allaroundangler.com whacking and stacking fat chrome slabs since last fall. He is a coastal river junkie, an egg curing specialist and an amazing float fisherman. A couple months ago he explained to me that every year him and his best friend Nick (who I’ve coined Handsome Nick for the site) hire a river guide to float one of his favorite rivers….and would I be willing to step into some Guide Shoes for a day? I was flattered and graciously accepted his kind offer of covering trip expenses thoroughly. Truly a treat right down to the boat shuttle.
After much lamenting on Luis’ part with reference to recent reports from various inland and coastal rivers a decision was reached on Thursday. It went into ink. Saturday morning I met up with El Padron and The Handsome One at a predecided rendevous location in route. They hopped into my Chevy which proudly had the Diamond Back in tow ready to get wet. With more than 8 rods hanging out of the boat secured tightly in their styrofoam gripped slots we blasted over the pass westbound towards the coast. On the ride we chuckled at those we knew who were staying local to brave the east winds in the usual local suspects. We shouldn’t have laughed at them so soon.
Upon arriving at our launch location we couldn’t help but notice the wind was not only much stronger than the anticipated and forecasted 5-10 miles per hour…but had easily tripled that. So much so that upon dropping our anchor after shoving off to situate the rods and gear bags we could not hold our ground. We were only anchored in 2 feet of water and I had my 30lb anchor. Didn’t matter. We blew downstream as though the Diamond Back had a sail attached firmly to the bow. Yikes. I am a good oarsman with over 20 years experience with rafts and driftboats. It mattered none to the Wind Gods. They laughed at our aluminum vessell and rudely shoved us out of our first three attempts at as many holes and runs Luis had intended us to fish.
I decided to bank the boat and had planned on anchoring against the shore. This was also extremely difficult. The violent winds forced us to hitch the boat to trees along side the river with the bow rope while securing the pyramid anchor tightly around some bramble growing in the sand along the water line. We exited the boat and began our attemp at float fishing. We had all but ruled out using Luis’ newly purchased vintage Eagle Claw and Lamiglas S Glass rods for plug pulling as we originally planned. We figured the bend we snuck into had just enough cover to get some drag-free drifts completed successfully. Wrong. We moved on and left yet another gorgeous piece of water that under any other condition would have held our attention for certainly a fish or two.
There were several other drift boat anglers that had decided to make the run to this same river which complicated our chances of choosing the water we needed for drag-free drifts. We tried another bank pull out. No luck here either. But we were beginning to see the light of day as the winds were cut in half by this point. Our fingers were crossed that this trend would continue. It did. By the time we had completed 75% of our float we found ourselves tucked into a corner of the river in a spot highly coveted by chinook anglers in the fall. A very, very deep hole with a bit of a pinch point right at the top that appeared to be a nice even current all the way across the neck of the run. A slow walking speed.
Having found a lot of success this season running extremely deep float stops in similar types of water I jostled the boat up against a sandy nook and we all hopped out and unhooked our jigs from our hook rings. I stepped up to the top of the hole and adjusted my stop to a little longer than my 10’6″ rod in length. I attached a small Dan Cox Cascade micro cerise, bunny hair and flashabou, white headed jig to some 10lb P Line Voltage Copolymer leader. I really love this stuff and use the 10 and 12lb frequently in clearing water conditions. It provides excellent tensile and knot strength while visibility is kept to a minimum. It’s not as hard ad Flourocarbon which I like.
The sun was glaring behind the reduced wind gusting and I had forgotten my polarized shades. I was paying dearly with blurred vision by this point in the trip. That’s why I almost missed the take down. Almost. The float had slid through the bottle neck of the hole and had slipped into the blinding section of reflective death. I held my hand in front of my face to block the shine while peaking through my fingers like a kid scared to look at the screen during a scary movie. I saw what I thought was my float dancing on top of the water. The water was far too deep to be hitting bottom so I hammered back on it. Suddenly and without mercy a chrome bright fish came thumping up to the top of the water. I was hooked up. A rush of blood and adrenaline streaked through me.
I looked over at Luis and yelled ‘fish on.’ He grabbed the net and snapped the handle into place. When suddenly my reel, an Okuma Trio 30, seized on my completely. I cranked as hard as I could and the reel began to click and clunk. It sounded like a broken lawn mower that had just found a good sized rock in the yard. The spool was barely moving and I was struggling to retrieve any line. For every ten cranks I made with the reel handle my spool spun once. My drag, however, was totally in tact. Thankfully. I began to grab my spool and bail and turned it by hand as fast as I could. The fish ran at me. Slack was achieved. Not good. Not after working this hard for one fish to the boat.
By the grace of God El Padro snuck in front of me as the fish porpoised at the steep, deep bank at my feet. He swung the net in once. He missed. Before I could even grasp what had happened he had stabbed it again and successfully netted the fish. Then the jig fell out. One second more and that fish wouldn’t have gotten hit on the head with new custom Donaca fish bonker. Which it did. This would be our only fish of the trip and one of only a few for more than ten boats. A local guide only outfished us by one fish. He had one more angler in the boat as well. This trip will go down in the books as one of the toughest steelheading efforts I’ve ever put forth. One that ended up happily with chrome in the Diamond Back fish box. I am proud to have rowed Padron and Handsome down one of their favorite rivers for his birthday trip. What a day. And what an even better video to come soon.
Keep ‘em wet,
Christopher Heller aka H3llcat