For some reason, everyone in my house was awake at 6:30 am Wednesday morning. That may sound normal for a house with working parents and school-age kids, but it’s certainly not the norm here. The combination of flexible job hours, a night owl for a wife and kids who really like their Zzz’s keeps us all snoozing closer to 7:30-8:00 am on a normal day. Actually, who am I kidding… it’s a rare sight to see me awake at such a time, unless it involves fishing.
I’ve been itching to break out the 3 weight on my local stream this year, but early spring steelhead makes it too risky until they drop back out to the lake. With everyone awake early, the sun shining through the bedroom blinds and birds chirping, it seemed like a good morning to sneak out for a couple hours before work.
I love small streams and all the perks and challenges that come with them: solitude, stalking wary fish, light gear and technical casting. Sure, fish size generally correlates to stream size, but when you’re casting a 2-3 weight rod with 6-8x tippet on a small stream, an 8 inch trout can be just as exciting (or more so) than a 12 inch trout on a larger river.
I had a quick breakfast, geared up at the house and arrived at my destination a short drive later. I decided to try out a new path to the stream and while it was fairly well marked at the beginning, it had all but disappeared by the time it reached the river. I considered marking the exit of the path so I could easily find my way back when I was finished, but it seemed to be in a recognizable enough location, so I decided that wasn’t necessary.
I started out with a sparsely tied Partridge soft hackle in red and was immediately into small Rainbows. Some fish were small enough that they still had visible parr marks, though many were a bit larger. Atlantic juveniles are also known to be in this stream and I still have a hard time differentiating them from small rainbows at times. If I’m wrong in any of my identifications here, please comment and correct me!
Since the fish seemed eager to take my flies, I also tried a couple different dry flies with moderate success: a Patriot and Red Humpy. In case you’re wondering, the tape on my finger is due to a likely (still unverified) broken finger from volleyball last week.
As I worked upstream, I came across some nicer looking pools and decided to go back to sub-surface pattern to try and get into some better fish. One of my favourite ultra-versatile flies has to be the Bead Head Pheasant Tail Soft Hackle (or any similar bead head soft hackle). The easiest way to fish these is to swing them, but you can also dead drift them like you would a standard nymph. The bead head is enough to get it down and the partridge collar gives it some nice action in the water compared to a standard Pheasant Tail. It proved once again to be an excellent producer as I landed many more fish on it, including a couple unexpected browns.
From the same pool the two browns were caught in, I also landed a few more rainbows, including a couple like the one below which I am not quite sure about.
Still pulling fish out of the same pool, a decent strike led me to give a solid yank upwards to set the hook, when my pheasant tail shot up into a tree branch several feet above my head. I couldn’t manage to pull it free and lost the last bead head soft hackle in my fly box. Part of the joys of fishing small streams.
I tied on a small Hares Ear to continue where I left off and after a couple more small fish, I was completely surprised by hooking into an 18-20″ steelhead! With a 3 weight rod and 6x tippet, while it may have been possible to land, as soon as I got him on the reel he tore upstream and snapped me off. An exciting way to end things for sure!
When I began heading back, I came to the unfortunate realization that I failed to memorize what the entry point of the path looked like. I retraced my steps a few times, walked in the direction of where I thought the path should be, but couldn’t find it. What ensued was about 30 minutes of bush-whacking my way through fairly dense forest trying to find my car in 20+ degree weather with a sweatshirt on. Needless to say, I took a much needed shower before heading to work. Never a dull moment.
The easiest way to identify the different parr are by the tail. The Atlantics have an obvious fork that the bows do not. 🙂
First steelhead I ever caught ( and landed ) were pretty much under identical circumstances. Gets the heart pumpin’ doesn’t it. 😉