Tuesday, February 20, 2007

skunked and grinning

The Chetco River has been hot for steelhead the last couple of days, so it is time to pitch the kayak into the truck and join the fun. I made up some special yarn rigs on #4 hooks and 8 lb flurocarbon leaders. These are stored in a PID box under the seat of the boat. Snags are a common occurance on the river as the bait is drifted along the bottom, and many rocks and logs are awaiting my passing. I use a round rubberized sinker with an eye in it to clip to a slider on the line. A swivel keeps the sinker ahead of the leader . While drifting the ball bounces over the rocky bottom with the bait drifts along below it in the current. The kingfisher kayak is electric powered and the motor on-off and left/right is controlled by the foot pedals, keeping both hands free for fishing. Only the speed is set by hand, and the throttle is located near my left knee, in easy reach.

I put in the river at Ice Box, near the first bridge as it is very convenient. I can drive the truck down the gravel bar to the water and drop in. No need to carry the boat any distance, and to shuffle gear from the truck to the boat. While loading the boat a couple of drift boats glide by and neither of them have fish on board. One boat put in at Redwood, the other at Nook, and I find myself hoping the fish are down lower or that the bite will come on later in the morning.

Shoving off at Ice Box puts the boat immediatley into a fast riffle and two tree limbs pass onerously under the boat. Toward the bottom of the riffle I cast into the seam between the fast and slow water and let the sinker go to the bottom. A few bounces along the rocky bottom are displayed on my rod tip, when the tip goes down and stays. I quickly set the hook - into a snag. A stomp on the left pedal turns the boat upstream and I slide the throttle forward to MAX. The boat quickley turns up river and in a few seconds my sinker is pushed up the line to my rod tip by the fast moving water. I grab the sinker and wind in the line as the boat moves upstream. When I'm above the snag I give the line a tug using my hand, not the rod, and the line parts at the leader. Another turn sends the boat into quiet water where I can anchor and tie on a new rig. A Snag on the first cast, not a good sign, but it did get my adrnenalin up for a while. And I lost a hook but rescued a sinker, so things could be worse. About half of the time the hook will pull out of the snag and I can just continue fishing.

Hooks are less than 50 cents and these sinkers are almost 3 bucks, so I feel ahead of the game. Occasionally the sinker will lodge under a large rock and a pull from upstream will usually free it. You can tell which is snagged (hook or sinker) by the action of the rod. I can't recall the last time I lost a stuck sinker. That is the advantage of these round bouncing sinkers, they don't wedge into a crevice like a lead sinker or even a slinky. All you have to do is get upstream of one to free it.

There is a steel head derby today so there are lots of boats on the water and we are approaching 'combat fishing' conditions. Looking upstream I see 4-5 boats most of the time and as many downstream. Most are guides with their clients and a few have fish on board. I can't help but wonder what kind of magic they employ as I am runnning the same lines on the river and using about the same bait or lure. Having 3 rods in the boat tripples their chances of having a fish, but there is more to it than that. On one boat the lady angler had caught 3 fish (releasing a small one) while the guys had none. Hmmmmmm. Wonder why.

For me the best thing about the derby was the chuck wagon the chamber of commerce set up at Loeb bar. The food was free to all of the fishermen, and the coffee chilli and hot dog put a smile on my face for the last leg of the drift. Fishermen are usually carefull about fishing ediquet but have no problem talking with a mouth full of beans. Most I talked to have been struggling to get a hook up, and the successfull ones just shrugged when asked how they did it. Just dumb luck? Hmmmm.

When we first moved up to the south coast of oregon about 7 years ago I bought a nice boat for ocean salmon fishing that had all of the goodies on it; electronics, quiet troling motor, downriggers, the whole nine yards. The first 2 week of the salmon season passed with out a single hit, even though I was fishing next to other boats that were landing fish, using the same bait, troling the same speed and depth. Driving home one afternoon I thought it was like someone had taken a dump on my bait, the fish just wouldn't touch it. I woke up the next morning with the realization that 'that is it'. I had been thawing my frozen bait out in a bucket that I had urinated in several days ago, and the residual urine was contaminating the bait. Next trip out we had a new bait bucket and a bar of anice oil soap. No one was allowed to touch the bait intil they had thoroughly washed up, and the new bucket was declared sacred, no one was to pee in it. We immediately began catching salmon and now land more than the average boat.

Incidentally, my daughter is my fishing partner. She baits and works her line, and I do mine. Fact is, I rarely manage to catch as many as she does. The boat My Mary has Mary working the bait and her husband Bob is just fishing. They catch a lot of fish. There seems to be something about the scent of ladies that salmon like, or perhaps the scent of men that salmon do not like. Anice oil, WD40 and bilge oil seems to be more attractive to a salmon than the scent of a male.

Steel head are 'sight feeders' I read, and not fussy about smell. Well maybe, but soap is cheap so now there is a bar in the kayak and I am ready for the next trip as soon as the rain lightens up and the river level begins to fall.

This trip was a bust for most anglers, I saw only two fish hooked up that morning. One boat had gone to using worms, with a big red bonber. The angler wached it intently as he drifted along not far from me. In desperation I had switched to a 'fat cat' lure and worked both sides of the boat, feeling that by covering more water I might bump into a fish. We both pulled in at the take out point with empty boats. Turns out that Mike had made his drift boat and it was indeed unique. It looked like a big pram that could hold two friendly anglers. It was the only boat with 'gingerbread trim'. We compared notes on fishing and talked of boats for a while. Then my wife rolled up with the car so I loaded the kayak up and we went back to Ice Box to pick up the truck. Driving home I could not help but feel that Mike and I had more fun on the river than most. There is something about paddling a boat that you have built that is hard to beat. Now lets see if there is something about the scent of men that makes a difference to steelhead.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

clearwater steelhead

It is a clear saturday and the high tide is at 12:30. If I hang around the house I am going to have a 'honey doo' list laid upon me, or the dogs are going to want to go for a run. I had better make my escape soon, so I start loading up the truck with the kayak for some quality fishing time.
This is the escape boat, just load it into the truck and remember to bring the battery, lunch and PFD.
I head up to the Chetco river just out of Brookings OR. We havent had rain for 2 weeks now and the river is flowing at only 700 CFM. It needs at least 1500 CFM to float a boat over the rocks in the upper river, so I will have to stay closer to the ocean where the tide still influences the depth. I settle on Tide Rock where there is parking for the truck and a 50 yd hike to the water, down a levee and across some gravel. Arriving at the 'put in' spot I unload the gear and lug it to the waters edge. The bank fisherman there tells me that there hasn't been any action there all morning, So I get underway and motor/paddle upstream toward Social Security Bar, where there are a couple of guides and clients in their drift boats. The first one turns out to be Val Early, one of the better guides on the river, and they have an empty boat. She says the other boat has one fish. So it is going to be 'one of those days'. The river is low and gin clear. I will have to cast long and pay attention if I am to get into a fish.
I put on a little Hot Shot and troll downstream to the riffle below Tide rock. As I move along I see a V in the water heading my way. I watch the V for a while, expecting an otter or seal nose to pop up for a breath of air, but there is none. Shortly I am next to the critter and it is a steelhead 8-10 lbs with what appears to be a wound on his side. The fish is swimming in a dazed pattern with no interest in me or anything but to continue moving along. The fish has already had a tough morning so I will not add to it.
Now in the faster water I switch to a Small corky, a little yarn and eggs in a drift rig set up. I cast long and use the motor to keep the boat parallel with the bait. The slack is kept out of the line and the rod tip bounces, describing what the sinker is doing as it moves over the gravel bottom. If a fish picks up the bait the rod tip will go down a little and not come back up, and I will have a second or two to set the hook. Dozers will not get a hook up on this day.
I make several passes on this riffle working some snaggs to see if there are fish resting behind them. With no action, I continue to drift to the next riffle below Morse Hole. It is the last riffle on the river, and below it is the estuary. Here I will have to turn around and work back upstream. I am working a drift when I hear a snort behind me and turn to see a male sea lion who is intent on fishing this riffle with me. Shortly a female appears and the two of them move up stream from me. The male is not intimidated by a boat that is smaller than he is, and the two of them work upstream while I continue working 'My fishing hole'.
Soon the water is roilled with debris created by the sealions chasing fish, and I am not getting any attention. These buggers have spooked all of the fish within half mile of me, so I decide to give it up and pull in my line. I have the line half way in when I see a large bow wave heading down toward me, and I know it isn't a fish. I crank on the reel a little faster and see the male shoot under my line. He apparently felt my line on his back, and he arced out of the water in front of me and landed with an impressive splash. The female was right behind him. They were gone, but it didn't matter, the fishing was over.
The tide was running now and the current was stronger. Using just a paddle I could barely make headway. The hull speed on a 10 ft boat with 200 lbs of guy and gear is not very fast, but with the added thrust of the motor I made good time. While paddling along I was listening of the hum of the motor and began thinking about that steelhead I had met earlier. Did it have an encounter with a seal or sea lion? I wondered if the sea lions had found it when they were upstream from me. If they did, it would have been a short chase.
In a short while I was back to Tide Rock and the take out point. I anchored the boat in a foot of water and hauled the motor, battery and gear up to the truck. Then I shouldered the boat and headed up the levee. Now I can remember days when I could have run up a hill like that with a 55 lb load, but that was a while ago. Now that I have accumulated 60++ years of life experience, it seemed wise to stop half way up and rest the old bones. After a few mins I completed the trip, secured the boat in the truck and headed home. Driving along the river I enjoyed the P-nut butter sandwich that I never had time to eat while on the water, and my thoughts returned to that steelhead.