There are some casts that aren’t supposed to be pretty. In June, when freshet floods the west’s glacial-fed rivers, raging water molests shore bushes and determined anglers are forced to stumble and “ninja wade” through aggressive brown currents, uprooted logs and unstable rocks.
In these conditions, both wading and casting are difficult. The “cast, strip, step” mentality has a new twist to it; “slide right foot until steady, hold breath, slide left foot until steady, slip, gasp, arm flail, deep breath, set anchor, load with D loop, lasso shrubs and bushes that are equally as unaccustomed to this high current, curse like a trucker, reset anchor, reload with shallow D loop, compensate for 15 feet of Rio’s T14, swing until fly reaches a full dangle, then strip and repeat.”
While most steeheaders are correct in assessing the muddy waters as unfishable, the off colored torrent is ideal for those looking to target ocean-fresh Chinook salmon that seek safety and migration in the fast flowing high water.
As the water clears, the fishing becomes progressively harder and the technicality of such an environment is tolerable for those looking to try their luck with one of these monsters.
Admittedly there are many fish that I respect, but there are few that I fear; West-coast Chinook are a species that I fear.
Dean River Chinook are spotted with sea-lice, their distinct scales and fins metallic with rays of blue, green and purple, their large square tails define strength and agility.
Freshly transitioned freshwater bodies still flaunt a temperament flared with the instinctual habit from being the Kings of the ocean and their rolling bodies tense our shoulders when we watch them porpoise through the surging current.
Jumps, rolls and runs defy the argument that Chinook don’t fight, but there’s hardly any time to laugh at this hilarity, as typically in my shock I am being dragged downstream by a 30+ pounder who’s calling all of the shots. Last minute desperation pleas are the leader busters on the Dean River, and it is an all too familiar scenario as the fish sees a looming black net and retaliates with a sharp and energetic turn, leaving a slack line and an exhausted angler to rest.
I love steelhead. I love them more than I should… for they have consumed my life.
But it is the Chinook, the Kings, who have ruined me as an angler. I fear them for their power, I fear them for their confidence, I fear them for their viciousness, and I fear them for how they fight in fear of me
This year, armed with a 650 grain Skagit Flight Head and an abundance of both slickshooter and backing, I stumbled through the high water and eyed up “Chinook runs” that ran deep and fast. Sitting on the edge of fast currents, often a double digit salmon will lounge in the oxygen induced flow, aggressively chasing down an intruder in its lair.
Both admiration and restlessness consume me as I hunt them through the dim days. The fog and damp air fill my lungs and moisten my brow. The water is cold but the air is warm and the intensity of it all always makes me breathe a little harder; hooking one of these beasts is only the first part of the chaos, for it’s the landing that always messes with my head.
I step, fumble, do all of the above listed steps, then finally manage a deliverable (very unattractive) cast. As my sink tip penetrates the surface, I stray my rod tip upstream and maintain tension so as to allow my fly direct contact with an angry mouth. “There it is, there it is….” It plucks. I wait to strike.