A Golden Day for River Rainbows
By: Ben Nicolson
One December whilst travelling through the US I managed to make a detour to Oregon to visit the Fly Fishing Shop in Welches, Oregon. Fairly new to fly fishing at the time and a complete rooky to steelhead fishing, the stories I’d read about these fish had me hooked. I had two goals for that trip – one to try steel head fishing on the Deschutes River, which I did with Mark and his fabulous team of guides and the second, to gear myself up for the more common small- stream trout fishing on offer close to home in Australia. I was not to be disappointed on either goal.
The ability to try casting several different rods that I had never even heard of before and that might fit the bill was great. I was introduced to the Temple Fork Outfitters products. Somewhat different from my 6 and 5 weight rods I regularly used, I tried several lighter rods and quickly found one rod that had a very pleasing feel. The rod, a BVK 8’0”, 4 pc, also had the great option two additional sections to make the rod a 10’0”, 5pc, especially suited for situations where techniques such as Czech nymphing are desirable.
Another neat feature of the rod was that it was beautifully compact, came equipped with a Prism 3/4-weight reel and is all housed nicely in a hard bodied triangular Rod and Reel Carrier, with well-padded reel pouch. After a few pointers at the ‘casting school’ on getting the best out of the rod action which was slower than I was used to, I felt very comfortable that this was a perfect rod setup for getting into those back country rivers.
I left Oregon following day and after the marathon flight and a one day to recover, I was awake very early. About 3am early, with jetlag still strong. So I decided there was no better way to get over that, than by taking advantage of it. I packed my new waders, chest pack, and a spinning rod and some Celta lures for my wife.
We drove to a great little river, the Goodradigbee, about 55 minutes from home and headed to a favorite spot. Now if I’m relatively new to fly fishing, my wife is even newer to fishing! So I set up the spinning rod and gave her a couple of pointers, knowing that I’d have to get her comfortable if I was to have any chance of having a good session myself. With a fairly old spin rig, the Celta isn’t the easiest of lures to cast but the size of the ‘river’, by any American standard being hardly more than a mountain brook, means that there isn’t a necessity for any distance casting.
She cast once, the lure plopped about 6’ in from of her, second cast was a little better, but at least it was in the water.
“That’s it, just keep on practicing the technique, not the distance, that will come” I told her, desperate to get my fly rod set up and a fly on the water.
She watched me go, annoyed. “There’s no fish here, you just want to fish yourself” she said, as she whacked out her third cast, this time a very respectable cast near the far bank, and then in a huff she proceeded to wind it in fast. That of course, attracted the attention of a small mountain rainbow watching from shelter of the overhanging grassy bank. Out like a rocket the trout shot, darting around river cobbles and homing in on the lure like a heat-seeker missile. All in the same instant, I pointed to the river, my wife saw the fish, and as she was at the end of the retrieve and about to lift the rod, the fish struck! She hooked up. I got down into the water and lifted the fish. She (let alone me) couldn’t believe it; a nice little 10” rainbow trout.
She looked ruefully at me, and said “there are fish in here”.
Also smiling, I said “Well done, now you’ve got the idea.” and went back to my TFO fly rod.
Within a few minutes I’d rigged up. The summer weather hadn’t really kicked in and with rain 2-3 days a week the river still had a bit of color and was flowing reasonably swiftly. There was a fair bit of caddis-type insect action around the grassy banks and lots of larvae under rocks, so I selected a brown bead-head nymph; it was still very much wet fly action.
I stripped off about 10’ of line into a small backwater pool between rocks at my feet, with the intention of loading into the current to further strip off another 10’ or so. The words of the guys from The Fly Fishing shop and TFO were going through my head: “casting weighted flies or split-shot with a light rod takes some getting used to… remember to slow down your stroke and throw wider loops to prevent the fly from ending up a tangled mess on the end of the leader, or worse yet, striking the rod… think about using weighted flies in place of split or using a sink tip fly line… use a shortened leader 4-6 feet or a standard 7½ - 9 foot leader, depending on how deep you need to present the fly”.
I weighted the line and set it into the current on a tight bend, watched it glide down a short cascade, just enjoying the sight, without even thinking of stripping more line out, and then ‘whack’, a thin line of spray marked the tightening as the line broke the surface, and I was on. The feeling was incredible. With such a light line on a light rod, and every little twitch turn and jump of the trout coming straight through the rod to my fingers. I moved down the river a couple of steps and brought it into the backwater a beautiful little rainbow, similar in size to the one I’d seen my wife catch a few minutes earlier. I couldn’t believe it. New rod, first cast, first fish. “I should retire now I thought, with a 100% strike rate!”
Of course I didn’t. After releasing, I headed to the next pool and repeated the same, then the next and the next. A second hook up followed, this time clearly a bigger fish, it shot downstream and snap! The rod and line recoiled like a stock whip, instantly slack. I was left to contemplate my mistakes. Fishing with light gear requires a lot more ability to play the fish. A substantially miniaturised version of what I’d experienced with the steel head. “Move with the fish next time I thought, and play it”. The Prism reel, I soon found does have a very functional and effective drag. Far better than the ‘by feel’ approach I’d been shown, and applied using heavier and more forgiving (less sporting) line.
The next section of river broadened and shallowed down a long straight, one bank slightly deeper and undercut proved ideal habitat for lurking trout. The river narrowed through a rocky bar, and into a deeper pool. “This looks ideal” I thought. I cast upstream, and stripping in line, raising the rod as it ran over the lip of the cascade and into the pool. Nothing! I repeated the process several times. Still no hint of fish. “There’s gotta be a fish in there” I thought. I noticed too, that my line was travelling fast. I thought to myself,” it’s just not getting down in there”. I decided to add some weight, took out some very useful split I’d picked up in Welches, and again repeated the process.
The strike indicator dipped in a flash, I lifted the rod and I had another fish on. The fish was a bigger fish, and in a deeper pool the line streamed off the reel, zzzz – zzz. I had not imagined I would ever need backing line on such a light (3 wt) line, but the water was fairly quick and with light tippet (5X) I found the fish ran pretty hard and before I knew it the largest of these fish (not exactly big at 13", and a pound) had stripped off quite a bit of line. Soon however, I had the fish was at the bank. My wife had followed down behind me and was watching the spectacle. We marvelled at the fish. It was my 5th for the day. She had also caught five for the day, and was beaming.
We returned to the car packed up and headed home. I have had many such pleasant trips walking in to back country streams and headwaters, and the TFO rod is now my go-to rod for such trips. The best catch though was that of my wife, because after her first day on the river, she’s now always keen for a little trip into the mountains!