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2018 Insider Newsletter Article Writing Contest


By Larry W. Henry

It had been a special winter on my small home stream. The run was strong and only a few tight-lipped anglers fished the river. The best part was, for the first time, I landed several winter steelhead on a fly.

It was late March and the river would close in a few days. I had a weekday off. It was a warm, sunny day and my hopes were high as I set off for the Cliff Run. The small parking area was empty. It was nearly a mile by trail to the spot. I was thrilled to know I’d have the water to myself. I love March in Western Washington. The air is filled with the warm, humid fragrance of the emerging forest. Birds are singing. With luck, I would find some late run native fish.
There were no recent human tracks on the path.
I was bursting with anticipation on arrival. I quickly assembled my tackle and tied on a size 8 green-butt skunk with a dark brown bucktail wing. This fly is a summer run favorite of mine and I reasoned it was a good pick for the low, crystal clear water. The deep run is bordered by steep cliffs on both sides. At the top, the river tumbles down a boulder chute, meets the cliff then swings nearly ninety degrees forming the start of the run. There is a large boulder in the center just as the water slows. Nearly all the fish I have hooked in the Cliff Run came from the pocket below that boulder. In the gin clear water, it was immediately obvious there were no fish there.
I edged along top of the cliff and inspected every very inch of the run. Just as I imagined walking back without having made a single cast, some movement in the tail-out caught my eye.
Above the start of the rapids, were three steelhead.
Two bucks, each about six pounds, had olive green backs and crimson stripes on their sides. They were positioned behind a magnificent hen exceeding ten pounds. She had no color, just shades of grey indicating a chrome bright fish.
The approach was problematic. I couldn’t cast from the top of the cliff. There was a small ledge upstream from the fish, but getting there might spook them. The thick brush did not allow a back cast. Fortunately, shade covered the area, so I carefully made my way down and managed a roll cast without spooking the fish. The fly landed well upstream from the fish and a single mend was possible, but I was a slightly short. The closer buck briefly turned toward the fly then repositioned. I waited a long minute and made my second cast. It was a longer cast, with two mends, and the fly drifted in front of the hen. She turned toward the fly, tracked it down stream then followed while I stripped in. Closer and closer she came. The water at the ledge was over three feet deep so she did not spook. As the leader loop went through the rod tip, I knew if I moved I would spook her. I held my breath. The fly was about two feet from rod tip when her pec fins flared, that head came up and her mouth opened.
She stopped.
She was suspended, inches below the surface. I could see the detail of every scale, spot, even the gold ring around her pupil. After what seemed an eternity, she turned and slowly cruised back to her position above the bucks.
I sat down to compose myself. It was a perfect day. The fish were not spooked and I had all afternoon. I would wait a full five minutes before casting again. When my pounding heart slowed and hands stopped shaking, I threaded my tippet through the eye of a sparsely tied size 6 black fly.
Suddenly, I sensed something was not right. Outdoorsman know the feeling. I was not looking upstream, nor did I hear anything, but something was out of place. I spun and gazed upstream. There was a flash of yellow barely visible through the trees in the boulder chute, then a flash of red.
My spirits crashed as the two kayakers stroked down the run at a fast clip. I watched the fish bolt into the rapids followed by the kayaks.
It felt like a much longer walk back to the truck.
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