Monday, January 5, 2009

Winter Steelhead

In search of Squamish

Is it really possible to find enlightenment standing knee deep in a glacier fed river on a very rainy and cold winter day?
Steelhead are often referred to as the fish of a thousand casts as such it is easy to let ones mind wander while in pursuit of Oncorhynchus Mykiss. Today I ponder the universe from underneath a raised hood as wind and heavy rain do their best to encourage me indoors.
The rivers of sea to sky country are home to some of the strongest winter Steelhead in the world. These wild fish provide the serious fly angler a chance at the ultimate freshwater gamefish between the months of January and April. For those afflicted with this sickness braving the elements at this time of year is a ritualistic part of the Steelhead experience.
The rain subsides, the constant patter of water replaced by a heavy silence broken only by the squawk of an eagle hanging out in the old growth forest. After hours of casting in the heavy rain this brief respite is welcome and I drop the hood and take in my surroundings. Looking up at the Coast Mountains it is clearly still snowing heavily in the alpine. In time the clouds lift slightly and I am treated to a brief view of the prominent snowline a couple thousand feet above me.
Late winter storms have been pounding the coast, their heavy precipitation finally causing the river to swell. This is what the believers, myself and other Steelhead afflicted bums have been waiting for. A rising river brings in fresh fish from the ocean, the increased flow triggering a primal instinct that it is time to move upriver. Steelheading is really about being positioned well-being in the right place at the right time as the fish migrate by. Tucking the rod under my arm I rub my hands together to ease frozen fingers, I can't help but feel lucky today.
It is said that the allure of Steelheading has everything to do with the take, the way these fresh fish aggressively chomp the fly. Hours of casting and contemplation interrupted by the solid grab of a bright fish fresh from the salt, the tug is the drug.
I make cast after cast, each time moving slightly downstream. This is the mantra of the Steelhead angler "cast, step, cast, step" all the while believing. I fall into a rhythm, casting is smooth and fluid, the perfectly balanced spey rod effortlessly tossing the large pink tube fly across the river. Each time I am careful to mend the line slightly to slow the fly as it swings to shore.
Suddenly the fly stops mid swing and there is the recognizable head shake of a heavy fish. "There you are", I say out loud as the fish takes off for the far side of the river. The reel screams in earnest and my fly line peels out toward the tail out of the pool. There is an eruption of water spray and ten pounds of electric chrome clears the water and streaks back upstream coming to rest in the riffle across from me. I pull from the side to get the fish in as quickly as possible. A couple more runs and one spectacular jump and the Steelhead slides into a foot of slow water below me. I reach down and tail the fish with my bare wet hand taking care to keep it submerged in the water. The barbless hook slides easily out of the corner of the fish's mouth and I gently release her receiving a splash of cold water as her strong tail kicks as she darts away. As I wipe the cold water from the side of my face I reflect on how fortunate we are to have these magnificent fish and the wild rivers they depend on.
All Steelhead in the Squamish are wild fish and as such are protected with catch and release regulations.Anglers fishing the Squamish and it's main trib the Cheakamus need to have a Steelhead Stamp and fresh water license to target these fish. As well a single barbless hook restriction and bait ban are in place. In addition to the Steelhead fly anglers can expect to catch Rainbow, Cutthroat and Bull trout(Char) in these rivers. Like the Steelhead, all Trout and Char in the Squamish and it's tributaries are catch and release.

1 comment:

  1. Nice writing - keep it comin'. You've reiterated why I think we're so fortunate to live in the region we do. Sometimes I stand in a sea-to-sky flow and forget that I have a line in the water with everything that surround me.