Friday, November 11, 2011

Steelhead Success on Salmon River

This steelhead's my 9-pound, 3-ounce wonder.

What a trout! My son, Matt's first steelhead at 5 pounds, 7 ounces, 25 3/8th inches. This fish, fought on five-pound test, headed straight down the Salmon River at top speed, and had gained more than a hundred yards, we estimated, before we saw it break water and then stop. I was surprised how soon Matt got it boatside by pumping the rod and reeling in the tension relief. Without the 10-foot noodle rods to absorb shock and give flex power, line of low breaking strength would have little, if any, chance on these fish.
Once I had the knack, Eric Geary, our SWAT (Salmon, Walleyes, and Trout) Fishing guide, taught me--keeping that line tight against the float as it drifted, and setting the hook quick--I had my first steelhead of the trip, 5 pounds, 1 ounce. Matt was into another, much larger, soon after my struggle had weakened my right arm considerably; I'm not making that up. We knew it was big because we saw it twist at the surface with the sort of deliberateness you see giant snakes exercise on their prey.

He played it for several minutes, the hook pulled, and he reported that he never saw the float disappear with this fish. It simply struck like a lion runs over its kill with accelerating power. Those may seem dramatic words for an eight or nine-pound trout taking a 10-mm bead with a small hook two inches below it, but they typically take these simple lures, which resemble the salmon eggs they feed on, take them firmly. If they eject the offering just as quick, having chomped upon hard plastic, they also sometimes swallow from the advantage of a powerful rush.
All three of my hook-ups using a bead came quicker than conscious intention. When I hooked my 9 pound, 3 ounce trout, 30 3/8th-inches, I reacted as soon as the float went down, without that lag of consciously judging it had. Zen. You have to be instantaneous unless the trout just ploughs into the hook. Most times you see the float go down, it's too late. I missed at least 20 hits. Besides two I caught, and another about 17 inches quickly released, I caught one of about five-and-a-half pounds on a jointed Rapala, also quickly put back. We're allowed one fish per man.
I'm pretty sure I fought my big one a full 15 minutes or more on that five-pound test. The fight felt greater than largest king salmon last year of 20 pounds, 12 ounces on 12-pound test. The steelhead took a couple of strong runs, but never high tailed it downriver as Matt's smaller trout did. It held it's own in mid river, very difficult to pump in and finally have netted. Eric, who has done this for 30 years, made, I think, five netting attempts before we finally had the fish. I breathed relief. Every time that fish got away from the net, I knew it added to the stakes and drama. I was grateful for the catch.
Once our photo taking was over and things settled down, Eric told me the hook attached to that fish "by the skin of the teeth."
"If you had relaxed the tension on that fish, it would have been gone."

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