O'fer Two

O’fer: In terms of fly fishing for steelhead o’fer refers to an individual who has never caught a steelhead or has not caught one in a long time.

As I do more and more research and peruse fly fishing forums and websites for information regarding fly fishing for steelhead I come across the word o’fer a lot. Often used in baseball, when say a batter goes 0 for 4 in a game or simply o’fer, it is also a word that seems to work quite well with steelhead fishing. One forum I like to check for information on how others are doing and what methods they may suggest even has an o’fer contest which has some very complicated rules that I have yet to figure out. Mostly it appears that a bunch of novice steelheaders who have never caught a steelhead or are in the midst of an agonizing dry spell see who can be the first to break their o’fer streak while a few amused onlookers pick their horse so to speak and wager the currency of fly fishermen, hand tied flies, on who they think the slump buster will be. So I knew what I was getting into when I began fly fishing for steelhead and so really it is no surprise I am officially O’FER two.

My brothers and I along with our wives took a little post holiday trip up north to New Meadows, Idaho after gorging on turkey Thursday. The girls poked around the little resort town of McCall while the boys headed up to the whitewater capital of Idaho, Riggins, to do some steelhead fishing. We didn't catch a thing but we did all have fun. It was very cold on the river this day and I had a problem with my guides freezing up on my fly rod. It is kind of hard to cast when this happens but we got to fish some good runs, but just couldn’t coax the Steelhead to come out and play. We fished a couple places on the Little Salmon and the main Salmon Rivers. The canyons in this country are very deep so even though the sun was out all day it did not reach us much down on the river. I will try and post a couple pictures from the canyon although I have to say I am real disappointed in the way most of my pictures turned out from this trip.

Until next time,
Main Salmon River above Riggins, ID

Little Salmon River

A nice little buck we came across up the Main Salmon River.


Episode One, The Persuit of Steel

As I stood there in the cold water, casting across a perfect run, I could just feel the anticipation building. This was it. This water had to yield something. It looked to good not too. As my fly swung in a perfect arc, it flowed across a slightly submerged boulder and suddenly I felt the subtle tap then the heavy pull as the large steelhead tried to make its escape. Setting the hook, I noticed the intensity of the fish increase as it felt the sting of the fly in its jaw. The silver bullet made a big run peeling line from my reel, exposing my backing, and making several leaps from the river, crashing back to the water each time angrier and more determined to get free. The whole scene was playing over and over in my head in slow motion, as I casted my fly into the crystal clear water of the aptly named South Fork of the Clearwater River in North Central Idaho. Yes that’s right. It was all in my head. None of it happened, but with every cast there was the chance that it could and that alone was enough to keep me enthused. My brother Tom, along on the trip to film footage for a possible episode for his website, was also keeping a positive outlook for our chances at hooking into a big steelhead. As we drove up and down the river in search of that perfect looking run he remarked often just how fishy the river looked. The river did indeed look perfect. But this would be my first time trying to fish for steelhead and to make things a little more challenging I was choosing to go at it with a fly rod.

In preparing for this trip I talked to a lot of people and the words I heard most often were “be patient” followed by “once you hook one you will never forget it.” I have heard rumors that steelhead fisherman, especially those who choose to pursue the fish with a fly rod are a different breed. These are people who under the best of conditions expect to catch one or two fish per 12 hours spent on the water. Now I should define the “best of conditions” for steelhead fishing. The season for these large, magnificent sea run rainbow trout runs from the fall through the spring, spanning the time of year most likely to bring in weather that would send the average person scurrying for the shelter of a structure, preferably with four solid walls, a good roof, and some form of heat. Steelhead fishermen however are undeterred by weather and in fact often find the best fishing coincides with the worst weather, thus apparently making them above average persons. Of course that too could depend upon your perspective. In my research I learned that experienced fly fishermen go long stretches, and even whole seasons without catching a fish and yet they keep coming back for more. I had to wonder what it was that kept them going and decided the best way to find out was to try it out myself.

A trait of fly fishermen I am finding happens to be the need for a different rod and reel for different conditions and types of fish. My decision to chase steelhead also meant I was going to have to buy my third different fly rod and reel. These fish will destroy a regular five-weight set up that you would use for trout so the first stop in my pursuit of steel was the fly shop at Cabela’s to get outfitted. Preferable rod weight for the Clearwater is an eight-weight rod with a good reel with an above average drag system. The guy who helped me out in my decisions just happened to be an avid steelhead fisherman himself and I found out just how serious he took it when he told me his own personal experience with the sport. “Steelhead fishing” he explained “helped me get through a divorce from my first wife, and was the direct cause of my second divorce.” Okay, maybe you can take this thing way too far, just like anything else. I explained to him I wanted a good setup that would hold up to the pounding a big steelhead could put on a rod, but was not ready to break the bank. I was still not too sure how much steelhead fishing I would end up doing. I finally got connected with a very good yet economical setup and joined the ranks of the three fly-rod owners. The fly shop salesman assured me that this rod could handle a Clearwater Steely as well as a Caribbean Bonefish and maybe even a Dorado in Baja. You would think owning three rod and reel combos I would have the whole spectrum covered but I am sure by next year I will have discovered a fish or a condition which will require a different set up than what I own.

The next few days were spent talking to those in the know, and doing a lot of research on the internet trying to figure out what my plan of attack would be. The biggest unknown in all of this turned out to be the river itself and how big the run actually was on the South Fork this time of year. The people I talked to said, yes there would be plenty of fish in the water, but often times I wondered if they really knew which area I was talking about fishing. Everything I saw on the internet looked like the run does not get real good up where I would be fishing until March. These conflicting reports had my outlook bouncing from high to low throughout the week. Finally I just set my mind to the fact that I was going to go up there and use all the techniques and info I had collected as best I could and let the chips fall where they may. If steelhead can be elusive when they are running strong in a river well, if nothing else, this would be good practice in the patience everyone advised me was necessary of a steelhead fisherman.

Finally, it was time to get on the water and find out just what steelhead fishing was all about. It turned out that the advice to be patient was the message that would ring true. I did not catch or even have a steelhead strike the whole trip, but I plan to take the advice to be patient and put in my time because even without catching a fish I managed to learn something new about why it is that I like to fly fish so much.

There is a rhythm to fly fishing that seems to wash out every distracting thought or concern. It is casting and stepping, to the melodious soundtrack of the river tumbling over smooth round stones and crashing around car sized boulders. The concentration and the attention to small details like the slightest changes in current or the perfect cast with the perfect drift keep you in a zone. Your mind becomes focused on the task, but free at the same time. I think sometimes we get too caught up in the need that for a fishing or hunting trip to be a success we have to have tangible results. I think this is why I enjoy fly fishing so much. Because I enjoy the rhythm and it seems to be all I need to feel free from any distractions. As my mind drifted easily with each cast I realized why, standing there in a steady drizzle, waist deep in 40 degree water, with air temperatures nearing the freezing point, and not catching a thing I could say with a straight face that this was a successful trip. I was here in one of the most beautiful places in the world, right in the middle of it. Not staring longingly at pictures on the web, or seeing it zip by at 70 miles an hour from my windshield. Nope, I was smack in the middle of the river soaking up every moment. Maybe Episode Two will produce the hookup they claim will have me addicted to steelhead fishing for life but for now I am enjoying mastering the art of patience. Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy catching fish but chasing steelhead has proven to me again that it is never all about the catching. The true reward is in the getting out and experiencing nature as it is, unpredictable.


The Legend of the Mythical Steelhead

Here are a few pictures from my most recent adventure. A trip with my Dad, Mom, and brother Tom up the South Fork of the Clearwater River in pursuit of the ever dangerous Bullwinkle (Dad has a moose tag for that area) and the elusive, and apparently imaginary Steelhead. Stay tuned story to follow.
What a beautiful river
Photo by Tom

Sun on the River

Photo by Tom

Me Waiting for the Big One

Photo by Tom


Throwing some Line

Photo by Tom

A pretty 15" Cutthroat Trout

Photo by Tom

The "Purple Freight Train"

Fun with Fire

Most of the leaves are off but there were still a few hangers on.

A parting shot