Here is the report of my weekend trip to Elk Creek for my inaugural search for some steelhead. I have to apologize for some of the photos; I don't have a waterprood digital camera, so I had bought a waterproof disposable one. Lets just say, big mistake. So if your looking at getting the Kodak waterproof disposable, keep looking. Half the photos taken didn't turn out and of the one's that did, a third looked horrible. Luckily I took my digital with, just not when I was wading.
I was up at 4am to load the van with the essentials, pulling away by 5am.
I picked my buddy up and loaded his stuff and off we went.
The drive across the state was somewhat uneventful, but there was a little more construction than I expected. Even still, we saw a number of whitetail deer (some of them were even alive too) and a few turkeys. At one point, the highway was heading down into a valley and as the walls of stone on either side of the roadway slowly rose, 3-4 turkeys few overhead from one side of the road to the other.
It took a little longer to get there than I expected, but by mid-afternoon we arrived at Folly's End Campground, located right on Elk Creek. We were even lucky enough to have one of the few sites that was almost right next to the creek. There was our site, then the end of the gravel drive, and then the creek.
We had decided that, being the supreme specimens of mountain men that we were, we were going to tent it for the weekend. So we set up the tent. I'm not sure how it took about an hour for me and him to set up a tent that only took my 30 minutes when I set it up my self, but somehow we managed that.
After wrestling with that and getting the rest of the gear stashed, we had a quick bite and then looked to hit the stream. The section of the Elk next to our site was where an old bridge used to be, and in the creek there were slabs of old concrete from the bridge. At these slabs was a deep pool with some pretty gnarly currents due to both the slabs and larger stones at the head.
There was a few guys from the adjacent site standing at the pool looking in when I walked over. I asked if they saw anything and they said they didn't. I waited until they walked away and took a look for myself, even walking out on to one of the stone slabs that was tilting into the water. And there at the bottom of the pool where 3 steelies.
I haven't seen fish that size in a long while and a big grin appeared on my face. I stringed up my 8 wt Cabela's Three Fork rod and reel and tied on a size 10 Bead Head Rainbow Prince. I made a few casts about 20 feet upstream and let the current suck the fly downstream and down into the pool.
On my third or fourth cast, BAM! Out of habit I grabbed the line and held one and as soon as he was on he was off...... But I stood there with an even bigger grin on, with my heart pound and my hands literally shaking. Just the power of that fish..... it makes the 13 inch rainbows I was catching in Spring look like 3 inch bluegills.
My buddy walked over and I told him that I had one on for a second, but from his look I knew he didn't believe me.
So I made a few more cast and had some bumps, but nothing solid. While casting I found a spot in the current about the size of a teacup that if the line hit it, it would suck the fly straight to the bottom of the pool. So that is what I started aiming for.
Bam! This one went to run upstream and at the last second I let go of the line. Do that gave it a little slack and with a powerful headshake it threw the fly.
"I just had another one on!" I said to my buddy, who was standing there.
"Get outta here," He said.
"You didn't see my line go from my far left to my far right?!"
"Yeah, I thought that was something you were doing"
I left it at that.
Considering the amount of hits and misses that I had in the pool, I thought it might be best to let the pool cool off and check out the rest of the area.
We walked up the stream making a few tentative casts. All the prime spots had groups of anglers already at them. After a while we walked back downstream towards camp. We stopped at one pool under a bridge. The pool had a bit of a weird current to it. In order for me to get my fly to drift drag free downstream, I had to mend dowstream into a back current. After a few experiments I had it down, but still no takers.
We walked downstream but it was the same; anglers in all the good spots.
We got back to camp and had a brew and talked over our next step. It was getting late in the afternoon. He wanted to get the waders on and head back downstream. Having only an hour or so of light left, I wanted to fish that pool again. We decided to split ways, and I said that I would also get a fire going by the time he was back.
I went back out on the stone slab and made a few more casts, working the line into that teacup sized target to get the fly nice and low. I was still using the Rainbow Prince. A few more casts and BAM! This time I let the line slide between my fingers to keep pressure on the fish but also give it some room to breath.
It took off like a shoot and then it burst from the stream in a jump that sent out a giant spray of water. I held the line as it went back upstream and glanced at the burn marks on my fingers from the line, thinking wistfully of those casting gloves I never got around to getting this year.
She fought on and I held on. I would feel her try to run and I'd give her line and when she stopped I reel her back in. After a few runs I was having trouble reeling. Glancing down I saw that I must have not adjusted my drag, which I normally keep pretty loose. I had a giant birds-nest in the reel. It was so bad that I couldn't get any more line on the reel. I looked at the line in the water and realized I had at least 10 feet of line, plus a 10 foot leader, plus about 3 feet of tippet.
I couldn't land it without bringing in line, and I sure as hell was going to try and bring it in by hand.
So, holding the line in my rod hand (my left) and keeping pressure on the fish, I started to tear line off of the reel with my right until I got to the end of the nest. It was almost to my backing.
That's when the fish decided to run again, downstream. I stopped what I was doing and let the line slide out between my thumb and first two fingers (burns!!) while using my pinky to try and guide the line back on to the reel and I did a little cranking and a lot of praying.
I got all the line back on to the reel and quickly adjusted the drag. I gave the line a little test tug while the fish wasn't running. Good enough, I thought.
Now it was back to fighting the fish. It jumped a few times. I reeled it in a bit. Then she ran upstream and behind a rock. Then, nothing. I pulled back and there was resistance. I pulled back harder and it was the same. I moved the rod right and left and the same. Did that SOB throw the fly and now I'm stuck, I wondered. There was no headshake, no trembling, nothing.
DAMN! Feeling a little more than disgusted, I tried to roll cast past the rock to free the fly. Pulled and it was still stuck. Another roll cast. Same. Frustrated, I just grabbed the rod and yanked.
The line takes off downstream; the fish was still on!!!
She runs downstream about 40 feet and gives an impressive leap into the air.
For most of the time I was fighting the fish, there were two teens standing watching me. We were talking a little bit, but honestly I was a little pre-occupied. Then the one guy offered to net the fish if I got him close enough. "You have a deal," I said and he grabbed the neck from the back of my vest.
So I started to work her back again. She was fighting me, but she wasn't trying to run anymore. She came back a bit more and then I saw her turn on her side a few times and I brought her in.
"This is it." I figuring her worn out, I really started to put the pressure on her. And just like that, she was in the net.
All told, it took about 10 minutes to land her. She measured 23 inches from nose to tail and was fat with eggs. I'm usually a bad guess at weight, but I would put her to be about 8-10 lbs.
I had decided on the way there that the first one that I would catch would go in the pan, and I would release all of the rest. So after a few quick pics, I started working at getting her "dressed for the ball," shall we say.
One of the campers next to us asked if I was going to eat it. I replied I was and he told me that I was nuts, that they tasted horrible. I like the taste of trout and this is nothing by an over-sized trout, so I wasn't too worried.
I wrapped it up in aluminum foil and left on the table as I got the fire ready. It was about 6pm at this point and the temp was in the low 40's, so I wasn't too worried about the meat.
My buddy got back and finished getting the fire going as I washed up. He said he walked downstream until he ran into private property. He found a few holes but no luck.
We let the fire get good and ripe and then put the fish on. An hour later we had fish and chips and some more brew. I couldn't think of a better meal or a better ending to our first day in Steelie country.