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Trout Mentality vs. Steelhead Mentality


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Ronan's report

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

I trout fished for more than fifteen years before I ever made a cast or felt the pull of a steelhead. Like many anglers that was how I cut my teeth in flyfishing. When I lived in Montana I was surrounded by trout in rivers, lakes, ponds, ditches, and everything else. It was wonderful. But I remember one day seeing a bumper sticker pasted on the back of a pickup truck with Oregon tags that sort of summed up a lot of ideas that had been circling around in my head at the time. It said, simply,


I dove (fell?) head first into steelheading when I moved to Oregon. It was great to have access to it so close by. It was exciting to be on a new adventure. My fly rods started to change. My flies looked completely different. And as I found some success, the way I approached the river also began to change. I ignored trout when I saw them rising when I was out for steelhead. Except for when I went back to Montana to visit, I didnít really think much about trout.

Now, that clearly doesnít explain everything, but it does, in a way, get at the fact that steelheading, as much as any other fishing, has its own mentality.

For me, steelheading is about attracting, coaxing, or maybe aggravating the fish to take a fly. Itís about travel lanes, greasy tailouts, and buckets. Itís about Skagit heads and tips, long belly floaters, and everything in between. Itís about hot pink, red and orange, black and blue. Itís about skatin em up, and dredging for the big pull. Itís about process more often than it is about actually catching fish (at least for me). Sometimes itís about floating a swollen river all day in the pouring rain and not even seeing a sign that a fish has ever been there.

Thatís how things were working out last Saturday. Rain. High water. No fish. Except we were fishing for trout, not steelhead. And for that reason alone, in my mind, getting soaked and not catching a darned thing wasnít acceptable. It wasnít a part of my trout mentality.

Then the bugs started to appear. A few at first. Small olive bodies mayflies. I hadnít really thought about these in a while, but I knew the name. Baetis. I vaguely recalled that trout feed on these things from time to time. We pulled the boat over in a nice long run that reminded me of some great water I used to fish on the Yellowstone. And then we saw a couple of small fish move on the surface. And it all started coming back to me. Nothing can trigger the trout mentality like a good mayfly hatch and some rising fish. Finally, I stopped dwelling on the rain and cold. It was, in fact, parfect mayfly weather. I had fly patterns to match the Baetis, but the fun really began when another species of mayfly began hatching as well. These were big, size 10 and 12, with beautiful creamy yellow bodies and wings - a bug I wasnít familiar with from my Montana stomping grounds or my roots back east. But the fish were on them, and I searched my boxes desperately for something that would work. My Green Drake imitations were the right size, but the wrong color, and only fooled two fish. The PMDs were the right color, but way to small. It had been a long time since I had experienced a hatch that I didnít know or expect, and it really fired me up. I mean that in a good way. The trout mentality was back.

For me, trout fishing is about lots of different things, but first and foremost, itís about bugs, and matching the hatch or the food source. Itís about prime time and feeding lies, money riffles, and slick back eddys. Itís about reach casts and drag free drifts. Itís about tricked out emergers, a box full of dialed in hatch matchers, and picking off the best fish first. Itís about seeing that fish eat your fake as confidently as it did the last 5 naturals that floated into its lie.

When I got home I dove into my books, searched the internet, and figured out what that big yellow mayfly was. I already had the patterns figured out in my mind, and I sat down at my tying bench and wrapped up a few just in case I see them again some day when I take another break from steelheading.

Take Care and Fish On,

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