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THE STEELHEAD LEAN
Pulling in to the gravel parking lot, I looked down the row of trucks and SUV's lined up alongside me. Daybreak was just now approaching, but already I was behind the power-curve with the local fishermen. I took a quick count of the fishermen I could see at the dam, and compared that to the vehicles parked. Surely there would be at least a handful of folks homesteading at the Blue Creek hole already, which was my intended destination. Such is life during the steelhead runs, and you either get in where you fit in, or you spend a lot more time watching TV than wetting a line. Knowing the temperatures would be a bit low this morning I had rigged my rod the previous evening in the comfort of my home. Yet even as I stepped off from the truck my hands were already cold due to the effort of donning waders and gear. Walking down the trail to Blue Creek I was surprised to find only 3 people in the water, and all of them at the bottom of the pool, or at least the bottom as it exists on the Blue Creek side of the river that is fishable. There is a sweeping pool at the mouth of Blue Creek and you are positioned on the outside of the bend. The creek enters about midway on the bend, but fishing the run is dictated by the terrain and structure more than prime water. Upstream of the mouth is a long run with a large rock bench that extends out to the edge of the fast water. A person can wade almost out to the edge, but water levels dictate just how close you can get since to step off the edge would mean getting swept downriver and into a large swirling pool below the creek mouth. Below the creek there is a high rock outcropping, with only a small ledge at the water line that is only occasionally accessible dependent on water levels as well.
Giving a nod to the guys below me as they looked back to study the new "intruder" into their world, I slowly worked my way towards the ledge giving them ample space. The table rock below me was slicker than goose crap as I worked my way into the current. I did my usual positioning process; move out into the current until the boots start to give way on the rock and then one step backwards and stay put. I tied on a Silver Hilton version that I liked for the Cowlitz River. It was a cross between a Silver Hilton and a Green Butt Skunk. With the front half of the pattern being a classic Silver Hilton, and a butt of several wraps of Chartreuse ultra-chenille. Above that went the required series of pee-sized split shot which is needed to get down in the fast water column and in the deep current which flowed just off the ledge. There was no real fly casting going on with this rig. Between the sink tip line and split shot it was more of a hybrid cast between a double-haul and a lob, with emphasis on the "lob" aspect versus actual casting. However, after a few casts you begin to fall into a rhythm and things begin to take on at least a semblance of casting a fly rod.
It took me a few drifts to get a grasp on the days currents and a feel for the depth. But I found it quickly and knew that I was getting where I wanted my fly to be. I was on the end of one of my swings as I prepared to retrieve for another cast when 2 large raps put me back onto my hips as I set the hook. The fish teased me with 5-6 bounces on the end of my line and then just that fast it was gone. Heart pounding now, I stripped in line quickly and got ready to duplicate the cast. Where you find one, there may be more stacked up. I roll cast my line behind me and while half turning shot my cast back upstream in mirror fashion to my last. The effort however was met with a bright flash of light and a muffled sound of rushing water. At this point I wasn't really panicked or struggling, but merely a spectator to my own fate. My knees were tapping along the bottom of the river, and I could hear yelling and splashing getting closer to me. All I recall sensing however at that moment was the fact that the water was cold as hell as it came rushing over the top of my waders! I vaguely recall hearing a loud "grab him!" and then at almost the same instant my right side bumped against somebody's legs and my face fell forward into the water. THAT woke me up! Suddenly I was trying to stand as somebody was struggling to drag me backwards into the slower knee deep water behind us.
As I sat on the bank looking up at an older gentleman and what appeared to be his grown twin boys, my senses began to clear and along with it the pain in the back of my head began to find me as well. They were all talking excitedly about how I was an arm's length away from getting swept away into the pool, and surely would have drown. Embarrassed, I thanked them and rubbed the back of my head in pain where a baseball sized egg had formed now in painful fashion. Apparently, in my excitement I had hauled those split shot right into the back of my head, nearly knocking me unconscious. The older gentleman offered to walk me back to the truck, and then was kind enough to sit with me as I shared the coffee from my thermos. We talked for a while, and once he was certain I was OK, he left saying he was going back for that steelhead I had located. We both laughed, I thanked him again, and he was gone. It was not until I was 20 miles down the road that I realized I had never even gotten his name.
…."and that's why I tend to lean slightly when I haul split shot." I said laughing as I recounted that story to my fishing buddy in response to my odd casting style, "Its half self-defense and half natural casting for me now. I call it my Steelhead Lean." I said laughing.