Ok, most of you know that I adamantly oppose naming rivers, pumping numbers, or generally running ones mouth...but has anyone checked the Bonneville dam counts lately? I guess its no secret that there are steelhead in the Columbia river so I wont feel too guilty. I checked this morning and had to wipe the drool off my keyboard. The best part, the numbers of unclipped fish are huge, outnumbering hatchery fish in the counts the last few days. That means more aggressive surface oriented fish, with a passion for small flies fished in the grease as opposed to the dour, finless drones which normally fill the river every summer. The D or steelhead Disney Land as I affectionately call it is a perfect case study for this point. Hatchery fish routinely outnumber wild 5 to 1 yet the catch is consistently dominated by wild fish. Basically, wild fish crush flies with ruthless vigor, and while the hatch doggies occasionally get fed up with waiting for the pellets to arrive and capitulate, they mostly sulk and hurry back to the hatchery.
Last year on a nameless eastslope river I had an experience that really affirmed just how aggressive wild summers can be to surface flies. It was getting towards dusk and I was fishing my last run of the evening, a heavy water run with some large boulders where I figured the fish might be hiding out in the low water conditions. About 40 feet into the run the fly dangled into the seam and a fish boiled behind the fly, I waited for the weight to set the hook and it never came. As often as people talk about their strategy for getting fish to comeback I find that I only get a few opportunities to put it into practice a year, so I did what I had the most confidence in, took two steps up river and fished the fly through the lie again figuring that if the fish wanted the fly that badly on the first past it might well want another shot at it. Sure enough the fish was there, but this time it was a pluck pluck again never fully committing to the take. At this point I was shaking, muttering to my self, at the brink of steelhead induced delerium. Growing impatient I cast the fly again, and as it swung into the hang down in no more than 12 inches of water the fish took with a strong yank, instantly flipped out of the water, nearly beaching itself and threw the hook. While I didn't land it, that fish stands out as one of the most memorable of the season, a wild male with the bronze, and rose blush of a fall steelhead.
Yesterday more than 2900 wild fish passed Bonneville, more than 5300 total. Of course I'll be in California until Sept so I'll have to wait until this fall to find my own rock and take part in the glory. This boom of productivity on the Columbia coincides with La Nina conditions of 2007 and 2008 when ocean productivity and consequently survival was at levels previously undocumented. I Read yesterday that alot of climatologists believe we're shifting back into another La Nina pattern. Keep it coming ocean gods, and keep the spill coming Judge Redden.