This was my second trip to the dam. Both times giant fish were leaping out of the water, making my knees weak just watching them. But today the sun was high in the sky, the dam wasn’t releasing water, and I could see the fish a lot more clearly. And they were pretty bad off. Huge white rotting chunks covered their heads, like fishy lepers. The giant fish were milling around in a circle in front of the dam in the weak current and it was a pretty sick sight.
NOTE: Some people have said these fish are salmon, others said they’re steelhead. I really don’t know what they are. Which would probably explain why no one is hooking into them -- aside from the guys with the weighted treble hooks and surf poles.
I paddled out to the middle of this salmonoid soup, looking down at all of the lumbering giants. I was dragging a bunny leech behind me, not really fishing, but trying to keep the line from snarling around my kayak paddle and limbs. As I was sitting there, I looked up on top of the dam at a guy who looked official (he was in all green and might have had a uniform hat of some kind). He was giving me the stink eye. Not actively pursuing me, or even gesturing at me, but I had a bad feeling I was being watched and was on shaky legal grounds, floating in front of the dam release with a poll in the water. So, I paddled toward where there was some current and slid downstream and away from the dam.
I hadn’t worked out where I was going to pull out or how I was going to get back when I did, but I assumed I’d figure something out. I sort of half-heartedly cast my bunny leech around the middle current on my way downstream, randomly hoping for dumb luck to take over and land me a fresh steelhead. But I got sick of that pretty quick and when I found a spot that looked good about a mile downstream I got out. And then I took off the leech. I just didn’t have the heart to fish it. Big ‘ol bunny leech on a sinking line.
But I did have the sense to downsize and hope some bigger trout were in here. The water looked really good, deep runs, sharp bends, etc. I grabbed a heavily weighted size 8 woolly bugger and started working the runs from shore. Tap. Tap. Tap. Zing… got it. The most respectable trout of my Oregon fishing career. Nice looking redband, wild trout.
I made my way down to another bend, another nice run, and that’s when I backed into exactly what I was supposed to be looking for. A steelhead -- big and lively, no rot at all -- was in the pool, and it was popping the surface for dries! I didn’t have any dries! Who the hell would have thought to bring dries? Well, it didn’t matter. About two seconds after I spotted it I lost my footing in the current and basically belly-flopped on top of the pool.
I’d spooked the fish of a lifetime. A fresh steelhead, actively attacking bait in a secluded pool. And I rolled on top of it. But it didn’t set me back as much as you’d think. I cast at the empty pool a couple times, just because, then headed back up to my kayak.
On the way back, I cast a run I hadn’t probed before. I pulled a couple times, did the bop method my brother likes. Tap tap tap and then wham. A big boy slammed me, not a steelhead but a fish close to 20” pounded the streamer, jumped clear out of the water and was gone.
That was all I could take. Good times for sure, but I still had an inflatable kayak to get back to the car. Rowing back was out of the question, walking it back was beat too. No trail. So I stuck one end of my kayak oar in the front between the two inflatable chambers, put the other end under my armpit and pushed it back up the riverbed, one mile to my Civic.