John Day River Spey Rod Steelhead

Today (November 13) was the fifth time I shot line through the guides of my new 13′ 7wt spey rod.  I floated six miles of the John Day River in my canoe in search of late summer run wild steelhead.  Fishing was slow, but I managed to hook and land one fish.  Any true steelheader will tell you one fish is a good day.  I have caught bigger fish, but hooking into one with the spey rod was pretty sweet.

John Day River Wild Steelhead

I managed to greatly improve my two handed casting techniques on this my fifth outing with the two-handed rod.  I chose to leave my more productive jig and bobber rod at home and go all spey with hope of improving my technique and feel that pleasing throb and power of a steelhead at the end of my line.

I worked on my double spey, snap t, and off shoulder double spey casts with varying success.  I am new to spey fishing and chose (like many) to use a skagit setup to speed up the learning curve.  Skagit style spey casting involves a short (25′) shooting head of thick floating line to which you attach a variety of tips (sinking, floating, or a combo sinking/floating).  A leader and fly finish the business end of the set up.   All of which is attached to a smooth level running line and traditional fly line backing.  Skagit casting is based on a sustained anchor technique where the end of the shooting head, tip, leader and fly remain in the water and help created the “D” loop which loads the rod.  The forward stroke sends an aggressive roll cast down the shooting head, lifting out of the water, propelling it across the river at a predetermined angle based on the target water.

I am true low a slow fly fishing guy who has fished big nymphs and streamers deep with success for many years.  The transition to spey fishing was appealing to me because the skagit technique was designed in the Pacific Northwest to cast heavy sink tips and large files.  A technique I have developed an affinity to for catch large trout, salmon, and steelhead on my single-handed rods.  Plus the casting is fun.  It is a bit trendy around these parts.  I try to distance myself from the trendy. but I am a sucker for anything steelhead.

John Day River

The John Day River is ground zero for recovery of wild salmonids in the interior Columbia Basin (a subject I will likely cover in more detail in later posts).  It is a delicate fishery where access to the good water is minimal and the impacts of angling pressure can be great.  Due to its remoteness and seasonality of the fishery its popularity has remained reasonable enough to provide a quality experience.

If you decide to enjoy this gem of a watershed.  Leave no trace of your travels so others can enjoy the same beauty.  Release and handle all wild fish with care while removing any stray hatchery fish from the system.  The John Day River is the last hatchery free wild fish stronghold and sanctuary in the interior Columbia Basin.  These fish have made two incredible journeys to grace you with their presence at the end of your line.  As a juvenile they endured the extreme seasonal hydrology ranging from hot summer base flows to raging spring runoff.  On their downward journey they encountered a maze of irrigation ditches and fish screens along with the mouths of thousands of hungry exotic smallmouth bass.  In the Columbia River those mouths got bigger and more numerous while they figured out the navigation of three mainstem dams.  As adults on their return trip the juveniles that are lucky enough to return endure the same seasonal hydrology, a labyrinth of irrigation and road crossing barriers en route to spawning locations more than 600 miles from the ocean.  A bit of spring rain and snowmelt usually help get them there and sustain their eggs in the gravels of their natal stream until emergence in early summer.

In 2011 we should feel blessed to still have the opportunity to swing a sparsely tied signature intruder through a run shadowed by cliff walls that saw the likes of T. Rex and company in search of the endangered and sometimes elusive wild summer run steelhead.

Set the hook

Turb