Thursday, December 9, 2010

Copper and Steel

This past fall I had an experience that I was hoping to share here, but didn't have enough of the pieces to write about it.  Well, yesterday while cleaning out my tying stuff I found one of the pieces, an old copper vibrax spinner, and so here we go.

I was guiding a 509 area steelhead river 5 years ago at the beginning of November on one of those days that are perfect and make you realize why fall is the best time of year.  There was a light haze in the sky, warm enough to fish in a hoody and not a soul on the river.  About midway through the day we got a bite in a zone that we missed one in the day before, but our luck was better the second time, and we buttoned her up.  Only about a 4 pound fish it was not the biggest steelhead of the day, in fact it was the smallest, but it was a beauty of a little tributary hen and fought like a wild fish should.  When I went to unhook the fly from her mouth I noticed something that was not ours in the corner of it's jaw: a copper vibrax spinner.
Yeah, that is not the fly we were fishing.
I carefully removed our fly as well as her other, more punk, lip piercing and sent her on here way.  This fish with the copper spinner in its mouth got me thinking about steelhead behavior.  To start with, I was amazed that with the vibrax in her grill, this fish was still biting things.  This seemed to me to be a good testament at how effective catch and release fishing can be.  If a fish can still eat with a #4 vibrax in it's lip, a quick, friendly release probably does little harm (if done properly).  Secondly, I knew that copper spoons and the such work, but there is nothing like pulling a fly, or spinner in this case, out of a steelheads mouth to give you instant confidence.  I started thinking about copper swinging flies, and a way to immitate that vibrax.
Brothers from another mother.
Fast forward to 5 years later.  I had not forgotten about the copper spinner 5 years prior, but had not really focused on such flashy bugs.  After a summer of fishing ridiculously shiny streamers for trout and finding a fly called the Prom Dress from Scotty Howell, I started tying some copper and super flashy streamers for fall steelhead fishing.  The copper version turned out particularly well, and was sure to see some action.

The first two days of November this fall I planned on spending 2 days on the same river with my buddy Steve.  After finding a couple of fish, Steve and I were swinging the run that the copper-eating fish rested in before we got her 5 years ago.  Although I wanted to run the copper fly I tied for nostalgia, I opted for an egg sucker that I had much more confidence in.  In this particular run there is a large boulder in the riffle above it that creates a nice buttery seam down the middle of the river.  There is also a slow cut bank on the far side, and a boulder pile in the bottom left corner, which is where I routinely hook fish if they are there.  About halfway through the run, and almost to the sweet spot, I let go of my running line at the wrong time and send my leech into the tree on the far bank (sounds cool, but really not that far of a cast).  After a good firm yank and the snapping sound of 10lb maxima losing it's arm wrestling match to a tree limb, I reached for the copper fly as a replacement.
About 10 casts later I got that familiar tug, right in the sweet outside corner pocket.  One of those pulls that really doesn't feel much different than the bottom, but somehow you can tell it's not an aggressive rock.  I let a small amount of loop go and came tight to that great feeling of a steelhead shaking it's head.  Unfortunately that feeling did not last much longer, and after a quick run down and across the tailout the fish bum rushed me up the inside bank, and slacked off before I could come tight again.  I would like to think that it was another spunky little hen, like the one that inspired me to tie the fly it had just inhaled, but who knows.  Although the fish did not come to hand, or even give me a show, it was rewarding to hook a fish on a copper fly in the same spot that inspired me to tie the fly.  Besides, I had just read a great article on Coach K  who said you remember the losses more than the wins.

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