Return of the Spey 
Dec Hogan Spey Clinic
The Fish Whisper

FREE !!! Winter Round Table
March 25, 2001, Sunday - 1 to 5 p.m. at The Fly Fishing Shop
 Tying and fishing Sculpins.
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by Mark Bachmann

Rain comes down, river comes up....
river comes up, fish come up,
fish pulls down, you pull up.

We launched my aluminum drift boat into the low, clear river. Then gropingly added our equipment in the pre-dawn gloom. Cameras and clothing went into water proof compartments. Less fragile equipment was left to the elements. Three spey rods were set into holders which many years ago had been installed for back-trolling plugs. "My, things have changed".

It was becoming light enough to fish under a sky filled with brooding dark clouds. Ribbons of white fog hung suspended between the nearly black, conifer covered canyon walls. The air was calm but thick with moisture. It would rain today. The river would rise.            

Jim elected to stay on the boat ramp side while Patty and I rowed across. It was a great decision on his part, as twenty casts later he was into a bright winter steelhead. We watched the struggle from across the river. The nice buck finally succumbed to the pressure of Jim's fifteen footer and was held up for display. Then the barbless hook was removed and he was gently released back to his liquid world....a great way to start any morning.

A small crowd of spin fishermen began to accumulate. They gathered around Jim as if he were a prophet, asking about his curious looking tackle and how it worked. He answered all of their questions and enjoyed being the center of attention. They seemed amazed that a steelhead had been taken on a fly.

It had started raining. We brought the boat back across, picked up Jim and quietly slipped away down the river, into the solitude of the wet canyon. Two more small runs were fished quickly to no avail.

Now the boat was anchored near the beginning of the third run. It is a huge piece of water, over a quarter mile long and in places, a hundred feet wide. At this water level only the top three hundred yards would hold fish. We entered the river about a hundred yards apart, with me at the boat, then Patty where the pool became a riffle on a slight bend and Jim down in the flat. I was in no hurry and took time out to study their technique while changing the sinking tip on my fly line. Being most upstream is the perfect position for observation. The scene was almost mystical, my two experienced friends in their most predatory mode, hunting for steelhead. For a while I became absorbed in the asymmetrical rhythm of their fly lines slicing through the rain, then focused on my own tackle and had just looked up when Patty yelled. Her line tightened, the rod arched, there was a splash and her fish was gone.         

Finally Jim came walking back past the boat explaining that he had worked down to where the current became to slow for steelhead; no takers. He was going up to a pool we had skipped on the way down.

My piece of water has always been perplexing. It starts on a sharp bend where the river is deflected by a crumbling rock wall, then continues as a deep, narrow, fast gut. During floods, the velocity in this trench reaches fire hose proportions. Grape fruit size and smaller rocks are blown through like confetti in the wind. This rubble falls as the current slows and forms a barrier bar which steeply rises on the near side of the river. This mound of gravel causes back pressure which creates a subtle but very sharp bend in the current. The main channel turns back toward the steep opposite bank. A hard seam forms at a sharp rocky point and slices across this flow. Big under water structures add folded textures to the surface. In the channel the river bed is composed of grey basalt cobble with a number of large, submerged, brown, angular boulders which have fallen from the wall. Overhanging alders prevent fishing from that side. At low flows the pool looks deceptively slick and serene.

It began raining heavily....big, heavy, drops closely spaced. The hard edges melted from the scene. The world around me became only general shapes and colors. It rained even harder with a definite roar, its sound masking all others. Suddenly, I was alone and forgotten in a microcosm with a beautiful clear, rain spattered, boulder strewn river running through it.     

Fly casting has never been easy for me and I have learned only through determination. My mind focused on the task; on every cast and presentation, combining senses and experience. Bit-by-bit the body relaxed and let the mind take control. Eventually the fourteen foot rod became light and balanced in my hands. Its personality came alive and bent to my will. On command it stored and released energy in precisely measured bursts. The graphite became magic. The subconscious harmonized with the rhythm of the rod as it launched the bullet shaped loops with pin-point accuracy. Casting became reflex. Reflex became instinct. Casting went subconscious then became unconscious. Casting became easy.

My mind hunted the channels between the boulders and the Big Black fly followed at pre-planned depth and attitude. The currents twisted and turned. Nearly every cast required a slightly different presentation. Few casts had to be repeated. The tactic was to get the fly down close to the cobble and keep it as slow and broad side as possible.          

The largest boulder is about half the size of an automobile, but it was barely visible in the driving rain....across the main softer water. From the vantage of a drifting boat I had seen many fish holding around this boulder on previous trips, but never had the skills to fish it properly. Today I was in the groove and could reach it easily.

I stripped line from the reel, made two long coils, executed the double spey, stopped it high....the line landed perfectly straight with the fly ten feet above and beyond the boulder. A mend placed a belly upstream across the faster current tongue, with the tip of the line pointed more steeply downstream in the slower water. The fly would slowly turn to broad-side as it sunk into the groove on the other side of the boulder. It would remain broad-side as it came under tension in the pocket down stream of the boulder then be towed slowly across. The fly would stay deep and then climb with the contour of the gravel bar, being swept along with the ever increasing tension of the line.

Slowly the rod was rotated from upstream to down stream as the fly passed on the other side of the bolder, decreasing the tension thus keeping it deep. The weight of the line increased subtly as the fly entered the pocket below the boulder. It had stopped. I lowered the rod tip and the line became even heavier as it bellied across the billowing current. The weight on the other end of the line surged and the fine spey hook was driven into the jaw with a side-ways stab of the rod. We were connected....firmly!

There was a sudden pause in the rain and the river became slick and clear. The sun broke through a hole in the clouds. Suddenly the river bottom was highly visible; as was the silver and gray fish as it charged around under the surface. It was medium size and only mildly active as one who has been traveling for a long distance, sensing the imminent rise of water level. He had just enough weight and power to pull a little backing a couple of times. It was a deep bodied, nine pound native buck with the faintest red stripe and very long white tipped ventral fins. He was examined for his unique beauty, then released back the river, wrenching free from my grip with a defiant lash of his tail.

Though fishing comfortably for the rest of the day, there wasn't the focus as when cloistered in the deluge. Jim picked my pocket for a nice fish and Patty hooked two more, loosing both....down in the flat where Jim said the current was too soft to hold fish. The rising river was now picking up speed.

I didn't get another touch until just before dark, when a nickel bright steelhead took the fly very lightly in shallow water.... and after a short slashing fight, came off, throwing showers of spray into the gathering twilight, bringing an exciting end to a perfect day.

Who first fished with a two-hand fly rod?  Why did they do so?
I prefer to think it is a sport born of love on a river it should it is.
To be Continued...


Dec Hogan Spey Casting Clinic 
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The Fish Whisperer
By Chris Santella
Some fly anglers look with disdain at the “bait-gougers” who terrorize our treasured steelhead with orange cork, shrimp and worse.  Yet these same fly purists, with their keenly sharpened #2 hooks, seem almost thuggish next to the man who coaxes his steelhead from the river with nothing but his hands.
I have seen this man in action.
I call him “The Fish Whisperer”.
It was an uncommonly warm and sunny Wednesday in March when the Fish Whisperer (who prefers to remain anonymous) and I found ourselves floating Oregon’s Sandy River, the stretch from the Oxbow boat ramp to Dabney.  Extremely low water levels had contributed to very slow fishing.  The Collins hole was our best hope, but when we reached it, two anglers were already positioned at the head of the run.  Knowing there was little good water left with the river so low, we beached the boat at the bottom of the hole to fish what was left; me above the boat, the Fish Whisperer fifty yards below.  After ten good drifts, I remembered that I had hidden two good bottles of beer in my pack, and that they would be much better cold.  I reeled in my spey outfit and walked to the boat so I could place said bottles in the chilly river, guestimating that 30 minutes there would make the Fish Whisperer and I happy drinkers.  As I secured the beer with several rocks, I noticed a visitor swimming downstream, between me and the bank.  A sucker?  A spawner?  No – a fresh chromer, eight pounds or so.  The normally wily fish was oblivious to my presence; in fact, it swam right through my legs!  Being a sportsman (and a non fish eater), I refrained from kicking it, though I did call down to my friend to mention that the beers were chilling…and that a steelhead was making its way in his direction.  He gave me a “yeah, right” look, and turned his attention back to the far bank.
“He should be just about even with you now,” I called out a minute later, having returned to my casting spot.  The Fish Whisperer then turned toward the shore.  I knew he had spotted the fish, because he began flipping his bunny leech in its direction; as he was also using a spey rod, this did not require a long cast.  Then he did a strange thing.  He reeled in his line and begin walking stealthily toward the shore.  There was a grassy hummock hanging over the bank, and he set his rod there.  He then crouched slowly to the water, arms at his sides, as if ready to pounce.  What must have been the proper moment arrived, and the Fish Whisperer reached into the icy Sandy and gently plucked the fish from its resting place against the bank, and set it onto the hummock.  “It’s a hatchery buck”, he cried gleefully, raising a stone to put the fish out of its confused misery.  Considering this specimen’s seemingly low place on the genetic totem pole, few will mourn its pre-spawning departure from the Sandy watershed.
We drank the two beers before leaving Collins, admiring the Fish Whisperer’s quarry.  It had not a blemish upon it, no signs of struggle with otter or angler.  Why had it behaved so strangely?
We caught no more fish that day (some would argue whether we “caught” any fish that day, though that would be the subject of another discussion).  While cleaning the fish that evening, I conjectured as to the existence of any brain-deteriorating maladies impacting salmonids in these parts – mad trout disease, if you will.  The Fish Whisperer laughed, and two of the steelhead filets were reduced to chowder.
When I spoke to him this morning, he complained of bad indigestion from last evening’s chowder.  Would the Fish Whisperer pay a price for his strange gifts, his transgressions against the rules of battle for man and fish?  Only time will tell.

  Sandy River Fishery Information Bank

Daily Fishing Report
Watershed Over-view
Sandy River Book
Biology Etc. 
Watershed Council Web Site
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Fish long & prosper,
Mark & Patty

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