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Traction: An Essential Ingredient For Wading Safety & Casting Accuracy

The lesson in this second chapter on "Fly Fishing Gracefully Though Geezerhood", is don't cheat on your tackle. If there is something out there that gives you an advantage, get it especially if it makes you safer.

In the sport of fly fishing, learning how to cast is an integral part of catching fish. Many places in the world, fly fishing is done from a boat. But, in the best steelhead and trout rivers in Oregon, fly fishing is done while wading. This allows fish to have sanctuary water that is harder to reach, and also keeps anglers more dispersed. As with everything that pertains to fishing, this approach is controversial to some fisher folks, but there are plenty of anglers who think it is a good idea. If you are going to wade, you might as well do it right.

To hit a target, the sniper must aim perfectly and not wiggle the gun while squeezing the trigger. Accuracy is always easier to achieve when shooting from a stable platform. Shooting and casting have many things in common, not the least of which is the launching of a projectile to a specific target. Bullets and fly lines are both  projectiles. Nowhere else is this more apparent than when using shooting head lines with two-hand fly rods. How stable you are during the launch, has much to do with determining the trajectory of your cast and the shape of your loop. Snipers rely on rests, and Spey rodders rely on traction, physical fitness, and body mechanics. Only one of these three items is something you can buy, the other two you will have to earn.
For the past 15-years, I've had the privilege of being involved with the Sandy River Spey Clave. This has enabled me to study some of the world's greatest Spey Casters. After a while it became apparent that people who are wide seem to have an advantage over those who are narrow. This is because things that are wide tend to be more stable platforms than things that are narrow.
Stability can add a lot of speed to your cast, especially at the precise instant that your rod stops at the end of your acceleration during a cast. In every fly casting stroke, there is an acceleration to a stop. The acceleration stores energy in the rod. The stop transfers that energy to the fly line. The more precise the stop, the more the energy is applied to the fly line in a condensed burst, which translates to fly line speed. A perfect stop can only be accomplished if the caster is very stable.


There is no substitute for physical conditioning, and there is no substitute for good gear. Traction soles enables mature anglers to fish later in life. There are a wide variety of traction soles designed specifically for wading. Soles with tungsten carbide spikes stick to about everything they will encounter on a riverbed: algae covered basalt, ancient ocean-bed mud-stone, wet wood, mud, and sand. These traction soles are hard on boat floors, and will make Idaho/Montana/Wyoming fishing guides scream at you. In Oregon our boats are better prepared. A heavy carpeted, rubberized door mat solves every thing. Just keep your feet on the door mat and everyone will be safe and happy. Get the best wading gear you can afford, maintain it in excellent condition, and you will be a better, and more comfortable angler.
Most fly fishing for anadromous fish is done while wading over rough, slick terrain. Traction is of great importance to any wading angler. Every step involves traction (friction) against the river bottom. Your comfort, safety, and fishing success are totally dependent on your traction. Traction not only gives you the ability to stand up-right, but also gives you the ability to move around in a river confidently. Most anglers believe that traction is only important when they are moving. Traction may be even more important when the angler wants to stand  still. Every Spey cast should be executed when the angler is is standing perfectly stable. Every cast starts from the bottom of your feet.

Nick Rowell launches his Beulah Aero Head Spey Line across the slippery Clackamas River in a perfect trajectory to reach the other bank. (This photo has not been doctored. This cast is longer than it looks like. The red head on the line is 44-feet long. The shooting line is actually that straight). It takes tremendous line speed to not get sag in the line. This kind of precision can only be achieved with the best tackle, best traction, and a lot of practice.
Nick's rod is a Beulah Onyx 6131-4.
Many strategies have been employed to increase friction between the bottom of your feet and whatever they come in contact with. For years the best wading traction was provided by felt soles. Felt is still the quietest traction material when coming in contact with a river bottom. The fibers in the felt tend to scrub through stream bed slime and make solid contact with the river bottom. Felt is like a cat's paw when it flexes and conforms to the river bottom. Felt is still preferred by some waders. The felt sole guys and gals tend to be young and athletic anglers who have hard muscles and good balance. Felt soles wear out pretty quickly, especially when used for hiking long distanced to and from the water. Many anglers wanted soles that would give better traction than felt, so manufacturers started using tire studs protruding through the felt. Studded soles definitely increased traction, but when combined with felt, the soles didn't last very long.
Felt also gets a bad rap as being the perfect medium for transporting invasive species from one watershed to another. A couple of years ago Simms addressed the invasive species transportation problem by introducing a new Vibram® rubber wading shoe sole called StreamTread™. StreamTread™ wears much better than felt. However, StreamTread™ by itself it was judged as pretty worthless for traction on the bottom of slick rivers. But StreamTread™ is perfect for holding screw-in cleats and other traction devises. Simms markets a whole array of such traction devises to be added to their StreamTread™ soles, such as Hard Bite Studs, Hard Bite Star Cleats and AlumiBite Cleats. Hard Bite Studs and Star Cleats use Sharp pieces of tungsten carbide to cut into the stream bed like sandpaper cuts into wood. Alumibite Cleats work the opposite direction, the stream-bed rock cut into the aluminum cleats to provide friction. I have use many systems extensively. Tungsten Carbide work better for me than aluminum or felt.
Korkers, a Portland, Oregon based company has perfected changeable wading shoe soles, so that each set of shoes can be adapted to changing conditions.
 
Korkers Devil's Canyon Boots
We were the very first Korkers dealer to offer for sale; wading shoes with changeable traction soles. They were slow to catch on, and then there were problems with the soles coming loose at some of the most inopportune times. The Omnitrax sole system is in revision #3. Everyone who tried the first two generations of Omnitrax admitted that they were a good idea, but the technical problems of making them reliable proved to be a little harder than it first appeared to be. Seems that Generation #3 has finally got it right. I have been fishing a river that has a brutally slick bottom. Years ago, Korkers sent me a pair of what they then called Omnitrax "Mossy Rock" soles. They were great, but the shoes that were available for them didn't have the foot support that I needed. The other day I, while searching for a solution for the slick wading, I remembered those shoes. Yup, I still had them, and after deciding that they wouldn't get it done for me, tossed them in the garbage. Then I went to our current display of Korkers shoes and closely examined the Devil's Canyon model. They are exceptionally lightweight and very streamlined, and even better than that, they have no interior seams or joints to irritate your feet. The sole system is totally different than previous generations. They gave me no trouble of any kind during a full day of fishing in the slick river. There are no laces. Security is provided by a wind-up Boa with stainless steel cables. In the past this kind of apparatus didn't wind up tight enough to provide enough stability, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this problem had also been solved. Admittedly, I only wore them for one full day, but they out performed all of my other options. Then there is the deal where your buddy might not be happy about your fishing from his fancy new boat with studded boots...no problem. Just swap out the studs for soles with better manners, like maybe plain rubber or felt. Your new Devil's Canyon boots come with both, but the super aggressive studded rubber soles are an extra fifty bucks.
Click for more information on Devil's Canyon boots...
 
TROUT AND CHAR OF THE ALPINE PONDS
By: Frank Day

The month of June brings warmer weather and with it insect hatches and more aggressive fish. Some anglers enjoy a day of fishing for the plentiful stocked rainbow trout that are found in the lakes around Mt. Hood, but other anglers seek out the less accessible hike-in lakes and ponds. Here the fish often average somewhat smaller size than the stocked trout, but what they lack in size they make up for in strength, beauty, and intelligence. Get off the beaten path and you can find water that gets very little human pressure. For some anglers solitude and quiet of natural surroundings is worth as much as catching fish.


A caught and released Eastern Brook Trout swims off as a Callibaetis Mayfly spinner comes to lay eggs.

Many alpine lakes in Oregon were once stocked by ODFW with Eastern Brook Trout, which is actually a char native to watersheds east of the Mississippi River. In some watersheds they now coexist with populations of wild coastal cutthroat and/or native rainbow trout. There are now many self reproducing populations of these eastern char. Trout and char don't cross bread in the wild. ODFW has stopped planting Eastern Brook Trout. The populations that remain in lakes and ponds have likely lived there during their whole lives. They have fought for their survival against predators and other fish. Their more foolish brothers and sisters were eaten by predators or out-competed and these remaining fish are the cream of the crop, the strongest and most intelligent of their generation and are sure to bring a smile to the face of any angler who feels their pull.


This Eastern Brook Trout ate a Parachute Adams dry fly.

Some alpine ponds were so isolated that they contained no trout of any kind, before they were stocked. Others which did contain native fish were located above barrier falls so that salmon and steelhead couldn't reach them. Many of these kinds of headwater streams and lakes became the abode for native coastal cutthroat trout. Who knows how they got there. Most headwater ponds and streams are nutrient poor, and at higher elevations they have short growing seasons, so most fish don't grow very fast or get very large. Native cutthroats can become breeding adults at nine inches long, or even smaller. These trout don't normally become very selective feeders, so they may bite a wide range of fly patterns, but they are often very shy, so pinpoint casting skills are required. One bad cast can send them racing for cover, not to be seen again for several hours.

Coastal Cutthroat Trout are native to many headwater streams and ponds. This one was eager for a damselfly nymph.

The ideal rod set up to fish in alpine ponds is a 3-4 wt rod with a weight forward floating line. I like the RIO Gold Line because of the increased head length, which allows for longer roll casts as natural alpine ponds often have dense vegetation surrounding them. A 7.5’ 6X tippet is perfect for these smaller fish; I personally prefer the RIO Powerflex Tippet for dry fly fishing, and
RIO Flouroflex for any sort of a dropper. Mid to late June and warmer temperatures will bring out the Callibaetis mayfly hatch, a small gray mottled wing mayfly commonly found in beaver ponds. Hatches usually occur in the early afternoon. A size 12-16 Parachute Adams, and Purple Parawulffs are successful dry fly patterns. A Super Flash Nymph or Gold Rib Hares Ear in a size 16 can also be incredibly successful when stripped back with a slow twitching motion. Also throughout the summer one can expect evening midge hatches and a Suspender Pupa is deadly when fished in a size 18-20. The rise of a fish on this particular pattern is generally not of the large showy type. Sometimes the fish will not even break the surface at all and boil beneath the surface as it takes it from within or just below the surface film.

Ponds that are surrounded by trees usually get a lot of terrestrial insects falling on the water any time the wind blows. Ants, beetles and bees are staple trout foods throughout the summer in many timbered high elevation lakes of all sizes.

There are also a number of highly successful subsurface patterns such as damsel fly nymphs or goat hair leeches or any small streamer pattern. My favorite small streamer pattern isn’t actually a traditional streamer, but a mylar epoxy body pattern called a Janssen’s minnow. It is unweighted but fishes fine on a floating line in still water. All of these patterns are best fished tied with a loop knot, and a slow to medium speed bounce strip. Nymphs can also be fished in high alpine ponds with great success. Smaller size 18-14 Hares Ears, Pheaseant Tails, Copper Johns, and Prince Nymphs take fish quite regularly.

On a final note these hike-in lakes and ponds are for the most part no longer stocked and because of this the populations are self reproducing and cannot handle excessive harvest. Because of this catch and release should be encouraged. As always pack out what you pack in and be respectful of other anglers and hikers. Good luck and tight lines.

 
The Best First Time: Entry #9

By Genevieve Long

The first time at anything isn't usually the best. If you think about it, you know it's true, or almost. But for me, steelhead fishing might be the exception.

I took up fly fishing when I got bored sitting on the bank watching my husband fish. Henry taught me to cast, and when I could keep my fly out of the willows, it was relaxing -- standing at the edge of a river, enjoying the scenery, occasionally catching a nice rainbow trout.

I was standing on a rock in the North Umpqua one year, casting away, when Henry said to our guide, "I wish Genevieve would try Spey fishing."

The guide, who loves steelhead even more than Henry does, had placed me downstream from them in prime steelhead water, armed with nothing more than a Woolly Bugger and a 5-weight Winston best described as dainty. "Stand there and let the fly swing," he said to clueless me.
Rich is a man of few words. "I could teach her in an hour," he said. I like to call people's bluffs, so I agreed.

Wading deeper
On lesson day, I found myself clutching a two-handed rod that seemed gigantic compared to my single-hander, following Rich into the brisk North Umpqua current. We waded out further and further. As the scant cobble turned to algae-covered ledges, I realized it was time to remind him of my novice wading skills. "I never, um, wade above my knees," I said.
"OK. Well, we're just going out there," Rich said, pointing vaguely in the direction of more river. He offered his hand for balance.
I wasn't going to take anybody's hand. That is, until a three-foot hole appeared off my left foot, I lurched slightly and grabbed the proffered hand with relief. When we reached a ledge that was almost above water, Rich stopped and began teaching me the circle Spey. "Just lift the rod, make a backwards C, sweep to the right, and cast forward."
Easier said than done. Most beginning Spey casters go too fast, but I was so slow, my line kept collapsing. The double Spey was easier: slow drag, sweep back the other way, and cast off my left shoulder. My attempts to shoot line -- one pull, two pulls -- were unsuccessful, but Rich was patient. "Just let the river take it out."
I was casting into a deep green pool that appeared empty, wondering why we had to come all the way out here. Lift, sweep, cast. Couldn't I have learned this just as well from the beach? I was ready to head back to the bank, if I could get there, and tell Henry I gave Spey casting my best effort.


Hitting a snag
My fly, which had been swinging merrily the short distance I could cast it, suddenly stopped. Since my first three years of fly fishing involved hauling up a lot of leaves and twigs and unhooking the fly from my waders, I knew I was snagged. But it was embarrassing to have it happen during a lesson, on some of the world's best steelhead water. And the pool looked deep. How would we get the fly back?
I stood still. I didn't yet know that fishing guides, like your fourth-grade teacher, see everything. Maybe he won't notice, I thought.
"You got one," Rich said.

The fish goddess appears
I would argue with God Herself, so I was dubious. "Really?" I said to the man sometimes called the steelhead wizard of the North Umpqua.
When I was a little girl, my family lived in Anchorage, Alaska, and frequented a burger joint called Arctic Roadrunner. From our regular table, we often saw big summer kings, in their fat, silvery magnificence, leaping up the creek behind the restaurant. (In Alaska, these get about as much attention as squirrels in the lower 48.) 
So when my line came free on the North Umpqua and the fish spiraled into the air, all I could think was: Chinook. "Holy shit," I breathed, in the most ladylike way possible.
Then I turned to Rich. "Great!" I said. "So we stand here and reel it in, right?"
My experienced guide had morphed into a 10-year-old boy with an excited grin. "No, no, we have to go," he said. "There!" He waved downriver, where my line was spooling out toward a small rapid.

How we made it down, I don't know. The fish, guide, and me, step by step, line and backing, reeling in when she rested, letting go when she ran. The famous pull felt like a running horse, like a German shepherd pulling on the leash, like electricity. I stepped where I was told, slipped halfway into a hole, left the reel handle alone after it smacked my fingers, hung up on three different boulders, and pointed the rod at the river despite encouragement to "keep a good bend in it."

We stopped on a wide spot in the river's spine. I reeled when the electric pull stopped, thinking about the hook in the fish's mouth and trying to be gentle. Rich stepped in the river and the fish darted away. By directions, guess, and instinct, I brought her close enough. "Have you ever held a fish this big?" my guide said.

Another moment of humiliation: Henry always tailed and released my trout. I was afraid they would fall or wriggle out of my hands, land on the rocks, burst open, and be forever ruined. I had no confidence in my ability to work the hook out of a jaw, even when I had pinched it down to nothing. I was afraid the fish would slime me, turn around, bite me, and not let go. I never felt up to the job of touching a few pounds of pure life. To me, all fish were big.
"I've never held a fish," I said.
"Oh well," Rich said, with absolute unconcern, "Take her by the wrist of the tail, and put your hand under her body." He handed her up, whipped a camera out of his waders, and started shooting at burst speed.

The fish held still. No slime, no piranha action. It felt like holding a baby, the same live weight requiring a gentle but absolutely steady hand.

Then she wiggled once, twisting toward the river. From watching Henry, I knew how to put a fish back: I levered her gently into the water, lifted my hands away, and felt one last jolt of energy as she slipped free..

Hooked

On the bank, Henry was jubilant. "You did it! Look at that big fish!" Rich estimated the hen at 16 pounds and 36 inches.
"That's like winning the lottery," Henry said.
"You might as well quit now, because that's the top," Rich said. "It doesn't get better than that."
In the parking lot, I pulled out a flask. We toasted nothing, because none of us could speak, just passed the whiskey around and leaned on the cars.
It's a cliché to say that steelhead are magic. But I can tell you I didn't sleep that night, even if I closed my eyes for a few minutes. For the next few days, I hardly needed sleep or food because the fish's energy was burning through me. When we got back, I was ready for my next casting lesson. Travis listened to my story, took me back to fundamentals, and said, "Set realistic goals."
But the things I cared about had changed. Before the fish chose me, I was taking a seminar on "Taking Your Small Business to Six Figures." The Audi A3 was just out, and I had my eye on one. After I caught the fish, I no longer cared. I just wanted to stand in the river again.

 

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