4-05-05 - 3 SE WI guys give steelhead a try...
Waters Fished: Pike River, Root River
Fish Caught: 2 (technically 3/4)
Outing Date: 4-05-05
Air Temp: Cool, but warming rapidly into the 60's
Water Temp: N/A
Water Level: Pike - 35 CFS and slowly falling, Root - 200 CFS and
Water Color: Pike, relatively clear, Root dirty
Fish Species: Steelhead, Northern Pike
Pattern Fished: Egg Patterns
Pattern Color: You name it. Baby blue with a cheese dot for some
reason was my hot, end-of-day pattern!
Fishing Quality: Pretty darn good
Yes, it's a guided trip today...Tom (who happens to be a Lake Geneva
native) contacted me to take him and two of his buddies out for
the day. As they put it, their experienced ranged from beginner
to intermediate. After some discussion and phone calls, it was decided
that an early morning trip was a must. Rich Brown (aka. FAT) of
Service would join us for first few hours of the morning and
I'd handle all three for the rest of the morning and afternoon.
Was I up to it? 3 guys...that's a lot of people to guide!
We started off bright (or rather dark) and early meeting at the
Lake Como house well before sunrise. We headed over to the Pike
and met up with Rich Brown and Gerry Greene (who also happened to
be out for the "pre-work" steelheadin').
Seeing as how Tom, Steele (not to be confused with
Tom Steele, founder of The
Steelhead Site) and Justin were all new to steelheading, we
took advantage of our pre-dawn time to have Rich give his River
Doctrine and Wilful presentations - in a nutshell FAT has his tactics
well honed into a roughly 30 minute lesson. It was my feeling that
this would be essential so each angler could be somewhat more self-sufficient
than you'd normally need to be on a guided trip.
We got on the water, and I spent most of my time
with Tom and Steele while Justin went one-on-one with the FATMAN.
We found fish right off the bat, but they quickly spooked upstream
into a nearby pool. Time to fish blind!
Despite our hopes, nothing happened other than
the periodic landing of suckers! They were simply EVERYWHERE. Tom,
Steele and I walked downstream and back up, happening to catch a
glimpse of two male steelhead sparring in shallow riffle water.
Tom and Steele made good use of some casting tactics I had provided,
but in the end we came up short once again.
After this tough bit of fishin', we walked downstream
to find Justin working the suckers as well...apparently the Pike
might not be our steelhead Mecca?
Around 9:45 AM we were contemplating a move to
a different river. As we walked downstream to the trucks, some movement
in the river caught my eye - granted there was a lot of movement
going on with all the suckers! There, amidst thousands of suckers,
a small pod of 5 steelhead was attempting to spawn.
Knowing that steelhead tend to be skittish when
in shallow water on bright days, we'd have to try for these fish
one and a time. All bright clothing (i.e. white hats, orange hats
etc.) that could be removed, was. My 3 angling companions decided
that Tom would be the first to go for these fish.
Tom and Steele went about 100 yards downstream
and crossed while Justin and I watched from the high bank above.
There was much coaching, shouting "set the hook" and such,
but these steelhead seemed to be just taking things at their own
pace. As far as they were concerned, the steelhead had us on their
Finally Tom hooked up in a massive spray of water.
A large buck thrashed around and gave Tom the type of battle we
all search for. Justin took the camera, I crossed downstream and
got into position to net the beast! Once it was finally subdued,
only then would I realize that this fish was hooked on the gill
plate, just shy of fair. So it goes sometimes...this buck was released
to fight again.
After letting the fish calm, Justin felt it was
Steele's turn. I gave Steele the essential pattern you should have
anytime you find aggressive bucks...anything big and red. I returned
to my perch above and again watched as Tom slowly worked downstream,
ever inching closer to the pod of fish. His casts were right on
the money...he had several follows and at least one take. After
45 minutes without connecting, I had to call it and let Justin have
Justin got in and opted to work the fish from downstream....in
relatively short order he fouled up on the hen. Justin definitely
got a taste of the steelhead battle as well. Now the fish were pretty
stirred up, so we took a lunch break. While sitting at lunch, we
decided that it would be best to go back and see if the fish had
regrouped or if they were now done for the day.
Resting the fish for good 45 minutes definitely
helped....we fished them again, at some point all 3 guys casting.
More than anything, they were simply missing their strikes, which
is entirely understandable. All of the takes were VERY subtle...the
only thing that gave away a take was the "mouth flapping"
going on every time a fly was in the zone. It comes with patience
Around 1:00 PM the guys had had enough. I had been
coaching them every step of the way, but sometimes you just need
to demonstrate. I turned to Tom and said, "Are you sure you're
done?". He was. I asked him for the rod and disclaimed, "I'm
not trying to show off here, I just want you guys all to see what
I've been trying to explain". 3 drifts later, I tied into and
lost one of the bucks as he catapulted himself and shook free at
the tailout of the pool. Even I wasn't expecting such a great fight
Part of what Tom and I had discussed was that they
wanted to also see other rivers and access points. While their guide
was technically over, I was just getting started fishing. We decided
"what the heck" and drove up to the Root, stopping at
the various access points. We ended our quick tour at Horlick Dam,
where we watched steelhead try to jump. Several anglers were down
there, fish were jumping, guys were hooking up. I watched as 2 NORTHERN
PIKE were also landed. Things were really hoppin' at the Root.
After Tom, Steele and Justin departed I put in
a good 2 hours with not so much as a single hookup. Apparently we
had arrived right when the bite was on...and now that I was there
it had shut down! I called Rich to let him know what was up...after
discussing my options with him I decided to gamble. Back to the
The gamble paid off big time - I had roughly an
hour left to fish upon arriving. There, right where we had left
them a few hours prior, was the same pod of steelhead, still going
about their business. Realizing that they weren't as skittish as
I had originally anticipated, I got right to the business of catching
In short order I hooked up with a small buck who
took me into my backing as he screamed downstream. Eventually I
landed him long enough to unhook him and TRY to get a picture...no
dice as he thrashed his way out of my grasp and disappeared in the
water. Oh well.
5 minutes later, I hooked up again, and again was
given the ride of a season as the small buck cartwheeled, tailwalked
and ran downstream. Finally I landed him, and lo and behold here
was the SAME BUCK I had just missed my photo op with less than 10
minutes ago. He had literally come back up the riffles, gotten right
back where he was, and made the same stupid mistake again.
Well, you'd think I got the picture the second
time around, but you'd be wrong. This buck, probably only 4-5lbs,
proved to be more than I could handle....he got away again!
With dusk now rapidly approaching I got back to
the pod and started drifting...blue eggs were the ticket (how strange
is that!). I managed to hook up with ANOTHER steelhead and AGAIN
got taken for a run downstream (yes, running in hip boots through
a rocky riffle is LOADS of fun). One more time, I got the fish to
the net, and THIS TIME I finally succeeded in getting the shot.