Willamette Steel at Last!

It was one of my best fishing days ever. I got up early, in order to make the 45 minute drive to Springfield by 5:30 AM. When I got to my older brother’s house, both he and my younger brother were waiting outside for me. They already had the boat hitched up. We were headed for the mighty Willamette River again.

Two weeks prior I had hooked a steelhead and lost him and I had a good feeling about the prospects of hooking another steelhead or two today. Today was a special day because I was going to be fishing with both of my “Oregon” brothers, which unfortunately is somewhat of a rare event. I hope it becomes more frequent as time goes by. Since my older brother bought the drift boat, we have had the pleasure of fishing together a lot more often.

We were down at the boat ramp within minutes and launched the boat as the early morning darkness began to lift. My older brother jumped on the oars and we started across the river as I threaded a coon-stripe shrimp onto my hook. Then, in a somewhat uncharacteristic act of selflessness, I pilfered another from the small jar of brine and threaded it onto my younger brother’s hook, just below the black diver, menacing with it’s yellow eyes (I thought this was a nice touch). We let line out of our reels, closed the bail and then watched the tips of our rods to see if the action on the divers looked right.

Not long after that we were on the other side if the river in some excellent looking water and… tap, tap, tap… I had a fish on. It wasn’t a steelhead, but it was a nice fish! I was not upset to reel in an 11 inch cutthroat trout. A great start to a great day. Things were definitely looking quite “fishy”, and what a beautiful morning it was. It was nice and cool at the moment, but promising to be another hot August day.

We drifted down a little farther, and at some point my older brother, between working the oars for us and offering up helpful tips to his amateur steelhead fishing companions, had tossed out his fly line and put his fly rod in a rod holder, letting an Irresistible Adams dry fly skid across the water’s surface about 6-8 feet past the end of the boat. As we approached the head of a big run, all of the sudden, SLAM… a fish nailed the Adams. A big fish was on momentarily, and oh what a strike! That really got me excited. This whole experience of drift fishing is new to me, I was amazed at how the fish had attacked the fly, just feet from the end of the boat. It made me feel delightfully optimistic of my future fishing success.

Not long after that, we continued fishing and SLAM… another massive strike on the fly nearly doubling the rod over to the water’s surface, peeling drag off the reel. This time the fish did not fail to impale the hook into it’s mouth and it was fish on! My brother removed the rod from the rod holder and began fighting the fish. He commented that it might be a small steelhead… it was that big, and heavy! He also commented that he was using a four pound leader and the fish was swimming in a substantial current, which amplifies the fighting power of the fish at the end of the line, so he had to be very careful not to break the line.

The fight continued on and I was determined to do all that I personally could to make sure we got that fish in the boat. I am a rookie at netting fish, but my brother told me to grab the giant salmon/steelhead net and prepare to net the monster. I pulled out the telescoping handle of the big net and followed my brother’s instructions, keeping the net back from the edge of the boat in order to avoid scaring the fish into another drag stripping run. He patiently and methodically worked the fish closer to the edge of the boat and when the fish was in range, I quickly scooped under and up with the net and swung it back into the boat. Success! It was a BIG, FAT rainbow trout, measuring 18 inches long. My brother commented that the fish was probably an old hatchery fish that was thriving in the big Willamette river, kind of surprising, but a pleasant surprise to be sure.

We continued fishing above the big run for a little while longer and then decided to go down to the next hole. So we raised the anchor and my older brother navigated us through the rapids.

Down below the rapids we continued down the middle of the hole. We saw two bank fishermen on the north bank of the river. When we got within earshot of the first he yelled out, “have you guys had any luck today?”, and all of the sudden, BAM, BAM, BAM… I had a fish on! STEELHEAD! I set the hook and tried to keep myself calm. I was determined to get this fish in the net. I immediately tried to loosen up my drag and let this fish do it’s thing. The problem was that the fish was apparently swimming towards me, so, I was trying to loosen the drag and reel at the same time. This is impossible to do unless you have a third hand (unfortunately I don't). I thought I was doing ok, putting the right amount of pressure on the fish, but about six or seven feet from the boat the fish did some kind of underwater acrobatics and the line went slack. I was so mad! I was pretty sure that I would never, EVER catch another steelhead (I had caught my first and only steelhead more than twelve years prior to this writing on the Siletz River). The opportunities to fight fish seemed to come so few and far between, and when I did manage to hook a fish, I couldn’t stay cool enough to get it in the net!

I sat down in disgust (mainly with myself, partially with the rascally fish) and figured I had lost my only chance for the rest of the year catch a steelhead. But, I know you can’t catch them if you don’t have your hook in the water, so I checked my leader and made sure it wasn’t damaged, then I skewered another coon-stripe shrimp and tossed it into the current, letting the diver make it dance along the bottom of the mighty river.

It wasn’t but twenty minutes later on our next float down the big hole, when my younger brother set the hook and had a fish on! STEELHEAD! I was sure he was going to land this one, he seemed so much more calm and collected that I managed to be. He fought it for a few minutes and… all of the sudden the fish was off.

By this time my older brother was getting pretty perturbed by the number of fish that had been hooked and lost in his boat this year. I think by this time it had been six fish in a row.

Our hopes of catching a steelhead were diminishing, but we still had time, so there was nothing left to do, but keep fishing. We made a few more passes through the big hole and then my older brother asked us what we wanted to do. Did we want to make another run or two through the big hole and then go over to the far side of the river and fish a likely looking hole that none of us had ever fished, or should we go to the far side now?

I suggested we go to the far side of the river now. So, my older brother rowed the boat over to the shallow area in the middle of the river. It was so shallow, in fact, that the bottom of the boat scraped the rocks and we couldn’t continue on. So, my brother took off his shoes and jumped out of the boat. I’m sure the rocks felt real nice on the bottom of his feet as he dragged us across the rocks towards the South bank, where there was a very inviting, dark green run waiting for us. As we scraped along for a moment or two, we began to sense two pairs of eyes boring down on us from the North bank. We figured those ol’ boys thought we were either crazy or were going to get really lucky fishing the other side of the river.

Once the scraping stopped, my older brother jumped back in the boat, put his shoes on and paddled us to the top of the hole. We began to drift down very slowly, allowing the divers and shrimp to work their magic. A little over half way down, when we got to the second or third bush that was sticking out over the water, all of the sudden, TAP, TAP, TAP… I set the hook and FISH ON! I wasn’t sure what I had at first. It wasn’t fighting as hard as the other steelhead had fought. I started to play the fish, with a good measure more of patience this time. At first my older brother didn’t believe I had a fish on. He thought this was just another of many snags that we had had during the day’s fishing. I assured him it was a fish, I just didn’t know exactly what kind of fish it was at the moment. I will be honest with you, for a moment I thought I might have had a large sucker on the line or a large cutthroat trout. But then I got a glimpse of the fish and I said, “It’s a steelhead!”

We weren’t messing around this time. I loosened the drag a little in case the fish decided to make a run, but when I saw the surprised look on the fish’s face, I knew that he didn’t know what was going on. So, I tightened up the drag a little more, still being cautious not to tighten it too much, and worked him gently, closer and closer to the boat. My older brother had the net in hand and, it seemed to all work out really well. The fish didn’t make any big runs, and like I said, I don’t think the fish even realized what had happened. My brother netted him and when he hit the bottom of the boat, that’s when he started “flipping out”. I, however, was the one that was doing the most “flipping out,” because I yelled out with glee and gave my older brother a hug, and really made a fool of myself. I didn’t care, because I knew my first steelhead in 12 years was now in the boat and wasn’t going anywhere. My brother asked me if I wanted a picture with the fish and did I want him to conk it on the head first, as it was still going crazy on the bottom of the boat. I said “you better conk him first, I am not going to take any chances with this fish.” So, when the conking was done I lifted him up with my hands through his gills and mouth and got several pictures with him on our cell phones. Unfortunately, my digital camera was about 3,000 miles away in Nicaragua with my wife and son. So, that’s the best we could do. Meanwhile, I noticed that the fish had some very sharp and large teeth that cut my hand pretty good, but I still didn’t care. I lifted him up for the ol’ boys across the river, who were watching from the North bank. I gave them a big thumb’s up and continued acting like a 9 year old for a minute or two. Until the excitement ebbed enough to sit down and go back to fishing.

We headed back to the top of the same run on the South side of the river and began to float it again, being sure that our chances for another fish were pretty good, seeing how none of us had never seen a boat fishing this particular hole during the whole season. There had to be more than one in there, right? Well, we made it down the run a little farther, lining up with the next bush downriver from where I had hooked mine, and BAM, BAM, BAM, my younger brother had a fish on!

This fish was a little more crazy than mine and I would say my younger brother did an excellent job playing him. I got really concerned when the fish headed down river a bit and swam under one of the bushes that hung right over and into the water. We rowed downstream a little and got parallel to the fish. We could see him swimming in the water under one of the branches. Like I say, I got pretty worried by this and said, “Oh, crap!” But thankfully, my brothers stayed more calm. My younger brother began to patiently work him out from under the bush and I jumped on the oars to try to keep her steady as my older brother netted her. And… she was in the boat!

A two steelhead day! We also caught two or three other 10-11 inch cutthroat trout that day as well. I am really starting to like fishing from a drift boat.

My steelhead measured 27 ½ inches and if I remember correctly, my brother’s fish measured 26 ½ inches. What a great day!!!

Tight Lines! -nimrod243


  1. Hey boys those fish look great. Is the skill getting better or is your luck increasing? I heard Jared caught a nice rainbow trout. Wish I was there. Envy Envy!

  2. Well, Now I'm hooked too. Lets hear the rest of the story Paul Harvey. Ha!


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