Wednesday, September 2, 2009

In Search of the Deschutes Unicorn Or...........

The mythical Unicorn of the Deschutes has captivated the thoughts of every steelheader looking to catch their first Steelhead in the Pacific Northwest this Summer and Fall. Even more so this year with numbers approaching the epic returns of 2001 and 2002 in the Columbia River System. There will be many out there who will catch plenty of Steelhead in the tributaries of the Columbia River this year.

With a drastic change in my work schedule, the long drive, hike, bike ride or wheelin into the Deschutes as well as the arrival of salmon in our local rivers led my thoughts last tuesday from the Deschutes Unicorn to the Pegasus. The hard fighting Fall Chinook. These powerful, thrashing, jumping, bull dogging fish are great challenge for any angler and then there is always the off chance for that Lower Columbia Unicorn.

Now the morning did not actually start well. Not prepared for Fall, the rain hit me with a surprise and the six weight switch and seven weight single I had in the rig were a little bit on the small size for the fish we were hearing thrashing in the dark. You never know the fortune of the roll of the eight ball anyway and I thought what the hell, my odds are low anyway. Then at first light my good friend Keith Darnall hit the first fish. Bright and thrashing on the surface, it popped after the first burst. Filled with excitement I frantically casted and swung as quickly as I could while Keith hooked up again, bringing a small bright nook to the bank.

By this time in the morning I was expecting to see a lot of people out on the water, yet there were none. It was odd, just Keith and I with fish all around us. After a while I could tell my ten foot tip was not going to work and with the Teeny Mini Tip Keith was using, he seemed to be not only getting down to them quickly, but getting takes. I decided in haste to slice my ten foot tip down to six. I stopped snagging up and though was not touching rocks, felt as if I was getting a slightly better swing. Minutes later I found myself fishing two flies adding a larger fly in order to compensate for removing too much of the tip. Soon after I switched to two flies, I finally hooked up. This fish was a rocket and though I did not get a great look at it, I was able to see his chrome back before it came unbuttoned.

A few minutes later my second fish, a hatchery steelhead of about ten pounds was resting on the bank. Filled with excitement and still hearing and seeing fish porpoise in the river I started casting again and again. As more light showed over the horizon filtering through the overcast skies, we could see our adversary. Swimming through in waves and occasionally resting behind rocks and under the shade. Working down through the run and still not having any fishing company, Keith and I swung through the run until I saw a large fish that appeared to be a Chinook resting behind a rock. Casting slightly upstream I saw the fish dart at my fly. I immediately casted again at the fish and saw it move once again. Now with adrenaline and caffeine kicking in, I casted once more at the fish and saw it swim a foot or more over and hammer my blue MOAL.

This fish had to be a chinook, running and jumping into a large rock in the pool below the run. After slowing the fish down I released pressure to allow it to swim back upstream and away from the rock and then continued the battle. Minutes later I beached him. A large hatchery steelhead buck and not a nook. At 33 inches with a 15.75 inch girth, I fought within myself to end my morning and my day of fishing early, but with the amount of fish I had seen that morning and having it be so early, a line from Shakspeare's Henry V ran through my head. "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead."

The rest of the morning went into the history books with many more fish hooked and landed and all of them the same caliber as the first and second. My goal of catching my first Fall Chinook did not happen, but alas my name is not Salmon Mike anyway. Keith and I had a great morning and we didn't have to go far from Portland or deal with the large crowds congregating around the banks of the Deschutes. Damn good way to start my favorite season of the year.