Outdoor News: Winter steelheading ‘just the way I like it’

Despite the fact that I was wet and cold, I stood still as a statue in the thigh-deep water with all my attention focused on my fishing rod, line and outfit that was drifting through the high, yet green colored water.

After each drift, when the river current had swung my weight and Corky (imitation egg cluster) near shore, I’d reeled in, cast and made another drift through the run. Repeating yet again what I’d been doing since first light. I knew the bite would be subtle, recognizable only by a slight pause or hesitation of my drifting outfit.

The technique had worked twice earlier in the day. The first steelhead was a thick-bodied 12-pound native, a male, which I quickly released. But not before he’d stretched both my line and senses in a failed attempt to dash over the tailout and certain freedom in the downstream rapid.

My second steelhead was an 8-pound hatchery fish (distinguishable by her missing adipose fin) that leaped from the river the instant I set up on her. She then cartwheeled around the hole in an impressive, but unsuccessful attempt to shake my hook. Keeping hatchery fish is the right thing to do, which I did.

Given the weather conditions — unrelenting wind and rain — any normal person would have called my outing a success and headed for home. But I was determined to hang in there for a few more casts (which turned into many hours) for a chance to hook yet another winter steelhead. After all, they are fearsome fighters and I love this winter sport — even on the days when the weather conditions are brutal.

I was beginning to wonder how much more “fun” my body could take. Despite being properly dressed for the occasion, the water had soaked my hat, wicked up my sleeves and began dripping down my neck. My joints were beginning to stiffen and my hands didn’t want to function.

I was actually starting to feel sorry for myself when the elderly man who had been fishing next to me all day said, “You know, this is just the way I like it.”

How was it that this man, who had at least 25 years on me, could handle to the brutal weather so well? He wore typical steelhead apparel: insulated overalls, hip boots and a long raincoat. If anything, he was wearing a totally inadequate hat, which couldn’t have kept his head and neck dry.

Other anglers had come and gone during the day. They’d last only a few hours at best, given the driving rain and wind, before calling it quits. But both of us stayed on in an unrelenting attempt to hook another fish. Although we had chatted off-and-on during the day, both of us were focused on the fishing far more than the social exchange.

But now he had my curiosity. What did he mean by his comment? After some prodding, he explained that his favorite thing in life was fishing for winter steelhead. That dealing with the ever-changing water and weather conditions combined with the sometimes-physical demands was what made the pursuit of winter steelhead special to him.

He went on to say that this particular river was his favorite. That he’d fished it since he was a young boy. And how this special place allowed him to re-live countless memories and add new ones to his library. He explained that he was happy to share the river, but liked it best when he had it all to himself.

He relished the nasty weather that drove others away, and granted him exclusivity over one of his favorite winter steelhead spots and any fish that might move in or decide to bite. That was when things were, well, just the way he liked it. I then understood what kept him there. We both fished on, until the light began to fade.

Given the ever-changing weather and water conditions, winter steelhead are regarded as one of the more challenging of Northwest fish to catch. They average 7-10 pounds in size and can tip the scale at 15 pounds or more. A lifetime trophy is one weighing 20-pounds or more.

Success is often best after a rainstorm and subsequent rise in water flow, when rivers like the Hood and White Salmon first drop into fishable condition.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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