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Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

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Thursday, August 16, 2018
Duck destiny
Thursday, September 06, 2018
Do or do not?

Steely Done
In this life, certain things are just hard to comprehend. Love. Art. The vastness of the universe. The guy who repeats your order at the drive-thru. And steelhead.

If you’re not a member of the steelheading fraternity, trust me, you already understand at least a part of the misery these tortured souls have chosen to endure. Simply select the words that best apply to your own finned demon: Finicky. Unpredictable. Impulsive. Volatile. Erratic. Brutish. Prissy. Flighty. Annoying. Swims at or near the first concentric circle of Hell.


Now, take all these glorious attributes, wrap them up into one sleek green, silver and pink-striped package, send its anadromous ass out to sea for two or three years and – badda bing – back comes a trout about as trustworthy as Tony Soprano.

So you think you have problems? Fuhgeddaboudit. Steelheaders have the Mother of All Problems. When these sea-run prodigal sons and daughters return to their home waters, whether the summer or winter runs, not only do anglers have to contend with a mercurial temperament, but steelhead in fresh water are not especially interested in eating anything. Take a moment and let that little nugget marinate. In human terms, steelhead are the ones with a keg who show up for the party, not necessarily the appetizers.

Making this tableau all the more confounding is how certain people actually make a living catching such a fish. Specifically, they show others how to catch them. A trait, in my estimation, qualifying them for sainthood. One such acolyte is Jeremiah Houle, a native Californian who drifted northward and found his calling as a guide on Oregon’s Deschutes River, arguably one of the best steelhead fisheries anywhere, particularly for summer steelhead.

As Director of Guides for the Confluence Fly Shop’s Deep Canyon Outfitters in Bend, Houle is unabashedly upbeat and passionate about his addiction to freshwater’s bucket list insanity. While flats fishermen may point to permit as the standard bearers for angling frustration, steelheaders bring a formidable argument to the table.

“If you’re a numbers guy, steelhead fishing is not for you,” states Houle without so much as a whiff of arrogance.

There’s no sugar coating the facts. It is, truly, what it is. Steelheaders accept their lot in life and, in the summer, go even one step further to make an already difficult scenario impossibly so. In this season of immature steelies working their way upriver and not much interested in food, you wouldn’t think you could make things much harder. Except, of course, if you skated a dry fly across the surface and forced a steelhead to, as the The Doors once urged, break on through to the other side.

“Steelheaders know it’s not the most productive method,” offers an eternally pragmatic Houle. “But, it’s more than the just about the fish.”

Whether the strike is a sip or a slash, the resulting mayhem is sure to satisfy even the toughest critic. To Houle, this is “the pinnacle” of steelheading and, whether the effort results in a fish brought to hand, a transformation takes place. After a steelhead comes unglued, shreds the Deschutes and then sheds the hook as if nothing happened, smiles quickly replace disappointments. Expectations are adjusted. If you weren’t a diehard steelheader before, worry not. Your membership card has just been issued.

Perhaps the best part of fishing the Deschutes is that should you aspire to the dry fly grail, it might be the very best place to do it. Not only does this river have a reputation for steelhead on the skate, but affords stout opportunities for getting them on the swing or by painting rocks with any number of subsurface offerings.

Personally, what I like best about the Deschutes is that you can’t fish from a boat. Sure, you can drift down the river in one, but to fish, you have to pick a spot, get out and do it from shore. Wade the run, make the cast and repeat.

“If you need to make a better cast,” instructs Houle, “you can make a better cast.”

Of course, in his world, the better cast comes from a two-handed Spey rod, a technique which he refuses to paint in the usual mystery and unrequited romance language of flyfishing lore. Ever-realistic, this Deep Canyon guide doesn’t mince words.

“It’s a glorified roll cast,” he laughs, “and, in fifteen minutes, I can have you casting easier and farther than with the best single-handed setup.”

Having never warmed to the drift boat style, perhaps considering it far too convenient with guide clients who lack the necessary reverence for their quarry, I’ve always opted for tipping the scales, every now and then, in favor of the fish. Not that steelhead really need the help, but we do. As Houle has seen with his clients, there is an advantage to not being on point every second of the day.

“People fish better when they’re not hammering at it all day, 24/7,” observed Houle. “In between stops, it helps to kick back and appreciate some mule deer or a bighorn.”

That said, Jeremiah Houle is not someone content with half measures. He longs for the chaos that accompanies a strike. He savors the picture that comes with a fish and days that end without “What ifs?” Still, he is nothing if not a realist.

Steelheading is, as Houle pointed out, “something you daydream about.” It promises almost nothing, but can deliver more than you ever imagined. It is, precisely, what fishing is supposed to be.

If you’re interested in the magic that is summer steelheading on the Deschutes (or other angling adventures in central Oregon), contact Jeremiah Houle, Deep Canyon Outfitters (541) 323-3007. Check their website: Contact:

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