SI Vault
Michael Baughman
May 20, 1985
"One river, seen right, may well be all rivers that flow to the seas." JOHN GRAVESGoodbye to a River
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May 20, 1985

The Big One That Didn't Get Away Was A Fish That Knew All The Angles

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My No. 2 Skunk fly was still attached to the end of my leader. It had pulled out, not broken off, and I hooked it to the keeper ring and made my way ashore, wading carefully over pockets of gravel, stumbling and slipping over the rounded boulders, then climbing the steep bank back to my car.

For the next several weeks I kept close track of my steelhead. I saw the fish and tried for it at Fall Creek, a well-known and oft-fished pool six or seven miles downriver from the Steamboat Inn.

When I parked and checked one weekday evening, there it was, in plain view, holding over a slab of bedrock no more than 30 feet from the roadside bank. I didn't wait until dark this time. I walked 20 yards upstream and climbed down the bank there, where the fish wouldn't see me. Then I sneaked along the water to a large streamside boulder, and I stayed crouched behind it as I cast.

The fish ignored my Skunk, so I changed to a Thor, a brighter fly, red with an orange tail. That didn't work, so I tied on a Golden Demon, which is brighter still. He didn't come up for that, either, but I cast it a second time and twitched it slowly back and forth as it swung across the lie.

There was a hard strike, but before I had time to be excited, an eight-pound steelhead jumped. A fish I hadn't even seen had hit the fly. I realized with some dismay that it was the first time in my life I had ever been disappointed with hooking a steelhead. After I released it, I climbed back to look for the big one again. It was gone, apparently frightened out of the pool, so I quit for the night and drove back to the inn.

In between sightings and subsequent unsuccessful attempts—at Fall Creek, Fairview and Wright Creek—I kept my ear tuned to other fishermen's tales. Thus, I was reasonably sure that the fish was still there, moving steadily upstream through the rapids, slicks and pools.

On another of my supply runs to Roseburg, during mid-August, I saw the big fish in Wright Creek. He was about three feet behind a large boulder and toward the opposite bank. A half hour later I was at the water's edge, waiting for sunset. The fish was still there. Once the sun had set I wasted no time. I worked out line until I had 40 feet on the water, then pointed the rod downstream and stripped more line from the reel, letting the current pull it through the guides. With about 70 feet out I tried a cast. The fly swung across the current, and I mended to slow it down. A smolt hit the big Skunk. I slackened the line, hoping it could shake itself free, and when that didn't work I had to strip all that line back in to release it—a six-incher that writhed in my hand as I carefully removed the No. 2 hook from its upper lip.

Then I cast again. When I thought the Skunk was perhaps a second from its target, I stripped off another couple of feet of line and lowered the rod tip to momentarily stop the fly in the water over the fish.

He took it savagely. I was prepared for it, expecting it, but the strike was so hard that it actually frightened me. Suddenly the rod bowed, the line stretched dangerously tight, and the huge fish thrashed on the surface. Then the weight was suddenly gone and I was sure that he had broken off, that I had lost him again.

But even before I could swear, I saw the fly line moving upstream, cutting through the current. As my fish came upstream I reeled in quickly to keep a tight line on him before he stopped his run. I needn't have worried. He went hard upstream, 30 feet out from the boulder I was standing on, and close against the bottom. About 40 feet above me he hit the end of the slack line and kept right on going, all the way up to the tail of the pool. Then he stopped.

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