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23 April 2006
'Secret Creek' fishing report [22 April 2006]

Swampy Secret Creek landscapeThe fishing deities were smiling on me.

In honor of Earth Day (and the weekend) we headed out bright and early Saturday morning for our favorite, most-local stream for a half-day of steelhead fishing. Our last visit a week ago, yielded a couple of hookups for B and none for me even though the small creek was relatively loaded with steelies. Today, we saw many fewer fish, but I had significantly more luck. We recently decided to enhance our steelie fishing probabilities by using spawn as bait, instead of flies. Fishing with spawn is a travesty for the fly fishing purist, but we've grown tired of our slim steelhead success and can easily justify this approach if you want to argue about it.

We found very few cars parked at any of the access points on Secret Creek. I'm not sure where all the steelhead anglers were. It is opening weekend for the spring turkey season, but I can't imagine that's where all the fishermen were. I'm not going to complain about having less river traffic to contend with; this was a welcomed surprise. Though we could have fished at any access, we chose to return to the low, swampy, boggy stretch that we've been fishing for the past couple of weekends. The water is now quite a bit lower than when we last visited; the fish would be more easily spooked.

We parked and slipped into our breathable waders and boots. The cloudy weather and potentially rainy forecast encouraged us to think positively about our chances of fishing success - and also about possibly getting rained on. B rigged up a spinning rod for spawn fishing and I borrowed her sweet 9'6" 7-weight fly rod for fishing spawn chuck-and-duck style. As we walked across the bridge, we noticed about a gatrillion little 8" fish schooled and milling around beneath the overpass. They must be recent graduates from the hatchery and were probably planted this past week. The little fish were feeding regularly on surface bugs. Ready for action, we jumped over the guard rail and picked our way downstream through the brush and brambles.

B headed downstream in front of me while I drifted spawn through a couple of nice pools that we often neglect. I stirred no interest but did note that these pools are worth a cast or two more regularly. I made my way downstream to the first big bend where I watched and temtpted several big steelies last weekend. Today, in the low, clear water, I could clearly see the bottom but saw no fish at all. I drifted the bend a few times, but didn't spend much time here. B, just downstream, had managed to catch a couple of trout. Together, we headed downstream fishing each good-looking spot we encountered. I caught a couple of chubs, but we still had not seen any steelhead at all. We sincerely hoped that the run was not completely over yet.

Secret Creek steelies gettin' it onWe hiked past a long stretch of stream that, though very good-looking water, we hardly ever fish. There are so many downed logs and overhanging bushes, it's just too difficult to address with a fly rod. If we ever did manage to hook one in this water, we'd most certainly never land it without snagging line on any number of obstacles. As we hiked past, we noticed one particularly clean area of gravel - a steelhead redd. There were about 10 big steelhead cruising over and around the redd. They weren't especially offended by our presence so I snapped a photo. Cool. The fish hadn't all left the river yet. We left these fish on gravel alone and continued on downstream to hopefully find others.

I left B fishing a deep, dark run that we consider to be probably the best pool on this hike. The stream narrows through a man-made abutment that once carried a small private bridge over the stream. The bridge is long gone, but the concrete now forces the stream to narrow, speed up and empty into a deep, fast run where big fish like to hide. We've hooked several steelhead in this pool in past seasons. B waded in to fish here and I continued downstream, across the river and on to another bend where B hooked a fish last weekend. On my way, I passed a couple more redds, one still had a couple of fish over it.

I began drifting a deep, dark run around a bend from the inside bank. On the outside of the bend, several small trees hang over, or are submerged in the water creating a slow-moving pool that is essentially unfishable - there are too many logs and snags to drift or swing flies and, even if a fish was hooked, it'd be impossible to land them. I was limited to drifting the swifter water between me and the logjam. I drifted my spawn through a couple of times, adjusting the depth to just occasionally touch the bottom features. After about 6 drifts, my indicator went under and I lifted. Woohoo! A steelhead! A big one! The fish, I'll call him "Houdini" gave a few head shakes, flashed his entire silvery-pink side-view at me and headed for the bottom. I pulled against his maneuver, and - POOF! - he magically left me pulling on a log at the bottom of the pool. He was gone in 3 seconds and I was hooked completely around a log, or something heavy, in the bottom of the pool. I had previously been unaware of the bottom-dwelling log or stone or whatever it was. I hadn't ever snagged it while simply drifting through. Dang. I had to break off my entire leader to free my line. While I tied on a new leader, swivel, indicator, tippet and hook, a couple of steelies splashed and breached the surface a few times. I fixed my leader, put on another spawnbag and chucked it back in. Not 10 drifts later, the indicator went down again. I lifted and felt the heavy head shakes of another steelie. Woohoo! This time, I put a lot more pressure on the fish, hoping to keep him out of the mystery snag at the bottom of the pool. He tried to head for the slow water under the overhanging branches, then down to the bottom. I only got a partial flash of his side, he seemed not quite as big as the first one. Then SNAP!, the hook broke off and the line came recoiling at me. He was gone too. Wow! What a rush! Two steelie hookups in one day after none for months. I tied on another hook and reloaded with spawn while I noticed that the steelies were now splashing around way back under the overhanging brush. I'd probably spooked them away from the main run with all this fish-fighting, so I decided to rest the pool, and myself, for awhile. I reclined on the bank and waited for a sign.

I enjoyed the sunshine whenever the clouds allowed it to reach me, and listened to the birds in the woods. I heard woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches. I heard a 'fake bird' too, somebody was calling turkeys, but the artificial sound was noticeable. While I was reclining on the bank, B came wading downstream. I called to her and she hopped up on the bank to avoid disturbing the fish in 'my pool.' She reported that she had hooked a dark steelie back at the missing bridge hole, but had lost him after a short, exciting battle. She hooked him on the far bank, he swam straight at her faster than she could reel in line, and leapt up and out of the water just a few feet in front of her. His crazed maneuvers freed him and she was left amazed, heart pounding. B went on past me to fish downstream a ways. I waited until I noticed saw a steelie or two venture out into the shallower water, then I drifted my line through the deep run a few more times. Nobody cared, so I reeled up and, when B returned, we headed back upstream.

We fished a few holes on the way back up, catching nothing more than a couple of chubs. We watched the gang of 8-10 steelies hanging out at the redd again. Some were dark, some were more silvery, they ranged in size from big 10-pounders to smaller 20-inchers. There were a couple of guys fishing for the little steelhead plants back at the bridge when we returned. We felt pretty satisfied with what may have been our last steelhead outing of the season. Though we didn't land any steelies, we were happy with a couple of hookups.

Fleece quotient: 0!, longsleeves only
Lost flies: 0, we fished flies-free (don't tell the purists)
Wildlife sightings: woodpeckers, nuthatches, kingfisher,
Steelhead score: 0/3, Yesssss!
Air temperature: almost 65 oF
Water temperature: not measured
Injury report: monofilament cuts from breaking off, spawn goo everywhere, first nettles-sting of the season
Did I get to use a spey rod?: Nope.
Enjoyment grade for the day: A

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