Saturday, January 2, 2016

Ringing in the New Year on Big Elk Creek

My First Kiss of 2016
Big Elk Creek is one of my favorite sleeper streams for steelhead, and in an unfortunate turn of events, this may be the last run of hatchery fish that system could ever see. If you're interested in the backstory on this, please read Big Elk Creek: Opportunity Lost.

For now, fishing along the North Coast is as good as it's ever been this early in the year, and Big Elk Creek is no exception. Because of a typically earlier annual return, a unusually earlier return on all North Coast streams this year, and the limited number of fish there are to target on this system, January is prime for Big Elk Creek.

As the Siletz and Alsea start to fall into shape and clear up, Big Elk Creek is usually right behind. Without a graph for the creek, and the Yaquina River graphs being a horribly ambiguous barometer for water levels, it's hard to tell when the water is going to be just right, but today it was just one of those days where the timing was perfect. Just for the sake of keeping notes, the Alsea was at 5.23, the Siletz was at 4.88, and the Yaquina was at 3.66 today.

The water was a perfect "steelhead green" emerald color with good visibility, but enough color that we didn't spook fish walking around, which is pretty typical for the area when it's low. The temperature was about 31 outside in the morning.

Jacob Mikoleit was my fishing buddy for the day, and suggested we start at a spot near the 7 mile marker. I hooked a trout right away, which always gets my heart racing and puts me in a good mood even when I find out it's not a steelhead on the end of my line. It was a wild steelhead smolt, a first for me on this piece of water. Soon after, I had a bobber down that popped right back up, which I assumed was probably another trout. Just in case, I took a break to give the hole a moment to rest, took a leak, switched to a lighter lead split shot (in case I was just dragging bottom) and put a little dab of Pro-Cure Super Gel Steelhead Combo on my 12mm pink troutbead. That particular color has always done well for me on that system, and the Pro Cure Gel has really been helpful drawing more vicious strikes from short-biting or highly pressured fish.

The next cast I hooked up and roped in a snowbelly chrome hatchery hen with fresh sea lice (tails intact). I got a nice fight out of the fish and was happy to have one under my belt to start the day off right. Jacob caught a really nice cutthroat trout upstream of me shortly after and had some bites on shrimp that came back with a bare hook in the same stretch. I normally overlook this particular area because there's some really muddy 4-wheeling roads between the road and the river. Along this river, people tend to come these spots to dump their trash, among other things.

With the good start, we headed further upstream to the spot where I had taken Marc Van Gorden a year before. This spot always looks fishy. I've seen chinook holding around a pair of deep boulders and Marc roped out a few coho at this spot, but I hadn't seen anyone catch a steelhead out of it. The water is super boily, and eddys out into a strange drift. I usually try to keep to the line with the current, but I've seen fish holding in the boily and slow moving eddy too. That was where Jacob hooked into a nice hatchery buck.

At that point during the day, we were both happy. There were a lot of cars starting to show up as the sun was out and hitting the water, making the temperature rise a few degrees (45).

I decided to take Jacob to a stretch of water on private land where I have access . When we got there, there was already a group of several men and a little boy tagging along with them, all of them hoping to get a fish. I asked if they had fished upstream yet, and if not, we would head that direction. He said that they had fished there, but that wasn't any reason we shouldn't. Judging by the gear they were using, we had an upper hand on the techniques and presentation. As they were walking out and away from us, Jacob hooks a nice chrome wild buck and yells, "Hey kid, come back over here and reel this one in!" It was a split second decision that was very admirable and deserving of respect.

The kid rushed back down to grab the rod. With a little coaching from Jacob, and a net that belonged

to dad, the fish was landed quickly. Upon examination, it turned out to be a wild buck, the first wild
This Big Elk Creek wild steelhead was released
steelhead I had ever seen in that river. Although wild retention is allowed, Jacob did the right thing and let it swim. The kid was grateful for the handoff, and it just added to the magic that was developing during the course of the trip.

Soon after that crowd left, Jacob hooked another in the same drift, this time a much larger fish. It peeled drag around a branch, jumped clear out of the water over the branch, then back underneath the branch again, did a backflip and broke the leader. It was one of the most impressive get-aways I've seen, and in such a small stream with lots of fallen timber, what was likely a 15 pound buck was difficult to get under control.

We stopped at one last spot near the 18 mile marker, a popular but productive spot. I hooked another hen there to end the day. With the limited number of fish returning to the system, I was amazed at the reports we heard from other anglers with similar success, but I also know it will only be this good for so long. I intend to enjoy the last season of hatchery returns on this system while I still can.

No comments:

Post a Comment