Friday afternoon I decided to begin checking river levels and to reach out to my network of All Around Angling contacts for last minute tweeks to my weekend plans. Because I am a river junkie to the core, like many of you, I always leave my options open as to WHERE I’m going until the absolute best intelligence has been gathered and/or assumed. On average I fish two days a week almost 52 weeks a year. I would venture to say HALF those trips have locations that change within a day or two of the departure based on new information. Staying REAL TIME. That is the world we live in as salmon/steelhead fishermen in the PacNW. A tumultuous one to say the least with the river levels and conditions changing as they do. Oh and yeah; there’s that whole bit about needing to know where the fish are in a particular river system in order to give yourself a fighting chance. DIDJA KNOW?…that the state of Oregon considered ‘Good Fishing’ to be 1 steelhead to every 77 hours of angling? This is why I put so much work into the preparation of location. I suppose that’s a topic for another article….perhaps a ‘how to’ locate the best river to fish..and when? We’ll look into that.


So Friday afternoon….I send the emails to the anglers I think might have been out or know of someone who has (because a first hand report is always the best if you trust your source & don’t burn them), check the NOAA, USGS and WKCC links to estimate the river upcoming river conditions the best I can and place a couple key phone calls to the anglers I’m slotted to fish with over the weekend. The info that came back to by Friday night was less than reassuring: In one week’s time most rivers that were in the 75th percentile and higher one week previous were now into the minus 25 bracket. That tells me the rivers have been dropping like a rock for the past six days. So I get granular.

I start to look at the day by day trends on USGS and compare them to the average flows for that day in previous years and make the best call I can on which river to tangle with. I made a choice for Saturday based on a little bit of information and a lot of hunch. I left Sunday’s trip in the air, location-wise. I grabbed the phone and got Nookslayer on the line to firm up the meeting time. We were solid. He threw his own update on a Social Network and said he was hitting the rack. I followed suit. We met at a respectible hour compared to much of this season’s rendevous times and both piled into one car. Old school right there. Nook and H3ll heading out to do what we do. Fish rivers.

Nook had his fly rod in tow but that’s about as far as it got. Although he is a magnificant single & two-handed fly angler he will tend to break out with traditional gear when I come calling on him. And more times than not that works out for him. With the weather predictions looking a little gnarly we both chuckled when we met up at how many layers of clothing we had each crammed ourselves into. Pretty ridiculous actually. I shed two of them and sat back for a short drive and some overdue catching up with one of my oldest and best friends. I mentioned my new AAA endorsement posts to him about WFO, Reel Tech and Cascade Jigs. Explained why I had chosen each of the three as I begin a big push to more site recognition, web hits, sponsor opportunities and more. Shawn aka Nookslayer being the business whiz (and AAA sponsor) that he is schooled me on some key thoughts and before I knew it we were at the river. First car there, in fact. Cool, no rush…take our time with a little stroll to the river through the woods with nothing but frozen earth under our feet and vast open skies over our heads.

The weather was very calm and we both chuckled at the ‘storm’ being predicted for that morning. Stepping up to make our first casts we organized ourselves along the bank with a semi-plan of attack: ‘You got to the top…I go to the bottom. Then we switch. I know, I know….that’s a pretty detailed plan, isn’t it? Uh, not really. Your basic leap frog scenario where the guy up top goes heavy, deep and slow while the guy at the bottom tries to find the right weight and bobber stop distance to float the tail-out just right. Tip: It’s not a bad idea to use a jig you don’t care for too much when discovering your initial stop length…..a chipped head never works as well as a flushly painted one. Once you’ve tapped the bottom and shortened your stop just a nudge…switch over to your intended jig. Shawn had snarfed a beauty little Dan Cox Cascade micro jig out of my box. White head, cerise collar and a purplish bunny hair body, short, with just a touch of flashabou in the tail….and was already pitching, mending and free spooling. I went to my ‘go-to’ nightmare series…this time a handful of my new Cascades in tow.

With many more spots in our sights for the day and some of the most wicked freezing cold wind and thumbnail size raindrops slamming us in the face sideways in our future….it was right there at that first spot, first thing in the morning with no other boot prints in the snow-dusted sand that Nookslayer hung into one of the prettiest and athletic steelhead I’ve seen all season. Hooking it on his casting outfit he was well prepared for the littany of runs which ensued in short order. He no sooner said ‘fish on’ and that fish was three feet out of the water doing cartwheels and summer salts. I ended up throwing my rod and reel into the sand just so I could get to my camera in time to capture one of these exploding aerials before my eyes.

Alas by the time I got the HD locked onto him and his fish there was a more common type of fight taking place….certainly one where all those jumps would have loosened that hookset up just enough for the fish to throw the micro. Right? Wrong. Shawn looked at me and breathed a sigh of relief that he had loostened his drag a smidge only a moment before. With a braided main line to a barrel swivel with no bumper before his leader…that’s what saved him from a heartbreaking ending. Instead the little Matsuo that Dan Cox ties his jigs up with held on just tight enough for Shawn to coax this fish nose up to the beach where it had ran him down to. Holding the camera with one eye and paying attention to Shawn in my side sight I noticed his body fall backward suddenly. The fish had popped. But not before I secured it just long enough for a photo or two. The video to come catches the chaos as it unfolds up close and personal.

Shawn Nookslayer Richey

A 32 inch hen that would’ve fooled most coastal anglers on any given day if you told them it was taken beachside and not local. A native fish that was released without harm and we even captured the spunk of the release under water…as best we could. The fish was still supercharged. This was Nookslayer’s second steelhead of 2012 and also his second of the current season. I was so excited for him because that’s just how we do in our group of anglers that contribute to this site and effort. It’s all about helping each other out and making the time each of us has available on the water the best possible time it can be.

Although we were knocked off the river not long after that, almost literally, by the storm we had previously made fun of for not showing itself exactly as predicted….there was a trip in the books neither of us will soon forget. After all….for many of us river angling is about an entire experience. It’s not simply a numbers game. If it were then Zach Randolph would be headed to the Hall of Fame. Right?

Tune in daily for more recap of the weekend: We meet a new angler one the river who had caught his first steelhead ever….and Sunday’s write up features a change up as hard, cold rains turn to heavy snow and Sal Monid swaps places with Nookslayer for Part 2 of the Middle January Steelheading Weekend.

MOVIE/VIDEO LOG FROM WEEKEND TO COME….INCLUDING OTHER PARTICIPATING ANGLERS AND THEIR RESPECTIVE CATCHES….Captain Jack Etling who had a multiple fish day to remember for sure along side Steve G aka The Hustler. Also Steve L aka The Traveler and Colin Gruepner aka The Crusher. Oh yeah, and me The Cat. We all have fish stories, pictures and video from the weekend.

Thanks for reading the only website in the Pacific Northwest that keeps your river names a secret.

Keep ’em wet,

Christopher H3llcat Heller

  1. daheller says:

    That is a gorgeous fish. I am looking forward to seeing the video. Sal

  2. Captain Jack says:

    Thats a big girl! It must have been terrifiying to see something that big go airborn like that.

  3. Hellcat says:

    Jack I only wish I would’ve had the camera ready for the three BIG jumps…….BTW I’m looking forward to seeing your footage that Steve G FTP’d for me to pull down. Hopefully soon.

  4. WOW, that is a beauty of a fish. Nice job Shawn!! Looking forward to the video!

  5. Big Tone says:

    That just might look like Paradise. Green (Chart.) With a worm will kill the Steelies.
    Maybe I’m wrong, but definitely looks to be.
    Definitely looks like the good holding water just above the Pocket Namness!! The Tail Out will bring in quite a few chrome specimens.
    Big Boulders will hide quite a few chromers inside and outside of each other.
    Just a Pautzke’s egg will do the trick against the boulders.

  6. big burge says:

    Beauty fish nook, way to go. Great write up too h3ll, looking forward to the vid.

  7. Hellcat says:

    Big Tone: 🙂

  8. Hellcat says:

    Thx, Burge….working the movie this morning

  9. Nookslayer says:

    Thanks guys. That was a hot fish and doubt we’d have photos if I didn’t back the drag off. Kinda erie that I hooked up right after, must have been a little whisper from Landman..
    Great day even during the white squal. Thanks Cat.

  10. Hellcat says:

    Yeah I don’t know what made you check your drag right before that next cast but I’m glad you did. Love to shout out to Gavin A aka Landman. May God rest his soul.

  11. CDC says:

    Boyz – that is a beautiful fish. Nice work getting out in the cold! CDC

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