Rivers around my neck of the woods have seen a lot more traffic this fall. As far as I’m concerned there is one simple reason: low water. Let me elaborate. The rivers that I frequent have a lot of flow, even in years like we’re having this year where water levels in general are much lower than they have been in some time. Sure the upper stretches of river have seen very few fish so far and are running so gin clear that the few fish that are there run for cover at the first sign of trouble, but the fish are moving in and the fishing in lower stretches can be great at times. Here flows are consistent and the fish can contently move in or drop back out as they please depending on conditions.
As I said, there are rivers, however few, that still have some decent flow. How does this affect how busy the rivers are? Well, the much smaller rivers have been reduced to a trickle and the steelheaders that frequent these small rivers are now forced to venture out in search of water and in turn steelhead. Measures have to be taken to satisfy a steelheaders needs, I get it, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. It has made for one frustrating fall I have to admit. The low water already has the fish acting extra skittish and the added bank traffic only compounds the issue.
So here I am, stuck with two downfalls of this fall season that combine to make one big problem. One, the low clear water, is something that I’m really not accustom to and have struggled with on more than one occasion. The other, the extra pressure these fish are seeing is only making things tougher. Each on their own may not pose too much of a problem but together they have left me at times scratching my head.
Despite the fact that I’m really not used to fishing gin clear water, I’ve made enough adjustments to manage. But here we are in December, a month in which I more often than not have the river to myself, and the crowds have yet to subside. Not only has the pressure increased, it has also lasted much longer than I had expected it ever would. I thought maybe I could wait it out. Colder, nastier weather typically keeps everyone but the hardcore at home. I was wrong. I can wait it out no longer.
I still get a little aggravated when I pull up to an access point well before dawn and have a tough time finding a spot to park, but now it’s less that it’s busy and more that I’m going to have to walk more to get fish. My inherent laziness wants nothing more than to be able to fish close by. But I walk. And I walk. And I walk. It’s what I need to do to find untouched fish. For every twenty minutes of hiking there is five minutes of fishing.
I may be escaping the crowds for the time being but the foot prints along the bank remind me these fish are not truly untouched. At some point every one of them have seen something from someone. If I’m lucky I can find some fish that have yet to be stung, but it’s a long shot.
So I walk. I ignore what most consider typical holding water. I fish small pockets of skinny water. Water that offers just enough cover. Water that is only big enough to hold a fish or two. Water that everyone else has walked by. If I don’t get a fish after a half a dozen drifts I walk. I make adjustments and I walk. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s frustrating all of the time.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had to adapt like I have this fall. Don’t get me wrong, I like a challenge; I like to experiment, but when I can’t fall back on the faithful methods that I rely on to catch fish, frustrating doesn’t even begin to describe it. My confidence isn’t broken but it is severely cracked. If there was one word to describe this fall season that word would be humbling. I am humbled. I like to consider myself a fairly good steelheader, but after the last month or so I’m not so sure.