Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire
The author’s wife waits for a steelhead to hit.

Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire The author’s wife waits for a steelhead to hit.

I Went to the Woods: A solid skunking

But learning never stops and often happens best when reflecting upon failure.

Variable winds are ideal for an 18-foot aluminum skiff and the forecast was correct.

However, as per usual, the further one gets from the forecast location the more variable the conditions. The calm seas increased to a light chop by the time my wife and I arrived tied up. Our friend Ryan rented the cabin Friday night, and I booked Saturday so our combined claim to the forest cabin along with a good weather forecast pointed to an epic weekend. Crab and shrimp pots were soaking and steelhead in the nearby river had been left alone since the previous party vacated. Every river that contains steelhead has been hammered by this point in the year. Even the most ambiguous descriptions of locations lead people to guess. How far was the run in the boat? Did you tie up to a dock or mooring buoy? I want to tell a story, not advertise a spot, so leave it at that.

Anyway, the steelhead didn’t bite and the crab and shrimp didn’t cooperate either so as far as fishing goes, it was a near-skunking. Abby lost a steelhead early in the first session, but the rest of Saturday and the morning Sunday attempt were fruitless other than a few small trout.

A sound beating.

But learning never stops and often happens best when reflecting upon failure.

Now that I have some time to digest, I have reduced our steelhead problems to two main adjustments. First is depth, as it usually is. Thin water can be sneaky deep and a heavy fly can seem plenty to get to the bottom where steelhead hold. But if the current is just swift enough, and the fly just light enough, you can spend hours suspending your fly above holding steelhead. Proximity is what turns tempting into impossible to resist.

Steelhead will move to a fly, that’s for sure, but staking the entire session on that often leads to disappointment. There is always a difference between fishing and fishing well.

It occurred to me at the time that we might not be low enough in the water but I instead tried to compensate with careful mending and casting. But I don’t think it worked. I really think I needed a heavier fly too or to add a little weight.

The second issue thing was fly selection. This is a horrible feeling or realization when you’re hours from home. I wanted a small, compact, heavy fly for a dead drift or to roll down the current toward the steelhead. But I had mostly streamers and we were down to our last liquid wrench which has been the fly of the season so far. Grumpy streamers often do evoke monstrous takes after a predatory chase, but not in this case. Not on this river. The conditions called for a smaller profile pattern like the ones I had left at home. My lack of fly box organization and preparation left me feeling nearly helpless. Over the previous two weeks we had success fishing from a box that was specifically stocked for that specific river. But some flies were still drying on the shelf, some were in a box we left at home to save weight and some were exiled to underwater snags.

Steelhead can be brutally unforgiving to those without the right tools, and we were hammering screws.

A few hours after returning home, Abby and I put together the definitive steelhead fly box. We sorted, we stocked, and I took the opportunity to validate robust order from the Juneau fly shop.

• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer based in Ketchikan. His book, “A Miserable Paradise: Life in Southeast Alaska,” is available in local bookstores and at “I Went to the Woods” appears twice per month in the Sports & Outdoors section of the Juneau Empire.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 19

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé students hold up signs during a rally along Egan Drive on Tuesday afternoon protesting a proposal to consolidate all local students in grades 10-12 at Thunder Mountain High School to help deal with the Juneau School District’s financial crisis. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
JDHS students, teachers rally to keep grades 9-12 at downtown school if consolidation occurs

District’s proposed move to TMHS would result in loss of vocational facilities, ninth-grade students.

Deven Mitchell, executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., gives a tour of the corporation’s investment floor to Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, and other attendees of an open house on Friday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. leaders approve proposal to borrow up to $4 billion for investments

Plan must be OK’d by legislators and Gov. Mike Dunleavy because it requires changes to state law.

Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, presides over a mostly empty House chamber at the end of an hourslong recess over education legislation on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empure)
Tie vote kills early House debate on education funding

Lawmakers spend much of Monday in closed-door negotiations, plan to take up bill again Tuesday.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announces his proposed FY2025 budget at a news conference in Juneau on Dec. 14, 2023. (Claire Stremple/Alaska Beacon)
Gov. Dunleavy proposes tax breaks for the private sector to address Alaska’s high cost of living

The Dunleavy administration’s proposal to address a crisis of affordability in Alaska… Continue reading

Lacey Sanders, director of the state Office of Management and Budget, presents Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s updated budget requests for this fiscal year and next to the Senate Finance Committee on Monday at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Small changes in governor’s proposed budget could mean big moves for Juneau

New plan moves staff from Permanent Fund building, opening space for city to put all employees there

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Smokestack emissions into Fairbanks’ atmosphere are seen on March 1, 2023, from the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska legislators give closer look at bill aimed at storing carbon emissions underground

Bill could enable enhanced oil recovery, sequestration of emissions from new coal-fired power.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read