Let’s say you’ve just been through a few days of bliss, banging up steelhead on light sinktips and whatever your delivery of choice is—Fall Favorite, sunken Muddler, Pick ‘yer Pocket…
And now, all of a sudden you’ve got skating in your head. But then you look back at all you’ve read and heard and think, maybe I should just stick with the sunk fly and swing some more because, hey, you take steelhead, and as many as you can possibly catch, when you get them, right. But then you recall that people in the Midwest used to think that steelhead and salmon wouldn’t eat a fly; same thing in Alaska (at least for sockeye). So you make the commitment, tie on your best skater and, holy smokes man, your life gets wrecked. I mean that in a good way.
That’s what happened to me on the Dean River when I rose two big metals to a skated fly the first time I attempted that method, and that’s what happened to a friend of mine on Idaho’s Clearwater River a week ago, when he tied on the Gurgler, the same fly I used in British Columbia, and quickly had a fish take the fly. He drove back from Idaho to Missoula, Mont., and said to me, “I feel like I wasted half of my life because I haven’t been throwing skaters for these things until now.”
If you’re going to throw for steel in the Northwest from now into early November, make sure that you get “first through” on the best runs, first thing in the morning. Let your friends run those tips behind you. And don’t think that they have a better shot than you—when I was in British Columbia a lodge owner told me about a dude who never fished anything except the dry and he took as many or more steelhead than any of the sink-tip guys.
I’m not saying you’re going to get a steelhead every time you skate a Gurgler, but I wouldn’t say that about throwing anything for steelhead. I’m just saying, you have to take the plunge and give it a shot because there’s nothing like seeing the back of a 20-pound fish coming onto your skated fly.
And if he misses it? Don’t make the mistake I performed in British Columbia, by continuing to throw a skated fly. Instead, tie on a sparse wet and run it past that fish. The guys in the know say it’s a done deal if you cover that fish with a wet.
Here’s as shot of Gurgler set on top of a custom fly box that was given to me by a cool angler and cooler man, Gary Berenson. He’s also the guy who implored me to fish a Gurgler on the Dean and then let me have the hottest run on the river first. Some things you don’t forget.