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Steelheading in January on the Deschutes River

Feb 06, 2014

Deschutes in Winter - Kristin Kovalik

Waking up in the dark, I pull on layers of clothes and find my way to the kitchen.  My husband, bless his heart, is a step ahead of me and has already started the coffee.  Secretly I am hoping today is going to be like yesterday – warm, sunny, no wind – a perfect January day for swinging a fly on the Deschutes River.  

kathyseycasting.jpgThe freezing fog, 20 degree temperature and slick coat of ice on the sidewalk and truck could have been a deterrent but instead we loaded up the gear, packed the whiskey and some snacks and made the 2 hour drive to the Lower Deschutes.  If I could write a definition for the Deschutes River it would be this; God’s country, top 5 most beautiful places on the planet, anglers in search of Oncorhynchus  mykiss…beware. 

The river was quiet.  Maybe the inverted weather only attracts foolhardy souls.  Whatever the reason we were giddy to park in one of our favorite spots and find the run vacant.

With fly box open, the toughest choice of the day was in front of me.  My heart was really set on something pink or purple because after all, if I was a steelhead wouldn’t I want to charge a Prom Dress or Intruder?

A one, two swig of the Bulleit to appease my superstition and a kiss from my hubby for good luck – I step into the run and begin the ritual.  It starts with a gracious thank you for the river that flows and the fish that migrate, a splash of the 42 degree water on my face to appreciate the challenge that’s ahead of me and a hug for my trusted Winston, oh I love how you accelerate with ease the T-14 that will guide me through this water.

As any steelheader swinging a fly in winter knows, it’s all about patience.  The mantra I whisper and the double spey casting rhythm puts me in the zone.

What time is it? Who cares!

A pair of blue heron flies by, low enough to skim the water and grace me with their presence. 

Step, cast, swing, strip.  Repeat.  Step, cast, swing, strip.  Like the soothing refrain of your favorite love song.

There go a flock of geese.  Shouldn’t they be somewhere warmer by now?

Step, cast, swing, strip.

Oh that bubbling, rushing sound of the water and rapids, I understand the language completely.

Step, cast, swing, strip.

If I were to take my heart rate it would register in the low 60’s.  This should be the medicine every doctor prescribes for relieving stress and anxiety.

Step, cast, swing.

Red alert – rhythm interrupted, heart rate is now 100 beats per minute.  A one, two tug has just altered the feel of the line.  This is it baby!  This is the bonus you were hoping for, the adrenaline kicker, the reason for the double swig of Bulleit, the good luck kiss you needed.

But instead of seeing a colored up native winter run steelhead charging downstream and hear the line ripping from the reel like a blazing electric guitar solo from Jimi Hendrix … the line swings through. 

I pause, watch another flock of geese fly by in a perfect skein, hear the words the water speaks as it rolls through the rapids and I thank the river God’s for this split second thrill that was better than any meeting, conference call or day in the office.

Strip…step…cast.. swing.



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