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Posts Tagged ‘Two-hander’

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Tuber and I have been at this two-hander thing for little over two years now. Since early 2007 to be more precise. We both started out picking up more rod than we needed for the waters we fished. Back then we didn’t know better but we didn’t care. We had to get out there and see what it was all about.

We both came at it from different angles. I stumbled upon two-handers on the internet and he was lucky enough to have two buddies who were a year ahead. Now it consumes us and we can’t stop talking about it.

We are probably the only two people who have ever thrown a two-hander on the Anchor, Bird, and Ship. I know I am probably the only person who has worked the two-hander at the peak of sockeye season in Southcentral. Not exactly the proper stage but it’s water and it was what we had to work with. If you’ve ever fished those waters you know it doesn’t take much more than a nine footer to cover every inch of water and then some. To say the two-hander was overkill would be an understatement. The Anchor was probably the worst place to apply the art. Most of the time we just flipped the tip. Bird and Ship weren’t much better but at least you could stretch one out there once and a while when the tide was in. We usually ended up fishing water others wouldn’t or couldn’t.

We got some stares and some funny looks for sure. Thirteen feet of rod and fly line thick enough to winch a jeep out of the mud flats is strange if you didn’t know any better. It was fun and we felt like pioneers.

Lucky for us we’ve been able to find some proper water to apply the down and across. Like the stretch of water we go back to every spring and the new piece I discovered this year. And the old water that’s new water because we can now look at things from an entirely different angle.

This two-hander business has changed everything. I find myself fishing the single-hander and throwing spey casts about half the time now. It’s opened up new water and has made those tough spots easier to fish. Now it seems as though there is no piece of water we can’t fish.

At first we knew very few people who ever used a two-hander on the waters we fished. We never saw another person swinging the big stick. Now it seems more and more folks are toting along a two-hander. There aren’t many but it’s growing. I’ve never actually seen someone outside of our crew making the casts and taking the steps. It’s equivalent to a big foot sighting I suppose. I’ve seen a few pictures but have yet to run into someone on the water working the two-hander.

I think that is cool.

A little over two years into it and I’ve managed to collect a few things. A lot of it is gear but a big chunk has been knowledge and experience. I started out barely chucking the head of a Rio Skagit 450, a 10 foot cheater, and a 10 foot T-14 tip on a Sage 7136 Z. I now know why the 450 wasn’t cutting it for me on the 7136 and what it takes to chuck a giant bunny leech (if you don’t know yet I’ll give you a clue – short, fat and more grains per foot). Now I’ve got the 7136 loaded with Airflo Ridge, Compact Skagits heavy enough to launch a dead chicken, and a shit ton of zip lock bags of custom made sinktips. I’ve also managed to pick up two more sticks more appropriate for the waters I fish. The 6126 Z helps bring some smaller water in to play and makes tangling with the everyday fish that much more fun. A new addition, the 6110 Z, makes brushy bank channels and brushy freestones where trout like to hide accessible and a blast for swinging sculpins and leeches.

A few thousand casts later and I can now make the cast more often to get me fishing. I know a little more about how to fish a swinging fly and not just leave it up to chance.  What keeps me truck’n along is  looking for more pieces of water and opportunities close to home to swing up more rainbows, more steelhead and that first king on the two-hander.

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Before I ever made my first cast with a two-hander I saw pictures of this place. Since then I’ve seen a lot of pictures of folks walking the banks, casting flies, and being lucky enough to hook into a ghost or two.

My timing’s a little off but I thought since I was in the neighborhood I would stop by and take a quick look.

Makes me wish it was winter and I was waist deep in it.

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For the past few months I’ve been following “The Bucket – monthly diatribe from a two-handed, fly rod junkie” by Jeff Mishler in Salmon Trout Steelheader. For someone like me just starting out it’s been helpful to say the least. For the past two years I’ve been scouring all forms of media to learn as much as I can. Nothing can take the place of river time but when opportunities are few and far between you immerse yourself in the knowledge and experience of others.

For now I’ve settled on Skagit Casting because it’s what makes sense where I live and the fish I pursue. This month, Mishler writes about fishing with Ed Ward.

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Salmon Trout Steelheader, January 2009 - amatobooks.com

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Salmon Trout Steelheader, January 2009 - amatobooks.com

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You always hear folks saying that if you want it bad enough it will happen. Not true. I wanted it bad. It just didn’t happen.

The days leading up to the trip I was physically and mentally exhausted. I usually don’t sleep much the day before a trip. This time was different. It takes me a while to settle in to a new place and constantly worrying about the weather and the river conditions sort of wore me out. 4AM came quickly and the hour plus drive to meet the guide gave me a lot of time to think about the day ahead.

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A tank full of gas and enough coffee to keep you in between the lines.

I tried not to set my expectations too high. This was steelheading in the PNW and from what I’ve learned the game isn’t so easy on a swung fly. Somehow though I convinced myself I was going to get at least one steelhead to hand. That right there may have been the kiss of death. I was probably pushing my luck. I just wanted one. I figured if I worked hard enough it would happen.

We met the guide at a local coffee shop before sunrise and on the drive up to the first run talked about the day ahead. The river conditions were good he said. The rains had brought the river level up a bit and added some color to the river.

We finally got our first look at the river as the morning light filled the valley. It was a medium sized flow cutting it’s way down the gorge. This early in the morning you couldn’t make out the texture of the river but you could see it’s various runs. I could make out pools, rock gardens, and bars. I was anxious for the truck to stop.

The game plan had changed a bit and before we started our float, our guide suggested we fish a productive run just upstream. It was a good opportunity to run my brother through the paces. It had been a number of years since he last fished and the first time ever with the two-hander.

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First run. Brian coaching my brother from the sidelines.

After a quick breakdown of the run, my brother and the guide setup at the top and I made my way to the middle. November in the PNW is like early September back in Alaska. Cool and crisp in the morning. Just cold enough to warrant fleece under the shell and to see your own breath. The landscape, the river, and the atmosphere though are much different than back home but carries with it some familiar aspects.

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Looking down.

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Looking up.

After a short moment of “taking it all in” I finally stepped into the water and began to strip line off the reel. I waded in up to my ankles and started to make progressively longer casts until the fly was just hitting short of the other side. River left is my preferred side at the moment. I like the Snap T because the anchor placement is almost automatic and I can get a decent cast most of the time.

The 7wt was loaded up with a 510 Compact Skagit and 11′ of T-11. At the business end was this.

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Starter fly.

The fly carried with it a lot of expectations. A lot to ask of a fly I know. Only thing left was to make the casts and take the steps.

I’m sure the guide started me up away from the bucket cause he knows how giddy a newbie can be and he didn’t want me blowing it on the lame warm up casts. I was on the inside of a soft bend that opened up into a wide pool. The near side dropped moderately fast and the far side was broken up by a small downed tree forming a seam along the cutbank. The depth looked consistent across the whole run. You could tell from the surface that there were a few nice sized rocks below that could hide a steelhead or two.

Cast after cast…step after step…I fired that fly to the far bank, mended, and settled into the swing. I felt at any moment it could happen. At this point I must have made three dozen casts. Then, at the sweet spot of the 37th swing I felt it…three deliberate taps. Instead of waiting for the fish to commit and burying the rod low and to the bank, I got anxious and effed up the whole thing.

I knew my chances were few and far between. For rookies it’s one or two opportunities. I just wasted one of them on a premature hookset. I stood there for what seemed like forever playing that moment in my mind over and over again. The guide came over a bit later and told me to take 5 steps upstream and work the fly through again. Sometimes he said you can get the fish to come back.

So I did just what he said. Composed myself, took 5 giant steps upstream, and started down and across. I can’t tell you how much I wanted a second chance. I knew if that fish came back I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. I would have fed that fish 5 feet of slack and hammered that fly in the corner. That second chance never came. I finished out the run a little disappointed but the day was early…still plenty of water left.

With so much water left, I figured one of us was walking away a winner. Unfortunately for us, the rest of the day just turned into a beatdown of epic proportions. We worked run after run, making casts, taking steps, mending, rod high, rod low, changing flies, eating on the float, and taking one beating after another.

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My brother...making the casts...taking the steps.

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Off to another run.

We fished it all…the wide long run that by the end had you waist deep and tucked up tight to the trees with branches poking you in the back, the inside bend that had us tip toeing along a 4 foot ledge with chain link rip rap armor just waiting to gobble up a D-loop that went too far behind, and the all too familiar exposed bar with a soft inside seam and good looking structure from tip to tail.

After 8+ hours of hoping…that last cast, that last mend, and that last swing was the toughest by far. If it weren’t for the fading light I know I would have kept grinding it out. I felt like I had failed and the disappointment ran deep. I started second guessing things…I should have changed fly color after that first teaser, I should have changed flies more often, I should have taken another pass through with another fly, I should have…I should have…I should have.

It didn’t sink in until a few days later. I finally came to grips with the outcome. I fished my ass off and well…shit like this happens. Going in I knew one or two opportunities. I got one. That works for me.

I wanted so bad to bring a steelhead to hand the only way deemed proper by fellas much wiser than me and who’ve taken multiple beatdowns to just get an opportunity at one more steelhead on the swinging fly. If anything, it’s made it worse. I can’t stop thinking about the next time.

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Last look.

In the end it wasn’t meant to be. Not my time I suppose. I know if I keep paying my dues it will happen.

I want to thank my brother for grinding it out with me. Can’t think of a better person to share the water with. Also, big thanks to Brian Styskal for showing two rookies the ropes and Tom Larimer for all the advice. It was great meeting you guys.

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I’m sitting in my brother’s kitchen and the sun is trying desperately to peek through the clouds. It is about midday here and this will be the last time I ever mention the conditions outside. I don’t want to bring about any bad mojo. At this point I’m trying hard not to stress out too much. 

There are things that I can control and things that I can’t. It’s the latter that causes me the most stress. Just a week prior the PNW had a storm that brought a ton of rain. I watched as the river I planned to fish spike a few feet. 

A friend from around these parts dropped me an email the other day. Savoy asked if I was bringing the fish with me. Apparently the storm was that bad. The only bright spot is that the rising water could push fish into the rivers. Back home I don’t stress out about the conditions outside. Rain or shine there is always a piece of water you can fish. I’m a guest here…a visitor…a tourist. I have a narrow window of opportunity.

For the most part everything made it here safe. I only brought the essentials…waders, jacket, rod, reel, gear, and one box of flies.

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Hoping and praying one of these works.

At this point, crying won’t help me and praying won’t do me no good. I can only sit and wait.

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That is about the only thing that is on my mind. Well…that and swinging flies on the two-hander.

Been trying for weeks now to rally the crew. Not sure if they’re already in hibernation or what. About this time last year, Tuber and I were working the water. Swinging flies on the two-hander.

The weather has cooled off and dried up. Should make for good conditions. Snow is down to about 3,000 feet. In a few weeks it will be covering the lawn. Come on guys!!!! What are you waiting for? Don’t make me go without you and taunt you with pictures. You know I will.

Remember last time when you guys decided to stay home. Missed out on the best trip of the year. Don’t make that mistake twice.

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