|"The Fish Journal"
Issaquah Press, Published March 2, 2010
By Dallas Cross
common and Latin names of Ironhead and Salmo mykiss have been
changed to Steelhead and Oncorhynchus mykiss. However, they all
designate one, native, sea-run rainbow trout found in rivers of the
Northern Pacific Ocean. I still like ironhead because of the rugged
fight they give and their stubborn ability to hang in there despite
I had never fished for steelhead before I moved to Washington. In Idaho
three private dams on the Snake river had stopped historical steelhead
runs in the lower Snake River, The remaining runs up the main Salmon
River were too far away for a reasonable day trip. So, when I moved to
Issaquah my new friend, Ed Polf, encouraged me to fish the nearby
rivers for this large and beautiful rainbow trout.
Ed had introduced me to sockeye fishing in Lake Washington from a leaky
row boat with a cranky motor we rented near where the Renton Airport
adjoins the lake. We were marvelously successful. Thus, I had
confidence in Eddie's fishing prowess when we set off for the rivers
After trips to the Snoqualmie, Green and Cedar Rivers using salmon eggs
and yarn bumping along the bottom, I didn't get a steelhead. Eddie
fared no better. Seeking advice from fishing books I decided try for my
first fish by appealing to their aggressive nature rather than their
Ed and I climbed down into the Green River canyon at dawn planning to
fish and return to the tavern just above on the rim for lunch. I used a
bass spinning rod and started throwing lures to ply waters behind logs
and rocks where I understood the steelhead hung out. Not getting a
strike I searched my tackle box and tied on a large Bomber bass lure
that I had used in the Midwest. Encouraging me, as usual, Ed laughed
and remarked, "It can't do any worse than what you have been using."
After several casts a V-wave moved from the bank towards the lure and
the rod tip bent violently. I was on to what was potentially my first
steelhead. The fish immediately headed down stream and turned. I fought
it back up to where it started. With ten-pound line I played it
gingerly and finally brought it to the gravel bar where Ed was standing
in the water without the net which was still in the car.
As I knelt in the shallow water to grab the fish, it flopped suddenly
leaving me holding the line with only a dangling lure on it. I was
shocked having just bungled the landing of my first steelhead. Ed, not
giving up, swiftly executed a field goal kick and the rainbow, along
with a shower of river water and gravel, lay shining in the weeds on
Later, Ed and I planned a more aesthetic approach to steelhead
catching. We were going after them with flies. Having fly fished most
of my life I was more comfortable with this approach and tied up some
classic steelhead flies, skunks and Skykomoish sunrises. We decided to
fish the well known Fortson Hole on the North Fork of Stillaguamish
River before it opened to bait fishing in December.
After several wrong turns and bush whacking we arrived at the famous
steelhead hole and were surprised to find we had it to ourselves.
Fortson Hole has a long, deep run in moderately flowing water. In it we
could see some fish lying quietly on the bottom all around a sunken log
with its adornment of gaudy flies and bright lures.
With the help of sinking fly lines we felt we were making acceptable
presentations to the dark shapes that moved enticingly on the bottom.
So we cast, lost and changed flies, but frustratingly did not get any
interest. Ed swore he could feel the line moving across the backs of
Across the river from the hole a hill rises up abruptly. I waded across
and climbed to the top of it to get a better view our quarry. I was
amazed because I could see at least a dozen big trout on the bottom of
the river. I yelled to Ed and he started casting according to my
Watching the trout open their mouths and close them when Ed's fly
approached, I started signaling for him to set the hook. The problem
was that the fly line had slack in it to get to the bottom and was not
firmly connected to the fly. Thus, the gentle change in feeling when a
fish mouthed the fly wasn't being transmitted to the pole. Also, the
slack made the delay in setting the hook too long. No hook ups. I waded
back and didn't get any fish on either. In frustration we muttered
about using a duPont spinner (dynamite) and finally left. I had more to
learn about Mr. Ironhead, much more.