While guiding Ken Mackay and his grandson, Ian, a couple days ago on the lower McKenzie, Ken hooked, played, and landed a 29 inch, bright 2011 summer steelhead, the first I have seen this season. There are not many summer fish in the system yet, so we can thank the moon and stars for aligning correctly and the fish gods for smiling on us. What made this encounter even more miraculous was that Ken hooked this fish while swinging wet flies for trout on my 9′ 4wt. z axis. It ate a #12 Silvey’s Soft Serve March Brown swung down and across on the end of a 4x fluorocarbon tippet. The fish took the little wet fly on the hang down. There was a huge swirl and the line came tight. When I realized exactly what was going on, I thought our odds of landing this fish were slim at best: light rod, light tippet, high water, no net, and nowhere in sight to pull the boat over so I could get out and tail the fish. This was going to take a while. Most of the credit for our success should go to Ken; an experienced fisherman, he kept steady pressure on the fish, giving quarter when he needed to, but exerting as much pressure as the light tippet could take to try to keep the fish under control. To make a long story short, we followed the fish downstream for 3/4 of a mile before the fish began to tire, I anchored the boat on a shallow gravel bar, Ken managed to turn the fish as it made it last runs, slowly relented, and came to hand.
The summer run fish here in the Willamette Valley return early. Many seasons, we have fishable numbers of summer steelhead around by sometime in May. With winter steelhead season ending in April and summer fish showing up on their tails, steelhead anglers in this part of the world hardly get a break. That, as they say, is a good problem to have.