October is waning, but the Indian summer weather continues to hang on. My favorite fishing trips have been to the Klamath River for fall steelhead fishing.
If you hit it right, the deciduous trees along the river bottom are in bright colors, the water is cool but not cold, and the fish are willing.
This year, the salmon and steelhead runs were predicted to be excellent, based on ocean surveys. Reports from the mouth of the Klamath River starting in July spoke of the summer steelhead run moving in early.
As the season progressed into September, the steelhead and salmon were halted by the sandbar blocking the mouth of the river. Heavy seas from the north Pacific can push the beach sand up and form a bar at the mouth. The low water flows of summer then flow through the bar rather than over it.
When the river mouth finally opened, the fish that had been holding in the salt, moved up the river en masse. They rushed up the river, and in a couple of weeks, some had moved all the way to the top of the river almost 200 miles distant.
There are many small streams that flow into the Klamath and provide the spawning grounds for the steelhead. These are not viable until the winter rains come on and the steelhead remain in the main river. Salmon spawn throughout the river, and their eggs are high on the steelhead’s menu choices.
For the first day of fishing, I booked a float trip with Wally Johnson (http://steelheadguide.com). Wally lives on the river; he literally has the river in his backyard. Local guides know where to find the fish and will give you an insight for where to fish on following days.
We were into fish from the first hour. The key was to locate spawning salmon and fish the deeper runs below them.
There are three classes of steelhead in the Klamath. The dinks are the young of the year that measure 6 to 8 inches. These juveniles are everywhere and can be a nuisance at times.
The second group is the “half-pounders.” These are fish back from their first year in the ocean. They measure 14 to 18 inches; they are aggressive feeders. When you find a school of them, they can provide continuous action.
A half-pounder would be a trophy rainbow on any Sierra trout stream, and to catch a dozen or more of them in a day is the basis of a good trip.
The largest steelhead in the Klamath are the adults, which are back from their second, third or fourth season in the ocean. In the Klamath, these fish can measure 20 to 30 inches and are the spawning fish. Hooking and landing these moves the trip from the good to great category.
Experienced guides choreograph their client’s trips without explaining it to anglers. The anglers just experience the day while the guide is working his plan. I wanted to catch steelhead on my fly tackle but wanted to catch fish with any technique.
We back-trolled plugs on fly rods and “boondoggled” glow bugs on spinning rods for the morning. We broke for lunch just before we reached some classic steelhead riffles. Wally had chosen our launch and take-out points to put me on fly-casting water when these riffle were in the afternoon shade of the riverside mountains.
The Klamath River has a long angling history, and there are many truisms relating to fishing its waters. One of these is, “A steelhead will not take a fly if the fly is between him and the sun.”
These fish will not look into the sun to find food. Consequently, there are morning riffles and afternoon riffles. Wally had me on great fly water for the last three hours of the day, and the fish were there.
He dropped me off in shallow water at the top of the run and I fished my way down river, wading with the current to the bottom. Twice, I waded back up to the top and fished back down through hooking multiple steelhead on each pass.
For me, that could have been a good end to a classic day on the Klamath. Good fly-casting water is 2 to 6 feet deep. Wally had one more location in mind.
There was a deep-water slot below the fly water. Often the biggest fish will hold in the deeper runs, and it was true on this day.
We ended the day boondoggling glow bugs through this deep run and landed five adult fish on six passes. Truly an epic end to an ideal first day on my 2013 trip to the Klamath.
This is being written at a campground alongside the Klamath Thursday morning.
Once this has been sent on by email, I will be back on the river.
As you read this today, I will be on the river wrapping up this trip.
Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at http://trollingflies.com.