A Passion for Steelhead

A Passion for Steelhead

Plus a comprehensive look at rigs and tactics

  • By: Seth Norman
A Passion for Steelhead By Dec Hogan (Wild River Press: 2007; 425-486-3638; www.wildriverpress.com) 319 pp.; hardcover; $59.95 Not that steelhead have lacked quality attention, all in all, given the works of Roderick Haig-Brown, Russ Chatham, Steve Raymond, and others. But by comparison to salmonids for which folke have fly-fished much longer-trouts, salmons and chars of Europe and the Eastern United States-the Pacific Coast's most fabled species has hardly received fair due.Explanations abound on both sides of the Divide, as in "Great fishing those illiterates have out there," and "I hear they've got two wild fish left, Debby and Eunice, and 364 days a year to write about catching either one." Now that it's clear our Western "public" lands and waters belong to political donors, the Pacific Coast's surviving steelhead runs-as meager as they are-don't attract the attention of as many anglers as they once did, then perhaps we can expect more paeans like A Passion for Steelhead. This title does tell the story. Author and guide Dec Hogan praises the mykiss he loves in a burly and beautifully illustr-ated philosophic cum how-to-a book infused with energy and appreciation, ego and opinion, vast amounts of invaluable information, and welcome tributes to the Northwest's short but intense fly-fishing history. It's a pattern book and tactical manual, "traditional" in that it don't mean a thing if it ain't on a swing-"indicator" doesn't even appear in the index-but keen to promote Spey rods and casting in text and tutorials. You'll find lessons on reading water specific to finding this anadromous, oft-enigmatic visitor, pictorials on proper presentation, approaches to seasons and a FAQ the author has accumulated over the years. There's also a corollary he hopes fishers will knit into their expectations, revealed when Hogan's asked to define a "best" steelhead river. "Mountains, lots of mountains, rising swiftly," he writes. "A valley that is thick with…willow, alder and sweet smelling cottonwood…" beyond which stands "a dense forest comprised mostly of cedar, fir and hemlock trees…" He wants "a surplus of quality fly water." But it must be "varied in its form and flow." And, most importantly, when it comes to fish, "I don't want them to be too easy. Working hard to maybe hook one steelhead a day holds lasting appeal." These criteria all apply to one river he finds "perfect"-the Skagit, with its "special race" of winter-run steelhead that will cross "miles and miles of shallow, broad gravel bars that afford a long slow presentation of the fly…" An "Afterward" contains an article by Peter W. Soverel, founder of the Kamchatka Steelhead Project and long-time resident of Washington State. His description of damages done reveals a tragedy epic, grotesque and utterly foreseeable. This even applies to Hogan's homewater. "In words and pictures, Dec has already told you about how good the Skagit was. Present: I have a guide friend who fished it 30 consecutive days last year March-April without hooking a steelhead." Desperate straits, but Passion is not hopeless. "Please write," Hogan urges, "to Washington State senators, legislators, and US Congressmen and tell them how you feel about this issue. If we, as anglers, lose touch with steelhead, all will be lost. I guarantee it." Trout Rigs&Methods By Dave Hughes (Stackpole Books: 2007; 800-732-3669; www.stackpolebooks.com) 322 pp.; softcover; $19.95 I do have a criticism of this book-or perhaps of the reaction its title prompted from me, prior to a proper inspection, when I wondered how the subjects of Trout Rigs&Methods could fill 322 pages full of text and modest-size line drawings. "Rigs" and "Methods"-can there really be so many? Yes there can: "Part 1. Getting Ready" contains subsections on "Gearing Up" for eight types of waters, from creeks and small streams through tailwaters to lakes and ponds; also "Casting and Control," and "Fly Selection" (23 sub-subsections total). "Part 2. Moving Water," includes "Reading Water/Finding Trout" where you'll find sub-subs "Rigs and Methods for Dry Flies and Emergers" (21 sections) then for "Nymphs in Moving Water" (36 sub-somethings); also "Wet Flies," then "Streamers," then "Dry Fly and Dropper." "Part 3. Lakes and Ponds," begins, again, with sections on tackle, marching into "Reading Stillwaters," and rigs for dry and sunk flies… It used to be that fly-fishing how-to books were full of words. Lots of words and published in pretty plain packages that might or might not sandwich a dozen color plates midway between covers. Oh, how things have changed. Most new entries to this field are serious eye candy, sexy, with many more color images than ever. Readers obviously appreciate these graphics, once (or if) they get books past the cash register. And sometimes, it's true; a picture may offer more information than the thousand words it's said to be worth. But Trout Rigs&Methods reminds us that dozens of full-page photos take the place of text we might want to read and that when skillfully constructed prose is accompanied by a simple, carefully rendered sketch, this pairing may offer more than might meet a dazzled eye. Put it this way: Methods aims to catch anglers already intent to learn to fish for trout, wisely and well, under virtually all conditions. It's packed with information that Dave Hughes, author already of many fly-fishing titles, conveys cleanly, concisely and at a pace that allows for comfortable learning. Pass a quiz on half of what you'll find here, and a fine trout fisherman you will be.