(In the first of this four-part series, fly-fishing guide Mark Bachmann introduces our reporter to the world of steelhead fishing.)
When I first heard of fly fishing for steelhead, I was ready to grab my rod and point myself in the right direction. But apparently there were a few issues with that game plan. For one, my fly-fishing pole is made for catching trout weighing no more than 4 pounds. The average steelhead is roughly 8 pounds. Second, if you've never fished for steelhead, you're hopeless without a guide.
I was raised in Northern California, fly fishing for trout in the Sierra Nevadas since I was 10 years old, so I'm no rookie. Steelhead, though, is a different game.
I needed guidance, so I stopped by The Fly Fishing Shop in Welches, where I quickly found out the chore this would be. Mark Bachmann, a guide with 40 years of fishing experience, was just the man to give me a dose of reality.
'Catching steelhead with a fly rod is much more complicated than learning how to run a computer,' he said, as though testing my level of commitment. 'It has many more levels to it.'
But I hadn't lost all confidence. While I wasn't fishing for trout, at the end of the day it was still fly fishing. If I could remember the basics, hopefully I'd bypass embarrassment.
'The first thing a guy needs to be able to do is wade, and wade safely,' Bachmann said. 'The second thing the guy needs to be able to do is cast accurately. These two rules to the game that will never let you down.'
Luckily, I picked the right time to start learning. Bachmann said this has been a good year for steelhead fishing, and he's been spending most of his time on the Sandy River. The river, though, is constantly changing, making the fishing tough to predict. The large amount of rainfall causes the water level to rise and fall dramatically.
'The Sandy River changes all the time,' Bachmann said. 'It drops 6,000 feet in 55 miles. The water level changes every day. And the bottom of the Sandy River is soft so it's moving all the time.
'So with steelhead being in sparse populations in a river that's changing continually, your only real advantage is being able to cover a lot of water systematically.'
That's why Bachmann recommended fishing with a two-handed spey rod, because it allows a fisherman to cover more water quicker and more efficiently. But I also need a set of waders and wading shoes. For all that, I'm looking at a gouging sum of more than $1,000.
On April 25, I'll take my next step toward developing the skills needed to catch a steelhead.
The Fly Fishing Shop offers guides, classes and equipment. It is located at 67296 E. Highway 26, Welches. The shop and Bachmann can be reached at 503-622-4607.