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Steelheading on the Methow

Dave Graybill - 11/5/2012
I sure picked a great two days for my first steelhead trips of the season. The weather was mild, with very little wind and no rain. I started out fishing bobbers and jigs in the Pateros area, and then floated the Methow River fishing with flies.

Last Thursday, my fishing buddies Jim Passage and Tom Bartlett helped me launch the Jetcraft at the ramp at the mouth of the Methow River. I chose to start fishing in the estuary. We would be using jigs without bait and scent. I didn’t want to be using “tainted” jigs that worked for us in the main stem Columbia. We ran up the channel to a spot that would be deep enough to hold fish and started tossing out our 1/8th-ounce Maxi Jigs. It wasn’t too long before the bobber on my rod went down and the battle was on. I finally got a stubborn 9-pound wild steelie to the boat. Then things kind of unraveled. We were busy in the boat selecting jigs or rigging tackle and the next time I looked out my bobber was gone. I don’t know how long it was down, but by the time I got to the rod and picked it up nothing was there. This happened to me four times!

We fished throughout the estuary, and saw anglers catch fish. Some were dragging bobbers and jigs, pulling plugs and fishing from shore off the point. The action wasn’t fast, but fish were being caught. We also saw fish being taken from the docks. We tried the Rocks at the end of the day, but didn’t turn up any fish. A tough day for my boat, but we had a great time trying.

The next morning Jim Passage and I headed up the Methow Valley to meet guide Jeff Brazda to float the river. I was Passage’s guest, and had only floated the Methow with a fly rod in my hand once before. We slid the raft down the hill at Gold Creek and started down stream. We were fishing indicators with a stone fly and a dropper. We weren’t very far from the put in when my indicator disappeared and I hooked and landed a nice wild steelhead, of around six pounds. Brazda used his special containment net and easily slipped the hook out and released the fish. It was a great start to our day.

I was given the bow position to start the day, and it sure helped. I don’t have a lot of experience fishing with this technique, and having Brazda coach me through each presentation gave me a big advantage. Not much further down stream there was a narrow slot, and after our indicators were adjusted for depth, we started drifting our flies through the hole. Almost immediately mine vanished and I set the hook on another fish. This was a smaller fish and I got it to the net and found it to be a hatchery keeper.

Jim Passage is an expert fly angler, and even from the stern position had no trouble putting his indicator exactly where Brazda wanted it. We even stopped at one hole and Passage worked it with a spey rod. He is a real pro with this method and could easily put his fly across the river with his smooth, looping motion. I even got a chance to give this casting technique a try. Brazda took me into the hole and after a couple of demonstration casts handed the rod to me. I wouldn’t say that I was actually spey casting with my first attempt, but I could sure see why it is so popular. These large rods and specialized lines put a fly out a great distance with ease. I appreciated how much longer a drift was accomplished with each cast, compared to my single-handed method.

After our lunch break we traded positions in the boat and went back to work. Passage and I continued to work each hole with Brazda’s guidance and Passage added another fish to our stringer. The steelhead we were catching were 4 to 6 pounds, and full of energy. They jumped and ran up and down the river when hooked. The water was so clear that we could clearly see fish shoot by the boat on our way between fishing spots. We could also clearly see the flash of a nice steelhead that I hooked but failed to handle properly and shake my fly!

At one point we anchored at the edge of a deep hole, and while Brazda made some adjustments to Passage’s gear, he said, go ahead and toss it out there. I did, and my indicator went down on the second cast. This was a good one, too. In fact I had to jump out of the boat and chase it down river about 100 yards. When Brazda finally was able to get ahead of it and get it in the net we estimated it at 9 pounds, and it was a hatchery keeper, too. This occurred just above the take out and was a perfect way to end an amazing day on the Methow. We ended up with four keepers, and had released two wild fish, lost a couple each and missed a bunch of good strikes. I can’t say enough about the patience and expertise that Brazda displayed. He was a great combination of expert fly selector, boat man, and teacher. I can’t wait to get out with him again, and can’t thank Passage enough for providing the experience. If you’d like to learn more about what Jeff Brazda offers, visit his web site at

I sure had a great start to my steelhead fishing for the season. Lots of great company on the boat, and I really learned a lot floating the Methow. I am anxious to get out and do it again!

By Dave Graybill