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Event Article: Fishing the Smith River

Chasing Winter Steelhead on the Smith River (continued)


“I think I had a hit but lost him,” I said, and just as I finished my statement a fish jumped high out of the water no more than ten feet in front of me. The fish had come straight at me and I reeled desperately to gain back tension on the line, it was a rookie mistake. Luckily for me the fish was hooked well and I was able to regain control and play the fish through two more hard runs and eventually into the net.


Though considered a tough fly fishing river anglers do have success fishing for both steelhead and salmon on the Smith. Spey rods are preferred on this river.


“Nine times out of ten these fish will run right towards the boat before they turn right around and freak out,” Gary explained. “It is important to reel hard and make sure there isn’t a fish on the line before you let your weight drop back down.” Throughout the trip I was amazed how well these fish were able to hold position in some of the fastest and nastiest looking water.


Cal lands a nice hen on ultralight baitcasting gear


Mid way through the trip we pulled out of the water and drove the boat back up the middle river to an area known as “The Forks.” In stark contrast to the redwood lined rocky banks near the State Park area this middle section of the Smith rested deep within a rocky canyon. It was one of the most beautiful settings I’ve ever fished in and definitely ranks among the prettiest rivers I’ve ever seen, truly a photographers dream come true.


A quick look underwater before its time to go


We caught a few more fish and my first half pounder of the trip here. This small green looking steelhead looked like a traditional trout but fought like a fish three times its size. Gary explained that even this small half pounder had already been in the ocean and came back. Any fish that can go into the ocean and come back this far up a river is a mean fish and the Smith Steelies were living up to their reputation as quality fighters.


The middle Smith is lined with scenic rocky cliffs


We took time to enjoy this stretch of river and got out of the boat to wade fish at different points, even landing a seven pound steelhead on a six weight fly rod from shore. Cal switched over from spinning gear to baitcasting and landed a nice fish from the drift boat though he admitted it was easier to cast further with spinning gear.


Zander tries to maintain control of a fish through fast moving water


Why do the fish get so big on the Smith? It is the environment that makes them so big, even the hatchery fish have to get big quickly to survive here on the Smith. Unlike the Klamath which is lined with smaller stones and gravel everything about the Smith is big…. big boulders, big redwood trees and big fish are the norm here. The water quality on the Smith is top notch and the hatchery programs are definitely working. We caught a total of ten steelhead over the course of our trip and eight of those fish were hatchery hens.


In contrast to the Klamath fly fishing here is tough but possible


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