“April is the cruelest month.” — T.S. Elliot.
ROCKFORD — So was old T.S. a fisherman? If so, I’m with him. April can be tough on an angler.
We arrived at the banks of the Rogue River a good hour before sunrise and there were already two trucks parked where we were going when we pulled in. My partner, Al “Jigman” Dakin, said he recognized one truck and after we waded across the river and made our way to the holes we planned to mine, he found he knew the other guy, too. We rigged up, under the light of headlamps, and waited to start fishing until there was enough light so we could see our bobbers. We fished with small jigs — Dakin, an iron worker and sometimes fishing guide builds his own because he’s never found a small commercially made jig with a hook strong enough to hold a steelie, he said — and wax worms. It was a typical drill: Cast it out, let it float downstream, reel it in, repeat.
After a half hour or so, Richard Heiss (the guy in the truck Dakin recognized) saw his bobber go down, struck, and wrestled with a bright hen. Dakin waded out past a downed log, and the fellow steered the fish into Dakin’s landing net. A nice fish.
A short time later, Heiss struck again, but this time the battle lasted mere moments before the line broke.
We’d collectively run the baits through that hole 100 times before the first bite and probably another 25 before the second. And both times the same guy hooked up. How does that figure? That’s fishing.
It was cold — in the 20s — with a steady wind that at times gusted enough that you had to brace yourself against it. Shouldn’t it be spring by now? That’s the thing about April. Many years (if not most) those fish would be up on gravel by now. Still, we were catching them in holes deep enough to float your hat.
Jim Lyon, a well-known boot guide on the Rogue, came by, asked how it was going, then announced he was going to fish a hole downstream. Dakin and I stayed another 30 minutes without a touch, then decided to take a break and head downstream to where Lyon was fishing.
Lyon, with whom I’ve fished a dozen times or so, said he saw plenty of fish splashing their way upstream and that his bobber had gone down three times, but he only had one fish — a brown trout that he guessed in the 18-inch range before he released it — come to hand.
“Just can’t seem to hook ‘em,” he said.
Lyon invited us to join him, so we spread out and ran our rigs through a deep hole that was littered with brush. It was a tricky bit of business to negotiate the run — I had to re-rig twice because my jig ran afoul the trash — when, finally, at the end of a long drift, as I ran the bait thisclosetothebrush, my bobber went down. I struck. Got him.
It was a gorgeous, double-striped male. I steered the fish upstream — it took drag several times, but I managed to negotiate the snags — and Dakin netted him for me. Dakin held him for pictures, I patted him it on the head and let him go.
The Rogue River steelhead fishery never fails to amaze me. There’s not much water — maybe seven miles, total, from the dam here downstream to the confluence with the Grand — and much of it is too shallow to hold fish. But I do not remember ever fishing here without catching at least some trout and usually some steelhead. This stream runs within easy driving distance of a million people. It is outstanding.
It started to rain. Dakin had to go. Lyon and I fished a few more minutes without results. We debated what to do. I suggested we head back upstream to where Dakin and I had started. Lyon was for it.
Nobody was there when we arrived (on a Saturday in April? Unbelievable!). We fished another 30 minutes or so. I caught a brown trout — a gorgeous fish, in the 17-inch range, shot a photo and let it go.
“That’s the kind of fish the fly guys go crazy over,” Lyon said. “Nice fish.”
Indeed. Both of us had caught better trout than a lot of guys will catch all year, incidentally to our purpose. This fishery is tremendous.
That was it, though. We called it at 11 a.m.
I haven’t been back since that morning. (Dakin told me he went one evening after work and went two for three. With the intervening rains (of Biblical proportion, I might add) and the generally warming weather, the steelhead should be doing their thing big time about now. But it may be a struggle to get at them.
Dakin says he’ll be fishing for steelhead well into May this year. (You can reach him at 231-206-6069.) As for me, well, I hear the crappies are biting. And Saturday marks the walleye opener. The best is yet to come.
Maybe April is not so cruel after all.