John Toker is a long-time fanatical steelheader who used to manage BC West, our lodge on the Dean River. John likes using a lot of different two-handed rigs when he’s chasing steelhead, but if you encountered him on the Dean on any given day, he might just be fishing this one.
- Sage 8129-4 Z-Axis
- Sage 3500D [current equivalent is the Sage 6010]
- Rio 600 grain Skagit Shooting Head
- As much Micronite backing as will fit on the reel
- Double bimini twist in the shooting line end of the backing
- Rio PowerFlex Shooting Line
- Rio 600 grain Skagit Shoot Head looped to the shooting line
- Selection of sinktip from intermediate to 18′ of T-14
- 3-4 feet of 15 pound Maxima Ultragreen tied to the tip with a non-slip mono loop
- Tube or stinger-style fly with a short-shank Owner hook, tied on with a non-slip mono loop
“The Dean River presents an angler with all sorts of possibilities and challenges. At one moment you may be wading deep with your back against the brush and the next minute you are trying to huck mega-casts to reach clusters of boulders in the middle of the river. Therefore, one rod will never cover all needs perfectly. If you are fishing with a boat nearby at all time you can always carry a quiver of rods and change up as needed. For me though, there is nothing like hiking around and finding my way into places that are less traveled. This leaves me needing to travel light and therefore take one rig.
One of the set-ups you would have seen in my hand the last year or two is built around Sage’s Z Axis 8129-4. This rod is incredibly light in hand, is short enough to work in tight spots and has the power when pushed to launch a cast to the far bank.
Attached to the back end of the 8129-4 is a Sage 3500D. I started fishing the “D” series reels when they first came out and find myself using them in more and more of my fishing. They just do not fail me. I personally have no interest in cleaning and lubing cork or other drag parts. I want to fish. I want to get things dirty. I don’t want to have to worry about how I treat my gear and certainly do not want to have to clean it every night. The sealed drag in the 3500D allows me to do just that. Along with needing near zero maintenance it provides great line pick-up and a silky smooth drag that has never even stuttered.
Spooled onto the 3500D is a healthy supply of Micronite backing. And I mean healthy! On no other river have I had to chase so many fish around multiple bends of the river. They just leave the pool and don’t look back! And those are the steelhead. God forbid you tie into a chinook. At the end of the backing I throw on a double Bimini to form a loop for a loop to loop attachment with the running line.
My running line of choice for the Dean is simply Rio’s Power Flex Shooting Line. It provides near tangle free use and will shoot a mile. For some of my steelhead fishing later in the year I may be found using one of the latest low or no stretch running lines on the market to improve the feel I have when the fish are taking soft. Not an issue on the Dean! I want some stretch in that line! I tried to go with a low stretch running line on the Dean for a few days and found that if I was not paying total attention a grab resulted in a parted leader or a straightened hook. These fish freight-train you!
Forward of the shooting line is a Rio Skagit 600 grain shooting head. The Rio Skagit does a great job of turning over the big flies I tend to throw on the lower Dean and allows me to get into tight spots when I need to.
Ahead of my Rio Skagit I will be switching off between a variety of sink-tips to cover the conditions I am faced with. In my tip wallet I will always carry fifteen foot sections of Intermediate, and Type 3, 6, and 8 sink tips. I will add to that collection sink tip made of Rio T-14 in 9ft, 12ft, 15ft and 18ft lengths. All these will have homemade loops on both ends for quick switching.
On the end of the sink tip of the moment I will loop on a 3ft to 4ft section of straight 15lb Maxima Ultragreen. Maxima has proven itself over the years and I stick with it. I do not bother with tapering my sink-tip leaders. I want to carry just one spool of mono and I want to have as few knots as possible in my rig. No matter who ties them, knots can and will fail! The fewer the better. On both ends of my leader I use non-slip mono loops to keep everything together. This knot has worked well for me and I find no reason to use anything else.
Finally, what fly do I use? Well…I ain’t gonna tell but I also, like many steelheaders, feel that it does not much matter. What I will say is I use tube or stinger style flies that allow me to use a short shanked hook. My favorites are produced by Owner. I feel that they greatly increase one’s landing percentage and I also find that they tend to stay put a little better and tear up the fish’s mouth a bit less.”