Dana Sturn knows anadromous fish like Linsday Lohan knows rehab.
Dana wrote up a fine piece of literature that really cuts to the core of why we get so fired up about Dean River Chinook salmon, and we think you’re going to like it.
Thanks Dana. This is a really good one.
It Doesn’t Take Many
When you step off the West Coast Helicopters A-Star at the Kimsquit airstrip on the Dean some funny things start to happen. If you lift your head up and look around you’ll notice that you are in possibly the most beautiful place on earth. Towering snowcapped peaks, huge waterfalls, wild things everywhere–in short, true Edward Abbey wilderness. Yeah, you should take a minute or ten and look around, breathe deeply, and just have a few of those “wow” moments.
But you don’t. Your bags are loaded into the truck and you engage in idle chitchat with the lodge crew . You seem to be present but you’re somewhere else entirely. Perhaps you’re remembering the classic stories of the Dean, stories of 15…20…30 fish weeks and you wonder what’s in store for you. Or maybe you’re standing in the river with a deathgrip on your two-hander, palming your reel hard while an ocean fresh one heads for tidewater.
Those are the steelhead stories. And some can be as mindblowing as the fish that inspire them, the perfect Dean chromers, the fish of steelheading legend. The Dean has been called Steelhead Valhalla for good reason: when it’s good it’s incredible, and when it’s great it’s, well, the Dean.
You’re a steelheader when you step off the chopper, suddenly plagued by your affliction. Steelhead Fever they call it, and you’re hurtin’. Bad.
But strangely enough, you’re not here to catch steelhead. They’re around of course, but you’ve heard that in late June and early July–“early season” on the Dean–another creature haunts these waters, and you’ve left your 7 weight, your dry lines and classic reels at home. Instead you’ve brought the big guns: 10 weight two-handers; reels that could put the hurt on tarpon; Skagit heads thick as your finger.
Yup, you’ve airlifted in the heavy artillery.
You’re here for Chinook.
Dean Chinook. Rumour has it that these fish are to other Chinook what Dean and Thompson steelhead are to all other steelhead–a different kind of fish entirely. Friends who’ve fished Chinook elsewhere tell you Dean fish are unique, pound for pound the strongest Chinook they’ve ever encountered. Dean River veterans say you might not hook a lot of them, and of those you hook you might land just a few, but those fish create memories perfect and indelible that linger a lifetime, among your absolute best moments in fly fishing. All you can add to such superlatives is that hooking a Dean Chinook reminds you of how you felt when you first started steelheading, and that’s a very special thing.
You’re a steelheader when you step off the chopper, gripped by The Fever. But things start to happen once The Fever starts to break. You become–slowly–something else. Some begin to notice it right away; others may experience it over the week. Chinook fishing the Dean changes you. In the same way many trout anglers experience a transformation when they begin to fish steelhead, steelheaders experience something similar fishing Dean Chinook.
People often ask you now that you’ve been a couple of times how many you can expect to hook in a week. You honestly don’t know how to answer that question because the answer really won’t make too much sense to anyone who hasn’t fished here. You were talking to Adam Tavender about it this year and his answer characterizes Dean Chinook better than any other:
“It doesn’t take many.”
Dean Chinook test everything about you as an angler: knowledge; skill; determination; character. These fish don’t give up and require the same of you. Whether you’re 40 minutes into the fight and the fish has you beat and shows no sign of tiring, or two days into the trip without a pull, they will test you like few other fish can. But when you pass the test, you will savour every moment of it long after that big tail slips from your hand.
You leave the helicopter a steelheader; you step back on again 7 days later a different angler. Over the year you might become a steelheader again, until the A-Star flies you in to early season on the lower Dean, where transformation awaits.