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Meandering Angler: The biggest steelhead of my life

It was a memorable trip on the Rogue with Steve Kyle.|

Steve Kyle and I made our semi-annual pilgrimage to the Rogue River in Southern Oregon last week to fish with our friend, Jim Andras, the best fly-fishing guide in the west. We’ve been making this journey for at least 12 years, and it is always a pleasure.

We both have spent hundreds of days fishing with many different guides on rivers from Alaska to the tip of Tierra del Fuego and in several European counties, including Ireland, Italy, Portugal and France. Most of them were good, some even excellent, but none as good as Jim. None of them work as hard as he does to find fish for his clients.

When you float on a river with a guide, instead of walking and wading, you most often do it in a drift boat. It does not come with a motor. The guide not only sets you up with the right leaders and flies, he also rows you down the river. In Jim’s case, he also rows you up the river, which is a lot harder.

Jim does this is because he doesn’t want to leave any part of a potentially good stretch of water, uncovered. One drift won’t do it. He knows where the fish usually hang out, but he also knows that season-to-season, day-to-day, hour-to-hour that steelhead move.

He knows the places where these sea-going rainbow trout tend to rest on their long journey to their spawning grounds. These are the sections of the river where, depending on conditions, he may make many passes.

Guiding the boat down stream in exactly the correct position and distance from the bank takes skill, knowledge and experience, getting the boat and its passengers back upstream to do it again takes mostly strength and pure grit. A fully loaded drift boat, with clients and guide on board, weighs close to a thousand pounds. Pushing that much weight upstream against a strong flow of water is a workout. Doing it over and over again, all day long, requires extraordinary conditioning, not to mention dedication to the success of his clients.

I’ve fished with guides who make an additional pass or two a few times a trip, but nobody but Jim does rows back upstream six to 12 times repeatedly over a full day of fishing.

And while he did that, Steve and I get to rest, until he turns the boat around and starts drifting downstream again so we can make easy casts to likely fishing lanes and wait for a big fish to bite. Even then, Jim cannot rest. He must work to keep the boat in the right position while also watching our flies to make sure we keep them where they need to be to catch fish.

That is how, last week, I managed to catch and release the biggest steelhead of my life.

It was toward the end of our first day. We were drifting through a particularly rocky section of the river when the fish hit. I set the hook and he took off like a runaway ’59 Buick. Steve and I had already caught and released seven steelhead, most of which were of average size for the Rogue. I could l tell this one was much heavier. It felt more like one of the big boulders had developed the ability to swim.

With luck and excellent coaching from Jim, I brought it to the net after about 15 minutes. It measured 31 inches in length. The size of its head, tail, and girth that gave it the profile and weight of a king salmon. But it wasn’t a salmon, but a sea-going rainbow trout, the biggest I’d ever caught. Jim estimated its weight at over 10 pounds.

Like most of the steelhead I’ve caught on the Rogue, I acknowledge that it wasn’t my great skill as a fly-fisher that got me that fish, it was the knowledge, skill and hard work of the best guide in the west, Jim Andras.

He’s the guy Steve and I have to thank for all our great days of fishing on the Rogue.

To arrange a day of guided fly-fishing on the Rogue River with Jim, go to andrasoutfitters.com, or call 800-488-5794. His calendar is quite full, so you may have to schedule him months in advance.

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