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Meandering Angler: Fishing Talent, Oregon

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It was the middle of our second day on southern Oregon’s Rogue River last weekend. The sun had finally risen high enough to burn off the last of the chilling fog that hung over the water.

Our guide, Jim Andras, directed Steve Kyle and me to cast our flies to our left into the head of a large pool that ran for 100 yards along a steep bluff.

I was fishing from the stern, Steve was in the bow. The boat drifted along the edge of the current when suddenly a fish grabbed my fly and made a run upstream. I was busy trying to regain control when I heard Steve let out a yelp. He had a steelhead on his line too.

Steelhead are rainbow trout, born in fresh-water streams. As youngsters, they swim their way many miles downstream to the ocean, which, if some other sea creature does not eat them, is the world’s greatest fish gymnasium.

There, they spend a few years bulking up in size and strength until their biological clocks tell them it’s time to reproduce.

Then, these once scrawny little fingerlings swim back to the waters in which they were born.

Used to dodging larger fish and predators like sea lions, they are quite capable of handling themselves at end of a light piece of monofilament leader and fly line, connected to a fishing rod nearly as flexible as a buggy whip.

Steve and I each had one of these muscular ocean-going rainbows on the line at the same time. They were both two feet and more in length and not interested at all in allowing us to bring them in without a fight.

Inevitably the fish circled each other, the lines tangled, and we lost whatever little control we had.

Jim, who is the best fishing guide I’ve ever fished with, calmly instructed us to keep tension on the lines while he tried to maneuver the boat closer to shore, where he might be able to net the fish one at a time.

All Steve and I could do was hold on.

Suddenly my fish made two quick counter-clockwise circles around Steve’s fish and the lines untangled.

By then, the fish had tired themselves out. Jim netted them one at a time, and shortly thereafter they were released to continue their journey.

Steelhead fishing is sort of like that: sometimes hours of just fishing, punctuated by several minutes of pulse-raising excitement.

Steve and I had enough excitement on both days to make our five-hour drive north from Sonoma well worth the effort. We each caught and released several large, beautiful steelhead and numerous smaller trout. In addition, Steve caught a large sucker, adding to his remarkable streak of catching at least one of that species every time we’ve fished together.

Suckers are bottom feeders, not normally caught by fly fishers. Steve finds a way.

Jim and his wife Rachel, who lived and worked in Sonoma for a brief time, operate Andras Outfitters out of their home in Talent, Oregon, just north of Ashland. Jim guides full time while Rachel, who is a life coach, also teaches fly fishing, books fly-fishing travel for her clients and runs an annual summer fly-fishing camp for kids. They have two delightful children, James, 10, and Brechin, 7, who Steve and I have known since they were in diapers.

For us, spending a couple of days fishing with Jim is highlighted by a post-fishing dinner where we can reconnect with Rachel and the kids. As such, these trips have become as much about a reunion with old friends as catching fish.

Over their years in business, Jim and Rachel have made a lot of friends, and if you want to fish with Jim, you need to book months in advance. For more information go to Andrasoutfitters.com.

While Steve and I were several hundred miles north, Sonoma’s Bill Fernandez was an equal distance east in Bridgeport, where he and several friends from that town closed out the trout season catching lots of large rainbow trout out of Bridgeport Reservoir. Bill said the weather was excellent as was the fishing.

Closer to Sonoma, sports fishing for Dungeness crab continues to be excellent off the Sonoma Coast. Call Capt. Rick Powers at Bodega Bay Sportsfishing, 875-3344, to book a trip. Rick said this week he is having best crab season ever so far.

Halibut and striped bass fishing is good in San Francisco Bay and sturgeon tides are good this weekend. For more information call Keith Fraser at Loch Lomond Bait Shop in San Rafael at (415) 456-0321.

Big questions remain about commercial crab season’s opener. It has been delayed all along the Sonoma coast, thanks to an effort by Bodega Bay’s commercial crabbers who want to protect the whales still plentiful in the offshore fishing grounds.

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