by Stan Fagerstrom
Somehow I just knew that fish was going to hit.
If you read my last column you know I told about being up to my boot tops in Southwest Washington's beautiful Kalama River. I'd felt what I thought was a spring steelhead pick up my bait but it didn't stick with it.
My bait of eggs still looked all right after I'd reeled in. I had noticed what appeared to be a tiny white spot on my leader a few inches up from my hook. It didn't look like it was big enough to pose a problem. Besides, I just couldn't wait to get my bait back out there again.
I cast and my bait plopped into the river. I felt my sinker bumping and thumping its way along the river bottom. Then there it was again---that hard to define sensation that my bait had stopped but not because my sinker had hung up. I hesitated a heartbeat and then snapped back with the tip of my rod.
Fish on! If you've ever had to good fortune to tangle with one of those early spring steelhead on the Kalama you'll know I'm not exaggerating what happened next. That fish went absolutely berserk! It came bursting up through the surface and hurled and twisted itself up so it was as high as my head. I brought my rod into position to try to fight this first Kalama springer I'd ever hooked. My rod was almost pulled from my grip as the fish boiled up again and then there was that sickening slack in my line and I knew the fish was gone.I hope someone took the time to teach this little guy just how important it is to always look at your gear between casts to be sure it's in good shape.
You better hope your line, leader and knots are in good shape when you get a good steelhead in as close as I had this one. Taking time to take a little look at your gear between casts will give you that assurance. My heart was still pounding as I reeled in. Remember that teensy white spot I'd seen on monofilament not far up from my bait just before I cast? That's where my leader had parted.
And that's why you see why the title I selected for this two part column really fits. I learned a lesson that day. It's one you'll eventually learn yourself if you do much fishing. Perhaps you already have.
Certainly it's extremely important that you make sure all your gear is in great shape before you even start fishing. You can't stress too much the importance of tying your knots properly, having sharp hooks, etc., etc.Do you check your knots to your lures from time to time. This is so important after catching a fish or sometimes when you've had to keep yanking and stressing your knot after hanging up on a snag.
But what's often overlooked, and there are plenty of occasions when it's probably even more important, is not checking your gear repeatedly after the fishing actually starts. Actually, it was a recent suggestion from somebody who knows just how darn important what I'm writing about is that you're seeing these last two columns.
I shot the picture you see here of a youngster fishing steelhead on a Washington State River a long time ago. I hope someone took time to teach him how important it is to continually keep an eye on your tackle.
One such individual who does is my good friend Bob Schmidt, the general manager of a tackle company called Mack's Lure. Bob's the guy who calls the shots at this growing Washington State tackle company that's enjoying a steadily increasing impact of its products among anglers all over the country.It's important, of course, to have the hooks on your lures sharp before you ever cast one out there. Be just as sure they remain in good shape by looking them over carefully once the fishing starts.
Here's that Bob had to say when he sent me a recent e-mail: "I have an idea," Bob said, "for an article you might want to do sometime. I know in the past you've done stories on getting your gear ready to go. The idea I have is different in that it would stress the importance of checking knots and leaders while you actually out there fishing."
Bob, my friend, I wish you'd of been around to share that truth with me back there when I hooked my first steelhead on the Kalama. Why? Because if I'd of simply followed your advice I'd probably have put that fish on the bank.
Schmidt, unlike certain tackle makers I've known and worked with over the years, is a fisherman himself. And he's a dang good one. I've fished with him often enough to know. I also know he'll be the first to tell you he's made mistakes of his own---but when he does he learns from them and unlike some of the rest of us he doesn't make ‘em again.You're looking at an expert who has "learned to look" at every item of his gear each time he's on the water. Here he displays proof that his approach gets the results he's after. Bob Schmidt is the general manager of Mack's Lure, a company located in Washington State. Among other things, Bob's company has introduced those wondrous little Mack's Lure Smile Blades that have attracted the attention of anglers all over the world.
"As an angler," Bob says, "I well know the frustration of a knot failing. I have even had it happen when fishing with professional guides on knots they had tied to their swivels. Checking knots, and checking your line for nicks at the start of the day, and after a catch, and especially after temporarily having snagged up is always a good idea. A season has yet to go by where I haven't been glad I replaced a leader or retied a knot at least one time."
Let's face it, that's just about as solid advice as you can come by. I didn't have any trouble at all coming up with how I managed to lose the first spring steelhead I hooked. And as much as I hate to admit it, I don't have the slightest difficulty remembering other occasions where if I'd simply followed the advice Bob has shared it would have also meant more fish in the boat.
What hurts even more is that the type of common mistake he details often involve some of the biggest fish you'll ever get a hook into. It has happened to me twice on Mexico's Lake El Salto and when it did both times I felt like kicking my butt all the way back to the bank!
Don't wait until you've been around as long as I have to build checking your gear often and repeatedly each time you're out there on a lake or stream. Learn to look---and don't wait until you have a stringer empty of fish but full of regrets for not having done so.