Siletz River Steelheading

By Richard Alves

This winter, has been particularly difficult for Northwest steelheaders. North of the Klamath River, the abnormally few storms and dry ground conditions just didn’t provide many high water opportunities steelhead prefer for their spawning runs. Modest amounts of fish entering the coastal rivers and extremely low flows of “gin clear” water translated into very tough fishing. For experienced anglers fishing with guides, two steelhead derbies on the Smith and Chetco Rivers in late February and early March produced on average less than one fish per two angler days on the water!

Most of the guides moved off the coastal rivers in early March. I cancelled trips scheduled on the 10th and the 16th. On March 18, the weather pattern changed and a series of small storms finally moved into the area. The rivers began to rise and the steelhead began to appear!

Waterfall on the Siletz River
Guide Phil Paradis, Paradise Guide Service, called and invited me to fish the Siletz River. “If the guides are putting trips together, they’re probably going to be working closer to Portland,” he told me, adding, “I’m not expecting much traffic on the river. It should be fun.”

The Siletz is one of Oregon’s small coastal rivers. It meanders through a picturesque landscape of forest and woodlands on the west side of the coastal range to just south of Lincoln City where it meets the Pacific. We arrived at the put-in, in the village of Siletz, finding only two other driftboats. The village is located at the narrowest point of a peninsula surrounded by the river. The take-out, about five miles downriver, is only a few blocks from the put-in!

Four days of intermittent rain had raised the river somewhat, but it was still low. Although the Siletz was still running clear, at least it was the color of ginger ale rather than gin.

Phil had two sets of rods rigged, one for side drifting roe suspended on a three foot fluorocarbon leader and the other for bottom bouncing a half-inch glo-bug a few feet behind a small three-shot slinky. I rigged up my soft tip Rogue 904ss with the glo-bug just in case the steelhead were on “bite-lite.” My compadre in the front seat was Phil’s friend, Larry Gorman.

The first couple of hours absolutely nothing happened. About the time we were beginning to wonder if there were any fish in the river, I got an aggressive (for a steelhead) takedown. I set the hook and the fish came out of the water, then took off down river. Phil followed the fish and we eventually got the energetic buck turned around and within fifty feet of us. In the shallow water you could see flashes of chrome as the fish changed directions. The steelhead was almost close enough to net when it noticed our boat and found the strength for another run. This happened a couple of times before Phil was able to net the fish.

Larry Gorman with a Siletz River Steelhead
A short time later, Larry’s rod tip went down and the steelhead was coming out of the water as he set up on the fish. The steelhead ran about a hundred feet and came out of the water again, violently trying to shake the hook. The line went limp, the rod went straight and the fish swam away. The 8lb. leader had snapped midway between the hook and the leader. There were no visible signs of abrasion or knots.

Over the next hour I managed to get another fish to the boat and had one get away on another snapped leader. Larry had a snagged leader break, then lost another steelhead to a broken leader. He turned around to Phil and asked, “What are you using for leader?”

Phil responded, “Brand X fluorocarbon.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he grumbled as he tied up fresh leaders on monofilament.

We didn’t lose another steelhead the rest of the day. For some reason the Rogue rod was hot. I caught both my fish on it, handed it to Larry and he caught two. We did get a few takes on the bobbers but we didn’t manage to get a hookset on any of them. Seven fish hooked made it the best day of steelhead fishing I enjoyed all year!

As we packed our gear at the end of the day Phil said to me, “There has to be a writer on board when something like this happens.” I assured him I would look into it.

River guiding is an extremely competitive business. When the average day on the water may only produce a couple of fish, it is imperative to have and use anything that can improve your odds. All tackle, down to the leader and hook, is selected for a specific purpose and is always top quality. It’s an arms race on the water where equipment failure is inexcusable!

Fluorocarbon line is a recent development in the tackle business. The qualities which have quickly endeared it to anglers are:
It is resistant to ultraviolet light
It does not absorb water like monofilament
It is more abrasion-resistant than mono
For a given line strength, it has a significantly smaller diameter than mono
It refracts light at the same angle as water, making it nearly invisible to fish
Fluorocarbon leaders are a must-have for river guides.

Heated fishing shack on the Siletz
I talked to a number of guides and about half of them had experienced the exploding leader phenomena. Albert Kutzkey told me, “You don’t forget a day like that. You don’t catch fish, you lose your client and then you get to go home and re-tie a hundred leaders!”

Like monofilament, fluorocarbon line is manufactured by an extrusion process. However, a byproduct of the manufacturing process is a highly toxic gas which has to be contained. The cost of containing the manufacturing byproducts is the reason fluorocarbon is so expensive. A yard of 20-pound pure 100% fluorocarbon leader retails for over $.50! Because of patents, there are only two manufacturers of 100% pure fluorocarbon line worldwide, Seaguar and Sufix.

Due to its superior qualities, fluorocarbon line and leader quickly became a hot commodity at tackle shops. The vast majority of line manufacturers now have some kind of fluorocarbon product. The high cost of 100% fluorocarbon has created a market situation where some manufacturers are using small amounts of fluorocarbon in a product, slapping fluorocarbon on the label and charging exorbitant prices for what amounts to mono! Some of the largest and most reputable companies in the business are raking in big bucks actively misleading customers about the properties and value of their fluorocarbon offerings.

Sufix’s manufacturing of fluorocarbon products for other brands causes additional marketplace confusion. These products could have any percentage of fluorocarbon, and what goes on the label is whatever Brand X wants to put on the label! Sufix will not release the names of the brands for which it produces fluorocarbon products.

The bottom line is, the less fluorocarbon there is in the line, the less expensive it is to manufacturer. To reduce production costs, innovations such as fluorocarbon coated mono and mono/copolymer-fluoro hybrids have been brought to market.

Hybrid manufacturing is inherently challenging because you are trying to combine compounds with different characteristics. Even Sufix, who claims to have the highest quality control in the industry, admits they’ve had a few problems with their 100% fluorocarbon. Hybrid manufacturers have to contend with the dual problems of quality control in their fluorocarbon and getting it to bond with another compound. There is no way the ratio of fluorocarbon to other compounds is going to be absolutely consistent over thousands of yards of line.

In the water, you end up with a product that refracts light differently than water, and parts of the hybrid are absorbing water. When the wet line is subjected to frost, the delamination of the hybrid is encouraged.

What you need to know!

The only place where fluorocarbon is worth the cost is where the fish can see it – at the leader. For main line applications, there are less expensive options, such as copolymer and braided line, which actually perform better than the fluoro hybrids. Because of the plethora of false claims and misleading packaging, the only brands of fluorocarbon leader I use are Sufix and Seaguar and only their 100% fluorocarbon.

There is a chance of running into some bad line anytime you use fluorocarbon. That is the price you pay for all the advantages fluorocarbon leaders offer.

Phil Paradis Keep your leaders in the sequence they were tied. If you run into some bad line you may only end up having to retie a dozen rather than a hundred.

For insurance always carry spare leaders tied from a different spool of line.

If you can’t find the good stuff at your tackle shop, you can purchase directly from Seaguar on their website.

For more information about fishing northwest Oregon rivers, contact:
Phil Paradis…Paradise Guide Service
philparadis@msn.com
503.780.0828