..Thoughts on TFO Deer Creek Spey Rods


Well-Known Member
Luminaries is a nice touch, I guess. It depends on your point of reference. Most of those names belong to anglers I knew on the Stilly and elsewhere. No one thought of anyone else as a luminary. Certainly some had carried the water, like Enos Bradner and Letcher Lambuth, and others, to have WDG designate the NF as fly only in the summer season, either 1940 or 41.

When the DeForest Creek slide hit Deer Ck in the mid 80s, Alec led a group of anglers and conservationists to deal with DNR and Scott Paper to try and reverse the damage. DNR spent some serious money, under the threat of a damages law suit I think, to try to contain the slide. However, time ended up doing more to stabilize it than DNR's contribution I believe. Smalma was much closer to this issue and may have a different view.

Steve Raymond's cabin is the one that had belonged to Bradner. I can't remember the names of the guys who bought Walt Johnson's or Wes Drain's. I wonder who has the lot that Al Knudsen had his camp on. Al never built a cabin, as he was an early day steelhead bum and never accumulated much wealth.

As long as stories are being told, Tom Darling is a dear old friend who worked first at Patrick's Fly Shop, then had his own shop. He loved trout fishing and talking about fishing, even steelhead fishing. But he never steelhead fished much; he just loved the idea of it. I think he was partial to the better results he had trout fishing.

I was with Alec the first time he ever fished the Stilly, and it wasn't in the 60s. 1973 in fact. The last few times I've seen Alec, he suggests a longer association with steelheading than I can document. Scientists always get in the way of the fun. I don't remember Alec taking Ernie Schwiebert to the NF, but Wes Drain and Ralph Wahl were there, Ralph took the photos and Wes played guide. And then Schwiebert called Wes by another name in the article he wrote to chronicle the event. Ernie caught a nice female steelhead on a 9 or 9 1/2' fiberglass 6 wt rod out of Skier's that day. I wasn't there, but I heard about it from Wes.

If John Farrar is a luminary, then by god I'm a teacher of luminaries. When I took John to the NF the first time, he was a John Denver hippie look-alike from Rapid City, SD who was blessed with enough enthusiasm for 20 fishermen. He was the first person I ever met who "studied" steelheading like it was college coursework.

Strobel was the original Blue Heron, who'd take Joanne out dancing Friday night to get a kitchen pass and be at Fortson at daylight on Saturday. He'd still be standing in lower Fortson, like a heron stalking its prey, when the sun was going down that evening. I asked him if he ever got out of the water to go take a leak. He said no, but he'd added a couple inches to his tallywhacker by just stretching it up over the top of his waders . . .

Truly the NF was the cradle of WA state steelhead flyfishing. As is so often the case, the luminaries who made it so were ordinary guys who took their fishing to an extraordinary level. As successful as summer steelhead fly fishing was, a major motivation for the fly only regulation was that many of these guys felt that continued bait fishing would over harvest the run. At that time, they believed that fly fishing was inefficient enough that the regulation along with closing Deer Creek proper to fishing would prevent over harvest. Even if the habitat had remained pristine, I doubt that would have remained the case over time.

And how does one assign fly pattern "inventorship" when Bob Arnold tied the Spade at Jerry Wintle's direction? Not that it matters, but I like to hear the old stories. Like the Skunk is said to have first appeared on the N Umpqua; yet Wes Drain had what appears to be the identical pattern in his fly box in the 1940s.

And if this shit is history, then somebody's calling me old.

You're old.:p And yes scientists do screw everything up.:D Jeesh, let me live in a romantic fantasy world for a day with dry lines, flyfishing "legends" and a great river you damn buzz killer! Great insight Salmo. :beer2:Coach


Well-Known Member
By way of my catch record of recent, all my steelheading is nothing but a fantasy. I'm trying to live it to the fullest. Shit, I remember when I used to catch them like it was a regular happenin' thing. Time to go back to bamboo. Steelhead always did rise better to bamboo. I heard that somewhere.
I feel like a dumbshit for posting that Coach, I learned that a long time ago now but this thread never seems to die. I typed that when I assumed everyone on this site was a Seattle based yuppie.

BTW,I sleep with Trey Combs' first book as a pillow.

Anyone ever notice that the oldest steelhead fly in the old flies frame from like 1883 is called the Van Zandt? I wonder if that has to do with the stretch of the SF Nooksack near there that has some beautiful steelhead water though without all the fish that were there in 1883.

And I like the story of General Money.

Cheers, Jason
I have two copies of Combs "big book". One is one of the leatherbound, signed and numbered versions and the other one is a beat to shit, falling apart hardcover version. I have a dirty little secret Buehler. That's the one I sleep with. I know too much and have been jaded a bit to really enjoy the writings (I still like a few chapters) but I look at the pictures and fly plates every night. Even in Hawaii. It's a wonderful disease that steelheading. Duff
PS Anybody out there ever have so many damn steelhead around that they cut the point of the hook off so they could study the rises on dries and skaters. It's in the book. :hmmm:

Jeremy Floyd

fly fishing my way through life
The blown out elbow hole still holds steel and SRC, but in different places for each. That is my sons favorite place.

It is nothing like I heard it used to be though.

I think the Van Zandt is a California pattern.

Ah damn....I suspect you are right. Was hoping it was an ancient local fly I could fish with pride.

I like how all those old summer run flies are so thick and juicy like a good size bug (the wet flies I mean).

Seems a bit different from the current "profile" type flies.

Red Shed

"junkyard spey"
Time to go back to bamboo. Steelhead always did rise better to bamboo.

Ah damn....I suspect you are right. Was hoping it was an ancient local fly I could fish with pride.
J, You can still fish that fly with pride. The old stuff is all still good.

These recent posts are exactly what I like about steelhead and steelhead fly fishers. I saw my first chrome bright steelie when I was 11 or 12 and I have been in love with them ever since. It was a long while before I got up close and personal with the next one but Trey's first book and some other's kept the fire burning hot.

Mac, Russ, Coach, Salmo, thank you for refreshing my memory of some of the greats from PNW steelhead fly fishing.

Will Atlas

there is a gorgeous photo of the elbow hole in Combs' later work. i would practically kill to have fished the N.F. before it got destroyed.


Active Member

I haven't bothered to fish the little that is left of the Elbow since the late 90's when nearly all the good holding water that was left got destroyed. It used to have great holding water all the way from the top corner down to the frog water below the lower bend. Even the picture in Trey's book of the Elbow shows it after much of it had been ruined by the Deforest Creek slide's material. Just like the fine water above Cicero that was also filled in by the slide's material.

But then again, it is a very dynamic river that has moved its course around quite a bit. George McLeod has told me that when he was a teen, the river flowed up in what are now the woods below Phil's place and that there was no water in the Pocket.

Jeremy Floyd

fly fishing my way through life
FT, I was fishing last october with (Ken? Tim? I can't remember that is the only time I have met him) Mcleod there in front of his house. He was dry fly fishing so I followed behind him and gave him the right of way to have the first shot at the run since I was tight line nymphing.

Anyways, we had a great talk about the river, his Dad, Deer Creek Riffle and the Elbow Hole.

I believe you about the dynamic qualities of the river. I was transferring deeds and stuff on to a map the other day and I found a patent from the 1890's that describes french creek more than halfway across a 1/4 of a 1/4 section south of where it is now. That is over 400 feet North that has moved in ~120 years.
A few years back I stayed for a 4 day spell at Roy Morris' house. Nancy and Roy are as good as hosts as you will ever find. Intelligent conversation is always the theme at their house in Sekiu. I fell in the Hoh that trip almost died and came back with the story of one 25 inch Dolly. Didn't even get a pull. Not a great week as far as catching steelhead, but awesome company. George McCloud was also staying there, as were a few other steelheaders. He slept in the back of his truck every night, which was cold as hell and rainy. He was a tough old bird. Nailed 4 fish in a small local river on gear one day, led some spirited debates at night about steelhead and their future and left everyone with a few original Skykomish Sunrises when he headed out in search of steelhead somewhere else. It was a great week fishless or not. :beer2: Coach
I guess one could get hung up on a rod named after any Puget Sound river given the depressed condition all of all the steelhead runs. If there is anyone who is not trying to promote Deer Creek to fishermen, it would be Mike Kinney. I've known Mike and fished with him for going on twenty years and can attest to the fact that he has the heart of a riverkeeper and loves the Stilliguamish river system including Deer Creek. In addition to pissing and moaning about the name of a two-hand rod, I hope that you belong to WSC and FFF in support of the effort such organizations to bring back Deer Creek and other Puget Sound rivers.
Good Fishing,
Les Johnson