..Thoughts on TFO Deer Creek Spey Rods


Well-Known Member

I remember Charlie Gearheart when he used to work at Ed's Sport Shop before it became Kim's Skagit Angler. The NF never was year round CNR in the 70s. That occurred for a few years during the 80s. The NF was doing really well in wild steelhead production during the 80s, but it crashed like most PS rivers in the 90s.

I've caught wild winter steelhead in the NF in March, April, May, and June. And yes, there were, and hopefully still are, some large ones. I think it's a misnomer to claim or suggest that the run was extraordinarily large. I'd estimate the average steelhead at 12 pounds, same as the Skagit, Sauk, Sky, Nooksack, etc. That's about what wild winter steelhead average in PS rivers. Of course, the teeners and 20s (I caught one ugly dark buck once that was well over 20 but I don't "count" it on my list as it was already sexually mature and had spawned, and was probably still looking around to spawn some more) remain vivid in our memories, but when we add up all those 8 pound wild fish we catch, and the 6 and 7s, it's easier to conclude that the average size in the run is close to 12. Maybe it's the scientist in me, but I really spoil a fishermen's bull session around the campfire when the steelhead BS gets deep.

People don't talk about the Stilly wild winter runs so much because it was such a short lived fishery, shorter even than the CNR season on the Sky. And because it's a smaller river and fewer anglers fished it. All the gear guys with their drift boats or sleds were on the Sauk, Skagit, or Sky, so that pretty much left it to the walk and wade fraternity.


It's most likely true that the Sauk River flowed partially if not entirely during floods down the NF Stilly. That isn't likely the reason for the size of the steelhead however. The size of the fish is influenced by the dominant environment, and the NF Stilly would have been that. Further, I guess my point is that there is little if any significant difference in the average size of the wild winter steelhead between any of the major north PS rivers. There are big fish in the Sauk, but for every 20 pound fish I've caught there, I've caught numerous more in the high teens, and even many many more that were 8 - 12 pounds. The average size Sauk steelhead is not huge, nor is the average Skagit, NF Stilly, Sky, etc. Fishermen are the least reliable source of information I can think of when it comes to steelhead size. Ain't that right Dec?


I wasnt talking about Deer Creek in particular. I was referring to a conversation I had last summer with a fellow named Charlie Gearheart (sp.?) about the N. Fork Stilly. He's fished it for the better part of his adult life and was referring to late spring fish spawning in North Fork. He claimed that in the 1970s and 80s when the river was year round catch and release they would regularly catch VERY large, chrome bright wild steelhead as late as May. He's the only person I've ever heard refer to that, but then again people dont seem to talk about Stilly winter runs nearly as much as the Sky and Skagit systems.

From (past) personal experience, the 70/early 80's were 'salad days.' If you didn't hook fish is was a 'what the heck???' day.
Just as an FYI, the original question was asking opinions about the Deer Creek rods by TFO, by those who have cast the rods.

So how about helping Fullerfly out by giving opinions on how the TFO rods cast. :thumb:


Dave Fulton


Active Member
They cast very nicely and would serve any beginning or intermediate spey caster well. In fact, unless an advanced spey caster is looking for the highest performance in a rod, the TFO Deer Creek Series rods would let him be happy too. Granted, the cork is not the best, but they sure do cast nicely. They don't have a soft, wimpy tip, but are mid-nearly full-flex, medium-fast recovery, with reserve power in the butt rods.

Just don't push them too hard and let the rod do the work with a bit of a relaxed stroke and they will cast anything from a Skagit to a long-belly line, provided the line is in the rod's grain window. They are a true best buy in the world of 2-handed rods.
Granted, the cork is not the best,
Its not the same cork that they used to use on TFO that would disintegrate over time is it? Do you mean to say it isn't that pretty or that it will fall off and the rod will need to be wrapped with grip tape? I wouldn't want a spey rod with tape on the handle...
Anyone have any opinions on the Deer Creek 12'6" 5/6 series vs the Echo Classic 12'6" 6/7 as a summer rod? Lookin' to pick something up this winter.

Will Atlas

A hot 26"+ steelhead could be a chore on the TFO 5/6. Its a nice rod for half pounders, large cutts and very small steelhead, but get a fish over about 7 lbs and you're probably toast. I'd say the 6/7 is more of a true steelhead rod.


Rob Zelk

I swing, therefore i am.
My last steelies a 9.5 and 10.23lb fish were both caught on my deer creek 5/6. It handled them just fine. Its really more of a true 7 weight than a 5/6. I throw a 450 grain skagit cut back a bit on the 5/6, while I also throw a 450 on my Loomis Roaring River 8/9 dredger, which is cut back , but not quite as much. The 5/6 has some backbone to the little rod while its action bends into the handle, which I am a big fan of. A 20lb fish would be a hoot! ;)
I cannot believe that with all the steelhead freaks we have on this site, we didn't mention two of Deer Creeks's famous alumni. The legendary Zane Grey caught his first steelhead in Deer Creek in the 1900s. He made the pilgrimage from California (I believe it was 1917 and Buehler, the cat was already out of the bag then. You need to read more about the history of these fish.) Then in about 1932 (Guessing, my book collection is in Seattle) Roderick Haig Brown caught his first steelhead in Deer Creek on a Devonshire Minnow while working on a logging crew. He had heard of this creek in Canada and was clued in by Seattle anglers. Buehler, Deer Creek was famous by about 1925. As for Deer Creek being "good", I'm 39 and the Deer Creek slide happened in the 80s. It was already depressed by then anyways. Alec Jackson and Mike Kinney are two of the Deer creek river keepers (with our own Curt and Salmo and the boys). Alec and Curt (I assume Salmo was in the mix) literally saved those trouty little summer runs from extinction by beating the drum hard enough to get some public opinion swayed after this terrible slide. Curt (Smalma) would be a good source in info, he was on the front lines.) If you drop right below OSO Buehler, the remnants of the Elbow Hole (legendary run) Cabins are still there river right. My good friend Bob Headrick built his present house on his legendary dad Frank's (Hellcat, Haille Salaisse and others) cabin. The who's who of steelheading had cabins on that area of river. Wes Drain, Sandy Bacon, Frank Headrick, Walt Johnson, Enos Bradner and many others. I haven't been home for a while, but Steve Raymond still has a cabin there today. This fishery traditionally started right after July 4th. The Deer Creek fish were smallish and trouty. They were dry fly capable steelhead and loved for it. The NF itself was was first "fly only" fishery in America. The morning it opened for the first time (1940s?) as fly only Enos Bradner (the Silver Fox) raced up the highway in the dark. He was the sports editor of the Seattle Times. He got 2 count em two speeding tickets on the way as he tried to scoop everyone. Legend has it that Enos hooked and landed the first NF steelhead under the new fly only regs. It was fitting as he had a big say in getting it passed with members of the Washington Flyfishing Club. That group of legends often used Patricks Fly Shop as their rally point. Letcher Lambuth was often seen there with the other greats. Our own Les Johnson and Preston Singletary (and others that grace us with posts now and then) can tell you stories about the good old days on the Elbow, long before the NF "River Keeper" Mike Kinney was living in Oso in a communal home which in itself was before you were born. Tom Darling (Fin and Feather, original Avid Angler) used to tell me that he would race up to the Stilly in the summer in the 70s and count on hooking a summer run. The Picnic Table was his money maker. Now Buehler you are 25 years old. Your passion is great, and don't lose it. By to try to connect yourself to the salad days of the NF, especially the native Deer Creek fish is off by about 30 years minimum. They were already struggling mightly by the late 1970s. Its before my time and my next birthday is number 40. I have only landed 4 of what I think were Deer Creek fish in many years of trying. I've never really pounded it day after day, I actually like another river right up the road in summer.) I think naming these rods Deer Creek is a great thing. That area around Deer Creek is arguably the most legendary part of steelheading in the entire world as far as flyfishing goes. A toast to everyone who helped give us this heritage. As Washingtonians, we are indeed lucky to call this history our own. A special toast to those we call our own on this board who were a part of it! :beer2:Coach Duff
Now Buehler, it's time to start learning about your heritage and quit spouting off like you've got a belt full of notches. If I'm too young to remember the good old days, how the hell can you? Les, Preston and Curt, and a bunch of the boys were fishing Deer Creek when I was pissing in my diapers. I was trying to fish what was left of the Deer Creek run when you were pissing in your diapers. It was already shot then. Get the picture?
If you park behind the fire station at Oso, you can walk the road to the river just below Deer Creek's mouth. From there down to the riprapped Elbow Hole, several hundred yards away, were the homes of the aforementioned luminaries. When I arrived here in 1971, I was new to steelhead fishing, but eager to learn. I happened to meet Ralph Wahl and other experts, and within a year or two we formed a fly fishing club in Bellingham. Ralph Wahl owned a long, narrow lot, covered with fine big trees from the highway to the river. There was a small clearing in the middle, where Ralph kept a moss-covered trailer, with an outhouse and picnic table. For many years, our club had an annual July outing there, where we could camp, picnic and kick back. Steve Raymond had a cabin slightly downstream. Dr. George Keough, inventor of the Keough Splice, had a cabin up toward Deer Creek.


Active Member

You also had my friends Bob Arnold (originator of SPADE, that wonderful low-water summer pattern) and Russ Miller fishing it regularly beginning in the 60's, which was also when Alec started fishing it since he didn't get here from New Zealand to the states until 1959 to earn an MS in Forestry at the UW. Alec even invited and took the late Ernie Schwiebert fishing on the NF Stilly, which Schwiebert wrote about.

Also, let us not forget Syd Glasso, who started fishing it after he moved to Seattle, Wes Drain, Bob Taylor, Art Lingren, John Farrar, Harry Lemire, Dick Wentworth, Bob Strobel, etc. Heck, I can't even think of all the steelhead luminaries who have fished the NF Stilly over the years there were so many of them.

You are absolutely right, the NF Stilly was well known for its Deer Creek and winter steelhead a long time ago. I honestly don't think it much of a stretch to say that it was the cradle of steelhead fly fishing in Washington state, much like the Rogue and NF Umqua being the same in Oregon.

And for anyone who walks down to where the "Elbow Hole" used to be, it is nothing like the hallowed run (actually several different runs linked together) that it was. It is for all purposes gone, just like the "Pocket" above it that Walt Johnson loved so much. Heck the "big yellow rock" that Bob Arnold wrote about in his book STEELHEAD WATER is now nearly completely covered with gravel, sand, and clay and the run he wrote about started were it was located, is for all purposes gone, such is the dynamic nature of the NF Stilly. And I'd be surprised if many know were the "Spreader" was located or that the "Deer Creek Riffle" was actually a riffle.
The Spade. Enough said?;) Coach
PS I said "and others". Thanks for throwing in some great one's names in others. Russ used to make some pretty good line systems. Probably still does. I was really focusing on the summmer cabin scene, but yes every luminary in steelheading flyfishing made their way over there. Thanks for throwing some sprinkles on the ice cream. It really is one of the centerpieces of flyfishing for steelhead history. Cheers FT :beer2: Coach

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