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What's that Reel?

What's that Reel?
Ross Purnell with his first Dean River steelhead

We've had some emails and phone calls in the past two weeks about the current cover image of Fly Fisherman, so I thought I'd use this space to answer all those questions at the same time.

The photo was taken in July 2011, on the lower Dean River below the falls. It had been a dream of mine for 20 years to fish the Dean and on day #1 I was fishing alone at Slide Pool . When I hooked the fish I was obviously excited, and also disappointed that I wouldn't get a photo of my first Dean River steelhead. Then, a boat appeared coming around an upriver bend and the solitary occupant yelled "hey, do you want a photo!?"

As it turns out the boatman was professional photographer Adam Tavender (, someone I had had worked with in the past but never met in person.

Questions I Have Been Asked

Q: If that's the Dean River, why is the water so clear?

A: Honestly I don't know. I've also heard many times about how the Dean can go cloudy with glacial melt on hot summer days, but it's certainly not always like that. This was the middle of July, it had rained quite a bit before our arrival but the river was clear all week.

Q: What the heck kind of reel is that?

A: Cheeky Ambush 375. It was a tight squeeze for a 550-grain Skagit line but it performed flawlessly, and as you can tell I like bright colors. I just got back from another BC steelhead trip (Oct, 2012) where I used a blue-and-green Cheeky Thrash 475 (that's 4.75 inches) and it was much more appropriately sized for West Coast steelheading (or tarpon). You can see all five sizes of Cheeky reels at

Q: What fly did you catch it on?

A: A black and chartreuse Metal Detector, which is an Intruder-style fly sold by Umpqa. But that doesn't really matter. The fish were aggressive and hit many patterns. It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and being persistent. Hot pink was probably the best color for me over the course of the week.

Q: That doesn't look like a steelhead.

A: And that doesn't sound like a question. But somebody actually said that to me, so I'm treating it like a question. Most people are accustomed to upriver steelhead that look much like a giant rainbow trout, with broad red stripes, heavy spotting, and a green or olive back. In the ocean, steelhead don't look like that. Their backs are ghostly gray, white bellies, and their tails and fins are white or transparent. This fish was caught maybe one mile from the ocean, and very likely just came into the river that day, so it looks like a ocean steelhead. 


Ross Purnell with his first Dean River steelhead

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