by Dave Scadden

The majestic bald eagle cocked his head for a better look as I loaded my Trek 3400 series mountain bike onto the rear deck of my pontoon boat. I knew that it was an odd spectacle and I had to laugh to myself that my riverside antics would attract the attention of our national icon. It was the tail end of the winter steelhead season on the Skykomish River in west central Washington. The "Sky" as it is affectionately referred to by the locals has always been one of my favorite steelhead rivers. With its diverse flows which begin high in the Cascades and come rushing down past the high mountain towns of Skykomish, Index and Sultan Washington it offers a wide variety of water conditions to challenge anglers of all skill levels.

The upper Sky consists of raging stretches of white water that crash down through the technical turbulence of "Boulder Drop", "Eagle Falls", and "The Big Bend". Big steelies hold in the pocket water and tail out runs created by the heavy flows. It is a pocket water fisherman's dream come true. The river then rushes down past the town of Gold Bar, past the popular launch ramp at the high bridge where flows stabilize into deep lured runs and riffles. This section of river is classic northwest steelhead water at its finest. With a backdrop of dense evergreen forests and lush fern and moss covered fauna it is picture book fishing.

I was there the last week of February attending the O'Loughlin Sportsman's show. It is one of my favorite shows mostly because of its close proximity to the Sky. The show is held at the fairgrounds in Monroe and the Skykomish runs right through town. At the close of the show each night, I could be found wheeling my pontoon boat out of my display down the long red carpet aisles heading for the exit door. I would load my boat in the truck and prepare for the next morning. After a sleepless night, I am up and on the water at first light. It's hard to sleep with the thought of 20 lb. steelhead rushing through your head.

The conditions this year were different than in years past. Torrential rains had blown out the upper river where I am most familiar. Being a hard core Madison River pocket water fisherman, I am right at home in the heavy pocket water of the upper Sky. This year I was thrown out of my comfort zone being consigned to fish the lower river which was in good shape. The lower Sky down around Ben Howard is a series of big deep runs interspersed with heavy riffles. Being a hundred yards across in many places, it is hard to read. I was excited for the challenge as I prepared my boat for launching that early morning.

People always ask how I perform my shuttles when I am fishing alone. There are several ways to do it. My favorite shuttle consists of driving up to my put-in spot, where I leave my boat and equipment. I use a 15' cable lock to secure my gear to a tree or post. I then drive back down to my take-out point where I leave my truck. A mountain bike is used to ride back up to the launch ramp. This is where it gets interesting. I wheel my boat down to the water and commence to load my bicycle onto the rear deck of my boat. This never fails to bring a torrent of comments from the other anglers at the ramp. Comments such as "Look at that guy, he's going to peddle that boat down the river." Etc., etc. My favorite is "That guy must be crazy." I've always taken that as a compliment.

As you have ascertained, I then float the river as normal. At the end of my float I load my bike into the bed of the truck and slide the boat in behind it. Two motorcycle tie downs secure the boat and away I go. Of course, this same procedure can be accomplished by locking the bike to a tree and driving back up to retrieve it after the float. I load it on my boat to save time. It usually allows for 40-50 more casts. When your fishing for a fish that averages 1,000 casts per hook-up, the extra casts count.

Some of my other do-it-yourself shuttles consist of using a motorcycle, a street legal "pocket bike" or another vehicle. My good friend Tom Strange from eastern Washington uses a small car to do his shuttles. He bought an old high mile Jetta for $300 and tows it on a car jack all over the state. He leaves the car at the take-out, then drives his truck up to the launch ramp where he commences his float. At the end of the day, he secures his pontoon boat to the top of his car and drives back up, hooks onto his truck and heads for home.

Of course, most major rivers have shuttle services available where bonded drivers will have your vehicle waiting for you at the end of your float for a small fee. These arrangements can be made well in advance and will greatly simplify your shuttle. There are some rivers that don't have shuttle services because of their remoteness, time constraints or circumstances won't allow a conventional shuttle. It's these time where a creative mind and a little ingenuity will assure you a float trip and hopefully a chrome bright steelhead!