As many club members know first hand, the reward of steelhead fishing is not so much in the find, but in the search, which is a polite way of saying I went steelhead fishing last month. Three days and zero fish after swinging flies from first light to last. Not wanting to end the year on a sour note, I decided to try one more time.
This time, I would do what I should have done the first timeplan. So after gathering my thoughts, talking to fly shops, reading some, etc, etc, I realized my plan would look a whole lot better with guide. The club functioned the way I hoped it would, the veterans (Mike Pinelli) helping us rookies with a solid guide recommendation.
So after negotiating with my wife to free up a few days during the hectic holiday season, giving the dog the bad news that 5:30AM walks were cancelled till I got back, and generally freeing myself from the shackles that keep us from fishing more often, I was ready to get wet.
We drove up in a race with the short days of winter. Our goal that first day was to fish a few hours in several "should be good" spots on the Upper Trinity River near Junction City. By nightfall the plan to get a guide seemed even a better idea, as we had yet to see a steelhead.
The next day our guide used a raft to transport us from one well known steelhead holding water (e.g. Pick Pocket, Hen House) to the next along a stretch of river from Evans gravel bar to the pullout near the Douglas City bridge.
As the day wore on, we'd tried large steelhead flies, then small patterns, even some trout flies without success. All the while the mantra of the guide gently reminding us that "Steelhead fishing is not about numbers, people can fish for days without a strike", BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. (Funny you seldom hear this stuff when you call to book your trip).
It was 2PM and all was not well. By then I had blocked out everything but the hypnotic rhythm of cast/swing/step down as we moved down through the good water. FISH ONa large steelhead. The river had kept its promise and yielded an eight pound native fish still bright and shiny from the sea. Twice into my backing. Once the reel fell off. The good news was that the fish stayed on; the bad news was that the wild steelhead was now well rested to resume the battle.
My six weight rod was bent down to the cork. I tried all the stuff you see on ESPN, like pulling the fish to one side, then to the other. This fish did what it wanted, like jumping high and landing with a thunderous splash in the quiet twilight of a winter day. Six times the steelhead jumped, each time a little farther downstream, then ripping through the water faster than a thief in a Moroccan bizarre. Finally the steelhead was reeled in, hooked on the dropper fly (a barbless egg pattern).
Little did I know there was a better way to land these fish. My fishing partner for the day was Jonathan Parkes. After I caught the just described fish, he caught a hatchery steelhead in the same hole. He was all set to grab the fish when it jumped and he dove into the icy water in a futile attempt to retrieve the slippery fellownow that's determination.
Anyone who has taken up fly fishing has found that accepting and meeting challenges is one of the best things about our sport. Of course, if you fish for steelhead, sometimes you're not so sure. First you have to find the relatively few fish, which may or may not move to a fly, especially as the water becomes colder. The upside is the relative solitude, ample time to work on your casting, and possibly a big, thick, wild, native steelhead fresh from the sea, fighting with an almost tireless strength, twisting the water around itself, and forcing the angler to battle as much as the fish. Happy Endings!
A note from Jonathan Parkes:
I netted my twenty-three inch wild steelhead (not a hatchery fish) and was holding it for the guide to take the photo when it decided to leap out of my hands. No photo of my hard won success that time!