Another year gone by, much of it "squandered" chasing ghosts. Wild steelhead fill my dreams, my day dreams and alot of my free time. 2009 was good and bad. Up and down the coast, returns of winter steelhead were way down. This year was a between year for me. A year off from school, and a chance to spend every free moment chasing fish. Unfortunately when the fish aren't there it doesn't matter how much time or skill you have, you aren't catching anything.
Still, despite poor returns last winter was the best I've ever had. Not going to reel off a head count, but I hooked more than twice as many fish as I ever had...just imagine if there were more fish! Thats the thing about the steelhead game I suppose, the learning curve is steep. There are just so many variables. Time of year, water levels, water temps. Reading water and presenting the fly properly are probably two of the most underrated skills our there. They aren't glamorous like launching a 100 foot spey cast, or trying a gorgeous spey fly but they'll catch you alot more fish.
Summer brought record returns to the Columbia and hope for the future of that great river. The crowds were damn near unbearable at times, but when we all took a deep breath we realized that with some respect and a deep breath there were probably enough fish to go around. Still, this fall I became increasingly disenchanted with the ethical make up of some "fly anglers" and guides. The sort who hit the river with lip ripping in mind and aren't happy until they're measured their dick at least ten times in a given day. We all want fish, but sometimes its just plain greedy. I even heard about a dude fishing from a boat with egg beads who caught 30 wild fish in a single day, on a river where the fish are listed as threatened. How can you possibly justify that shit? I will never, ever, hook that many fish in a day with my chosen technique, and I certainly would be off the water long before I hit double digits. At some point it just gets ludicrous.
The fishing was good though, and there are some memorable moments from this fall. Of course there's the one that got away. A screaming hot fish around 12 lbs on a river known for 5 lb fish. Big, male and wild, it came out of the water twice , spraying water into the sunlight fall air. Haven't had my ass kicked like that in a while and it was great to see. Also, a few unlikely takes. One fish came back three times before hooking up on the follow in less than a foot of water. Another fish chased the fly, plucking twice before finally crushing me near the hangdown. All I can say is, its amazing what you learn when there are some fish around.
This year I got to fish with my dog alot, and I gotta tell you, he's become my favorite fishing partner. He shares in the excitement, loves the exploration and is honestly pretty dialed in when we're fishing. The instant the rod goes to the bank for a hookset he comes running, howling and crying like a lunatic, and when the fish jump he really goes nuts. One incident last winter really makes me laugh. We were fishing a little nameless coastal river at a spot where a small gravel island slowed stuck out about half way out in the channel. On the left side was a pool of slack water about three feet deep and on the right a small rapid with some soft water and some boulders in the tailout. I was fishing through just covering the soft stuff looking for a traveling fish when the line came tight. I was standing at the top end of the island and Max was abotu 20 feet below me near the point, chewing on a stick and generally being retarded. As soon as the fish came out of the water though he was dialed as all hell, crying like a little girl,damn near doing back flips. Of course to keep him from swimming after the fish I have to tell him NO, a nice calm voice with lots of authority and he'll just stand there shaking in the shallows watching. This fish was absolutely nuts, and it was obviously excruciating for him. Must've jumped 6 times, all withing 20 feet of where he was standing, then it ran up in the slack water, jump twice more, damn near threw itself on the beach and spit the hook. What a fish! I had to sit down for a minute after that ass whooping while he just stood there wimpering like he'd been whipped and pawning at the water, I guess labs are just naturally inclined to the hunt.
Sleeping in the back of the truck under a bridge in steelhead country is good stuff. Might not happen as much this year. Grad school, teaching, family, friends they keep us off the river and frankly they should. I still get out alot, and there's not a thing in the world that can stop me from being on the water after a March freshet brings the Big Trib up 1000 cfs and those chrome, thick shouldered fish come sliding in like the quicksilver ghosts they are. 2010 is going to be a year of balance, the year it all comes together and I realize its all about timing, commitment and getting your other shit done. Last year was great, but this year is going to be a model for the rest of my life. I'll never be a guide, wont ever work in the industry so I'm gonna have to figure out how to be a complete and utter fish bum and still have a life outside the river.
Happy New Year everybody. I'll tip my whiskey tonight to 2010 being the best year in three decades, and to those sweet wild fish that make us all tick.
Funny angle, sometimes in the heat of landing a fish solo you end up with some pretty shitty photos. other times you get some cool ones. Here's one from this fall, the biggest summer fish I've ever caught. Gorgeous, thick bodied, and all wild. She carries the next generation.
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