Unicorns, Fire Breathing Dragons, and Flying Steelhead: The overly dramatic title, to a fairly ho hum story of one man’s quest for, um, revenge?
I stepped out the front door of the cabin and was blasted in the face by a gust of arctic wind. It has been an early spring in the southern reaches of the state where I make my home but here in the mountains it evidently still gets cold. I almost wanted take my cup of black, put hair on your chest, coffee back through the front door, dump it in the sink, and crawl back into the bed I knew would still be warm. My eyes burned from lack of sleep and the cold air but my brain, or my legs, I haven’t figured out which one to blame, urged me on to the warming car. I was groggy to say the least and when the temperature reading on the dash board said it was 12 degrees it almost didn’t register. I am starting to think my brain had little to do with the fact I was going through with this crazy plan hatched up when an innocent comment was made by my buddy Jeff while planning a little get away for our families a week ago. We wanted to get one last trip to the wintery mountains where the kids could get some last minute sledding in and he asked if I thought it would be worth taking our fishing rods and sneaking away in the morning for a couple hours.
At first I balked, knowing the only fishing this time of year up in that area was going to be for steelhead, and based on my previous experience with those finny creatures, I had serious doubts that they even existed. I once spent three days in a steady drizzle casting flies into crystal clear pools with Mr. Base Camp Legend himself, Tom, videotaping my every move. Only one thing could have been more miserable than standing in water that was a couple degrees away from becoming a solid, for three days, while rain drops nearing the point where they become white and fluffy, pelted down on your back. And that was standing on the rock behind me with a video camera glued to your face, just waiting for something to happen, all while the same cold liquid pounded down on you. What did Tom and I receive for our suffering? Nothing. Not even a nibble. Well, I did catch a 15 inch cutthroat trout but that is not exactly a just reward for spending three days dodging hypothermia. As bad as steelhead fishing may sound I did actually enjoy the trip and promised that I would someday catch one. I actually made another attempt later that same month but came up empty again while fishing with both of my brothers on a different river. While it wasn’t raining on that day I do remember having to thaw the guides on my fly rod after nearly every cast as they iced up solid. After four days of Steelhead fishing and I had nothing to show for it.
That was over two years ago and I hadn’t even tried to catch a steelhead since. Now here I was ready to tackle the task again. The frigid air on this morning was just a little reminder of what I had missed out on these last two years.
The conversation in the car as we made our way down the canyon on this morning was surprisingly optimistic. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, or the fact that Jeff had yet to spend any time chasing Steelhead with a fly rod, that led to our positive attitudes. Jeff still had that fresh optimism that quickly erodes when you send a few days casting mindlessly into a river hoping a wayward fish would grab the tuft of feathers swinging at the end of your leader and his attitude was starting to rub off on me. As we pulled off the road along the surging river, I realized I was catching it again, Steelhead fever.
From here the story gets short. It only took three casts for adrenaline to do what three cups of coffee couldn’t on this morning. As my flies drifted past a boulder about midstream my indicator slowly dipped below the surface. I was sure I had snagged on the rock and I brought up my rod tip to free the drift. What I felt was not a rock but a powerful surge and a big head shaking wildly in the current. Even being the calm, even keeled guy that I am, I couldn’t contain the excited yell that came from my unsuspecting mouth. Jeff heard the commotion and quickly joined the party, helping me land my first Steelhead. By a quarter till eight I was standing on the bank while Jeff snapped some pictures of my catch.
The hatchery buck taped out at 27 inches. To have been able to land it on a fly rod, on a fly I had tied, made it only that much sweeter. In fact the only drama in this fight, besides the excitement of actually tying into one of these ocean run beasts, came when I beached the fish and it came unhooked at my feet. I quickly corralled it with my hands and just assumed that the fly had finally pulled free of its mouth. Only after things had calmed down and I was ready to go back to fishing did I discover that the hook had actually snapped in two. I will have to find some stronger hooks for tying flies meant for my future pursuits of the fish with a metal head.
It turns out that Steelhead fishing is everything it is cracked up to be after all. Now all I can think about is when I might get a chance to get out there on the river again. They warned me at the fly shop when I bought my first steelhead rod that someday this would happen.
*Editor’s Note: Benji’s flies can be purchased at Jump Creek Flies.