Thursday, December 1, 2011


Steelface (more on that to follow).  My buddy Brooks Jessen and I were able to sneak out for a couple of days this week for (what is probably my last for this calendar year) some steelhead fishing on the Clearwater river in Idaho.  Although living in Montana is pretty much heaven for those of us who flick feathers, a steelhead obsession necessitates trips to states (or provinces, more on that later also.  Wait, probably more on that in a future blog, sorry) bordering the ocean (or at least Idaho).  That being said Brooks and I set a date for "sometime the week after Thanksgiving".  The sunday after Thanksgiving Brooks called me and wanted to know if I wanted to meet with him to plan the trip.  The meeting place turned out to be at a poker table in a Missoula beverage/live entertainment establishment.  Over the course of the evening we met a stoner who could not miss and two hunters from Georgia, who after some discussion, informed us that the elk hunting was too tough and that Montana "done kicked our asses".  After much back and forth we decided to leave early Wednesday morning and fish the rest of Wednesday and all day Thursday before heading home.  Tuesday morning after a couple of hours at the office I get a call from Brooks that goes something like this "so the weather's pretty nice Idaho right now we should have left first thing this morning because it's supposed to snow a foot on Lolo pass Wednesday.  I tell Brooks that it's only 9:30 and that we still have time to pack, make the trip and still get some fishing in that afternoon, thereby missing the storm.
Fast forward to 1:30, we're still in Missoula and after a trip to two different fly shops, walmart and the grocery store, we are now gassing up the truck and ready to head west.  As with any road trip, music is an essential piece of the overall experience.  As we make the turn onto highway 12 and the transition from 4 lanes to 2, the discussion turns to music as the confines of 2 lanes somehow gives it that proper road trip feel.  We begin bouncing ideas off each other regarding selection.  The discussion went something like this....

Me:  "Country?  a la Zac Brown Band?"
Brooks  "nah, too trendy, I don't want to be THOSE guys."
Brooks  "Alt country?  a la Drive by Truckers?"
Me  "no to Zac Brown but Drive by Truckers?  Pretty cliche plus I think we'd still be THOSE guys"

Some metal was suggested (you know steelhead, metal.....i know it's a reach but I think there were hints of it possibly helping the karma.  You never know)

Finally Brooks exercises executive decision-making power (it was his truck) and we are treated to this.  (sorry for the poor picture, it was taken while bouncing around the corners of highway 12)

Brooks (and Brooks, if you read this I'm sorry, but it's true) informed me that he has been listening to hip hop a fair amount lately.  So hip hop it was (I admit my music tastes range far enough to include hip hop, but not on a road trip!)  With that our road rose over Lolo pass, much  like our hopes for steelhead madness.
With each passing mile we recalculated ETA and how much daylight it would leave us to fish.  What we did not factor into the equation was the friendly Idaho State trooper that stopped us to remind us that the speed limit on this particular stretch of highway 12 was 50 mph not the 64 he clocked us at, and reassured us that it had been ever since we entered Idaho at the top of Lolo pass.  As we bid the officer adieu we realized the chance of arriving at our destination during daylight hours were slim at best.
Not to worry, with some further disregard for the speed limit (what are the chances that there's two troopers out here in the middle of nowhere) we made it to our destination with the final rays of the day angling through the clouds, taunting us to wader up.  Who were we to argue, so we wadered up (my spell check is telling me that word is misspelled or does not exist, we all know wadered up is perfectly acceptable grammar) and cast our hopes along the lengthening shadows.  We should have known better, there were WAY too many signs throughout the day that the steelhead gods were not going to smile on us this time.
So after a strategic retreat we grabbed some dinner, hit the grocery store for some snacks and made our way to the hotel.  During the course of the evening we heard the rain start, a nice steady drizzle.  We hoped that at this elevation the precipitation would continue to fall as rain and not snow, all the while wondering how many feet of snow was piling up on Lolo pass.
We awoke the next morning with renewed hope, and the sound of rain, YES some steelhead fishing weather!  On the short drive to our first choice in fishing spots we chattered aimlessly like freshman girls on their first day of high school.  Do you think anybody will already be there?  I hope not, it's my favorite run.  What are you going to tie on?  What should I use?  Do you think there are many fish in the system yet?  Are they up this high this early?  As neared our chosen spot we were both giddy to see a complete lack of people, we couldn't believe, we had the place to ourselves.  As much as the steelhead gods had frowned on us yesterday, they were smiling on us today, and in a BIG way.  (although the thought always creeps into my mind anway.  Why is there nobody here?  Do they know something we don't?  Are there no fish here yet?  At the same time the last thing you want to see upon arriving at your favorite run is a bunch of douchebags fellow gentlemen fly fishers beating the water to a froth.  It's enough to drive me crazy)  We couldn't wader up quick enough knowing we were going to get first shot at this run.
An hour in and I was beginning to question our choice of runs.  Brooks informed that I had not nearly made a thousand casts, steelhead were the fish of a thousand casts after all.  Another hour with nary a tug and Brooks was beginning to question our choice also.  A half hour and a couple of false alarms later (damn suckers) Brooks let out a familiar whoop that one instantly recognizes as someone who has hooked up with a steelface.  Steelface.  Brooks claims he coined this term on a trip to Washington in hopes of pissing off his fishing buddies, I say I've heard it on a tv  program or dvd or somewhere, anyway I give up and now give Brooks full credit for the term steelface, you read it here first.  Congratulations Brooks!  After a some aerial acrobatics and numerous runs, we are able to bring the steelface to hand.........

After the obligatory high fives (technically I guess it was a fist bump)  I congratulated Brooks on low-holing me.
I guess some days we are not meant to catch steelfaces.  A half hour after his first fish, Brooks is hooked up again.  After a lengthy battle, Brooks was easing the fish towards the shallow water when I approached a little too close and too quickly with the net (maybe subconsciously I did it on purpose).  It didn't take long to realize that the big hen was nowhere near ready to succumb to the net and made a sizzling run, managing to break Brooks off.  After another round of fist bumps, I congratulate Brooks on high-holing me (is there such a thing?)  Brooks, feeling pretty good about himself after bringing in two steelfaces in the span of a half hour, offers to let me reel the next one in for him.  No thanks I said (asshole), and continued flailing like the inflatable tube man at a used car lot.  
Brooks was nice enough to offer to go buy us lunch and let me continue fishing (or did he see the increasing frustration with each of my casts and decide it would be funny to let me continue flailing unsuccessfully?  bastard)  Sure enough, Brooks leaves and not 10 minutes later I get a tug, even though i know Brooks is not around I let out my own whoop and begin giggling like crazy, there will be steelfaces for both of us after all.  My happiness is short lived as my dance partner has give me the slip.  I trudge to the bank and plop down, in total awe of the power this fish has displayed.  I bask in the moment but am brought back to reality by Brooks dropping a cheeseburger next to me and informing me that a phone call and some family matters will cut our trip short.  We ended up driving back after one full day of fishing.
All kidding aside Brooks was the man on this trip, plus he's one of the fishiest guys I know.  Thanks for a good trip Brooks, can't wait to take another one.
As I mentioned earlier this probably marks the last time I will head over Lolo pass in search of steelhead for 2011, stay tuned as we will probably start fishing for steelfaces again sometime in February 2012.

By the way, for the ride home we came to an agreement on music.  We decided the Pearl Jam channel would be perfect to drive home to.  Arguably the coolest band in the world.

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