Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Of shorter days and longer trips

It seems that October has lasted about all of a week.  I've been fishing a fair amount and writing very little.  A couple of weeks ago I made a quick trip to the upper Salmon.  No steelhead were harassed during my short stay but I had a good time fishing new water.  Last week the plan was to head back to the Clearwater for a couple of days then meet up with my buddy Mike on the lower Salmon for a couple more days.  The weather had taken a turn for the worse and with falling snow and rising rivers, I hoped this would be the trip that would turn my steelhead luck around.

Lolo pass was covered in a blanket of fresh snow and as I crested the pass and began my descent into the Lochsa the ever present and all too familiar obsession for steel and the draw of the Clearwater became almost overwhelming.  Damn Idaho and it's 50 mph speed limit on highway 12! 
Having packed the GoPro, the olympus waterproof digital and the trusty iphone, I originally planned to document the entire trip, complete with the campy travel scene video cruising down the highway with the soundtrack straight from my stereo blaring in the background (did I seriously just admit that in writing?  Fuck it, I'll still include it when I get around to making my "movie").  I had visions of self-shot GoPro video of the sloppy spey casting, the hookup, the fight and the release.  Some artsy abstract closeup stills of the tail, maybe the eye (wait wasn't that in the last post?  Again fuck it, this would be a steelhead so I would pull out all the stops)  Splash in some scenery and mood footage and maybe a short bit about Poppy and the Red Shed, hell I might even post it on vimeo and who knows, maybe it would end up on Moldy Chum but I digress.
The longer I paralleled the Clearwater and finally rolled past Kooskia, nearing the first run I planned on fishing, I began to get the feeling that the steelhead gods may not appreciate my greed for glory and recognition.  It harkened back to last year and how after pampering ourselves with soft beds at hotel rooms and promptly getting skunked, Marshall and I decided it was time to suffer a little and see if it would please the steelhead gods.  On the very next trip and after an uncomfortable night in the back of the 4runner, I raised a steelhead to a skated fly and although I didn't hook the fish, I was hooked and consequently knew that our bit of sacrifice the night before appeased the steelhead gods.  With that thought in my mind I pulled over, got ready and promptly left all of my camera equipment (even the iphone) in the 4runner on purpose.
As I hurriedly walked dashed to the river, my excitement was palpable (hell maybe it was the gut-bomb burrito from the convenience store in Lolo, steelheading requires sacrifice and sensible eating habits when you're hurrying to the Clearwater is one of them!)  Regardless I was excited to once again be plying the waters for steel. 
Being fairly new to steelhead fishing and having never fished this run, I guess I started at the top of the run and was mildly impressed with my ability to "read" steelhead water.  As I fell into the familiar rhythym-cast, mend, swing, two steps- I found myself waiting for that tug.  It's absolutely true; The Swing is the Thing and The Tug is the Drug!  Every cast brings another fresh batch of anticipation, and when the din of monotony and repetition begins creeping in a muffed cast is surely a sign from the steelhead gods.  The sign manifests itself as a voice inside my head "wake up, you're about to hook a steelhead" and my anticipation is full-on once again.  A few casts later I recognize a slight change in the run, a slightly different chop, perhaps a tiny change in pace and my excitement somehow elevates another notch.  I'm into what I'm pretty sure is the "bucket" of the run.  At least it's where I feel that if I'm going to feel a tug, this is the place.  Sure enough, some words of advice from Poppy, Dale and my buddy Mike creep into my head "slow down, pull with the bottom hand, make a good stop" and I manage a decent cast in anybody's book and one I'm downright proud of.  Midway through the swing I feel "the tug" and I undoubtedly have a steelhead that not only has hooked itself, but has gone well into my backing on the take and subsequent run downstream.  I somehow manage to make it to the bank without swimming and begin following the fish downstream.  After I get back to my fly line and almost parallel to the fish, I start to lean on it a little to gain more line.  This prompts a scorching upstream run and some impressive aerial displays and I am once again into the backing.  After what seems like an eternity but in reality is probably no more than 10 minutes or so I am now charged with the daunting task of trying to land what I guess to be 3 feet and 14 lbs. or so of a bright Clearwater b-run hen steelhead that is thrashing near my feet.  Before I get to make myself look like too big of a dumbass trying to land the fish, she manages to spit the barbless hook and defiantly fin back to the comforts of her run.  I sit down and spend a couple minutes replaying the whole scene in my mind. I'm completely in awe of the sheer power and beauty of this fish and although I didn't handle it, I'm satisfied in knowing that I hooked the fish on my terms.
Although this is not the first steelhead I hooked this year (I hooked up twice in one day on an earlier trip) this is by far the closest I have come to getting one to hand.  It is still satisfying to know that I have brought each one of the magnificent fish to my fly on my terms. 
Even though I haven't fished the entire run, I decide to call it good for now and head back to the rig.  With only a little daylight remaining I drive downriver and make it to another run in time to fish part of it before darkness settles in and I call it a day.
While I don't know for sure, I like to think that I played a small role in my success by my conscious choice to not bring a camera to the river with me, that I made yet another sacrifice and was therefore rewarded by the steelhead gods.  More than likely I luckily bumbled into a player and somehow put the fly in the right spot at the right time, but who knows?  Not to worry, I'm not swearing off of pictures and I fully intend on one day posting some hero, grip and grin shots, if and when the opportunity arises.  I'm just happy that I don't need that justification.  For now, I know, and that's good enough for me.
 After a celebratory dinner out and a cramped night in back of the 4runner, circumstances arise that preclude me from finishing my trip so I pack up and head back to Montana the next day.  Although I am truly happy with the trip and my obsession is once again satiated for the time being, I know it won't be long until I make plans to return and search for steel and feel that tug of a fish that has come to my fly on my terms.... 


  1. Craig, sounds like a good one. Make that 6 wt work ! Jay Petersen

  2. It was certainly fun Jay, thanks again for the advice and pointers, hopefully our paths will cross again one day...