Striking Steel

The author's first steelhead.
I have been trying to find the most poetic words I can to describe my achievement. It doesn't matter what I say because if you weren't there (and you weren't) then you can't know how it felt. The only people who can understand the triumph I have now tasted are those who have endured the struggle and succeeded. Maybe you are one of them.

The 'I just caught my first ever steelhead on a greasy run with a two-handed rod and a swung fly in the winter' club. And it feels good. And he was wild.

If I tried, I could not recount the hours of time on the water I spent chasing these fish. Like I have been saying in my previous posts, I was not going to give up. A couple posts ago I said I knew it was going to happen. I didn't know when, but I knew it would all come together eventually. And it did all come together on a mild March morning on a river a half an hour from Portland.

My buddy and I fished the upper stretch, considered to be some of the most technical rafting water in the area. This is water that you have to be just as focused on rowing as you are on fishing because if you're not you will screw up and get hurt. The first whitewater run is probably the hardest and you get no time to warm up. The second we put in we had water crashing over Katrina (our aptly named Cataraft). Right in the heaviest run known as 'Pipeline' we got spun sideways and my right oar popped out of its lock. I scrambled to put the oar back in with one hand, which is hard enough when you're not getting ripped through heavy water that you are attempting for the first time. And we were.

We managed to get straightened out and slide through the run to safety and hit our first swinging water of the day. This was a nice piece of water but I just wasn't feeling it. My cast was a little off, the river bottom was brutal, and the low-hanging trees on the bank were not friendly. My buddy has taught me that regardless of any problems, if you don't have confidence in the fly you are swinging the rest doesn't matter. I don't know what it was about this particular fly, but when I opened the box I knew it had to go on my leader. About three-quarters of the way through a bad swing from a worse cast, just as the Purple Intruder swam behind a rock my line felt a tug, tug, tug. All I could muster to yell at Ryan was, 'Dude. Dude! Dude!!!'

I somehow kept my composure letting him take my shock loop and run a little line before I set the hook to my left. He came sprawling out of the water and flopped on his side. He peeled some line moving back and forth in the current before calling it quits. It didn't take two hours to land him, he wasn't the biggest steelhead ever caught, and it certainly wasn't the most skilled angler catching him. But it was mine. That day, that river, that fish belonged to me. For the rest of my life I will remember where I was at 9:04 a.m. on March 24, 2008.

The rest of the day I zoned out casting through water caring even less than normal whether or not I actually caught something. I had paid my dues and finally joined the club. I was just happy to be there knowing I finally achieved a huge goal of mine in catching a steelhead, a wild one at that.

As we headed home, Ryan looked at me and said, 'You know you're gonna pay for that fish, right?'

Dues I got. Two steelhead I don't. Bring it on.

Wet Boots Are a Way of Life.