Rod: G.Loomis IMX 9'8
Reel: Shimano Stradic 2500
It was a throwback type of morning. With the ribs of the river poking through the skin of the river surface, I deemed it fit to go old-school. And so I discovered myself, rustling through the dense brush of fishing tackle at 05:00, in search of my highly prized cork float.
I am meticulous when it comes to preparation for a day out on the river. Every jig and piece of bait is accounted for, and every box previously inventoried, each slot containing a freshly tied jig from the evening prior. This morning however, I brought one jig to suspend beneath my float. It may have been the way it undulated so gracefully, backed by the late night glow of Netflix Lisa so intently watched, jig swaying in a manner only a store bought Aerojig can boast.
When I'm on a mission to stack the shelves of my Masterbuilt Electric Smoker, I cure up a batch of eggs--no Pautzke Boraxo-whatever here--and polish up my hardware for the Summer Run. Starting from the head of the run, I aggravate our finned friends downriver with the flutter of a 2/5th ounce Rvrfshr spoon. Upon running out of desired water, I retrace my casts upriver with the #5 green bodied, hammered-silver-bladed spinner. If nothing has risen to the offer, I bobber-dog each slot downriver with my home-cured batch of quarter-sized eggs; you can assume by now,
something has gone belly up.
To the author who explicitly stated that fish "spook" from larger presentations each and every time, I'd like to place you in my chest freezer, atop my horde of low-water Skykomish River fillets. Similarly, to the author who wrote how "fish don't care about line color when it comes to hardware fishing," I've reserved a special spot in my kitchen freezer for you. Though I've caught myriads of fish on high visibility line closely spliced with clear copolymer to my hardware, empirical evidence and 30 dedicated days straight of low-water angling has stated otherwise. It is easy to walk up to a hatchery slot subsequent to a rain, and hook fifteen to twenty fish; sadly, I feel as if the majority of Steelhead know-how has been catered to this mindset of meat fishing. The river rises, the fish stack and it's game time. When the water recedes, the less-intelligible fish--my favorite type to entice--are thinned out and 5-10 of their intelligible brethren remain, this time scattered over a quarter mile stretch of river front. Luck being no longer the viable option for the committed angler, must be tossed out the window. This is the crossroads where everything you've read about Steelhead is turned upside down.
For some reason I decided to work the jig from the middle of the run, upriver. The evening prior, I reasoned that a glow headed jig would force a limit of Steelhead upon me, without even having to cast. Much to my dismay, I was fishing empty water prior dawn; by the time I reached the intended slot, a fisherman was found pounding away at it with his super-clear-stealth-float. If we were better men, we gear-fisher-types would work the river from head to heel, rinse and repeat, a quality I've always enjoyed about feather flickers. But we are not, and I greatly respect water space, especially to the kindred, early rising fisherman. After a cordial "hello" and introduction, I slithered through the rocks another 70 yards above him, prior to placing deft cast. An hour later after many walking-speed-presentations, the Skykomish deeply sighed, refusing to surrender any semblance of fins and and a 8" tail. So I began, traipsing carefully downriver to stand atop a rock now 15 yards above the fisherman.
To seasoned river anglers: do you know when you can "feel" a fish in a slot? Inexplicable, yes; undeniable, even more so. It's one of those things that happens, irrespective of water conditions--too fast, too slow, too shallow--where you know you have to cast if you'd like to reaffirm your feeling, with the resplendent arc of a graphite rod. So I watched, cast by cast, as the fisherman pounded the slot with no "rhyme or reason," reaffirming to the slot inhabitants no matter how clear his float was, to feign the offering. "He's still throwing that pattern of jig?" *Fins to the side after hundredth brief inspection*. By this time, I'd had enough. With the morning bite slipping away with such haste, I'd reasoned it was time. In to the gunmetal grey sky my cork float sailed, landing hard on the water surface with a "plop," loud enough to dismantle the spirit of the most courageous fish. Thankfully I read those "Steelhead books," and placed the cast 20' above the slot. To some, faith in non fluorocarbon leader is tough during low-water--no thanks to business marketing. For others, floating extremely high in an undefined, deep slot is even more hair-raising. As planned and not a moment too soon, my cork float violently plunged beneath the surface above the darkest portion of the slot, poor claustrophobic jig now in the jaws of a disgruntled fish, still hanging 18" below the float though much lower now in the 7-foot-deep slot. Fish on! Gallivanting downriver, I gracefully passed the now vehement fisherman, continuing battle well out of earshot.
You can tell when a hen takes your gear by the way they fight; such grace and spunk is reminiscent of group of girls-night-out-chicks, clad in Nordstrom apparel, high-heeling around downtown Bellevue. This gal was pissed, as I would be too if I were hooked and invisibly pulled out of my seat after taking a bite from my morning toast, eye crusties still firmly attached to the face. Hadn't I spooled up the evening prior with fresh monofilament tip, I would have been one disappointed angler. She screamed my reel like a death metal rock star during a hit-song-chorus on a Friday evening. Though certainly not the largest fish on my line this summer season, without contest she took the cake for the "reel-screeching-run award." I allowed the air to cool off my now molten hot reel, spool glowing like the eyes of a man unwrapping Simms waders from his wife on Christmas morning, proceeding the gentle sway of the IMX graphite to steadily drain the remainder of life from her. 5 water landing attempts later lay a gorgeous hatchery hen atop the water surface, index and thumb knuckles wrapped securely around her peduncle.
I'll never fully understand why I angle Steelhead, though I believe the beauty lies within the challenge. Maclean once wrote how man is capable of "loving completely without complete understanding." Maybe one day, I'll be able to firmly grasp such modicum of truth; until then, I will continually pursue the understanding of what I love. I believe in another form of truth: Love God, love your woman, serve others and produce as many reel-screeching-orchestrations and crescent-shaped, pulsating rods as humanely possible. I raise my IMX to you: may the sunshine warm upon your face, may the road rise up to meet you and may your creels overflow with Steelhead. Reel Priorities, out.