Rod: Okuma Celilo 9' 6"
Reel: Shimano Symetre 2500
Four synthetic layers hastily thrown on and a mouth outlined with Crest toothpaste later, I was off to meet the perfect morning devoted to the pursuit of angling. Having two wide-eyed, amateur anglers along for the ride, our course was destined for adventure. After a brief shaking of hands and passing off a pair of neoprene waders to Ken and DaMarkus, it was time to put their character to the test against nature's wit.
It is a special day when a new Steelheader is born; the heavens open up, God smiles upon the Earth and the fish defy the laws of nature that govern all veteran anglers. They swim--jaws open--into whatever is tossed into the water, sometimes even landing themselves. The first cast sailed most gracefully into the boughs of an Evergreen. Minutes later, another donation was generously given to the long deceased, half submerged corpse of a fellow Conifer. After guiding for the last 3 consecutive days, my eyes were tired, body, heavy and my spirit waning. My DNE float supply was officially depleted and despair began to sink in; drifting was not a viable option today. Just as the night was strumming it's darkest notes prior to dawn, the "luck of the angler" burst forth from it's hiding place and the sky began to radiate it's much needed light.
Half way through the day and after losing our limbs to the frigid waters DaMarkus shuffled on over to break on the shore, while Ken steadily jabbed away at the slot with his newly practiced river-casting skills. With a goose egg in the floats down category--save one swing and a miss floating eggs--it was time for a much needed change of scenery.
Upon arrival to the next slot, we proceeded to transform a yarn-tailed, bead bodied jig into the Exxon Valdez, spraying an inordinate amount of oil over the unsuspecting offering. For his first cast, I advised him to present his offering along the seam of the current located on the far side of the riffle. A quarter of the way through the drift, his 11 gram Drennan Piker float slipped quietly beneath the surface, reappearing shortly with a silver silhouette. It was no ordinary fish on, as this buck's violent head shakes, sub-surface death rolls and writhing fighting style gave away his newcomer-feel to the river; we could taste the salt of the ocean from his gills. He sat in the deeper water for a time, followed by an upriver sprint in the fast water, paired with alligator-roll, in the end giving way to DaMarkus' pristine fish playing skills. Though the fish was bright--covered in more than a fair share of sea lice--nothing shone brighter than the championship-white smile of DaMarkus, having landed his first Steelhead ever. After the punch of the heart, scribbles on the catch card and a quick retying of the leader, he was back pounding the slot, probing the depths for chrome.
You would think the next fish would come within the next 10 minutes, though it began to look like one of those days where the excitement comes in short, powerful bursts. Like that one time in Alderwood, when your Mint Chocolate Dairy Queen Blizzard took flight from your cup holder and managed to vomit over your entire windshield. I'm not saying there were no additional floats down--there were more than a half dozen legitimate takes--but things began to look gloomy. I set my watch for the final 20 minutes of our outing and instructed my anglers to cast and mend with perfection. When the 20 minute bell rang from my Olive Drab, Timex Ironman, it was time for Ken to "place wisely his last cast." Now, most anglers would work a seam, or let their float slowly dance through water moving at walking-speed. Ken--a man of unwaivering faith--let loose his final cast in the fastest, most unfavorable-looking portion of the run. After asking him why he botched his last cast, he looked back and shrugged his shoulders, float sailing down the river at mach speed. And that was just what the fish wanted: no hook set, no reeling, no form. DaMarkus and I scanned the water for another 5 seconds until we reached consensus that Ken's violently bobbing and loaded rod was in fact holding back a Steelhead. "Pull up!" we yelled. It was on! The fish was more or less a heavy-footed fighter, sitting on the bottom and lazily thrashing along the surface. After a while, the continual thrashing of the fish had Ken's rod mimicking the work of a puppet master. Around the 6 minute mark-- after an unruly dose of fishing-guide-angina -pectoris--Ken was able to subdue his opponent to the bank. Spotless chrome armor, pink cheeks and a full belly lay on it's side gasping for air as Ken danced with joy, celebrating his first Steelhead victory with his brother, DaMarkus.
The type of memory you view, prior to brain death: watching your best friend bank his first Steelheadand while having the privilege of subduing your own. That morning, we entered the river as two lake fishermen and a river veteran. In the afternoon, we exited the river as Steelheaders; united, equal, together, as one.
If you want to possess the skill to consistently produce memories like these, you can certainly take the path of trial and error. If you're interested in accruing the tools and skills to circumvent years of the latter, give me a call; you have a teacher who lives and breathes for your success in river angling
I challenge you to fill your life with fond memories such as these, ones you savor when gray and white hairs assault your liver spotted scalp. Live your life: one rock, one cast and one Steelhead at a time. Reel Priorities, out.