Rod: Okuma Celilo 9' 6"
Reel: Shimano Symetre 2500
There's something to be said about fishing reports when the run has reached it's zenith; they seem to be cheap, as every line that licks the froth seems to be retrieved with a Steelhead (or two) on the end of it. Exceptions always come as this Steelhead season has certainly been quite savory with the platoons of fish that have been returning home from their 2 year long voyage in the ocean (or more). Today, I write for all of you bundled up in your electric blankets with your families, enjoying the warmth that only the holidays (Christmas in my household) seem to bring each year.
Two evenings prior, Mastro invited me into his home to teach "Advanced Steelheading" for his birthday. He is no greenhorn when it comes to fishing, and can place a cast more deftly than I; he was simply interested in learning the efficacy of the art, and to see the river through the eyes of one who lives and breathes upon her sandy banks. As a guide, I truly enjoy the aspect of working with individuals the most -which is why I've shifted the majority of my guiding to my 2 hour presentations that I bring to my client's homes- and over time, I've noticed an incredible increase in the amount of fish (namely Steelhead) that they punch on their cards each successive year. So, after a flurry of conversation and demonstrations on how to read water, properly present an offering under a float and tie micro jigs and yarn balls, he was ready. In the words of my dear friend "come tomorrow morning, I'll have my game face on."
I showed up at 6:51; he showed up at 6:40. After shaking hands, I asked him if he wanted an Americano; he had already inhaled a liter of Red Bull. After seeing how serious Mastro was, it was time to put my "game face" on, so off we traveled down to the river in my trusty, rusty red Civic. We arrived about 20 minutes early and watched the sun crawl over the hillside and peek down over the rim of the Sky Valley; rain and clouds socked us in. Nothing quite replaces the smell of fresh morning mist, the constant chatter of a riffle, nor the silence and serenity of a day yet untold, a story that can only be told by the wisdom of the river. It evades me how each and every day of our lives is reset with such magic, such valor and intensity. Now Mastro and I casted a line successfully back in June, but this time was different, this time was personal; it was time for him to play from start to finish the song of a Winter Run Steelhead. Today, the water was his alone, as I no longer standby to pick up the slack, nor wandering fish of the seam, as there is something to be said when a man starts and finishes his journey alone.
Up to bat and to the first slot, out sailed his cast after juicing up the yarn tail of his jig with some ProCure. 4 casts later it was a rinse (quite literally), change of color and repeat. Second round to the plate and 3 casts in, it was time to swap for the "money jig" thanks to Stonedahl of River Chrome Guide Service. First cast out, even though he missed the slot by 3 feet, it was a solid float down. Mastro ripped his rod in the air with the violence and intensity of an enraged Viking Warlord; I could feel the fear of the fish at the end of his line. I give him credit for setting the hook with such gusto and gale force, but it was no match for our 6# Maxima Leader. Skykomish River:1, Reel Priorities: 0.
The next hole we moved to, we knocked and knocked, but nobody was home. So, off we traveled to our third hole (a lower priority slot on my guiding list) and he began to rip the slot to shreds with his precision casting work. When in doubt of casting, phone a competition Bass fisherman. Mastro's first cast perused down the line with such perfection, we doubted taking a second cast. Through the eyes of a guide, it did indeed seem pointless to cast again, as a Steelhead "should have" annihilated his jig, float and all. After recommending a second and final cast along the edge of the hole, Mastro whipped his cast out with lightning speed. Right before his float reached the deep blue part of the slot, it took a dive! With the restraint of a hundred men, Mastro lightly lifted the tip of his rod, and he was rewarded with a silver flash and the beautiful bow of a loaded rod. Fish on! This Chrome Warrior was nothing to be messed with. She thrashed at the surface, gleaning in her metallic scale mail, jumped like a Kangaroo and darted back and forth in attempt to throw the jig. Many Steelhead I have seen, but of Steelhead that fight with such intensity and heart, it has been a rarity. After her final few attempts to wrap around my leg, she tried to ditch her cortisol saturated body near the shore; she was outgunned by Mastro's tried and true angling abilities. On the shore she went, and out came Mastro's victory grin, one that will never be forgotten. After traveling around to the last few holes and a final take-down, we called it a day.
Give a man a Steelhead, feed him for two days. Teach a man the "Art of Steelheading," from tying jigs to properly caring for his catch, fulfill his mind, body, soul and family for a lifetime. Many fishermen have the ability to walk up below the hatchery pond, bump a shoulder or two, take fifty casts floating an Aerojig, and horse a still battle ready Steelhead onto the beach. Just plug in your head phones, spool up the 20# PowerPro with 10-12# Maxima leader and be diligent with changing your depth (if you're float fishing). Few uphold the inner certitude to circumvent the trials of the river with reckless abandon, without promise of catch, read the water properly and give a Steelhead enough respect to display it's final death dance in the place we so longingly call "home." I dare you to become the latter, one of the few. Duly noted to you red blooded gear anglers, you needn't convert to the Fly in order to accomplish such a task. Narrow and long is the road and few are that find it, but I promise you the reward is great, and not only for your Facebook profile picture, nor dinner plate.
I specialize in the art; if you fish solely for meat, you have my utter respect. For those of you who want to learn the path, and want more out of the precious time you spend out on the water after weeks of being careened on the isle of work, family, bills and high water, please give me a call. In all transparency, your success is my focus and your well being is my objective, on and off the river.
Wishing you guys (and gals) a most joy filled holiday, hopefully filled with many fins, scales and grins.