Time: 07:00
River: Skykomish
Rod: Okuma Celilo 9' 6"
Reel: Shimano Stradic 2500

I imagine there are few things more satisfying to a gardener than finding good soil to work with; medium, able to retain vital nutrients and provide suitable residence for a plant. I'm thankful Brian decided to call me, for both Brian and his son, Mason, were the type of soil I yearned to work with. The Saturday prior to our excursion, was filled with classroom instruction; we hand crafted jigs and weaved yarn balls, in preparation for the big day.

It was the archetype of a "rise and shine" morning, where your eyes pop open like a carton of candy corn on Halloween. After waking my slumbering, ATV of a Civic, I was off like a Steelhead hooked on 6 pound fluorocarbon leader. Note: I do not endorse the use of fluorocarbon leader for Steelhead. Izorline Platinum allows me to keep a few nickels lining the bottom of my pockets, while gracing me many Steelhead to the bank. From a Steelhead guide, it distills down to the following, over immaculate line clarity: float speed, color and depth.

The first 20 minutes consisted of blank casting (no leaders, nor live ammunition), until Brian and Mason were casting like Bass Pro's and mending like a seamstress.  After practice of identifying seams, pockets of holding water and deftly placing casts to the opposing bank, it was time. Mason's first cast landed in the belly of the run; his float slipped underneath the water, but slack prevented a proper hook-set. 5 minutes later, the water engulfed Brian's float, rod loading with a light head shake, and then straightening back out. Hands weary from tying in the frigid morning air and having run out of patterns to stimulate the now stale bunch of Steelhead, it was time to run from the slot and gun to the next.

A wise angler once said to me "Ryan, you need create a circuit of three to six well known slots. On any given day, it is likely one of your 6 slots will hold a willing biter." How it has forever changed the way I approach water and the style of angling that I teach to my students. After a short refresher, we parked our frozen wading soles atop the second slot. Brian sailed out his first cast. Two proper mends of Hydrofloat later, his float took a dive. Unfortunately, Brian diverted his gaze. just as Mason and I redirected ours; we watched Brian's float sink faster than a speeding bullet. Steelhead: 4, Anglers: 0. Brian recovered and whipped out his second cast. Just as his float was exiting the slot on his fourth attempt, it hesitated and began to inch beneath the surface. He waited patiently for the float to disappear, subsequently executing a picture perfect hook-set. "Fish on!" cheered Brian. He was rewarded with a crescent-shaped rod and four adrenaline pumping head shakes, two ingredients exclusively manufactured by the Winter Run Steelhead.

The fish immediately finned it's way to the tip of his rod, faking exhaustion. Responding quickly, we loosened the drag and sent a few shocks down the line to encourage a run, to no avail. Taking the hint, I proceeded with water landing procedure; after a failed attempt, he shot off like a lever action Winchester 94 Carbine. And the reel sang his song! Watching Brian play the fish was like watching a locksmith precision cut a worn key. The back and forth style of fighting was reminiscent of the swaying motion of the conifers during a winter windstorm. As cortisol and fatigue compounded, our Winter Buck lifted a dorsal fin, opting for a trade; in exchange for his fillets and a trophy picture for father and son, we consented him an intimate gander at my GoPro 3 Black Edition, along with a date scratched in blue ink on Brian's catch card.

Not every outing ends with tangible success in the form of a Steelhead. These wild creatures -reverent and defiant in nature- braved the odds, coming out on top in both open ocean and confined stream. Hatchery or Native, both demand a great deal of respect. The pursuit of Steelhead is an art of refinement; it cannot be described properly through writing nor conceptualized by photography nor YouTube video. For those of you who have yet to land one, "never yield and never give up." Fly or gear, meat harvest or the art, we pursue the revitalization only a stressed rod can evoke. Keep those line mends succinct, my friends. Reel Priorities, out.