This photo shows the author’s first steelhead of the spring. It was the perfect shot and the perfect start for the long-awaited spring. (Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire)

This photo shows the author’s first steelhead of the spring. It was the perfect shot and the perfect start for the long-awaited spring. (Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire)

I Went To The Woods: Spring —and steelhead fishing —are finally here

Winter-spring transition was like the never-ending YouTube ads that keep good stuff from starting.

By Jeff Lund

You know when you’re watching a hunting or fishing show on YouTube, and just as it gets good, a series of ads starts, but since your laptop is hooked up to your TV and across the room, you continue laying on the couch hoping the ads end, but they never do?

The transition between winter and spring was that maddening, never-ending cycle of ads that kept us from getting to the exciting parts.

But it’s finally here.

I’m regretting my metaphor a bit because that has me on the couch watching the screen which is the opposite of what I do when spring comes around, but oh well, you get the point. Endless ads, like an endless winter, suck.

I did two solo trips to my favorite steelhead river over the weekend and felt the euphoria of warm recreation. Was it really only a month ago I was in Fairbanks, fighting off -30 degree temperatures with all the warm, synthetic clothing I had, looking to bitter, windswept hills for caribou?

[I Went To the Woods: Fear of the single star]

Shortly after fishing my fly from a tree and swallowing the subsequent irrational rage in an attempt to better myself for my coming marriage, I casted perfectly to the close edge of the current and hooked up with a steelhead.

There was not an epic fight, no long runs and no jumping. It just stayed down, shaking its head and refusing to be lifted. These are the battles that are the most frightening because at any moment it seems the fish will have enough of the nonsense and take off for the nearest log jam, rocks or rapids. Attempting to follow on the slick rocks has put me into the water more than a few times, though not in the heroic manner of Brad Pitt’s character in “A River Runs Through It.”

Not 20 yards below the run in which I hooked the steelhead, all three obstructions waited. First a short plunge into what I could only guess was a bottomless run that was tangled by trees on one side and boulders on the other. If it turned and headed that direction, I’d be in trouble. At one point it did, but not to run, just to relocate to a calm pocket at the top of the fast water, as if to build suspense before breaking my heart. Of course it’s never really breaking a heart when a steelhead gets away. The experience is borrowed since they don’t come home and are only in possession for a short time. These are the fleeting moments that make people spend good money attempting to restore habitat and preserve the runs. It seems to many that catch and release fishing, as well as hunting, are the opposite of conservation, but it’s often those user groups who do the most when it comes to protecting the wildlife important to their lifestyle. This is 2021, not 1821. The illusion of limitless resources faded long ago. Except for trawlers and the carnage caused by their unfathomable bycatch.

Anyway, I scooped the fish with my net, knelt in the water, removed the hook then slid the fish from the net. I turned it on its side and stood for a picture. I’ve come to like this approach the best. If the fish floats on its side for long enough for me to get an objective comparison to my fly rod, then great. If it rights itself and takes off, I get an action shot.

I got an action shot Sunday. It was the perfect shot and the perfect start for the long-awaited spring.

• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer in Ketchikan. The Kindle version of his book, “A Miserable Paradise: Life in Southeast Alaska,” is available for pre-order on Amazon. His column, “I Went To The Woods,” appears twice per month in the Juneau Empire.

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