Not all steelhead are photogenic. (Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire)

Not all steelhead are photogenic. (Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire)

I Went to the Woods: Way too easy

Fish on.

Thirty yards above the money spot, I threw an awful cast that piled up. Rather than pick it all up and recast, I stripped in some line, threw in a mend and let it fish.

The current pulled the line and the fly became presentable. Beneath an unremarkable tree the fly started to swing then stopped abruptly. It darted slightly in the opposite direction, then violently back. Fish on.

The water both up and down river from the pocket under the tree was fairly shallow, but the fish knew the deepest lanes and shot upriver, then down. Inspired by the current it continued downriver, spinning my reel.

There is romance in chasing a fish downriver like Paul Maclean, but the reality is rocks are hard if not hard and sharp and the water cold. To attempt a mad scramble over slick rocks was to invite a spill. There would be no running.

I slid my wading boots into what felt like solid footing as I pursued the fish. As the steelhead approached a log, I took a solid stance, reeled down and lifted the rod in an attempt to turn its head. This is a risky move, but has to happen at some point. The fish has to be commanded, or made to stop and turn, especially if it’s nearing the safety of a snag. The current will then work for you. If the fish holds it gathers strength, but you collect line. In terms of feet you’re about back where you started, but the fish has used up juice.

We both caught our breath, me from the shin-deep shallow edge of the river, it in the depths of the pocket I was working down to fish in the first place. The hole was likely spoiled now. It can hold a few fish and I’ve had success working down to it and letting hooked fish run down and out of it to a gentle beach to land and release. This keeps commotion to a minimum. For all they know, their buddy just took off for a quick spin. After releasing the fish, I can calmly make my way up above the pocket and try to hook another. Fighting a fish where you want to swing a cast can agitate the others and the bite can stop.

I attempted to nudge the steelhead downstream slightly away from the sharper rocks around my feet. It obliged without turning its head. It simply gave into the tension I provided.

I collected more line and glided the steelhead closer. The flanks were gashes of vivid red. It was as beautiful as it was strong and I felt the pending doom steelheaders sometimes experience when the angler knows it’s been too easy. A fish like this has more than just one big run in it, especially if the first run was assisted by the current.

It’s going to run. It’s going to run.

I pulled my net from my sling still unconvinced the fish would come to the net so easily. The second a fin touched gravel or my net hit the water, it would flee straight to the snag across the river, wrap around a branch and break me off. It would happen that fast.

But it didn’t.

I reached down and tailed it, dropped my rod, turned it on its side, removed the hook and before I could admire it, water splashed into my face and down the front of my waders.

Fair enough.

• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer based in Ketchikan. His book, “A Miserable Paradise: Life in Southeast Alaska,” is available in local bookstores and at Amazon.com. “I Went to the Woods” appears twice per month in the Sports & Outdoors section of the Juneau Empire.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 26

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024

For Thursday, Feb. 29 Assault At 5:49 p.m. on Thursday, a 17-year-old… Continue reading

The Alaska Supreme Court is seen on Thursday, Feb. 8, in Juneau. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska Supreme Court decides key question: Who is an Alaskan?

An Alaskan is someone physically present in the state who intends to… Continue reading

Pink salmon are seen in an undated photo. (NOAA Fisheries photo)
New salmon study adds to evidence that pink salmon could be crowding out sockeye

A new analysis of nearly 25,000 fish scales offers more evidence that… Continue reading

Liana Wallace offers a water blessing during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool on Friday following nearly a year of renovations. The pool is scheduled to reopen for public use on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Ribbon-cutting for Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool a blessing for longtime users after 11-month renovation

Infrastructure upgrades, new locker rooms and student tile art in lobby greet visitors at ceremony.

The Alaska State Capitol in Juneau is seen on Friday, Feb. 23. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska Legislature plans March 12 vote on Gov. Dunleavy’s executive orders

Order giving governor full control of Alaska Marine Highway Operations board among six scheduled.

Brenda Josephson, a Haines resident, testifies in favor of a bill setting statewide standards for municipal property assessors during a state Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee hearing Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Statewide standards for municipal property assessments sought in bill by Juneau lawmaker

Some residents say legislation doesn’t go far enough, want limits on annual valuation increases.

The front page of the Juneau Empire on Feb. 26, 2004. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Empire Archives: Juneau’s history for the week of March 2

Three decades of capital city coverage.

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, speaks Thursday, April 27, 2023, at a news conference in Juneau. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House considers constitutional guarantee for Permanent Fund dividend

The Alaska House of Representatives will vote as soon as Friday morning… Continue reading

Most Read