They say the next best thing to fly fishing is reading about fly fishing. I’m not exactly sure who “they” is but maybe that’s the point. No one has to take responsibility if it’s nonsense. The they is some ambiguous body of people who makes up a lot of phrases that we use today.
They say practice makes perfect. They also say nobody’s perfect. They contradict themselves, but they’ll never admit it. They say it’s better to be lucky than good, but someone said that the better you are, the luckier you get. Someone has said a lot too, though they often go by their pen name, anonymous.
Anyway, I was feeling like reading might be a little warmer as I stood waist deep in cold water waiting for the steelhead I hoped was there might bite. Not that warmth is a fun indicator, but at that moment, it was pretty appealing. Being simply comfortable can sometimes be an indicator of a boring, unfulfilling life. Discomfort tends to be where growth and good stories are made, but being miserable for the sake of being miserable, or just to brag to others, sounds like a waste of time. Being miserable because the payoff is worth it, is a more understandable reason to make that choice. Enduring the cold to bring a bright winter steelhead to hand is most definitely worth it, but it doesn’t happen just because you’re out there.
Most of winter steelhead fishing is fishing on faith. Faith that you have the right fly, faith that a fish is there, and faith that you won’t be so distracted by who wrote what to miss the only take you’ll get. But when the fish are in, it’s not really a matter of if, it’s seems more of a when. With the rivers being so much smaller than the legendary steelhead rivers of British Columbia or the Pacific Northwest, it can be easier to get a feel for when they will push up, where they will hold and how to reach them. It’s not like the summer bonanza when you almost feel cheated if you don’t catch a salmon. Steelhead pepper a river at best. Salmon invade a river. Hundreds of steelhead in a river at the same time is enough to make frozen guides on your rod worth it. Thousands of salmon rather than tens of thousands is an off year. So, with steelhead, you have to have faith and give it your best shot.
That’s cliché too, but a good cliché becomes one because it’s the easiest way to say something that’s common. And since the proper words are already in place, why try to word it yourself? That’s probably why John Gierach is such an iconic fly fishing writer and why whoever wrote the flap for his book wrote, “No Shortage of Good Days may be the next best thing to a day of fishing.” He says it his own way and writes to the angler, not for his ego.
Gorging on Gierach’s words has become an annual winter thing for me since hunting season has ended and steelhead season has begun. Someone wrote that the Alaskan calendar should be divided by what can be caught or hunted rather than what the Lower 48ers use. I agree.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.