A charter guide buddy of mine over on Prince of Wales attached a GoPro to his downrigger set up and recorded an absolutely sickening number of king salmon coming up to look at his bait, then turning off at the last second. It wasn’t sickening because there were a dozen or so, far from it. When watching a video like that, more than about three is almost too many to handle. You start to wonder how it ever happens. If there is such a massive ball of feed, why would the fish take the spinning cut plug, or hoochie or lure? The video ends of course with a curious one in the immediate vicinity cut in line by an aggressive fish that seems to come out of nowhere.
I think about that video sometimes and it provides hope, but it also drives me a little crazy. I’ve stood at the edge of muskegs, knowing something was there and waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting. Then leaving, knowing that as soon as a I left, the buck showed up. I’ve tried to apply the lesson of the video to steelhead fishing which has ended up being the exact motivation I needed to stick with it.
Steelhead fishing has been widely characterized as an exercise in frustration, the fish of 1,000 casts, the definition of insanity – choose your cliché. But those lines do become overused because they are often pretty accurate in their description. You’re casting to nothing. If you have enough faith, you’re casting with the belief that there is a steelhead or two that see it and it’s only a matter of time. You can wear it down. You will wear it down. Or maybe, like that video, it’s not the one you imagine when you’re casting, it’s the one a few feet away that’s finally had enough.
Or maybe you don’t wear it down. Maybe you are just casting to a rock. Maybe you’re just fishing there because it’s the same spot and the same weekend you fished last year and it was hot last year. Then you wonder why you even bother keeping a diary because steelhead do not care at all about the plans you have for them.
Social media likes to remind me over excellent memories involving steelhead from early Aprils past, but it seems like a different location, if not a different life ago. We’re still on the launching pad counting down the ignition of spring. It seemed like we were at 5, or maybe even 4, but an error occurred.
I feel ridiculous even complaining about the weather because it is the most consistent thing around here. If there is one thing we know, is that we don’t know and shouldn’t predict, the weather. A few years ago I invited a buddy up from California to fish for steelhead. He arrived right when the fishing had been good the year before. That year it was cold and the water was low. He ended up with one steelhead in five days.
Which, of course, if a steelhead is the fish of a thousand casts, then it makes sense. If it is just about the chance to catch one good fish, then it was worth it. But some of the best parts of life are when expectations are exceeded. These times might not be common, but they are frequent enough that you can’t wait for the chance to get impossibly fortunate and have one of those days.
• 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.