I was reading a book about steelhead fishing, and the author mentioned using a 2-weight. Sure, if it was for those two-footers on a Lower 48 river like the Klamath, but I wondered why someone would gear down so far.
Was fishing steelhead with stout gear too easy? Boring? There needed to be added adventure?
The next morning I was off chasing steelhead myself. The sun was just right and I picked up a few shapes of holding fish in the low water. Perfect. I walked upriver, waded gently and slowly and started to work toward them. Cast, swing, strip, strip, strip, backcast, haul, lay it down. No splashing the water. No extra backcast. I was dialed in.
After a dozen casts, I had crept into the zone. The fly would finish its swing just in front of the fish. I watched the fly end its swing, then looked for company as I stripped. From the depths came a finned flash. I continued to strip to keep whatever predatory instinct engaged, but the fish aborted, turned and returned to whatever it was doing before it entertained my fly.
I am pathetically inadequate when it comes to articulating the feeling of watching a fish rise to a dry fly or chase a streamer. It’s chemical, visceral and something I will never tire of. Even if the fish doesn’t take, the memory is easily accessible in the brain’s library.
Conditions being that they were — low water, I’m barely competent — I figured that if I left the river, I’d have an image to last me the week, or until I was able to hit the water again. But a few casts later my stopped mid-swing. Then it shook. Oh boy. Game on.
I pulled my net from its sheath in my sling pack and prepared to scoop a dime bright steelhead that had to be in the 30-inch range. Not a monster, but the type of fish that should I ever reduce it to bland superlatives, I should quit steelhead fishing because I don’t deserve it.
I lifted the head and the line popped. The fish gently eased away from me as if strutting back to its buddies saying “See, that’s how it’s done.”
I shook my head because I knew I was fishing with 3x tippet, or 8-pound test. This is not unreasonable for steelhead, but it is on the light side. I wondered why someone would gear down? Was fishing steelhead with stout line too easy? Boring? There needed to be added adventure?
I usually fish with 10- or 12-pound line because the goal is to land the fish. That doesn’t mean that happiness can only be achieved if the fish is landed, it just means that if you’re going to hook the thing, you might as well bring it in. And if you’re going to bring it in, you might as well do it with gear that doesn’t necessitate tender fighting to the point the fish is nearly fought to death by the time it comes to hand or rubber net.
That was the only hook up of the weekend, but in times like these, being healthy and employed makes me treasure simple pleasures like a lost fish.
• 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.