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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Courage and the Sweet Release

The quest for steelhead is just that, a daunting journey that involves cold, nasty weather and a lot of casts, swings and steps through steelhead water looking for the elusive connection with a ghostly creature that is often soo-hard to find.  Steelhead are survivors and they are tough; as juveniles the slow ones are the food source for Osprey, otters, herons and other critters.  The desire to connect with the amazing power of steelhead is a strong draw for many anglers; anglers like Todd.

Todd has been fishing with me for several years, always in a chipper mood and asking lots of questions.  He has worked through the fits and starts of spey casting as many anglers have; as I did when I started.  Now quite proficient tossing the fly he can work through a run and not constantly be thinking "about the cast"...

This morning was special, dark clouds threatened as we launched in the pre-dawn gloom of what was about to be a wet day.  Anticipation was high as we anchored the boat at our first stop.  We carefully went through Todds gear selecting the right sink tip and one of the ever productive "Crandall's Steelhead Nitemare" flies.  I tied it on with a Lefty's loop knot and got Todd lined up.  Todd flipped in a sinktips worth of line - all of 10', swung the fly about two seconds and SLAM!  Line screamed off the reel and Todd was fast into a great fish. On the first run it was nearly into the backing in what seemed like a heartbeat.  The #7 weight spey rod was bent in a wild arc and Todd's grin stretched from ear to ear.

Soon a wild steelhead about 10lbs was at hand.  Careful to keep the wild beauty in the water we removed the hook and sent it on it's way.  A valiant battle fought, a wild creature-being wild; what an addicting fish!

The clouds were dark and nasty and dumped more rain but our spirits couldn't be dampened.  I guess that is one thing that I truly respected about Todd and about the nature of steelhead- just don't give up.  Even when life is gloomy and tough he was out there fishing- you see Todd has cancer and he had to be off the river in time today to get radiation treatment later that day.

How blessed I am to be able to experience such great fish on a great river with an amazing person like Todd.

Wishing you smooth water and easy wading,

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Better to have Loved and Lost...

Neil fished the run with precision, as he approached the large boulder, chrome struck and vaulted skyward almost immediately.  A big chrome hen was tearing up the surface and we were staring mouth agape as it cartwheeled across the pool; up, down, across and back in a star pattern each jump throwing spray like a broken firehose...and then she was gone.  The hook had simply come out and the dazzling chromer had won the game.

Neil stood there shaking with a huge grin on his face.  What a blast that was! We checked our knots and leader and after a short break and celebritory sip Neil worked into the pool again.  This time farther down the run near the end he had a grab and then a huge head shake.  Deep in the pool a monster steelhead shook back and forth trying to throw the hook.  Neil's rod doubled and he held on.  It seemed he was instantly outmatched with the 7 weight switch rod he held.  This was no average fish or even a mid-teen steelhead.  This fish was a bruiser and he held no quarter for us.  Down river he went raging into the next set of rapids.  We gave chase best we could, bouncing over boulders with gasps mixed with hope and despair as the line followed the fish weaving through boulders and underwater structure that could easily fray the line at any moment.

Into the next pool we worked through the jumbled rock and the line held fast.  We were both frazzled by the battle and the fish hadn't even begun to tire.  Back and forth from one side of the river to the other the big fish surged.  We were on for a ride and this guy headed back to the ocean.  The reel screamed more, the handle a blur.  Down to the lip of the rapids.  Beyond was whitewater mayhem and little chance of a happy ending.  Neils lip curled in determination.  He tipped the arced graphite in his hands carefully changing angles on the big fish with a smooth sweep.  The fish moved up.  Gaining line a smile blinked across Neils face and then was gone as another surge of line peeled off the reel.  Back and forth it went on in long minutes.  Closer and closer the fish inched upward.  I stared in unbeleif as he glided just ten feet away where I held the net. My moment of action was getting closer.  Trying to stage in the perfect location so I could slide the rubberized fine mesh under the belly of the beast at the first opportunity.  Again he cruised towards me, not close enough and then back to the fast water.  Three times he came with-in ten feet my view of the wild steelhead before me was mesmerizing.  At 40" plus, the girth and length of this buck easily used the heavy current to wage his war on the graphite rod on the other end.  Then, a sudden surge to the middle and a heavy roll on the surface and he was gone.  The 12lb line had parted.  Neil exhasted grinned wide understanding just how rare this encounter with one of the heavy-weights of the steelhead world was.  We broke into laughter and a round of high-fives. Amazed at what we had just witnessed knowing how true the old saying- "better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all!"