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!"