First Steelhead

Six o’clock in the morning and the alarm goes off on a crisp January morning. I pry myself from the covers and pull my clothes on in the dark; the pale twilight of dawn will not show for another hour. The scent of fresh brewed coffee fills the apartment as I gather my fly rod, fly box, and waders. I set myself down in front of my computer to check the river levels and weather forecast as I down a bowl of oatmeal and sip some coffee. “This is the day,” I tell myself; a sense of anticipation wells up inside of me as I prepare myself to hit the Rocky River and chase steelhead.

After a short drive, I climb into my 5mm neoprene waders and tie my wading boots. The sky blooms rose colored clouds as the dawn brightens, casting a rosy light on the river. I am one of only a few who have arrived. This is good, as I have a chance to having a section of the river to myself, rather than battling the combat fisherman who fill the shores. Another SUV pulls in with a couple guys eyeing the spot that I’m planning to start wading into: the bridge spanning the river above the marina, which yields several prime holding spots for steelhead. I must hurry and tie-in before these yahoos beat me to my spot.

I glance down at the stained water flow to make a determination how I would set up my line. Judging from the flow, I would use a sink tip and my last black and blue Signature Intruder. I tie the fastest blood knot I can tie, test it, and it holds strong and true. I quickly tie my Intruder on, lock up the van and head down to the trail leading down to the river. I smile at one of the recent arrivals and have some brief smalltalk. Cleverly, I let them know where I will be wading so he will get the hint that I was here first. Heh-heh!

I wade only a couple feet into the water and start casting across, letting the fly swing down and across. I cast a few more times and notice others starting to fill the bank downstream for me. I will need to work myself further into the stream to avoid casting over the other people’s casts. I work my way past a small riffle and cast the line upstream of a small bar and some shale boulders. The line came to a dead stop as I hooked up on a rock or a branch. A few careful tugs and my fly was free. Casting a good double-haul to place the swing slightly past this area, I let the fly swing, leveled my rod horizontal so I could detect even the slightest strike. I let my arm relax, but only long enough to feel the shake and tug of something alive on the other end of my line. My breath caught in my throat as I raised the rod to set the hook, then there was nothing. There was resistance, but I couldn’t feel anything. I felt another slight shake and then stillness. I bent my rod double, and but for the shaking of the line at the other end, I would have thought I had hooked into a rock. For a moment I thought I did when someone shouted from the other side of the river, “Do you got one?” I couldn’t answer, because I really didn’t know.

As if to answer the question, a silver bullet burst from the surface of the water.  My first steelhead!   I was smiling from ear to ear as I lowered the rod tip during the hen’s aerial display.  The 24″ hen’s side flashed a bright silver with a pink stripe painted down her lateral line.  I held onto my rod with both hands as the rod tip bent over double.  The fish went deep, found a rock and locked itself in place.  She started to run for a short burst, causing me to set the drag in vain, as I couldn’t get it to set just right.  With patience and determination I tried coaxing the stubborn fish out of the run, but it would not move.  It didn’t run or shake, but fixed itself firmly to the bottom.   She was certainly stubborn, but I was determined after 5 years of chasing this fish to not let her get away.

Five minutes into the fight (I can’t really say it was a fight, because it behaved more like a 25 lb rock that sunk to the bottom of the river), I managed to coax the fish closer to the shoreline.  It started swimming into a run slightly to my left, gave the line a shake, shaking the fly out of her mouth.  Gone!  I reeled my line in and found the fly still tied to the tippet.  My heart sank slightly, but the thrill of hooking into a steelhead for the first time had taken a firmer hold.  My first steelhead!

I made my way back to the place I was previously, but another fly fisherman was then standing directly behind me.  No doubt, he was waiting for me to move on.  Unfortunately he was distracting me from making a decent backcast because I didn’t want to hook into him.  After a few foul casts, I lost my Intruder fly to a rock, tried tying in a new fly, and the interloper had taken my place.

I waded back to the shoreline and decided to take some time to reflect on such an accomplishment.  I also needed to do something very important.  I reached into my side-pocket of my coat for my cellphone, called my dad and my wife and told them the news.

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About Justin Rosander

I am a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. I enjoy playing mainly guitar, uilleann bagpipes, and keyboard. I am a student of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and a Stephen R. Lawhead fan. My wife and I are gamers, and enjoy playing Lord of the Rings Online. When I am not spending time with my loving wife and wonderful son, I am on the river fly fishing, my favorite sport. I especially enjoy fly fishing for steelhead, the fish of a thousand casts.
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