Sunday, February 12, 2012

Steelheading in the Twilight Zone

As a friend and I planned my first steelhead fishing trip, the dogma almost completely consumed me with mystification, intimidation, worry, intrigue and hope. I read parts of Dec Hogan's Passion for Steelhead, and watched Ed Ward's Skagit Master and Scott Howell's Skagit Master II. I practiced my two-handed cast. I read Dylan Tomine's State of the Steelhead.

I balanced measured expectations with confidence.

Mini-panic-attacks ensued in which I would envision my spey cast collapsing in front of me while Hogan (who just happened to wander up, in this daydream) nudges his buddies and laughs heartily at my weakness. Breathe deeply...

Ah, the blissful anxiety of fishing-trip anticipation.

Our destination was Forks, Washington. By the time I was able to commit, Clay had been planning for weeks. He sacrificed many hours of catching trout to tie wacky numbers called "Intruders" and marabou tube flies, and squid and prawn patterns. He sacrificed even more hours to practicing his two-hand cast. The guy's got the fever.

And so we embarked.

Day 1: One sasquatch, zero steelhead. More like Sol Suc.

Day 2: Three hooked, one landed. No photos (sound fishy?)

Day 3: Not a bump. Hoh-slapped.

Day 4: No fish caught. No fish seen.

Day 5: Said Clay: "This might be the hardest I've ever fished." No tugs, pulls, or looks. 

Soundly defeated, in our minds. We were fully aware of the difficulty and rarity of catching coastal steelhead, but we wanted it. Meanwhile, we're seeing "Big Fish Annie" land 38-inchers a few miles from where we were fishing (where a boat is necessary) on the interwebs.

I resorted to checking my horoscope daily. I harkened upon every bit of good karma I've ever created. I prayed to any god that would listen (I don't think the steelhead gods were "in" yet). I beckoned the spirits of deceased relatives to pull some strings for me. I even thought about knocking on Lucifer's door (Satan generally requires more than one little soul for a coastal steelhead, however). Even still, I believed with the confidence of a dozen guides that I was going to catch a fish. And so we fished, almost every day-lit hour for a week.

Fish, beer, sleep. Fish, beer, sleep. Fish, beer, sleep...

Day 6: Clay gets one glorious fish on the swing. Said he: "If I'm gonna go down, I'm going down swinging." 

Clay: "This might be my best fish ever."
Cause for celebration. We made quick work of a fifth of Hornito's.

I gained 20 pounds in sog - I'm still wringing out my fingers. Several people have told me I look tired. I had a guide lecture me on how silly it is to be disappointed.

I'm shot.

It was enlightening - steelhead fishing's a different world.

On our way out of the Olympic Peninsula, we stopped at a hatchery's visitor's center. We talked to a fisheries biologist who told us among other things, that the hatchery fish were mostly back out in the ocean and the wild fish were just starting to come upriver, so there actually probably weren't too many fish in the river. At least that's what we're going with.

Since I've been home, I've already picked up Hogan's book looking for specific answers for which I now have the questions. 

I might feel a little bug coming on. Maybe.

Steelhead at 10 o'clock on the far bank.

Winter stonefly.

Clay's the ant at the top left.

Drying out.


Lefty Angler & Flies said...

Sounds like a very enjoyable trip over all! Thanks for sharing your mental condition.

Josh Bergan said...

It was a great trip. All the more reason to get back.

Dec Hogan said...

All that I can say is that was damn cool! You're a fine writer and photographer. Your account of the pursuit was a look inside ourselves. Emotions run high and deep at any level of this game. Even the most outwardly stoic among us can't hide from intense steelhead rapture - and vanquish. I would never laugh at you if, and when, your cast collapsed. Maybe with you, but never at you. Thanks for sharing.

Josh Bergan said...

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment! Your encouragement is not wasted.