I moved away from Oregon in 2014, and after a crazy year in southern California, I wound up, thankfully, back in the state that has always felt like home to me – Montana. When I lived in Oregon, steelhead fishing was a huge part of my life, a true passion, and something that I dedicated countless hours and days to. From mid-July through late-November, it was nearly all-consuming. I called it the “summer run”, after the steelhead we fished for, and because of my own manic devotion to the pursuit. Even in winter we searched for steelhead with our flies. Twelve months a year.
Towards the end of my time in Oregon, though, I found my passion waning as my friends and I watched steelhead numbers around our region declining more and more every year. When I moved away from Oregon, I left behind a lot of that passion for steelhead fishing. Since then, my beloved summer run rivers have seen even poorer returns. Other things have occupied my life, including a new son and a rejuvenated interest in trout fishing, which I am surrounded by close to home. The poor returns of steelhead haven’t been enough to motivate me to make the long drive or flight west from MT to steelhead country.
My last steelhead fishing trip was in October 2016. I got skunked for 4 days, alongside some of the most experienced steelheaders I’ve ever known.
I caught my last few steelhead in October 2015, on a roadtrip over to Idaho and Washington, nearly four years ago.
Recently, I tied a huge batch of steelhead flies for Joe Moore and his crew of anglers who are travelling to British Columbia this April. The flies I’ve been tying for them are some the same ones that I used to fish with confidence across the Pacific Northwest when I was so engrossed in the pursuit. As the dozens stacked up on my tying bench, and the marabou stains on my fingers grew more pronounced, my mind wandered back to the old days. So many good memories came back, not just of great steelhead hooked and landed or lost, but of time with great friends in fishing camps, freezing or burning up, dehydrated, tired, delirious, but also happy. I dug through some old photos. Most of all, I thought about what it feels like to swing one of those big flies through a run, the tension of the line just right, the sink tip curving down and away in that perfect “slow J” shape, and the sudden, expected-yet-unexpected, heavy pull of a fish that has filled your thoughts and dreams for so long.
The pull that I haven’t felt in so long. The pull of a fish, but also the pull of the river, and of the camaraderie and friendships among steelheaders.
A few dozen flies into the batch, I felt that pull again. And it felt pretty good.
Take Care and Fish On,
PS – This essay first appeared on the frontpage at Sexyloops.com where I’m a regular contributor.