Wednesday, May 4, 2016

My First Steelhead Fishing Trip

Catching an Idaho steelhead has always been up toward the top of my "To-Do" list, but I had never even fished for them until a couple of weeks ago.  Year after year I would see my friends come back from their trips and talk about their adventures while fishing for steelhead.  I was envious of the stories, I coveted the fish they would bring back, and yearned for the adventure.

A couple of weeks ago I broke down and asked a buddy if I could tag along with him on his next day trip to chase after these fish.  We spent the next few days getting me set up with the right gear, and coached up on how to fish for these picky eaters.  These steelhead at this point of the run don't have huge appetites, but mostly eat something if it is put right in front of them just out of convenience and survival.  We put together multiple presentations and pre-rigged a lot of different items up to save on time while on the water.  The night before we took off my buddy said one thing that will stick with me about steelhead fishing... he said, "I just hope you don't get discouraged if you don't catch anything tomorrow, stick with it and it'll become a passion."
The next morning we took off at 3:00 a.m. and made it to the river around 8:00 a.m.  We both excitedly grabbed our fishing rods and enthusiastically cast out into the current hoping for quick hook up.  I'll admit, my hopes had been building for the past few days and had reached an all time high as soon as my line hit the water... Cast after cast after cast, I kept thinking this would be the one... I envisioned a large buck steelhead swimming upstream and grabbing my bait as it crossed in front of his face at just the right time.

Sadly my hope slowly diminished a little with every cast... hours passed with nothing but an occasional snag on the bottom.  I was starting to consider if waking up at 2:30 was really worth casting for hours and hours without even a bite on the other end, when all of a sudden my buddy hollered, "fish on".   I ran to get net and rushed to the side of my friend to help him land the first fish of the day,  He told me that it wasn't a big fish but it was at least a steelhead so he wasn't going to complain.  We netted his fish and made sure it was a hatchery fish before handling it too much.  Here in Idaho if you catch a native steelhead it will have it's adipose fin and needs to be released.  We snapped a few pictures, he notched his tag, and then we both set back at it in hopes of catching another fish... unfortunately that was the only fish of the day.  We fished for 10 hours straight and I hadn't gotten a single bite let a lone catch that big buck steelhead I was after...
On the long drive home I did a lot of thinking.  I didn't even see a lot of fish caught so it was hard for me to consider going back and giving it another shot.  A few days later I was chatting with my uncle about my experience and he told me that my experience was unfortunately not too uncommon when it comes to steelhead fishing.  I'll admit, even though this wasn't my first time hearing that many steelhead fishermen can go days without landing a single fish, I was hoping my luck would be better than it was.  Talking to my uncle didn't get me any more excited to get back out steelheading but something inside me made me view this goal as more of a challenge. I was determined to get back out there and prove that I wasn't just going to give up on my dream of catching a note worthy steelhead.

About two weeks after my first attempt at steelhead fishing, I was able to plan another trip to get back over there.  Once again I left at 3 in the morning and drove for hours before stopping at a local gas station close to where we would fish.  My uncle and I grabbed a few snacks and hit the road, before we could even get 2 miles away from the gas station, a dumb deer decided to run out in front of my car... We hit the brakes and tried to miss it, but before we knew it the deer and my car had a less than pleasant introduction to each other...

We pulled off the road to assess the damage and do our surprise the radiator wasn't punctured.  I had a lot of damage to the body of my car but it was still driveable.  My heart sank because this was the car my wife and I both use to commute to work every day to save money on gas.  I was already pinching pennies to justify going on another steelhead trip let alone make car repairs.  We gathered up a few of the random pieces of my car that were scattered all over the road and then drove to where we were going to go fishing.  Everyone grabbed their gear and headed right to the river.  I sat in my car and sulked in my own little pity party while beating myself up for driving all the way over here to try and catch a fish which I was probably going to fish all day for and still leave empty handed.  After feeling sorry for myself I finally got annoyed enough to just get out on the river and try to fish my problems away.

It didn't take long for a few people around us to pull in a few great fish.  The jealousy and frustration were getting a bit hard for me to hold in.  Soon, my uncle hooked into a good fish and hollered at me to grab the net.  I ran over and helped him pull in a great male steelhead! Watching him catch that fish lifted my spirits just a little to give me that sense of hope I was needing.
I hit the river again cast after cast in hopes of fulfilling my goal.  I cast out and let my line start drifting down through the current.  I felt my weight bumping across the bottom of the river and then I felt a slight tug on the other end! I set the hook and felt the other end start to pull back in resistence.  I took a step back to get on dry ground and begin my fight in hopes of landing the fish I was seeking after... as I took that step back, I stepped on a frosted over piece of drift wood that was sitting on the bank of the river... between my wet boots and the frosted drift wood I lost my balance and fell backward.  My tacklebox that was right behind me broke my fall but of course also broke open and threw all my beads, leaders, bobbers, and all of my other gear into the air.

Needless to say, with all this ruckus, I had brought a lot of attention to myself by this point and I now had a mixture of laughter and words of encouragement helping me land the fish I was still fighting... or the fish I thought I was fighting... As I rushed to get back on my feet, I heard a fisherman other side of the river say, "Sorry bud I think I hooked your line"... As if I wasn't already having a bad day, this was just the final straw.  I sat there muddy, sore, frustrated, embarrassed, and flat out discouraged.  If I hadn't have driven my uncle all the way over here I may have packed up and left at this point.  I spent the next 20-30 minutes cleaning up all my gear, re-tying my set up, and thinking to myself how this had been one of my worst days fishing I had ever had.

Eventually I decided things couldn't get much worse so I might as well start fishing again so right back at it I went.  Once again people around us caught a few, and then my uncle was able to land another good fish.  The discouragement started to sink in again so I decided to take a break and eat some food.  My uncle and I chatted a bit and he decided to take a break for a while.  He sat for about an hour or so while I fished in the same spot he had just caught two great fish.  Unfortunately my luck wasn't changing.  My uncle decided that after over an hour he was ready to give it another shot, he grabbed his rod, walked over to where I was standing and cast out... almost as fast as his line hit the water, he set the hook and yelled, "fish on!"  I wasn't even happy for him, all I wanted to do was throat punch him and steal his rod.  I resisted the urge to yell out profanity and proceeded to grab the net.  This fish was different, it was staying deep and fighting hard! He fought it for a good 20 minutes before we were able to land it.  Once in the net we realized it was a wild steelhead so we quickly unhooked it, snapped a few pictures, and then let it go.  My uncle apologized for catching another fish and told me that it was literally just luck.  I pretended not to care and quickly grabbed my rod to get back to fishing.

My second cast after my uncle caught his wild steelhead, I felt something bump my line.  I set the hook like I had done a million times before and expected the same result as if it were just my weight drifting into a rock or what not, but this time I knew I was into a fish.  As soon as I set the hook I felt the head shakes of a heavy fish on the other end of my line.  Quickly my drag started pealing away and I knew I had finally hooked into a steelhead.  My uncle grabbed the net and I began the fight to get this fish in.  The whole time I was praying that I wouldn't lose this fish and also praying that this may make my horrible day somewhat bearable.   Just as we were able to get my fish into the net, I finally let my guard down and started to show some real excitement.  The rush that went through me was amazing.  With all of the negative emotions I had been dealing with, landing this fish was the complete opposite feeling I had been juggling for the past 8 hours.  What a relief.  What a rush, What a fish... I took some photos, notched my tag, and sat down for a well deserved break from 18 hours of fishing before I landed my first steelhead.

I'll admit, if I had caught that steelhead on my first trip with the first few hours I don't think I would have appreciated it as much.  I have caught a lot of fish in my life but this fish is something special to me.  I can see what draws fishermen to keep going back to chase these amazing fish.  Not everyone has to go through the adversity of wrecking their car, breaking their tackle box, and public humiliation before landing their first steelhead, but every fish has a story to tell.  These fish are not fish you catch every day.  I'm hooked, I can guarantee I'll be back out there trying to catch a steelhead again.  I may make someone else drive, but I can't wait to get back out there to try my luck again with these great fish!
27 3/4" long and 12" girth