BY JD RICHEY
Steelhead haunt my dreams and run through my veins. They have taken me to the top of the mountain and they have broken my heart. I’ve bled for them, I’ve frozen for them and I’ve driven, flown, hiked and floated thousands and thousands of miles for them… and there’s not a single day of the year that I don’t think about them.
What makes a person feel this way about a fish?
Well, I was once doing a phone interview with a writer from a big East Coast magazine. From his cozy office in New York City, he asked me what it was that made steelhead fishing such a special sport.
It was hard for me to answer. I mean, with steelhead… you either get it or you don’t. There are so many deep-seeded feelings and emotions for me that are tied to these fish that it’s almost impossible to articulate in a way that somebody on the outside can understand.
So, I spat out the first thing to come to mind:
“I fish for steelhead so I can see them up close…”
And then, I just got on a roll and rattled off a total unabated stream of consciousness…
I fish for steelhead because I want to get as close to them as I can. I feel that they are like fine art, each one to be viewed quietly, taken in and remembered. I told him that I have never felt more alive and in touch with the world – and myself – as when I’m standing in a misty canyon, with a ribbon of emerald flowing in front of me.
Steelhead make me straight up crazy. Even on dry land, I can close my eyes and literally feel what that moment of first contact is like, that initial tight-line surge. And I can make my heart rate jump by simply imagining a float going under, or a plug rod going off. Oh man… the plug takedown of a steelhead… WOW… if that doesn’t get your juices flowing, you’d better check your pulse because you’re probably dead.
Steelhead make me want to follow every single anadramous river from the mouth to the source – and then float right back down them again. They make me think irrational thoughts like maybe I should just sell the house and get a toy hauler that fits a drift boat and hit the open road… and never come back! They drive me to drink; they drive me to the limits – mentally, physically, emotionally. Steelhead make me wear the numbers off my credit cards and sometimes pull the hairs out of my head.
They give me this insatiable desire to fix all the damage that has been done to the rivers they call home. They drive me to pick up trash, fight for flows, plant trees and dump spawning gravel by the truckload into the water.
Steelhead are the fish I’d miss Christmas for and the reason I got married during the offseason. They give me sweaty palms and weak knees. Though I’ve probably shaved at least a year off my life expectancy due to all the junk food consumed on steelie road trips, I also believe that every day you fish for steelhead is one you get to tack onto the end. And speaking of the end, if I had a choice, I’d go steelhead fishing on my last day on the planet. I’ve informed my family what to do when my time is about up: Take me to the top of some whitewater gorge with a drift boat and a couple rods. No need for a life jacket or a shuttle… it will be my last ride. Hopefully, there will be a couple biters along the way!
Steelhead are responsible for all the drift and float and plug and fly and center pin rods… the jigs and stacks of Pip’s and boxes of plugs; the BC Steels and the spinner boxes; the Slinkies and pink worms; the two deflated pontoon boats; the Fish Pills all over the floor; the nets and waders and boots and pink-stained fridge – all of which essentially make my garage completely useless to terrestrial vehicles. They’ve also ruined many a potentially productive day in the office… all it takes is a mere photo or a text from somebody on the river and I’m worthless the rest of the afternoon.
Steelhead are why my favorite color is green – because it reminds me of the perfect hue of a river just coming into shape and the giant redwoods that stand on its banks. And because of the dorsal color of one of those awesome looking bucks that’s transitioning from ocean chrome to river camo – olive back and a faint pink cheek and stripe peeking out from silver flanks.
In short, steelhead are epic, nearly indescribable critters that make me tick and dream and feel alive.
I’m not at all too sure that interviewer from the East Coast ever truly got or fully understood the message… but whoever has spent any time pursuing these beautiful creatures, I bet you all do…
If you’d like to learn how to fish for steelhead, check out JD’s book and course on the subject here: www.fishwithjdstore.com