|My friend Stuart with a gorgeous Salmon River fish.|
Shan, an outstanding angler and as good of fishing buddy as you could ever have, often had a saying when you were catching them and he wasn't. Comparing steelhead to sex, he always joked about how the more you caught the less special they became. "Losing their specialness" was the ongoing joke between us, which meant that you were catching a bunch. 10 years and numerous steelhead later, I have completely found this to be true. Not to say that the steelhead are not special, I know that I will never find a more amazing and rare fish, but the more you catch, the more comfortable and routine the process becomes.
This past weekend, I spent a day on the Salmon with a friend of mine from Bozeman, Stuart. Stuart and I know each other through work and had never fished together before. Where I spent years of my life on the giving end of a two handed fly rod chasing anything that swam, Stuart pursued other activities. A good caster and great guy to fish with, we swung beautiful runs for 3/4 of the day before we found any fish. We separated on a large run and I squashed the skunk with a beautiful wild fish, colored up and aggressive, it was the sign that we needed to keep spirits high.
The next run that we fished is the type of water that you would read about in your steelhead 101 book. Gliding along with a side channel to break up half of the seam, there was no question that someone was going to catch one. After several fly changes throughout the day Stuart deferred to my experience and handed over his fly box for a moment reminiscent of The Natural (Pick me out a winner Bobby). I grabbed a green butted Hohbo (aka greatest steelhead pattern of all time) and sent him on his way. 10 casts in to starting behind him, in the middle of the swinging "space out", I watched Stuart's line come tight, rod shift towards the bank, and a spunky hen skipped around on the end of his line.
Doing my best Sasquatch impersonation I scrambled down the bank in time to tail his fish, the first of the season for him. While stuart is a long ways from a steelhead newbie, you could feel his energy as he cradled the fish for a couple of quick pictures. A hatchery fish that I would normally dispatch of these days, Stuart elected to let the fish go. This choice instantly brought me back to my early steelhead seasons. I still remember fishing my favorite 509 river and throwing back hatchery fish, not wanting to club "the specialness" with a stick and put it in my cooler. To watch this excitement in a friend was incredibly rejuvenating, and a good perspective on a niche of this great sport that I can't get enough of.