The Highs and Lows of Steelheading

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I am very lucky. I fish a lot. I even get to take a week off and search for steelhead in far away places, two steps and one swing at a time. My latest trip took me and M back to Idaho. Our destination was the Clearwater River around Orofino. While this is classic steelhead water, prime time to fly fish this river is not winter. Late fall is preferred since the warmer water temps mean the fish are more willing to move to a swung fly. But when you don't have steelhead in your home waters, you have to search for them whenever you can, and sometimes that means winter in Idaho. Our fishing trips are far from a luxury experience. Just getting away from work for a week is a stretch (paid vacation is not a thing in the bike mechanic world). We opt for campgrounds rather than hotels, and tailgate meals over going out. But at this point in my life, that is just fine.  Would they call it a pickup bed if it wasn't meant for sleeping in? As such, I'm renaming the tail-gate: its now referred to as the table gate. Start using that term, it will catch on.

I met M downstream of Orofino. I just love that first moment of getting to a river, especially on a long awaited trip. I can hardly contain myself. Throw on fishing gear, and practically run to the shore. M had been fishing for 2 days already without much luck. To my surprise, he had just released a steelhead a few minutes before I arrived. As if I needed any more stoke.

And so begins the slow progression of a steelhead trip. I know the chances of catching are low, but somehow the process, anticipation, and rewards keep me excited and coming back for more. Days slow into a unrecognizable pattern of eating, casting, warming, repeat. Most nights we struggle to make it to 8:00pm before finally finding the only relaxing part of the day: the sleeping bag. In a routine filled with wading, rain, and the intense focus of casting, you really never get a chance to relax all your muscles. There is always some sort of shiver, neck strain, foot numbness, or arm contortion to get that perfect swing.  The stinky fart sack that is the down sleeping bag becomes heaven.

Fast foreword to day 6. M landed the biggest fish of his life, a beautiful native buck. I have yet to get as much as a bite. When I tell people I'm going on a week long fishing trip, they respond with things like "wow, you are going to catch a ton of fish!" Its hard describing why I love fishing, or steelheading so much. Why I'll take a week off of work to spend in miserable conditions and not even get a bite much less catch a fish. The only thing I know for sure is that while driving home along the Clearwater, I couldn't help but point out nice looking water, wishing I was waist deep in that 34 degree water, dreaming of my next steelhead trip.

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