Do winter steelhead exist? Semi-credible eye-witnesses (aka The Mule) say yes, though photo evidence remains elusive. Conspiracy nuts say these “winter steelhead” are a collective hysteria, a mass hallucination perpetuated by ODFW and the Oregon Tackle Shop Lobby. Like many mythical creatures (Bigfoot, Unicorns, etc) men have risked life and domestic harmony to return from the wild with one of these in captivity.
Last weekend, Wild Bill and I scouted out a small coastal tributary in search of aforementioned fish, with no success. We comforted ourselves with the steelhead chaser’s lament, “They aren’t in yet, let’s get a beer.” The Mule and I did one better the following day and managed to at least see one of them, though I have to admit, I didn’t see the fish with my own eyes. I saw the splash. Which could have been from the Mule kicking a rock into the pool while his rig was snagged on the bottom of the river.
To hear him tell it: A blimp-like steelhead, fat from eating eggs and salmon flesh the past month watched his giant cured egg blob drift past. Infuriated by The Mule’s offering, it swam downstream and snarfed the eggball into its mouth. The Mule jammed his 1/0 hook into the steelhead’s face, at which point it shot up from the bottom of the river to spit the rig back into The Mule’s face. Like I said, all I saw was a splash.
But it was more action than I was getting, so will make a statement and I would like some help in keeping my promise. From now until the day I can catch winter steelhead at my whim, I will no longer bring a goddamn fly rod on the water. That’s right — I’m going gear-head. Bust out the corkies and the yarn balls, the borax and the bobbers. I am not fishing with flies for salmon or steelhead until I’m at least catching 1-2 fish per month on gear. At that point, I can decide if I enjoy catching fish more than I enjoy not catching fish with a fly rod. For now, I really don’t have a baseline.
Granted, I spend about half that time chasing dwindling stocks of wild fish, and the other half fishing shitty river conditions, but I think I’m about 0-8. At a certain point, it’s just hanging out in the rain waving a stick.
So if you see me on the bank or in your boat with my six-weight and a polar shrimp, and I can’t produce photographic evidence of having caught at least a couple steelhead in the previous weeks, please slap me in the face with the fish in your boat and call me a goddamn idiot.
Photo Note: Check out that beautiful old growth sprawled out over the creek. That sucker is going to provide some prime habitat for young salmon and steelhead smolts. And those dead salmon provide some nice protein for the bugs that feed those fish, as well as nutrients for the trees. Don’t let any WOPR-pushing bastard tell you different. That biomass isn’t going to waste.