Pride of the Quinault: Huge, Winter-Run Steel

Years before I saw either a steelhead or the Quinault River, they were twin obsessions dominating my imagination. I would eventually come to meet both, but at different times in my life, and under very different circumstances.

Growing up in Virginia, I exchanged a public education for outdoor magazines—the drug that maintained my addiction to the hunting and fishing world. During these years of academic oblivion, I studied the works of Joe Brooks, Jack O’Conner, Ted Trueblood, and many others. Graduating last in my class proved insignificant; during the ceremony, I was on the Shenandoah River fishing for smallmouth. What I did find significant was learning that Trueblood, the sage of Field & Stream, fished for steelhead on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. My beloved Grandfather Cotton lived there, too, in Port Townsend, the small Victorian town on the Peninsula’s northeast coast. Grandfather introduced me to flyfishing before I was old enough to wear long pants, and he told me that he’d once caught a 20-pound steelhead from Snow Creek, a nearby stream running into Discovery Bay. Everything these two men said was gospel, and I believed they knew all that was worth knowing. I wanted nothing more than to grow into adulthood living their legend.

I attended a small Quaker college in southern California; a good fit for students pursuing in-the-field studies. But by late in my sophomore year I was suffering from population fatigue, and dreaded the thought of waiting two more years before moving to Washington. Like a war prisoner, I crossed each day off the calendar and began planning my escape from the millions of people living on the freeways. Studying a road map of Washington State reduced my anxiety. Starting at Port Townsend and then radiating out, I memorized every land and water designation, especially those with Indian names. Running my finger over squiggly red lines—roads leading to rivers that I would one day fish—became a liberating daily routine...

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