- Thomas McGuane catches the last steelhead
- Rock Creek, MT
- Michigan carp
- Maine brookies
- Wyoming cutties
- Wisconsin pike
- New York Albies
- peacocks in the canals
- anchovies in the bay
- stripers in the surf
- Trey Combs
- Baja roosters
- midge over mayfly
- Bighorn over everything
- Charles Bukowski goes steelheading
- and David DiBenedetto goes crazy
The water’s surface is oily and shiny and silver and orange. The outgoing tide is tepid, with the current passing between your legs being the only indication that you’re wading, because the water is the same temperature as your shaking, nervous body.
“Remember to breathe.”
Vision drifting in and out, eyes straining for focus. Legs are wavering, shrinking into the soft mud and grass. Your heartbeat is growing.The flyline is pulling against your hand; being dragged backward by the current. Sweat drips from your head to the cork grip of the rod.
“Get ready for the shot. Get ready. Concentrate. Look. Focus.”
A spike rises from the surface, flaring, pink, purple and black… then another… then another...
“This is it. Go-Go-Go!”
The silence is broken by the woosh of the fly rod as the line rips from the water’s oily grip and the weighted crab lands with a plop to the side of the school. The spikes straighten and turn...
Strip… Strip… Strip…
Hands are fumbling, slipping, and shaking. There’s no breathing.
The surging tail lifts and stabs into the air. The line tightens…
It isn’t those first, crisp, mahogany-spinner mornings that get me, the ones ending with a warm afternoon and a few straggler hoppers still clicking. It’s the days that come a couple weeks later, after the onset of frost, when the first nasty cold front under low-lying clouds makes you hustle through the wadering process because it’s painful not to. You can only hope, on mornings like this, that the day might warm by afternoon. But it’ll probably snow instead.
The details we tend to romanticize when we think of fall—which may have described the place just a few weeks earlier—no longer apply. The ambers and magentas are mostly gone, and the rich smell of decay that typifies the season can still be found aloft, but only by inhaling large amounts of air and sifting through the minimal contents. What we are left with, primarily, is a cold and sterile smell signaling the beginning of the end. This is what gets those big browns moving. And it has a similar effect on me.
Members of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe will tell you that 100-pound Chinook salmon once returned to their namesake river on the northeastern tip of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. While no one can substantiate the existence of these behemoths, one thing is certain: The construction of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams between 1913 and 1927 cut off Chinook, pink, chum, sockeye, and silver salmon, as well as steelhead, sea-run cutts, and other anadromous fish from nearly 70 miles of traditional spawning habitat in the cold, fast-running reaches of the upper river and its tributaries, reducing fish stocks to a shadow of their pre-dam abundance. Estimates place pre-dam adult salmon returns at nearly 400,000 fish; currently, fewer than one percent of those fish return.