A hot cup of coffee steams up the windows as I pull off the side of the road and listen to the snow crunch under my tires. My head spinning while I dream of what the near future holds for me. Today, I hope the conditions are right. "Please, let the water have a little murk, but not too much. Give me a current that flows just enough, but not too strong." With growing concern that perhaps the overnight temperatures placed a layer of razor-sharp shelf ice along my favorite holes, I ponder: "What if I'm unable to get the proper drifts with my float? Do I have an alternate plan in mind? What other creeks or rivers may be right if this one fails? Do I stay and risk not catching anything if I don't hook a fish in the first hour? I don't want to commit too much to an area if the bite isn't on."
Steelhead fishing will drive you insane. Fished them before? Yeah, you understand. The ghosts of the waters. The fish we spend years and years trying to understand, just to go out and get skunked after we think we have them figured out. What an incredible target. What a desirable goal. It doesn't matter how many we have caught in the past; it only takes a drop of the float or the wiggle of the rod tip to get our blood pressure sky high. Return with me to my morning...
I quickly put my waders on (thinking I can beat the cold) and reach for my coffee to warm my insides. Ahhh. That's it. With rod in hand, and a quick swing of the net and backpack, it's down the dark trail, careful not to trip over the numerous fallen trees that have succumb to winter's treachery. Pressure is building. The excitement is like no other. Guiding my way through the darkness, I feel like I would imagine these steelhead do after a warm spring rain; eager to make it to gravel, they push relentlessly, putting aside the threat of predators, yet maintaining a stealthy and ghastly existence. I do the same this morning. Regardless of the exposed roots and the icy embankments, I trudge on at an unnatural rate almost recklessly. Tripping and slipping, racing to my destination.
This is how it works every time I steelhead fish. It's funny. My other hobbies, they come, they go, but this one is different. It's adrenaline only comparable to the thought of winning the Powerball after purchasing a ticket. I've been steelhead fishing for about 11 years now and can't imagine life without these moments anymore. It's my drug. We continue...
Finally, as not to disturb the edge of the creek, I slowly lower myself into the water and await the sunrise. At the first possible moment, when my eyes begin to adjust slightly to my surroundings, I cast. It's dead still. Silent. The float, the sinker, the bait of choice. All three hit the water independently and begin their trip down the creek. The first cast is always the most exciting. Be it the first of a particular hole, or the first cast in two weeks, they are equal in value. I reel in and cast once again. This time, bobber down! The hookset tells me I've found myself an unwanted catch. A log. My mind returns to panic, "If my line snaps, I have to waste this perfect moment re-tying, or worse yet, it may create a disturbance and spook a fish." SNAP! I reel in what is left. I re-tie and consider a color change. "No, I'm sticking with this one."
Five or six casts go by, each targeting a different seam, or a different part of the run. I cast the line to the front of the run and it drifts over a spot already targeted another time. I know this run. If the float drops here, it's a fish for sure! It travels another two feet and vanishes beneath the surface. I swing the rod to set the hook and immediately am gifted with a flash of silver at the other end. It's on!
The head shakes begin slow and after a few seconds, this fish realizes that he is in a fight for his life. He darts and jumps! After giving me a show he returns to the depths of the run and begins coiling in the murky water. Forward and back, he thrashes and spins to release the meal he now regrets having eaten. However, I am just as nervous. Making certain to not allow this beast to push me into a log jam or snap the line on a screaming run. I check my drag; perfect. Over the next 5 minutes he rolls and kicks until finally, the struggle slows and I coax him toward me with net in hand. As I slide it beneath his body, relief runs over me. It's done. Just one fight and my day is made. An opportunity, a challenge, an unrelenting desire; fulfilled.
Get out and feel the power. The serenity of the winter is breathtaking. Add a steelhead to your morning, and the addiction will fuel you time and time again.