That next morning we did what we didn't know at the time would be the morning ritual for the next 8 days.
4am wake up
Tailgate french press
Bagel and cream cheese
Hike to your spot and sit in the tall grass until the sun comes up
When legal fishing time struck I took a step into the cool river and started throwing out my poly leader to fish the water up close before I started to step my way through the run. I peeled off some more line and now was throwing about half my scandi head. I peeled off a couple more feet just so the end of my scandi head was touching my rod tip. My cast layed out a bit less than 45 degrees and I mended the back eighth of my shooting head to get my swing just right. About 1/3 the way through my swing my 2 foot shock loop was absolutely ripped from my middle and index fingers and my reel was singing before I could even lift the rod. It felt like i was just struck by lightning.
"FISH" I yelled (not really evening believing what was happening)
By now the fish was deep into my backing and I was sprinting full speed tripping over sharp boulders on my way down stream in effort to catch up. My 6wt was no match for this hot fish. But somehow I caught up and Dan was able to leader grab her after a couple more runs.
"LOOK AT IT"
"WHAT THE FUCK DUDE"
*high fives* (some missed and some landed)
I never thought a hatchery fish would make us so damn happy but contrary to popular belief some of us michiganders have utmost respect for real steelhead rivers. It was pretty cool to make it happen in one even though this wasn't the true wild steelhead we came to find.
So we fished the rest of the morning and did what you're suppose to do after catching the first fish of the trip.
We took our siesta and got back to it in the afternoon to learn more water and get more sun burnt in the scorching heat.
As easy as it would be to go back to the same spot and try our luck again the next morning we wanted to make it happen somewhere else so found ourselves fishing a different stretch the next morning. The sun was starting to get high and I lost my confidence it was going to happen two mornings in a row. The first one was definitely lucky to have eaten with my head still touching my rod tip anyways.
"YEEEEEEEEEHAWWWWW" I hear coming from up stream
"FISH??" I said while looking upstream in Dan's direction.
He didn't need to respond because when I looked I saw a red striped male tail walking downstream
Another hatchery, but we were now both on the board and were pretty high up in cloud 9. We left to celebrate again. Made breakfast. Siesta.
We had some time to burn again before the sun went down so we tried a different stretch of river. My car couldn't make it down the path so we hiked all our camp gear for 2 days down the mountainside.
About an hour into our hike down this local driving a silver tacoma went by and told us to put our stuff in to help us down the last bit. He drove like a fucking animal down the side of the mountain and was high as a kite. But I kept quiet thinking he'd done it a million times.
We made it down to what we would call home for the next few days and set up and got to learning some new water. We fished hard and at dark I found myself swinging a juicy run I made a mental note of.
The wind eventually picked up more than I've ever fished in. I really like throwing single spey darts into harsh upstream winds but there was a point when I had to roll cast my line down stream to straighten it out and the wind ended up blowing it 30 feet up into the trees. I just looked at it up there, made fun of myself and we went back to camp to rest.
We woke up the next morning and I walked to that juicy spot under starlight (or at least what I thought was juicy).
Dan was about 200 yards down river and I was 3 stepping my way through the run when I got a hard grap half way through my swing.
The fish ate again in the last third and pulled my loop and started singing drag. I lifted and right when I did the chrome fish did a series of cartwheels and runs that would put some olympic divers to shame.
*fish is tail walking*
*fish is ripping drag down stream*
"DANNNNN fish on!!"
*Dan still hasn't looked up and and probably dancing to some taylor swift tune down stream*
I finally felt wore out after chasing the fish down stream and when I was able to tame it in a eddy I yelled once more time all exhausted to Dan.
"Do you have a fish on?" He finally looked up and said.
"Yeah come up here!"
"Is it even a steelhead?" Dan said after shooting another cast out.
"Yeah dude get your ass up here!" I yelled after the battle royale that just took place.
I leader grabbed it and immediately saw the prize between its dorsal fin and its tail we drove 4,800 miles to find.
When I held this wild steelhead in my hands it gave me the sweetest feeling in the entire world. That wild fishes genetics are responsible for getting me into fly fishing back home to catch my first "steelie" on the Pere marquette river. That wild fish represents a journey, rich history, survival, and evolution at its finest that no stocked or hatchery fish could ever come close to doing. I let it slip from my hands quickly and watched it cruise back to the deep water. We both felt a sense of calmness, and a lot of excitement.
We then continued to fish hard the next few days at this location
I saw a group of about 30 big horns climb up this mountain one morning while swinging the run below it.
We eventually ran out of food. And even worse; ran out of beer. So we hiked our stuff up the mountain side. I liked to think we're two fit guys but we had to take 4 breaks before we even made it 3/4ths the way up.
Then we saw that silver tacoma owned by the baked dude who drove like an animal. We walked up to it and realized the old gentleman almost killed himself while driving down the river that morning. Never seen anything like this before..
The rest of the trip I kinda stopped documenting as much and truly started to enjoy where I was to its fullest. Dan and I both landed a few more fish which was more than a cherry on top of our early success.
Instead of documenting every moment with my camera I would simply look at it and remember not only its appearance but my surroundings, and how it made me feel.
After landing a hatchery fish at a new spot I walked about a mile back to the car down the peaceful, still shaded road to wait for Dan and stillsteamin (who just showed up to join, and will have quite the story to share himself).
I had only fished for about an hour that morning and until that point Dan and I had been fishing essentially nonstop for the past 5 days. I took the cooler out of my car to sit on while using my car as a back rest. I looked at the river valley and made some more tailgate french press.
I also opened up a book and began to read.
I thought to myself how this is probably the most relaxed I've ever been in my entire life. I had two of my best friends fishing the river below me. I had a good book, I had the mountains, I had coffee brewing. Everything was perfect and it took me calling myself a pussy a couple time to refrain from getting all emotional (and shit). It was kinda surreal.
After catching that fish it put me in a state of calmness I've never achieved. I noted to myself that maybe one day I'll be able to get there without having to land a few fish, like maybe Average Joe.
I told myself that I'm still young though and have much more to learn about this river, my good friends, and myself.