Our second day on the OP found us enjoying clear skies, moderate temperatures, a noticeably lower and clearer river, and all of the hallmarks of a non-productive day of steelhead fishing.
This would have been disappointing, were it not for not for several obvious truths:
I was fishing a river in the legendary rain forest of the Olympic Peninsula.
Yesterday was yet another good (sober) day added to the mountain of good days days I've been collecting
I'd had a bona fide grab yesterday
...on a fly I'd tied myself
My spey casting, while no work of art, was getting noticeably better.
We launched the raft, fishing some of the same runs we'd hit the day before, getting aced out of others by anglers who arrived at them before we did, and fishing new water that had been occupied yesterday, but not today. The raft served as a taxi, delivering us from one swing run to the next. Occasionally, Ryan would have us nymphing the water in between runs. I'm a lefty and hadn't brought a single-hander with me, so Ryan set me up with one of his. Of course, his rods were set up exactly the opposite of my own, a consideration that I gave little heed to at the time.
It sounds ungrateful to say it this way, but the day wore on. We worked good water and worked it well, with no hint of any active fish at all.
By 2:00 or so, we arrived at the run where I'd had the grab the day before. My enthusiasm renewed, I worked it systematically from top to bottom with no love. I then switched flies, dropped in at the head of the run again, and swung it top to bottom again.
It was now pushing 4:30, and we got back in the raft which we'd left at the top of the run. Ryan said "Thanks for sticking with it, man." I think he could sense my fatigue, and offered what encouragement he could. He then suggested that we put away the spey rods and nymph the same run before we moved to the next.
He gave me his eight weight rod, I hucked the nymph and indicator and tossed in a mend, and we floated perhaps 50 yard when the indicator jolted toward the bottom.
"Set! Strip, strip STRIP!!" he cried. I did all of the above, and a *very* heavy fish decided he wanted no part of this game.
I've lost count of the number of trout I've caught on this exact same setup. However, this time there were two key differences. First, this fish was far bigger, and far hotter, than any trout I've ever hooked. Secondly, and more critical to this story, is that the handle on the reel was on the wrong side. I was momentary and completely at a loss for how I would transfer the rod from my left hand to my right without having it yanked from my grasp...
...and just like that, my line went slack. My friend and my guide were both silent, whether out of respect or frustration I could not tell. I reeled up, and saw that the number 2 Gamakatsu Octopus hook had been bent open significantly.
Little was said. Ryan dropped the anchor and tied on a fresh hook ("can't trust that one" he said) and after re-rigging, we slid perhaps another 50 yards downstream when my buddy hooked up. However, a quick headshake later and that fish came unbutton. Two steelhead in fifty yards.
We were laughing at how our fortunes had turned, when my indicator shot down yet again. Having just been burned by my inability to act fast enough, I wasn't about the make the same mistake again. I set, stripped down hard to bury the hook, and transferred the rod to my right hand. Four blistering runs later, I found that somewhere in the process Ryan had magically negotiated the raft to shallow water and had slid out to net my fish.
Three chrome encounters in less than two hundred yards! Under bluebird skies! In a run we'd just swung for over two hours! Obviously, a pod fresh from the ocean! We talked over each other, laughed, and marveled at our good luck. Less than an hour later, we would find Jake's wading belt exactly where he'd left it the evening before.
I was two days into my quest to find The Tree. I was no closer to finding it than I had been at any time previous, but this trip was already shaping up nicely.