That’s not meant to sound self-appreciative, at nineteen I was the dumbest I’d been in my entire life. Even if I wasn’t tragically hungover for most of my shifts I doubt you would’ve walked away from a conversation with me thinking you’d just met the next president of the United States. It’s sort of like how everyone thinks they’re a good driver while in reality we’re all careless and distracted and just narrowly avoiding total disaster at all times. Like I was perpetually late and stuck in traffic, I hated everyone unlucky enough to be in my way either physically or mentally, which included all customers and most of my coworkers. If you've worked in retail you know this, so this is for the people who haven't. Every time you walk into a Bed Bath and Beyond, Macy's, Home Depot, understand that the man, woman, or kid smiling behind the counter is hating you with every ounce of their soul, and will talk merciless, cut-to-the-bone shit about you for the next fifteen minutes after you leave. It really doesn't matter if all you did was walk in, take a five minute stroll around the place without touching anything or speaking to anyone, before kindly walking out with just a quick glance at the customer service girl's ass. You passed at least four people, and as you naively walk to your car they are grouped together, watching for the manager out of the corners of their eyes, conversing in hushed tones about how your shoes, pants, face, hair, whatever, are a dead give-away of your small bent dick, preference for children, full blown AIDS, or various other terrible concoctions of the miscreant imagination. It’s nothing personal, they’ll forget about you before it’s time for break, but it helps pass the time, weeds out people you don’t want to spend time with, while creating bonds with those you do.
If you had walked into the Gander Mountain off 44th street in Grandville, Michigan between 2008 and 2010, the small group of ne'er-do-wells in need of a shower and a shave talking shit behind your back would have included myself, Bear, and Travis.
I'd been there about a year, with a real feel for the place. I knew how long I could sit back in the archery room eating beef jerky before someone would wonder where I was, the best places to hide clearance gear from customers so I could buy it on extra-discount later, who I needed to suck up to in order to get opening weekend of deer season off. The revolving door of employment that is retail was ever turning, with some new guy showing up about once a month to gum up the oiled machine with his new guy work ethic. One day the new guy was Travis. Travis liked to hunt ducks and deer, fish for trout, and worked the door at a dollar beer joint downtown. He immediately stuck out - didn’t work too hard, had a healthy suspicion of the manager dicks, spent a lot of time over at the archery counter asking if I’d just seen “that fucking guy over in footwear/fishing/guns/camping,” AND he used to bang one of customer service girls, who was actually hot. A rare base hit by our creepy store manager (not outright like clowns or the ice cream man, but in sort of an “older neighbor guy wearing a Disney World ball cap who walks over to say hi while you and your high school girlfriend are out by the pool, and spends the whole time talking to you but looking at her” kinda way). He liked to keep the front of the place stocked with college girls who at nineteen were probably turned on by the fact that he was a giant piece of shit, and would sleep with him in exchange for bottles of Bacardi/gift certificates/weekends off. Most of the time these chicks were dogs, but Travis’ ex was 100lbs of equestrian with an ass so tight you could bounce a quarter off it and get two dimes and a nickel back. I don’t know where she bought her jeans but god bless whatever place it was, and she could shoot. I took Travis a little more seriously after learning he’d had a face-full of that a few times.
Bear and I spent a lot of time pretending we knew what we were talking about when it came to fly fishing. In reality, at the time the only thing I was anything resembling a mediocre success at was what we refer to in Michigan as a "chuck n duck rig" - running line with a bunch of weight that casts more like a spinning rod, bounced along the bottom, normally with yarn flies. I knew how to cast a dry line, I'd been catching bluegill and bass on poppers since I was a little snot-nosed kid, but we played it like we spent weekends fishing quills upstream to rising trout. Of course this resulted in Travis wanting to fish with us, which we deferred and blocked, probably because we were worried he'd find out we never caught anything. Rivers tend to rinse away bullshit, and at the time we were cutting our teeth on a famous northern Michigan trout stream chosen out of proximity to my family's cabin, that is an uncooperative bitch most days now, and at the time might as well have been a textbook on string theory. It’s rather heavily fished by Michigan standards, with too much cover and a resident crop of educated brown trout. It’s also slow and mostly flat, requiring thoughtful approaches and presentations. At nineteen or twenty we moved too fast, paid an entirely insufficient amount of attention to everything going on around us, and mostly caught nothing. We were paying our dues with the only currency we had much of, time. The last thing I wanted to do was invite this new guy into our world of regrettable attempts at flies (the "hot-butt bunny" is one very notable example – a very high brow, classic trout streamer fit for its own story), 10 degree February mornings spent pushing kayaks down a shelf ice and slush-choked river, leaky waders, and long wet wades through private property in the rain. He'd pin us for what we were in five minutes if he had any sense. We never took Travis fishing. Bear quit when he got a job at a local pro-shop, I landed an internship and walked out one afternoon midway through a shift with a newly purchased bow. We started catching fish, landed full-time jobs after graduation. I put my first real paycheck towards a boat.
First weekend of November 2013, Bear and I were supposed to fish with Zach, a buddy now long lost to various maladies, notably marriage and child. When he backed out (emerging trend), we were left with an open boat seat. I'm not sure which one of us sent a text to Travis, but he wanted to go, so plans were made to meet the next morning at the launch.
Early November is sacred for anyone who appreciates the seasonal dispositions of the Midwest. It’s a preciously fleeting period spanning maybe two weekends if you’re lucky, a breath between fall and winter captured in suspended animation. Comprehension only seems to hasten its retreat, like when you're at the edge of a dream and you regain a piece of consciousness, telling yourself not to wake up, she's just about to take her top off... That day, our precipitous foothold on the edge of the season was not considered beyond a quick look to the sky from under the windshield as we rattled down the washboard access road. We had business to transact with the river - new guy in the boat and all.
After backing down the ramp and taking a hard look at the water while pissing out the last of the night’s beer and the first of the morning’s coffee, the shuffle began.
"Don't slam that storage box"
"You have some flouro tippet? I’m almost out”
"That's the fly you want? I'd go smaller, maybe a peach nuke... grab one out of my box"
"Bear don't forget to put the plugs in"
When it’s the normal crew, things get done in wordless, casual orchestration, like an order of duck confit, coq a vin, and sea bass hitting the kitchen window of a brasserie in unison, the cooler finds its way into the back, the plugs go in, anchor is clipped on, and somebody grabs the sunglasses I left on the dashboard. New guys throw the whole thing into a weird spiral of necessary explanation and uncharacteristic worry. If you forget the propane any other day, then it’s chips and cold baked beans for lunch. Leave a fly box on the car roof? Borrow a couple from another guy who is sure to have the right pattern. With a noob in the boat, lunch is a real concern and I double check gear, last thing I want to be doing halfway through a fishless afternoon is trying to decide which of the shitty “maybe this’ll work” patterns in his box I hate the least. By the time the launch disappeared behind the alders, the sun was already well up into a blue sky, a heavy frost turned to droplets on the brown, matted bank grass. We'd already lost the best window of the day and I used that as an opportunity to put things in perspective.
"Well fuck idk how it'll be now, were kinda late"
"Might just be a nice paddle down the river"
"We'll see how it goes"
The top of my favorite steelhead water is not a state or federal launch site, it's a backyard, owned by an old man from a by-gone era when public resources were public, who still lets guys park their rigs on his property and launch their boats for $5 stuffed into a can bolted to a rusty post. I worry about what will happen when he passes. Rounding that dirt road corner for the first time in the fall, I always expect to find the turnoff blocked by a locked gate, the property owned by some banker from Chicago and 5 miles of beautiful fall steelhead water closed to access, unless one feels motivated to put in at the next launch up and push through a few miles of nothing and a couple pre-dawn hours.
The first mile is slow and sandy but the stream quickly changes face, as it does many times on its course to the lake through a recurring series of oak ridges, clay banks, and cedar swamps. Most days I forget, but sometimes I try to note where exactly these changes happen, often enough that I’ve concluded it’s impossible. The changes in gradient and structure are imperceptible when studied, yet clearly obvious when noticed, like waiting for the coffee to finish. Stare at it and you’ll grow old, but remember you forgot to get the eggs out of the cooler, turn away for a second and it’s done. The closest I’ve come to understanding exactly when this particular section breaks from sand and wood to the rocky chutes, runs, and glides of fall steelhead water is “somewhere below Kinney Creek.”
I threw the anchor rope off the cleat and we parallel-parked at "that first hole" – although guides probably have a different name for it. That first hole put out for us exactly once, with two fresh November hens on two consecutive casts the first time we fished it, and nothing since. Still, we are obligated to try, though hope for it being anything other than a one hit wonder fades with each day. That day would be no different.
We also caught nothing on stops two, three, and four. By then it was closing in on lunch, and I was getting pissy, explaining fly fishing for steelhead without steelhead was like teaching math on a whiteboard with no marker. You can do a lot of talking but nobodies actually learning anything. There were fish around, we'd pushed at least one out of every piece of dark water I'd dipped an oar in. A thought flickered in the back of my head, flaring out as quickly as it had appeared. No, we weren't doing that, not yet anyway. We had at least two stops before things got that desperate. I switched flies again. 2013 had featured a tremendous king salmon run, the last of its kind, likely forever in northwest Michigan, although we didn't know it at the time. By early November, a week after the last old boot was dead there were still clouds of eggs rolling in eddies behind gravel ledges, piled up on inside bends, drifting down with the current. I snipped off Travis' peach nuke and tied on a cheese glo-bug.
"Doesn't get any more natural than this fucker here"
We caught nothing at the next stop. When the anchor dragged us along the bank at the couch hole (so named after Bear got so high one day he told me there were steelhead sitting on a couch down there, talking to each other while waiting for him to arrive for a party) Travis started to jump out.
I dug under the rower’s bench, finding what I was looking for and cutting off the fly on my rod. "Travis....do as I say, not as I do" as I slid a pale pink, translucent bead up the tippet, pegged it, and snelled on a hook. I won’t get into a debate on beads, but despite the many mixed and passionate feelings about them one thing nobody can argue is that they are definitely not flies.
I apologized to anyone listening and stepped into the river. The hole, when studied, reveals itself as two distinct depressions, the first maybe 100 feet long and barely wider than a rod length, tight to a steep clay bank and filled with the corpses of old cedars. The second, more of a salmon tank, where the current runs into the bank on a right hand turn and has nowhere to go but down. Most of the first run is unfishable in the traditional sense, save for a quick bucket at the top where the current comes alive off a long, well-behaved gravel flat, like a kid who’s been fogging up a window watching the rain, finally let outside, rushing over the edge and into the cedar-weave depths. I’ve never seen an aquasquatch, but I’m sure there’s one down there somewhere, waiting for complacent canoers to take the turn sideways. They love the tender bits of canoers from Ohio. Below that greasy bastard’s lair there’s twenty feet of open, fishable water where the last tree trunk collects the flow into a neat seam over a gravel tailout. This is the couch. Or the davenport, as my Grandma would call it.
“Why are you kids sitting in the den on a day like today!? If your Grandpa hasn’t been into them there’s beers in the tack room fridge, get your butts off the davenport and go outside!”
That’s not important.
At the couch hole, the surface is flat with no riffle to hide a wake, and the inside bend is silty. You have to approach with intention and make the first drift count, especially with clear, fall water conditions. Feeding out line, I roll casted into a drift that would run right through the prime lie, the soft corner with the best pillows and view of the TV.
First cast, mind. I saw the flash before the bobber twitched, the fish coming from a couple feet farther out in the current to grab the little piece of drifting candy. With water temps still in the 40s, November steelhead make for some incredible shows in the tight quarters of a Michigan river. I never really see much of it on my own line, as I’m tripping over logs, climbing under branches, sprinting down the bank - or it’s over so quick it never really starts. Most of what I remember are the sounds, smack of fish on water, buddies yelling direction, the zip of fly line through surface tension. This fresh hen, a healthy eight pounds, did her damndest before Bear could slip the net under her around the next bend. On the walk back to the boat, I wanted to add some context to what had just happened but thought better of it. Travis was pumped up and, still buzzing from the fight, I let my baser desires take over. It was on, Travis was up next and we were going to lay into them. Bear was the only detractor – I can’t remember the exact conversation but it was something along the lines of that wasn’t really a good way to do it…blah blah…not really a fly…and so on. He was going to keep fishing flies, which I encouraged, conceding first dibs at all the afternoon stops, which immediately would be the “do it” hole, though not really much of a hole and still unnamed at the time.
The line down through the fast, rock-strewn chute that forms the head of a little bucket on the left bank can be a little tricky. Typically it’s 50/50 whether I blow past this stop or not, if the water is too low there’s no place for the oars to dig in over the shallow rock, and the current pushes you over the top, screwing up the whole thing. That day, I had enough water to slow us down and neatly park against the right bank. Bear grabbed his rod and jumped out. A dozen or so perfectly fine drifts went untouched, and we heckled him constantly.
“Let me know when you’re done so we can see how many are down there!”
As he worked to the bottom of the run,
“I’m just going to throw you the net while you’re down there so you’re ready for Travis’ fish”
Stepping down again, he put his wading jacket hood up against the pelt of insults.
“Travis it’s all yours”
It took a couple practice runs to get the drift right, the current is a little fucky at the top and there’s some overhanging limbs, but on the first passable attempt the bobber twitched and dropped hard right in the sweet spot.
Another pretty hen cartwheeled downstream, ripping drag towards a downed tree, coming up short and protesting with another series of jumps. I had to get out of the boat with the net because Bear was still downstream casting at nothing with his hood up. I also took the nice blurry picture. I grabbed the rod, stood in the bow of the boat and flipped out a roll cast.
“How long do you think it’ll take Bear!?”
Travis watched the bobber follow the same path as his had just minutes earlier. Under his breath “do it…do it….do it”
I twitched a short mend, more out of impatience than necessity.
Louder “DO IT...DO IT…DO IT!”
The float paused, for a half second, like it was walking out the door and thought it had forgotten its keys, before dropping soundly. A larger male, red sides suggesting an early fall runner or maybe a skam, bolted downstream, running hard against a good load of drag already turned onto the spool. I fumbled with the knob, lurching the rod back towards the bank in a reactive move, the way a hitter flinches away from a pitch headed at his back, as the fish found the downed tree.
Giddiness took the place of the obligatory flash of anger as we laughed and re-tied, casting sidelong glances at Bear, finally making his way back upstream on the bank.
“You want a turn?”
“No, I’m going to change flies”
I flipped another cast into the seam. It took two or three drifts that time I think, but another polished hen came to hand, followed by a solid brown that had made his way into the prime lie as we cleared away steelhead.
I don’t remember a lot of the conversation as we shoved off the bank, but it centered around Bear assuming a laughable role as the father figure, scolding his kids on their poor behavior. Nothing worth having is easy, and so on. I agreed as wholeheartedly as I could considering the circumstances, encouraging his quest for the piece of yarn that would stand out among the millions of naturals, all the while Travis and I continued to emasculate him at every opportunity.
He rummaged through his egg box, then asked for mine, even grabbing the box Travis had brought, flipping it open and poking around for a couple seconds before scrunching up his nose and handing it back.
“Nothing looks good?”
“No it’s all fucked”
He grabbed his own box again and stared into it, as you do with a refrigerator, wondering if something new might have appeared on the shelf in the last ten minutes.
We drafted inside to avoid a big spruce sweeper, sliding under an apple tree, the last few scarred and mottled remnants of an October crop clinging to the bare, low hanging branches. A wild apple tree amongst the thousands of acres of oak and white pine attracts just about everything that flies, scurries, sneaks, or lumbers through the big woods of Northern Michigan. The matted grass and scattered, dirty leaves beneath the tree’s circumference told a story of a food source, sign post, and micro-ecosystem. For our purposes, it marks the last bend before reaching a peculiar little village of five or six small cabins, sort of a Truman Show turned Chernobyl-type situation. The places never show signs of life in the fall, but never seem to be winterized either, with grills, kid’s toys, kayaks, and chairs just sort of left out like everyone took off in a hurry. The most prominent of the cabins is an A-frame set just off the river, its small, weathered back porch overlooking what we of course refer to as “A-Frame Alley.” In the late fall we take advantage of the state of abandon, using the cabin’s back yard as a lunch spot.
Criteria for lunch spots change throughout the seasons. During the comically short days of winter, too cold for anyone with something better to do, any spot out of the wind enough to get the stove lit will serve fine for crowding around a pot of venison chili and thermos of boozy coffee. The standard is a good dark roast, brewed strong enough to seal pavement, and a few shots of Irish cream. During spring streamer season, it’s important to understand which banks the sun favors around noon-time. These spots typically see the first blades of new grass pushing aside last year’s matted crop, bleached almost white by April. Warmed enough to peel off a layer of down, a bowl of something like spicy garbage can mac and cheese (mac, queso, and including but certainly not limited to onion, garlic, sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, and hot pork sausage) helps shake off an oft-troutless morning. Pale ale, preferably the orange, hop-tinged nectar from Chico, California - kept away from the ice of the cooler and instead stashed in the rower’s bench, goes down all too easily. Summer lunch takes many forms depending on phase and company and deserves pages of its own, but its most common form is a shaded bank near a tricky bend, a vantage to watch fudgies dump their canoes, cold bbq chicken, or sourdough sandwiches piled high with ham, lettuce, tomato, and mustard, and a well-iced cooler filled with a case of whatever light domestic caught your eye at the gas station that morning. Fall may include anything from ribs or venison steaks over an oak log fire during the lazier afternoons of September, or a more hurried pan of cheddar brats, beer, and onions during the short, cold days of late October and November, supplemented by nips off a bottle stashed in the bench. Late fall lunch spots need to be beside a good stretch of fishable water, so as not to waste daylight as things cook. On those days lunch is not really enjoyed, it’s consumed by men standing on the bank impatiently, like kids at a pool party caught on the arm by mom and force fed between protests, mustard smearing across their faces before tearing away across the yard towards the other kids playing in the sprinkler. I’ve hooked fish with half a brat and a spoonful of potato salad in my mouth. This is the condition we found ourselves in that day at A-Frame Alley.
Besides its identifying cabin, the alley is so named because it refers to a section, made up of four runs, stretching a hundred yards or so from where the current comes off a long gravel glide and runs up against the bank and the exposed root ball of a large, leaning oak tree, digging a parking space-sized bucket beneath. Below this is a series of three runs, each larger in scope as you work down, eventually reaching the pièce de résistance, a cavernous slot dug right in the middle of the river, eight or nine feet deep (deep for this river) and perhaps 30 yards long. There is no swinging this hole, though we rarely swing this river anyway. It is bobber water, fished effectively only with a switch rod and more split shot than seems appropriate.
I fired up the stove, Bear sat in the boat. With my back to him I understood the various rustlings and grunts to be his attempts at reorganizing various layers of shit to gain access to the bench bottle. The slam of the bench and “thunk” of cork pulled from glass meant he’d found it. Stove roaring and brats on, I pointed at the top pocket “Travis get after it.”
Turning my attention back to lunch I heard Bear scoff “Hey Travis you going to set the hook or what? Juuudassssss”
I snapped around - Bear was standing up, bottle in hand, pointing at Travis’ bobber, which was six inches under the surface, tossing from side to side as the fish below shook its head. Travis was walking downstream, head down, having apparently flipped out a cast and turned his attention back to his footing.
He looked up, fresh from whatever day dream he’d been having “What? Oh, shit!” and snapped his rod upwards, prompting what I’m sure was a confused and pissed off hen steelhead to make for the lake. This is when, with a full audience at attention, we realized that Travis fought fish like a twelve year old Dutch girl. By his own admission, Bear hasn’t fought a steelhead on the reel in years. If they’re not pulled hand over hand into the net in a few minutes, then they’re broken off. It can be dead winter, freezing our asses off, whiskey gone, he’ll break off the only fish of the day for no reason other than impatience, which infuriates me to no end. I’ll winch up the anchor through a string of obscenities, he’ll just sit down and shrug, offering a simple “meh.” Through unrelenting belittlement, he broke me of plenty of bad fish handling tendencies. We’d do the same for Travis.
“Christ! Get it in or break it off Travis!"
She was tiring, so I grabbed a net and jumped in.
“Get her head up!”
“You’re going to have to do better than that!”
Then she was gone, light tippet will only go so many rounds.
“Well fuck, that needs work”
“Ha! Nicely done there Trav”
“Here this’ll fix things”
Re-tied, Travis worked his way out again, saving the first cast for when he was in position.
“How much longer till lunch?”
“Ten minutes probably”
“I’m going to go fish the bottom”
“With this” Bear pinched a small, pale orange, loosely-tied yarn egg between his finger and thumb, holding it up for me to see.
“Looks good” It looked like shit.
Finishing a swig, he wiped his mouth with a wading jacket sleeve “Ya we’ll see.”
With brats simmering along in a bath of beer and onions, I sat on the bank and watched. The alley, if you sit with your back to the cabins, is one of the more scenic bends in the middle river. A tall, sand bank guides the river to the left, lined at the bottom by alders planted to counter erosion and rimmed at the top with large oaks and maples that coat the river in rafts of gold and brown on windy days. It’s quiet there, enough so to hear the wind coming from a distance – starting as a disturbance so faint its more feeling than a sound, rising in significance like an approaching train, first as a low hiss through the white pines and spruce, before rounding the bend below and finding us, the oaks and maples joining with protestant creaks and the whirl of blowing leaves.
Travis was catching nothing, the current at the top was tricky and his drifts weren’t good, but I was halfway through a bottle of IPA and the warm-ish afternoon wind had lulled me into a sort of meditative state that I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt with words.
I jumped up like a sprinter against the blocks, spilling my beer, my Zen state shattered in the leaves. The bellow was Bear’s, and jumping in the river I looked down and found him waist deep on the edge of the deep mid-river run, rod doubled, the cold-iron back and flush pink sides of the largest steelhead I’d ever seen three feet out of the water, head shaking, pointed directly downstream. It hit the water like a jet ski running full out over a boat wake, never seeming to re-enter before blasting back up with another downstream leap.
I don’t remember what I was yelling as I stormed back upriver towards the boat, dousing myself and everything around me in a wall of water, but I’m sure it was inappropriate. I lunged halfway into the boat, knocking shit left and right digging for the handle. I passed Travis at a dead sprint down the bank, by the time I caught up with Bear he was grimacing, leaning soundly against the fish’s downstream charge. Travis caught up at the same time the great fish rolled angrily, a run vanquished, flashing its chrome-pink girth and slapping the water with a pie-plate diameter tail, which prompted a fresh round of howls and holy fuck’n shits from us all. I’d only seen a steelhead this size once, deep in the tailout of a hole farther downstream, dwarfing the typical eight pounders schooled around it. This was Columbia River B-run caliber, a Skeena river winter fish, all of nineteen or twenty pounds, 40 inches from tip to taint.
It faked an upstream move, prompting Bear to switch rod angles, before taking an absolutely savage downstream run toward a downed tree that marks the end of the alley. It was do or die, turn the fish or break him off, and for all of his animalistic tendencies, disdain for moderation exhibited in all other respects, all the “mehs” and feigned indifference, nobody can find the line and walk it better than Bear when it comes to a fish that matters.
This one definitely qualified.
In the end, mano a mano, nobody could’ve stopped that fish, with a boat winch, rope and truck bumper, even Bear with a fly rod. To his defense, and still an important point raised each time the story is told, he did break the fish off before it made the wood.
Standing there, knee deep, ripples from the fight still ticking against my legs, gripping the net, I looked around wondering how I’d gotten from my comfortable spot on the bank to all the way down here. Bear was planted mid-river, arms down at his sides, rod and line trailing in the current. It was like I’d just been tossed out of a tornado. I was seeing everything and nothing at the same time - water, trees, and cabins were two-dimensional, and kind of grainy like a bad cell phone photo.
I turned around and made annoyed eye contact with Travis for breaking the silence.
“That was a giant”
Back up at the boat, the brats were still bubbling away happily in their broth, unaware that nobody was in the mood to eat.
“Never had a chance”
“You did everything right”
We ate, trading pulls off the bottle and slowly regaining contact with reality. It had been a tremendous fish, and on a fly. We almost forgot about that amidst the whole thing, but it made sense. Of course, it had to have happened that way. Amidst the excitement of showing Travis steelheading at its best that morning, all the shit talking, the jokes, I’d missed the process happening in the front of the boat. We knew the section was correct, we knew the fish were there and in normal lies, and Travis and I had proven they were willing to eat if presented the proper pattern. It was a rare opportunity for research and development that I had failed to recognize and would’ve let slip by. There are not many days you are challenged to expand on the proven patterns that have earned places in your box. Enough fish have to be around to be sure they are there, and someone else needs to be catching them easily and often enough for you to stop and wonder what the hell it is about what they’re doing that’s so special. Those are the days that educate rather than just entertain.
Bear had sifted through everyone’s box twice, finally finding a pattern than matched the color, and more importantly the translucence of the beads we were fishing. That sinfully simple pattern, and variations of it are now featured prominently in all of our boxes, and accounts for a large share of fall steelhead. It’s also proven effective as a pattern fished directly behind spawning salmon for trout, emboldened by guts swollen with easy protein, close enough to the salmon to suck farts.
After lunch, Bear sat in the boat dealing with the rest of the bottle and I sent Travis downstream to fish the middle run while I waded out to where he had fished earlier. Within a dozen casts I’d hooked three fish, landing one sporty little hen. I let her run down a little ways so the tail-walking, somersaulting, and general disturbance could take place directly in front of Travis.
“Jeeeez Travis what were you doing up there, tugging on your wiener!? Let me know when you’re done here I’ll come down and clean it up for you”
We hit a couple more spots after lunch before catching up to another boat that had put in at a launch just a few miles below where we started, and had been ahead of us most of the day. They hadn’t had much luck, we said it’d been ok, sharing smirks. None of us are sure what the final damage was, not that it really matters. It was the finest day of steelheading I’d had in multiple respects, and was enough to get the hook set deep into Travis, who bought a boat the following winter and has since been a part of countless trips north, adventures to the Bahamas, Oregon, and Mexico, Montana in a few weeks, and hopefully many more if his impending nuptials don’t ruin yet another good man. He still kind of fights fish like a pussy, but so does everyone according to Bear.[/report]
They don't wanna have to die