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The Red, Blue and Silver Steelhead
“Are you new here,” yelled a large, bearded fellow. He was decorated with a red and black lumberjack flannel shirt. He stood tall, covered with tippets, lead weights, indicators, and flies. His eyes looked strained as if he was living off coffee. He approached me waving a very long fishing rod; a spey of sorts that I estimated to be around 13 or 14 feet. His waders looked gruesome with tears and stains. The pack on his back was light, with a coffee mug, and an extra reel. He sported a worn Fat Nancy’s Tackle Shop hat with Egg patterns and Woolly Buggers pricked into fabric. The man moved swiftly toward my lie. I remained content on holding my spot in fear that he would ask this little kid to leave his favorite run. No, this spot was mine.
There I stood just under the steep bank on the upper reaches of a famous, and legendary swift moving water. Gently curling around corners and ripping down rocky riffles, the dreamy, romantic river ties its journey from Altmar, through Pineville, and so on down to the estuary. The meandering, lower section stretches through a vastly wide area, where the fish enter their winter home. I was alone today, with my two brothers and father elsewhere downstream. I could see no one, and only the river was to be heard.
The day was cold, yet sunny and enjoyable. A beautiful December dawn. He eased his way down the moderately steep bank that was covered with brown snow towards the tail-out of a large pool that I occupied solo.
“Any fish biting, or just the rocks,” he chuckled. “I’ve gotten a couple strikes here and there,” I replied with a nervous smile. He stood very tall, and slowly worked his way through the gliding flows.
“Yeah, well the fishing was great yesterday,” he laughed, using a satire of the old fisherman humor that glorified yesterday, a day that many anglers rarely experience. I quietly continued to make my casts and swing my flies through the current, trying not to notice that he was almost on top of me. He tapped me on the shoulder, and had a handful of flies in his palm that he forced upon me. “Thanks, a lot,” I said with a surprised expression.
“Now that one’s called the Metalhead, I use that streamer probably the most out of all my flies,” he said. I looked in awe at this huge monstrosity of a fly. It coupled marabou and schlappin hackle, with a tube and trailing stinger hook.
I couldn’t believe that fish actually would hit this and I blurted out, “Really that fly works.”
“Oh yeah, the steeheads really love it, just give it a try,” the man rebuked.
“The more and more I studied his character and props I noticed that he was the classic steelheader, the one that I read about in all the magazines and books. He began to creep up current along the slow moving seam that formed from a large boulder diverting the river’s flow. For the next couple hours we traded hook-ups and strikes. We each played a few good-sized knuckle-burning chromers, all of which put on an aerial display. Soon the beautiful weather, coupled with the gorgeous river, put me into a trans-like state where I felt as though I was drugged. I was a lucky kid to be on the water that day. I decided that I had beaten my pool enough for the day, and I wanted to move upriver, so I leap frogged the nice gentleman from earlier who imparted his secret fly with me.
I worked my way into a spot of water where I was set up just below a churning riffle. This spot was very shallow and if there were any fish I would definitely be able to see them I thought, so I figured that I should move on. Then, all of the sudden of out the corner of my Kaenon sunglasses cruised a large predator of epic beauty and style. He meandered his way through the first section of rocks that pierced the surface. He quickly jolted through the riffle, porpoising his back and dorsal fin. When he finally cleared the riffle, he began to slow his pace. He came to a graceful stop in a slow moving seam behind a submerged logjam. He shimmered in the clear, water. I could see colors of the rainbow on his side. He reflected blue, red, and silver colors that all converged to form this “perfect fish.” The man in the lumberjack flannel, started to once again approach me on his way upriver. He stopped when he noticed that I was just watching the water.
“You done already,” he said. “No, I just can’t believe what I am seeing,” I answered.
“Is it a big Chinook?” Which made sense as a surprise because the King Salmon run usually ends in October, and seeing a live one in December would be very unusual.
“No, it’s a steelhead, but look at it, it’s bright red, blue, and silver. I’ve never seen anything like before,” I exclaimed in excitement.
“Oh yeah, he’s a regular in this run,” the man said. “A regular,” I answered.
“Yeah, he’s been here for a couple weeks and won’t leave this run. Some guys say that they’ve seen it hooked before, and others say that it rises to mayflies. Personally, I don’t buy it. That fish is something different, he’s a true trophy, and he’ll never be caught.”
The man continued up stream and vanished over the snow-covered ridge. I saw the fish, the query, and the main target. I put on the Metalhead and casted it up and across from the fish. The fly began to swing and headed to the strike zone it was. The fish moved, slightly with not much interest in the offering. I re-cast and again the fly swung, only this time it was right in line with the fish’s mouth. He grabbed it, hard, very hard in fact. The rod was bent to a cork, and the fish was bucking like a psycho. He shattered the water’s surface with his thrashing tail, he sent his mass flying in the air, and he very, noticeably put holes in the river. Soon, however, his stubborn fight came to an end in a gentle slack water eddy, inches from the snow.
He lay still, exhausted and defeated. There he was, the legendary fish that no angler could tame. The steelhead was quickly coddled and revived; he was gone into the distant current soon after with a powerful kick. I searched in sight for the man who seemed almost mythical, and mysterious. No one was around, and surely no one would believe this little angler of what happened.
The fish is in hiding, but someday might return, for now only my memory remains true of his Red, Blue, and Silver presence.