The aroma of fresh coffee pierces the tranquility in the room. You’ve slept but anticipation loomed. It’s early as the sun cracks the hillside; its rays burn the fog off the river. Guides prep the boats and fire up the engines as you eat breakfast and eagerly await the day ahead. All dressed and ready to go. You leave the warmth of the changing room only to have your breath met by the cold. Walking through a cloud of excitement as you breathe again trying to calm yourself down, for you are going for steelhead and there is no other feeling like it in the world.
As you approach the dock you begin to realize that perhaps true paradise has been found. Pausing for a moment to take it all in. It is at this moment, the perfect still, that the quest for steelhead is at its finest. The journey has just begun.
Eight years ago, I was introduced to wild, steelhead fishing and the fine art of Spey casting via a two-handed rod. I had never even picked up a two-handed rod let alone cast one but here I was on British Columbia’s picturesque Bulkley River and completely in the hands of the guides. Thankfully for me, I was guided by some of the best in the business at Bulkley River Lodge. After several trips, much reading, preparation, and practice, I have come to appreciate the pursuit of wild steelhead. Little did I know it would forever change me. Here is what I have learned along the way on this endless journey.
Never have I come across a species that has garnered as much respect as a steelhead. There is a certain mystique, a fascinating aura of awe and power that surrounds this fish. Above all, I am now just beginning to understand and even more so, appreciate. I truly am in awe of this fish. When you are fortunate to bring one to hand, you are immediately and reverently taught to “keep em wet”. Handle the fish as little as possible while leaving it the water perhaps a quick photo before releasing the fish. This is certainly preached but rarely practiced. I too am guilty of this and have vowed to change. The way the guides revere this fish is contagious. Allowing me to see how lucky I am to have world-class trout back home.
I wondered what it meant when I went Steelhead fishing for the first time, I kept hearing “steelhead are a fish of a thousand casts.” Then I began to think about why anyone would fish for steelhead until I started fishing for them, and it all came together. Everything must line up, the cast, the swing, eager fish, the fish themselves and a lot of luck. And if you are lucky enough, you will catch a few but you can bet that in the process you will have cast 1000 times. This alone has taught me to be more patient and appreciate the process. I now spend more time Trout Spey fishing and rediscovering my local rivers in this way.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as the saying goes, but this fish is truly beautiful. From the moment it enters the river with its bright chrome, almost opaque color to its time in the river where it starts to turn pink and then eventually once settled in for winter, a beautiful rose color, the process doesn’t disappoint. I could stare at these fish forever and in doing so have learned to appreciate the beauty in them, the equipment, the people, the flies, the river and British Columbia (or wherever I am fishing).
STRENGTH AND FRAGILITY
For an understanding of strength, we must first talk about the fragility of this fish. Born in the river the fry will live for 2-3 years where they become smolts, the stage in their life when they are physiologically prepared to enter the ocean and begin their journey in the Pacific North for up to three years before returning to freshwater to spawn. Along the way, the challenges wild, Steelhead face are staggering. Logging, habitat destruction, warming seas, urban sprawl, mining, agriculture, birds of prey, seals, orcas, sharks, recreational fisherman all play a part. We need to protect these fish and their fragile habitat. I recently joined the Native Fish Society to help protect both. As a fisherman, I need to be a good steward of our resources.
I am humble when I fish for steelhead. There is very little ego amongst the few that choose to pursue these fish and even fewer amongst those that guide for steelhead. The amount of work that goes into putting on a steelhead trip and the hours spent to catch just one fish is enough to humble anyone. I need the humility to understand and accept that I knew nothing. My accomplishments on the river and success in life are not measured by the fish I catch.
If you were to tell me I would go Steelhead fishing and not catch anything, I would be first in line. The next time you are out fishing think about that and do not take it for granted. Enjoy the process, see the beauty, drop the ego and respect the fish. It is up to us to protect our fisheries. Take fewer photos, keep the fish in the water and support your local organizations that are there to help the fish and the water they swim in.
Brett Elkman – Sales Manager