Day 2: The morning was clear and cold, and while I’ve fished in much colder weather, I underestimated the coldness on this morning and left my gloves in the truck. I should have opted for a fleece stocking cap as well, but went instead with the Lucky Fishing hat. After standing in what is known as The Holy Waters for an hour, the shivers set in. My lower back, which had been tweaky for a couple of days, began to tighten up. Being cold and standing precariously on an assortment of large and slippery rocks didn’t help matters, and soon I began to have lower back spasms. I did what any hardcore steelhead fisherman would do:
I toughed it out went back to the truck and fell asleep in the front seat. An hour later I was awakened by Large Albacore, who had nurturing words of compassion and support for me.
Suffice it to say the rest of the day improved inasmuch as the weather warmed and my back felt better. The catching, however, remained dismal. We drove up and down the river, seeking out any vacant water we could before determining that there were no fish to be caught. Still, it was a good day spent practice casting. I got to know the Sage One 7136 demo rod a bit better and came to appreciate it’s nimble ways and ample power. I determined that in the hands of a worthy caster the rod would really shine. As the sun set on another day and we headed back to the Pink House for another great dinner served up by Papa Albacore.
The smoke had hung more heavily in the air on this second day, an indication that the distant fires continued to burn. What the fires needed was rain, as did the river and the fish, and therefore the anglers. Fortunately the weather forecast indicated that rain would arrive overnight, so with that knowledge I closed the tailgate and lift hatch on the Fish Taco’s canopy and wedged myself into the tight space within. Sometime during the night I awoke to the sound of rain drops on the fiberglass roof. The rhythmic pitter-patter of precipitation put me quickly back to sleep, though not before I acknowledged that 5-foot truck bed is a bit short even for an Unaccomplished Angler.
Day 3: The alarm sounded as a light rain continued to fall. The air smelled fresh for the first time in a long time. It was a new day. A day filled with hope and anticipation. I rigged up my Z-Axis 7136 for this third and last day of fishing: I wanted to end the trip fishing my trusted old friend so that I could have a good sense of comparison between the old and new offerings from Sage. The Z-Axis had caught steelhead before—it deserved a chance to do so again. After breakfast we headed back to The Holy Waters. The day was warmer and the back felt better than 24 hours previously. There would be no limp-wristed timeouts on this morning. I was there to fish—nay, I was there to catch a steelhead.
Across the river stood a lone angler throwing laser loops with grace and ease. His casts were a thing of beauty, and I hoped he was paying no mind to the clunky casts being flung from the opposite river bank. Even with my trusted old Z-Axis, my best casts fall short of anything that might be described as graceful. I took a couple steps down, stripped line and executed a serviceable Snap Z (or was it a Snap C?); my fly flew lazily toward mid-current. As the fly swung there followed the familiar tap-tap-tap of a steelhead mouthing the hook. Remaining calm, I may or may not have yelled, “Sweet Mother of anadromous rainbow trouts!” I lay the tip of the rod toward shore as the fish swam the opposite direction, setting the hook in it’s tough lips. Fish on! Ironically, at the same instant, the Jedi Caster across the river also had a fish on. What were the chances that I would hook up with a fish at the exact same time as my accomplished brethren on the far side of the Holy Water?
Line continued to be ripped from my reel as I dug my heels in for a good fight. This was it—what many anglers wait 1000 cast for. Just then a friendly and apologetic voice called out from across the river: “Sorry about that!” A brief rush of adrenalin quickly faded with the realization that the only hook-up had been between our two flies. “Feed me more line and I’ll get us unhooked!” instructed The Jedi. At least I saw my backing for the first time in a long time.
After the fleeting, ill-fated excitement of the morning, we broke for lunch before heading downstream for the afternoon. The rain had given way to a pleasant, overcast day. We fished on, trying our best to remain hopeful with each new run. Admittedly, hope was a tall order and it was hard to ignore the presence of 1000-lb skunk that loomed overhead. I reminded myself that steelhead fishing is not about catching fish; it’s about casting practice. Still, it seemed particularly cruel that of the 5 anglers in our posse, not a single steelhead had been hooked. Fortunately that would change when Junior Albacore landed a nice 8 pound hen about midway through the afternoon. For all his other many shortcomings, Junior was the hero of the day—of the trip. If not for him there would be no photo of a fly fisherman with a Clearwater River steelhead to grace this page.
We were collectively grateful that the only steelhead in the river had been caught and released as we angled the rest of the day in relative peace and tranquility. Nobody expected to catch a fish after that, and expectations were met. That’s what steelhead fishing is all about: low expectations that are rarely exceeded. When they are, it’s something special. And filling the gaps between fish are good friends, good times, and a lot of practice casting, which is needed more by some than others.