Monday, November 29, 2010

Of Gray Days and Winter Steelhead

Winter Steelhead caught by Jad Donaldson

It's November 29th but I know that the Pacific northwest is well into the winter season. It's not like it's early or anything it's just I decided I needed to get out of the house today and so I made my first trek over the coast range to look for winter run steelhead. Yes I know it's seems like a pipe dream but it wouldn't matter if all that was present were a run of suckers because I needed to get out on the river.
The winter scene is like one would expect during the early winter steelhead season. It's like you are looking at the world through a gray filter like the kind that might be used on a camera. The low peaks of the coast range had a typical winter fog obscuring their tops as the alders and maples stood in stark contrast to the green firs along the highway. The higher peaks of the coast range showed a trace of a recent Thanksgiving week snow. All the fall leaves have blown away during an earlier fall wind and those that did not make it into a coastal stream were now a ground up mulch along the river. The fall colors of October have been transformed in subdued hues of pale green and misty gray. Yes this is definitely winter.
I have a special steelhead run that has given me success over the last few years and so it was there that I headed.
Fishing in the upper reaches of a coastal river is a solitary experience for the most part and on this "winter" day I fished alone with only the occasional car or truck passing on the road that runs along the river.
In some ways these cold and solitary days on the upper river have an almost overwhelming affect on me,a kind of an anxiety that I cannot explain.
In other ways it is so quiet and still that I do not feel it is proper to talk, to myself of course, in anything other than a whisper.
I took out a new spey rod today hoping for that new rod mojo to reward me and to my utter delight and joy I did have a very strong grab and short run before the fish came unhooked. The sound that an older Hardy fly reel makes as a strong steelhead peels off line during that initial run is the most beautiful music a steelhead fly fisherman can hear. My short encounter with an early winter steelhead made the day instantly brighten.
These winter days are just too short and I cannot seem to get out of bed in the pre-dawn hours so my fishing days is truncated to just a few hours in the afternoon.
I decided to head home as the predicted storm was starting to make it's presence known but I felt that the day had been a success. A new rod and a brief but thrilling encounter with a winter steelhead warmed me like no cup of chicken noodle could even begin to.
With limited numbers of returning steelhead that seem to get fewer every year I count these fleeting encounters a gift and a sign of a hopeful winter to come.

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