You always remember your first. No, I’m not talking about that first awkward kiss behind the gym bleachers, I’m talking about that first heart pumping adrenaline rush that comes from hooking your first wild steelhead.
Some 16 years ago, a good friend of mine Paul turned me on to the idea of “having a go” at trying to catch a steelhead. Having never even heard of this mythical beast before, I keenly listened in to story after story of endless hours casting in search of steel with no luck, on wet and snowy winter days here on Vancouver Island. “Took me two years before I caught my first one” he said. “Be lucky if you got one at all really, but they sure are worth it”. How can this be I thought….are these fish so smart and elusive that it really takes that long? I was skeptical, but as time went by I heard more of the same from a few other fishermen that I respected and I decided that this might be something worth pursuing.
I managed to convince Paul to take me out and give me a chance to try the following winter. Not being experienced in this type of angling, I had no idea what to use for gear and relied heavily on Paul’s generosity to set me up for my first attempt. I rigged up and old spinning rod, and threw on a really ugly looking crocodile spoon, and off we went. I had no waders, no waterproof jacket, and certainly no style. But I was stoked that I was finally getting a chance to try.
I’m not really sure what I had expected would happen that day, but I’m pretty sure Paul thought he had a very good idea. I’m certain he envisioned me with tangled lines, lures suspended in mid-air from tree branches, and absolutely positively 100% no doubt fishless. We arrived at a small river with a little pool a few rod lengths away, which to me looked like a poor place to even try. Rod in hand, Paul announced he was going to head up river a little and see if he could spot any fish. Fair enough I figured, time for me to give this whole steelhead fishing a try. As Paul turned and began to leave, I brought back my rod and let loose a cast, landing just on the back side of the little pool. Within seconds of landing in the water, all hell broke loose.
Whatever was living in that pool smashed my lure and took off, making mad leaps all around the pool and giving me a thrill of a lifetime. Screaming with excitement I yelled at Paul that I had caught one and that he needed to come over and see right away!
“Impossible” he said. “Your first cast, and your first time, and you think you have a steelhead? No way. Not a chance”. I think Paul must have thought I was delusional, but when he came over to where I now had the fish at my feet, his jaw must have dropped to his feet. Sure enough, I had landed a really nice winter run steelhead. It was dime bright too, with just a tinge of red. “I don’t believe it” he said.
But believe it he must. And for me it became the running joke for the next 16 years about how easy it had been to land that first one. The next year saw me try hard to duplicate that experience, with no luck. I had been afflicted with the steelhead curse and there was no turning back.
Fast forward now to 2012, and I’ve developed my steelhead hunting skills to a moderate level. No expert for sure, but I’ve long since moved from pencil lead and pink worms on to two handed spey rods and fancy flys. Not to say I have abandoned gear fishing all together, but I prefer to do my fishing now with more traditional gear. Having made a new fishing friend Todd at a new job, I decided to share some local knowledge with him and told him to meet me on a local river where he can give his skills a try.
Knowing that I would sharing one of my favorite fishing spots with someone new, I got up extra early and hit the river with my girlfriend DeAndra before daylight, so that I can fish some of my favorite runs through a few times before he got there. As the sun came up and morning began to wane, he also showed up with his girlfriend Becky in tow and I pointed them to a spot that I had just finished running my fly through for the past few hours with no luck. Feeling discouraged (and a bit tired from our early morning) we set off, and told them to meet us back at another spot in a few hours.
Lunch time came, and my girlfriend and I had arrived back at my truck just as my new found fishing buddy and his girl came driving up to meet with us. “How did it go” I asked, fully expecting to hear that despite his best efforts that nothing had been caught.
“Becky caught a monster!” Todd beamed. “Just exactly where you said it would be too!”
Crap. Not wanting to believe it, and also knowing how much a joker Todd can be I totally dismissed it and said “Whatever show me the picture then and prove it”. And he did just that. Not only had she caught one of the largest steelhead I have ever seen from that river system, but a second chrome one as well.
I could hardly believe my eyes, it just seemed so unfair! I had fished that run hard for two hours before he came, only to have his girlfriend catch my fish!! And this was not only the first steelhead she had ever caught but the first time ever using a bait cast setup!! What the heck!!
And then it hit me. I was now Paul. It had taken 12 years, but history had come full circle and now it was me staring incredulously at the prize that I had been chasing just hours before. I know that Becky and Todd won’t soon forget that amazing day, and god knows Todd doesn’t let me ever forget it. I’ve been the brunt of that story ever since, but I really don’t mind that much. It was a great day for all of us, and an especially great day for one lucky rookie. I guess that’s just how it goes.