My friend Casey penned this piece to friends 14 years ago after I caught my first steelhead on the fly. It hangs on the wall next to other photos and mementos of past piscine exploits. At the time, I had yet to learn the art of swinging a fly, proper fish handling, and bonking every hatchery fish you encounter. Sadly, you’ll see things have not changed very much when it comes to the state of steelhead.
Fellow minnow muggers–
This was my third or fourth trip to the great Northwest in the last 3-4 years, and looking seriously at the prospect of another fishless flogging of a storied steelhead river–in this case, the Kalama River in Washington, which drains once-mighty Mt. St. Helens. No surprise in this but the runs of Columbia drainage salmon and steelhead have suffered from the combination of pollution, logging, gill-netting, drought, and our current administration’s belief that even hatchery fish are somehow “wild.” Throw more of those anemic dog chow trout into the river and everything will be fine. Wassup with that.
So it was lucky for us that the temp dropped on our second day on the Kalama from 95 to 75 and a fresh push of bright steelies coasted over the tail out and into the pool we were fishing. After his 10,000th cast, Bennett’s bobber dunked under and he was fast to a 12lb hatchery buck that tore all over the pool on a mostly slackline, cartwheeled 10 feet in
front of him and after a few more surges surfed into the shallows where we both dived on top of him for a couple of photos before release. Half an hour later my home-tied Ugly Bug stonefly got sucked in by a chromer ending a four year dry spell.
Bennett’s fish was his first steelhead, insured by good Karma and the bags of trash he had accumulated from river banks and guard rails from the bait slingers and drunken inner tubers that treat every roadside pullout and riverside rock as a perfectly suitable location to leave 20 lb mono, beer cans and baby diapers. I know how Chief Seattle felt now… A quarter-mile
stretch of the upper river catch and release section I used to frequent with Charlie and Stuart in the early 90’s has been fenced off and closed as private waters by some bucks-up yuppie with a southern accent. He and the trophy wife–you know, arms crossed, blonde ponytail extending from under ball cap, Lands End shorts–came down to tell me that I could no longer fish the pool where I caught a 15 lb steelie in 92 with Caelin in the child carrier and Stuart trying to help land the fish with my rod broken just below the first guide. Bittersweet trip this. Hoping the country will wake up before experiences like this with wild fish on once-wild rivers are but distant memories…
Apologies to everyone in Portland, Medford, Hood River and Bend that we didn’t make contact or hook up on this Kamikaze run. We’ll give you some advance warning next time through. Chums in November on the Skagit? Squawfish below Bonneville? Sturgeon below the Trojan Nuke Plant? Carp on the I-5 ponds in Hood River. Sounds like a redneck Grand Slam in the making, and we’re all about it.
Get’ em on the wheel, CS