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Ronan's report


Wednesday 3rd February, 2010

If you don't mind, I'd like to tell you a fish story about the best and worst steelhead. This is a true story that happened this past Sunday on a small coastal river known for its hatchery run.

I had just landed the worst steelhead ever - a dark, funky hatchery buck that had been recycled downriver.

Recycling is one of the horrible things that people do to fish. As if catching them isn't enough. Recycling is the practice of taking a hatchery steelhead after it has made it back to the hatchery from the sea, putting it in a truck, and driving it back downriver where it is unceremoniously dumped out to try it hand at finding the hatchery again. The idea is that it gives more anglers a chance to catch the fish. In the process, these fish are often beaten up, scarred, and damaged. They are also marked - a scissor is used to clip off the top corner of its tail.

But I digress. I had just landed the worst steelhead ever. I don't think poorly of a wild steelhead that has become injured in the normal course of action, jumping waterfalls, fighting other steelhead in the spawning effort, or naturally darkening in color. These fish still posses the spirit of the animal. Often, they also possess amazing strength. This steelhead that I caught, however, wasn't even really a steelhead, at least in the magical, mystical sense. It had no spirit. It was beaten, damaged, and tired. Somehow it still took my fly, but it had no fight, no strength, and no beauty. Robbed of all that by the hatchery, it was just waiting around to die.

Later that same day we were fishing the nice seam and slot at the head of a large, deep pool. A tributary stream enters the main river here with a spectacular leap off of a 30 or 40 foot cliff. Several other anglers were trying their luck with conventional tackle at this popular spot. A rain squall passed through the valley. As the rain let up and the sun started to shine through the afternoon haze, our attention was drawn downriver when some one stated simply "Fish On."

A moment later the surface of the pool exploded. Fifteen pounds of bright white and silver steelhead went airborne. The angler who hooked it was very skilled and fought this incredible fish vary hard and well. Mostly he just held on as this spectacular, wild hen blazed across the pool and leaped again and again. In the two minutes between hookup and release, it jumped over 15 times. Tarpon style. Marlin style. Bass style. Salmon style. STEELHEAD STYLE.

Everyone held their breath as it leaped. When it came to hand, the group of anglers gathered at the beach to see this amazing fish. Often, wild fish are mistreated by anglers who are only after a meal. This one was treated like a treasure. It earned - no - commanded every anglers respect. One guy said, "It's a wild one, a wild one. Keep it in the water!" Another helped remove the hook. A third took a quick photo. When the lucky angler lifted this fish for a second, his hand were shaking. All of our hands were shaking! The fish was very calm until the moment he set her back in the water. With another powerful burst, she rocketed back into the pool, throwing water on the crowd. Power to spare. Spirit to spare. Enough to infect a small group of humans that were lucky enough to be there to see.

She was the real deal. She is the real deal, and today she's headed home to spawn.

Be Well & Fish On,
Matt


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