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Too Hot To Handle: A Fish Story

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Ronan's report


Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Early Saturday morning I was in exactly the right place - up the canyon with one of my favorite fishing partners. Slowly, the bright stars gave way to the building dawn and we waded out into the river. First light is the magic moment for steelhead during the dog days of summer. The water has cooled off at night and the fish often move into shallower lies, making them far easier to target with floating line tactics.

I’d been working down a great piece of water for about 15 minutes, really getting into the rhythm. Step, cast, swing – letting my fingers dangle in the river like I do sometimes. Grooving out big Spey casts is just one of those things that feels right.

The advantage of spending a lot of time on a given river is that you really get to know it well. For steelhead, it’s a huge advantage. Sure, there is always room for a surprise, but these fish tend to use the same lies year after year, and when you know them, and concentrate on fishing the best water, you find fish.

So, on Saturday morning I found myself coming into one of my favorite pieces of steelhead water. One of those spots that just absolutely defines the term “Bucket”. A glorious piece of choppy water about 60 feet out, where currents come together and break up over some bedrock ledges. I reached out well into the river, set up my drift, let the tiny purple fly slide out of the heavy flow and guided it purposefully broadside across that chop. It swings perfectly.

A steelhead snatched the fly in a massive rush, taking my loop so fast there was neither time to contemplate doing it wrong or to set the hook. Experience told me that fish that I hook in this manner rarely stay pinned and that I should just hope for the best and enjoy the ride. For good measure, when the fish finally slowed down after taking about 30 feet of backing, I leaned back and set the hook. That just unleashed the fire, and the fish accelerated back up to top speed in a blink.

All this happened very fast, and when I finally came out of my trance and looked up and away from my spinning reel I caught a perfect glimpse of my fish, nearly 200 feet downstream, and an easy 5 feet above the silvery surface of the river. She was incredible. Though far smaller than the average fish on most fabled steelhead rivers, her speed and spirit were unmatched by my skill as an angler. I’m sure it was a she. On the rare instances that I’ve managed to land these laser beams they have always been hens. She cannonballed back into the far-off tailout throwing a spray of water up into the cool morning air, and for the first time since we met, she stopped running.

I put about four turns of line back on my reel before the hook came away, leaving me with a long slack line to reel up. I was beaten.

But was I really? How often is the loser left shaking with excitement, with a huge grin spread across their face? I’ve been telling this story to my fishing friends since Saturday and every time that grin comes back. I’ve got it right now. And I’m thinking, “When did I get to the point where I no longer need to land a great fish for it to become terrific and memorable.”

Take Care and Fish On,
Matt


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