Matt Klara | Sunday, 6 November 2016
For the past 18 years, a group of guys and gals from across the United States has gathered to fish for summer steelhead, fortify the bonds of existing friendships, and forge new bonds around the campfire. Over time, Steelhead Camp has grown from very basic roots to a production that can include as many as 25 individuals, multiple boats, and a portable kitchen that rivals what you’d find in any restaurant. Where the camp actually takes place matters little. What is important is that it is surrounded by beautiful steelhead water, and there is no cell phone service. It is a place where everyone comes to unplug from one thing, and get plugged into another. The timing of the trip is typically set to coincide with some of the most predictable steelhead runs around, and the diversity of water virtually ensures that we find fish somewhere. I was invited to camp for the first time a few years back, and was welcomed as a newcomer in a way that I will never forget. Attending has become a part of my annual routine. It is a trip I, and others, look forward to the rest of the year. This camp is not unique in the fact that it exists. In fact, there are groups of like-minded anglers all over the world who gather in similar ways. What is special about this camp is that it is OUR camp.
Steelhead Camp happened again this year. Like always there were regulars and newcomers. Like always there was great fun, great food, campfires, and more. One thing was missing this year, though. The steelhead. For some reason, this year many of the steelhead didn’t return to their natal rivers in meaningful numbers. And the occurrence appears to virtually system wide throughout the might Columbia. The normally prevalent 1-salt steelhead, the surface oriented wonders that love a well swung traditional wet fly or a gaudy surface skater, just weren’t around. The larger, 2 and 3-salt steelhead which are not as common system wide, still returned, but also seemed to play hard-to-get. Combine that with some very untimely rains that put a lot of our rivers out of shape across the Pacific Northwest, and Steelhead Camp 2016 became, simply, Camp 2016.
Discussing the lack of fish, and trying to figure out what went wrong to cause such a rapid decline, is certainly worth our time. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about the future of our steelhead runs, not just in the Columbia, but clear from California to Canada and Alaska. But that discussion will have to wait for another FP.
Because this FP, has a happy ending.
Something very interesting happened at Camp this year, aside from almost no one catching a fish. What was interesting is that NOONE complained about not catching anything. We all knew it would be tough this year, but no one expected it to be as tough as it was. Some of the most skillful steelheaders I’ve ever met went fishless for several days. Sure, we talked and wondered about where they were, but we all just went out every day, fished as hard and well as we all know how, and enjoyed the company of our fellow campers, a few random strangers, and the river. Each day, we got back to camp after fishing, cooked, shared stories from the day and from the year past by, and burned a campfire deep into the night. We celebrated old friendships, new friendships, big events, new children, and more. We all got excited when someone shared a story of getting a big grab or boiling a fish on top, and shared that experience knowing we might not have one of our own this year. We succeeded, not in catching steelhead, but in proving without a doubt something that we knew all along. Fishing camps aren’t just about catching fish. They are about being with great people in a great place, and getting away from whatever stresses and strains there are in our lives, even if it’s only for a few glorious days.
To the crew - Only 341 days until Steelhead Camp 2017, guys. See you there!
Take Care and Fish On!