by Scott Sadil
It’s always a little awkward.
The start of any new season, I find myself repeatedly flustered, or at least annoyed, by all manner of prickly questions that have to be sorted through, once again, before I get back into the swing of things.
Which rods? Where are they? Which reels? Which lines?
And where in God’s name is that box of flies I was fishing out of last time there were steelhead in the river?
It’s a lot like sitting down and beginning a new story after you’ve been away from the keyboard for awhile. Or trying to find your way around the shop after you haven’t been working on the new boat since the start of the salmonfly hatch.
What is it Marlow says in Heart of Darkness? “Rivets I wanted. There were cases of them down at the coast. . . .You could fill your pockets with rivets for the trouble of stooping down – and there wasn’t one rivet to be found where it was wanted.”
Still, the first step is the critical one. Struggle as you might, you just have to tell yourself it will only get easier. The worst thing you can do is grow frustrated, discouraged by the effort, the meager results – and not show up the next day.
At which point you would have to go back and tackle starting out all over again.
The only thing I can imagine that might be worse is surrendering to the overwhelming sense, woe is me, that you’ve finally lost it.
The gift of the first day, on the other hand, embarking on the start of a new season, is discovering what changes may have occurred since your last visit to familiar waters. It’s like seeing an old friend, someone you really do cherish but you just don’t seem to be able to stay in touch with as much as you’d like.
Sadly, it’s rarely all good news.
More people. More pressure. More private property. Access to favorite old runs suddenly denied.
And why is it the river is still out of shape, off-color with muck and glacial silt, a full month later than you used to count on it clearing—and the first fish rising to the waking fly?
It’s a challenge not to grow discouraged—a practice, really, to dismiss what you can’t control, to attend, instead, to what’s in your hands. The cast, the swing, the hope. The Pacific Northwest is littered with steelhead anglers, both old and young, who simply gave up and quit.
Do you want to join them?
Still, we’re all haunted, I believe, by images shared by Pacific coast steelheaders of the great Bill Schaadt casting the end of his life away when the once enormous runs of Russian River winter dwindled to all but nothing. At one time, 50,000 wild winter steelhead returned each year to the Russian River alone; last year, by comparison, an estimated 80,000 steelhead swam up the entire Columbia River basin to spawn in dozens and dozens of tributaries draining over a quarter million square miles, the vast majority of these fish released from hatcheries built to mitigate, went the reasoning, the effects of dams.
A sad story? If you can stomach this sort of tale, do yourself a favor and, if you haven’t already, watch the film Rivers of a Lost Coast. Nowhere else has ever matched the steelheading that once took place along the northern California coast. Nowhere has ever suffered a more dramatic fall from grace.
Meanwhile, closer to home, I pull my bike out of the back of my truck and start up river. Most of the gears seem to be working. There’s a new sign on the gate, something about seasonal fire danger. I drag my bike and rod case underneath and continue upstream.
Gray’s Angling Editor Scott Sadil recalls autumns he caught steelhead by the dozen.