The Steelhead Shakes – Five Months Later

The first fish, always exciting, extra-special and often unexpected, can always be enamored with “hard-earned”, “worked-for”, “overdue”, or some such portrayal of time and effort. When it’s the first fish of the season, it’s like reconnecting with a long gone friend in the way familiar and new can intertwine. When it’s on one of those I’ll-drive-over-and-just-check-things-out kind of evenings it suddenly fits perfectly into some grand script only vaguely remembered. When it bests my record for earliest adult steelhead caught in this river, it stands worthy of note if only because time itself demands some recognition of movement.

A pulse of water over the last few days measurably cooled off a river that wilts in the oppressive heat of late summer. I decided to swing a floating line and a classic low-water spey modeled after the Lady Caroline changed up with pheasant rump wing and hackle in a more orange shade. One of those setups that feels classy anyd cool – the way steelhead are meant to be fished for.

I love the low swept wing and short body of a more classic low-water style spey fly. This is tied with pheasant rump for the wing and hackle and my always trusty alpaca wool for body. Sleek – just like the fish it was built to catch.

The first fish barely gave me enough time to get back into the casting groove and settle into the rhythm of the river. The hard tugging boil, a clicking reel and for a moment there’s a bit of disbelief this is all really happening. I get it in quickly, grab a quick photo and wonder what’s next. I fish down past the bucket, into water I rarely connect in, despite it’s fishy appeal. I’ve stood here easily a hundred times and the line is always the same – one more step and swing and I’m outta here. That’s when it all happens again, the soild tug, boil and a broad flash of silver across the surface before it all goes slack. Whoa.
Always save the top of upper N-S for when the light is just right. Don’t fish it too early, the water is too skinny to chance spooking fish. Do one pass through and make it count. Halfway through, the fish is into the backing before the next breath. Lift into it and it turns upstream, lunging heavy and surely through the fast water – the sound of line peeling through the water. Working it over to the shallows and the fish comes unbuttoned – simple as that.

First steelhead of the season – all before I could even catch my breath and settle into the river’s rhythm.

That’s when the much sought after steelhead shakes start to creep in. It’s hard to maintain composure and calm in these situations – like 32 ounces of espresso delivered directly into a nervous system now on edge. But that would be the last grab of the evening. A first night out, a familiar place and a fish that will be remembered for the rest of the year.

Uppermost N-S. Stood here a hundred times at least and it’s always a treat.

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