Sunday, May 11, 2008

Popping the Steelhead Cherry

Final Installment of the Spring Fishing Trip

Written by Joe

Fishing for Steelhead Trout is a lot like sex. For some, it comes naturally, in no time at all you are out in the wilderness, waist deep in a wet river, maneuvering your rod with such skill that with the faintest flick of the tip you gently drift your fly into a hidden honey hole resulting in a heart pounding give and take tango with a glistening hen (aka female steelhead)

And then there is the rest of us who after multiple years of futile attempts find themselves paying for it… and let me tell you, it was worth every penny.

Most of the morning was spent learning from our guide. First we focused on how to handle our rods our reels our line and our flies. Next we learned the secrets of finding the fish and how to approach the hole. Finally after honing our techniques it happens… FISH ON!!!

It was a text book cast played to perfection. Justin drew his nine foot rod back and thrust it forward shooting his line across the mighty Pere Marquete. Dit… Dit… Dit… the sinker bounced of the rocky bottom. Dit… Dit… Dit… the current carried the fly toward the hole. Dit... Dit….. tug?



FISH ON and all was quiet

What do you mean FISH ON? We never FISH ON? How do we FISH ON? AHHH WHAT DO I DO Justin calls out to our guide.

With all the calm of someone who as caught as many fish as we’ve drank beers our Guide swings into action.

Tip up Justin, keep the tip up.

Let it RUN… Let it RUN… Give it some line…

Ok, good Justin, when you get a chance start to reel.

Justin standing tall and proud in the river mastering his rod maneuvering the… the… the… what? What exactly did Justin have at the end of his line?

SPLASH, with a sudden thrust a massive steelhead trout launches itself from the shallow river bed high into the cool spring air.

SPLASH again the monster steelhead breaches shaking its massive head left and right trying to spit the fly which snared him.

SPLASH… DIVE… RUN the steelhead speeds down river


Again with the calm of a master angler our guide nets the fated beast.

Finally after several years of failed attempts, Justin breaks our collective cherry.

Smiling from ear to ear Justin gently grips the monster and raises it from the net holding it high and proud like Yzerman hoisting the holly grail of all sports trophies.

Stage left enter a conflicted fisherman… how could it be? I was the one who was supposed to catch the first steelhead ever. Why Justin? Why not me? A half jealous half proud Joe congratulates Justin on his triumphant catch.

Slowly lowering the mighty catch into the water holding its head upstream allowing the gentle current to pass oxygen through its gills Justin nurtures the trout back from the brink of exhaustion and lets it swim gently away.

We all catch our breath and get back at it. You see the secret of fly fishing for steelhead our guide explains is this… First, as long as you don’t catch the hen, there will always be males around to catch. Second, you never leave fish to find more fish.

So our anglers continue… FISH ON… Again? Twice in a row? How can it be?

Justin begins to reel in fish number two. This time though there is no fight, there is no splashing, Justin reels in a baby brown trout. Our anglers all laugh thinking we’ve seen bait bigger than this little fella. But still, a catch is a catch and that makes it Justin 2, Joe donut. Sorry we can’t tell you about Don just yet, he was fishing another hole.

Our anglers celebrate the recent catch with some fantastic habanera sausage and a cold India Pal Ale (a delicious beer the Canadian brought from the great North)

Another hour goes by and our dynamic duo continue to thrust their rods at the hole hoping to get lucky…

Dit Dit Dit tug…



Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzing line rips off the reel like it were attached to a freight train.

Farther and farther down the river the steelhead swims.

Jump splash not once not twice but five times we see the steelhead break the river’s surface trying to spit the fly.

Tip Up… Rod toward the shore… Reel Reel Reel… run run run Reel Reel Reel wow we have a fighter. This guy isn’t giving up any time soon.

Now I’ve caught huge pike, bad ass walleye, a couple sheep head hogs and a fat belly bass or two in my day, but never has a fish fought for its freedom as much as this guy.

Minute after minute the fish battles to escape until finally after a quarter of an hour he finally subsides

Scoop, way down stream our guide nets Joe’s first steelhead.

This guy was a few inches smaller in length and girth than Justin’s monster (insert that’s what she said joke here) but he was newer to the river. Our guide again emparts some knowledge on our young anglers (note our guide was several years younger than us however in fishing years he was like 740)

You see, Gabe explain, the longer a fish is in the river the darker his color will be and the redder his fins and cheeks will become. Also, the longer they are in the river the less energy they have to fight due to the constant effort they endure to swim the mighty currents.

So, apparently I caught a rookie. And man was he fun to catch.

Justin 1 Steely 1 Brown, Joe 1 Steely, Don we just don’t know

Our anglers celebrate the recent catch with some fantastic habanera sausage and a cold India Pal Ale (a delicious beer the Canadian brought from the great North)

Lunch time… our guide fires up the grill while our anglers continue to perfect their technique.

The delicious smell of grilled marinated chicken fills the air and the faint sizzle and pop of the grill can be heard over the rushing current. Gabe begins to set up for lunch

Dit Dit Dit… tug? FISH ON.

Again Justin hooks into a monster steelhead. With the chicken grilling in the back ground our
guide and Justin muscle in another monster fish. Almost as big as the first one. Time for a picture, Justin puts his rod between his teeth and bites down holding the nine footer in place while he and his fellow angler pose for another memory. Another beautiful steelhead catch captured in time.

Fishing makes one kind of hungry, especially at the rate we were nailing them. A brief pause for lunch. And it is scrumptious. Another India Pale Ale another chunk of spicy sausage and its back at it.

Having a few miles of river yet ahead of us our anglers have to leave theses fish to find more fish closer to base camp.

Masterfully Gabe manuvers our boat down stream dodging fallen tree, raging rapids and the occasional fisherman fishing a hopeless spot lacking of gravel and shade. Gabe laughs at them as he passes by explaining the intricacies of finding a good fishing hole. And it becomes clear as day to our anglers, YOU CAN’T CATCH FISH BEHIND THE TROUT POST. Its just not a good spot.

We are nearing the end of our 8 hour float each of us having caught three fish each when out of the corner of his eye Gabe spies a pot of gold… swimming in place behind some rocks in the shadow of a tall pine tree are a school of steelies.

Quickly ditching the boat into the shore and dropping the anchor our anglers leap into the river

WOA! The river is DEEP here and the current is FAST… Gabe looks us in the eyes and asks, can you handle the river here, with trepidation we go all in.

First cast dit dit dit TUG zing… another monster tears down stream ripping line out of Joe’s reel. Jump splash dive


For the first time all day our anglers fail to land their prey.

Second Cast, this time it’s Justin

Dit dit dit… tug zing!

Again a monster plows down stream right into the net of our guide.

3 Steelhead 1 Brown for Justin 1 Steelhead 2 Trout for Joe

Dit dit dit… tug zing snap Justin loses the second fish of the day.

Dit dit dit tug zing… FISH ON… Joe catches his second steelie of the day.

Arms aching, spirits high, our anglers muscle up to cast again when on the horizon we see our good friend the professor.

Excited to hear of Don’s success and to share stories of Justin and Joe’s fantastic day our trio unite.

Sigh… none? Zero? No steelhead? How can that be? Justin and Joe caught five steelies and three trout. How can it be that Don had yet to land a treasured prize.

This can not be, it will not be, Joe gives up his spot to his good pal Don and climbs the bank to watch in hope that the professor will school a monster.

What kind of line do you have on this reel our guide asks Don’s guide? Our guide shakes his head at the answer.

What kind of set up do you have on this rod our guide asks Don’s guide? Our guide shakes his head at the answer.

Realizing Don has inferior tools Gabe stands tall beside him in the river coaching him up on technique directing Don toward the fish.

Cast, drift, dit dit dit tug?


Tug ?


ZING with more speed and force this fish storm down the river like none before it.

Hard left it turns into some rocks shaking the line under water trying to free itself. Hard right under the boat it swims hoping to rip the line on the sharp edge of the hull. Zing down the river and around the bend the fish swims tearing the line off the reel getting down to the very end.

Standing tall in the river, arms aching, heart pounding Don stands alone as the guides run through the water up stream and out of site to hopefully net this fighter of all fighters.

Tight the line bends Don’s rod nearly dragging his boots along the rocky river bottom then nothing, not tug, line limp, rod straight in Don’s hand… silence…

Then from around the bend our anglers hear a loud cheer. Gabe had netted the beast just as it spit the fly nearly freeing itself from being caught.

Thrashing in the water our guide walks upstream smiling from ear to ear. Don had caught the hen.

A beautiful silver female steelhead. The most striking fish caught all day.
Just over eight hours into our trip, sun beginning to set, our day had ended.

As Don coached the hen back to health letting her swim down stream so went the males that filled our lucky spot.

Justin 3 Steelhead 1 Brown, Joe 2 Steelhead 2 Rainbow, Don 1 amazing female steelhead.

Editor's Note: When I first heard that I was not able to go on the Spring Fishing trip, I was sorely upset. After all these years of not catching fish on the Pere Marquette, I just knew that this was going to be the trip. I thought I would be bitter and jealous.
But after reading these reports and when I first saw the photos of Joe, Justin and Don catching what may well be the most spectacular fish we've ever caught on our Fishing Trips, I was not jealous, I was extremely happy. That's what these fishing trips are all about. I wasn't there with them personally, but I was there in spirit.
There is always the next trip to personally catch fish...So, where are we going in October???
This week while I am in the Hospital, I've left a few posts for you to read. Tune in after today. Enjoy.

No comments: