Steelhead Benchmark

I’m one of those fishermen for whom fishing is always great even when catching isn’t so hot.

When I go out on the Lower Deschutes with my son, whether on foot or in his drift boat, my day is made just by being with him, enjoying the sound of the river, feeling the motion of the boat, or the thrill of navigating, with him on the oars, whitewater that will flatten on the rocks any boat with an inexperienced captain.

On a trout trip, a single fat redside rainbow trout will more than make my day. On a steelhead trip, a grab, as we say, or a bite will suffice. I don’t knock myself out to hook fish. They’re a bonus.

But sometimes you get a day for the books.

Late last month Chris took me out on a day trip on our homewaters, the Lower Deschutes River. (He was the guide, but I insisted that he fish too.) Our quarry was summer steelhead, a close relative of the rainbow trout, except that the steelhead is anadramous, that is, born in a freshwater stream and then grown to maturity after migrating to the Pacific Ocean. They return, like salmon, to spawn, but unlike salmon, may make two or three trips back and forth before cashing in their chips.

At Chris’s house, we ate a pre-dawn breakfast of hot Quaker Instant Oatmeal and drank strong coffee. Then we headed for the river. A friend accompanied us.

This past year I’ve developed a knee situation that has curtailed skiing and I thought that it might end fishing – at least wading, which I love to do. I can’t flex and put weight on the right knee without support from the left. Makes climbing stairs awkward. But my son would brook no excuses during the arrangement of the trip. “I’ll be right next to you as you move through the run, Dad.”

True to his word, Chris put me in more easily waded runs (less big rocks to trip on) and stayed right with me. I also learned that I could take a stab of pain to avoid folding and taking an unscheduled swim, but his strong arm was what really kept me out of the drink.

Remember I said a “grab” meant a good day of steelheading? This was a day for my record book. Chris set me up for two hookups and two steelhead landed. (We released them both – one hatchery, one wild.) I had this feeling that I was experiencing someone else’s life. We were swinging Intruder-style flies using spey rods and shooting line that can reach out on the river a loooong ways, but both of my fish were hooked on a second cast, darned near at my feet.

Our friend was also two for two, and Chris, who spent relatively little time angling, fished the runs after us, and gave us first choice wherever we fished, finished up three for four (one got loose). He also hooked two big rainbows, but they didn’t count on a steelhead day. All fish were released.

Three guys, seven for eight. Not bad.


8 thoughts on “Steelhead Benchmark

  1. Wow, that sounds like a great trip! What do you do after having caught a fish? Do you release it, or take it home and fry it?

    BTW, hot Quaker Instant Oatmeal is the best breakfast I know. It keeps me going until lunch without feeling hungry, plus I love having something warm in the morning.

  2. FT, We released all the fish. Since we are using large wet flies, not bait, the hook is easily removed (fish virtually inhale bait, merely strike at wet flies). We use relatively heavy leaders, so we don’t have to tire out the fish to the point of exhaustion. Then we carefully face the fish into the current and off they go!

    You’re welcome, Betty. We’ve been fishing together almost since Chris learned to walk, and often my wife goes along and outfishes me! She cringes when we let fish go, although it is the law to release the wild fish like the one in the picture. BTW, if you think that fish is big, you should see the steelhead from British Columbia!

  3. An awesome father and son moment provided by you, sir. Well done. Also, I’ll have a reply to your comment on my page in a few minutes. Just making my rounds and making sure my people are still alive. 🙂

  4. Nice looking fish, AND fishermen. I’m glad your son was there to support you. I guess that’s what happens when we get older; the tables turn and they are taking care of us!

  5. Thanks, Jose. And thanks for making sure I’m still alive! I admit to distractions this past week and a half. In fact, I began a new WordPress blog to deal with some of the distractions. More on that later.

    Yes, Margaret, nothing about getting older that a knee reconstruction and losing eighty pounds wouldn’t cure. And thanks for the compliment. 😉

    I’m a lucky husband and father, for sure.

  6. Hugh: I don’t no anything about fishing. . . accept the memories I have of my grandfather gutting them and popping their eyeballs out – right in the middle of my grandmother’s kitchen (YUCK!!!) LOL! 🙂 Anyway, even though I don’t know anything about fishing, I know about having big fun with a great dad – and I recognize the later in your post!

  7. Lisa, you made me laugh (poor fish!) about the guts and eyeballs mess. I can identify.

    When I was nine, my uncle and Dad thought it would be character-building for me to clean up a pile of fish guts my uncle left after cleaning them at a utility sink in his basement at his place somewhere on the saltwater up in Washington State. It put me off fishing for many years because I never wanted to deal with that kind of gross-out again. (But the fish tasted good.)

    The men hadn’t taken me out in the saltwater because they felt it was too dangerous in a rowboat for a kid. And they got a pretty good fright themselves when a pod of Orca’s (“Killer Whales”) swam close by.

    Thanks for the compliment! Parenting Chris was a piece of cake with the usual exceptions of 8th and 9th grade years! 🙂

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