Our story begins with a planned trip to Southern Oregon to spend some time with friends and family. I had a day set aside to invest targeting steelhead, so I reached out to my buddies Keith Lyon from Jefferson Rod Company (IG: @jeffersonrodco) and Jeff Hensley (IG: @oregon_tarheel) to see if they had some availability to get out on the water. Thankfully, both were generous enough to make it work into their busy schedules and we met up in the early A.M. to go chase some fish.
We started out the beginning of the day with a float that had produced some quality fish. We pulled into a nice run for some swinging and Keith managed a healthy adult native fish. I was also excited to hear there were chinook salmon in the system and I was eager to find a few of those bruisers if I was so lucky.
My first fish of the day just so happened to be a big male chinook that had some pretty impressive acrobatics for its size. I had fought the fish for roughly a minute until it had made a big run and broke me off. We made connections with quite a few fish, Keith and Jeff being the only two to actually bring fish to hand. After reaching the boat ramp, I was getting pretty discouraged and beating myself up over what I thought I should have been doing differently fighting the fish I had lost or if there was anything differently that I could do at all (we’ve all been there). I quickly realized that the day wasn’t over and there was still a chance of redemption for the second float.
Keith had to leave us for the day, so that he could get back to the shop to continue to making those gorgeous Jefferson Rod Co. works of art. After we parted ways, Jeff and I made a quick run for some lunch and his boat. For our second float, we decided to head further up river to launch and fish a new section.
The second half of the day really turned on and we were crushing fish left and right. Almost every area that was suspect to hold fish, had them in there. The only issue for me, was the fact that I kept losing big fish and began to truly doubt myself as an angler. In complete modesty, I am no stranger to larger fish and have been blessed with crossing paths with many a great fish in both fresh and saltwater. I generally don’t run into the issues that I was experiencing with these fish, but I was humbled by the fact that steelhead are truly an enigma in every way, shape, and form. At this point in my life, I haven’t spent enough time personally with these fish to fully realize that statement and finally came full circle in understanding this concept.
The most exciting steelhead I had hooked for the day had given me a run for my money and eventually, it began another classic story of the one that got away. We were working an area that we could visibly see two boulders that were side by side with a little channel in-between them. I connected with what was easily the largest steelhead (with a 29″ buck being my largest to date) that I have ever crossed paths with and after the initial hook up, I could see the chromed out unicorn flash in all its glory. After the hookup, the fish started peeling line up river and cruising straight for this channel. After it cruised through the channel and wrapped around one of the boulders, I could feel that the fish was still attached, but I had no way of gaining any line back. Jeff rowed like a madman over to attempt to free the tangle. As we made our way over and got close to the hang-up, I felt a sigh of relief that there were still head shakes at the end of the line. Finally, I pulled the line free and as it became tight, I felt a feeling of disbelief with a fleeting snap of the leader. I hunkered over the bow of the boat for a moment and tried to suppress the overwhelming feelings of anger and frustration. Bested yet again, by an extremely talented species of fish.
At this point, it was time to pull chocks and head on to the next spot. After a short jaunt down the river, I hopped out of the boat and proceeded to work another run with Jeff. After making a few casts at some water that looked juicy but yielded no fruit, I decided to go a little shorter and hit an area that looked like it had a ledge to it. First cast and I got absolutely hammered with tons of line getting pulled off the reel. Once I got the fish to stop pulling, all I could feel was the heavyweight at the end of my line. I was really hoping that I had a huge steelhead, but being that I had never caught a salmon before I didn’t quite know how they fought. After the initial run, a tug of war ensued and it was amazing to feel the raw power of this animal. Always tough trying to play a larger fish, all the while you are trying not to snap your leader. I finally had worked it enough to get in close to possibly get a glimpse and that’s when Jeff and I had seen the size of her. We both looked at each other with astonishment and everything got serious. Jeff knew how bad I wanted to land a fish like this and he did everything in his power to make sure that happened.
After quite a few good runs and fighting the fish back each time, I finally got to a spot to get the fish landed. Finally! The relief of putting a fish in the net is like no other. After the bout, we proceeded to get a quick measurement of 39.5″ and a couple photos before sending her on her way to go drop some eggs and perpetuate the species. I was on cloud 9 and definitely was on a fish high for the next week. It’s a beautiful thing when you can connect with something in this world and experience the euphoria that life can offer.
Needless to say, fishing is my nirvana.
Landon Mace is a fly fishing guide and creator out of Bend, Oregon. Check him out on Instagram @landon_mace