This article was written by “LPJ” Lael Paul Johnson (@flygyde), a steelhead gyde based just outside of Seattle, Washington. He guides The Olympic National Park, the Queets River, Skagit, Hoh, Humptulips, Clearwater, Satsop, Wynoochee, Skykomish, Kalama, Cascade and Stillaguamish River.
Catching a steelhead surrounded by the harsh environments in which this elusive fish dwells deserves a celebration worthy of graduation, getting a great job or winning the championship. For some, chasing their first is the beginning of a lifelong pursuit.
Complete with cold feet & hands, walk until your legs want to leave you, cross rivers you thought you couldn’t, drive 50 miles with 40 miles of gas, and waking up at 2:00 am to stumble to your run in the dark.
Others who have completed their lifelong search for “THE ONE,” understand catching a wild fish is the pinnacle of their angling career no matter how well traveled they are.
Why? Why, is this moment along with those previously mentioned special enough to deserve so much praise? The answer is simple, none, and especially this is not easy.
A steelhead catch is something that will change you as a person during and for sure after the fight, whether you win or lose the first battle. When your path crosses with this icon of the forest, usually after the first seconds between fly and fish connection you are overcome with an excitement that is seldom, or if at all duplicated.
Explaining this moment in a few words is difficult, but as an angler who wants to convey the thrill of the experience, we do our best to include all of the glory, without the details of the struggle.
The odd thing about steelhead fishing is a that a bad (slow) day is also what makes it so good! Without this, it would just be another fish.
When, if ever, an angler figures out a strategy for hooking up with this ocean-going rainbow trout on every outing, the right person will open up to share that experience with the world, and they will listen! This is how steelhead guides are born.
Numerous guides in many locations have taken the guesswork out of steelhead fishing, all you need to do is perform and leave the logistics, hiking, and rowing to the professionals. They will take out the unknown, so you are only fighting fish and a hangover from celebrating.
If you are the more adventurous type, this is for you. Unintentionally, emotions involved during an attempt to reproduce the feeling given by the grand accomplishment of a catching a steelhead, some details can get lost in translation if you are a new steelheader ( this is a real person) lingo.
So here’s a tip if you find someone kind enough to give you advice or directions, LISTEN CAREFULLY! The Pacific Northwest and Northern reaches of British Columbia are where the last great runs of steelhead swim.
Also, the landscape, and weather can be extreme, with either location presenting you with unpredictable river flows and hourly changing weather conditions. Being said, when you venture into steelhead country make sure you can find your way in, and your way out, on foot or by boat.
Steelhead fishing is exciting and where your story takes place will make it even more so, but the danger is very present when in their world. Entering this territory unprepared can cost you more than a day just trekking out in the woods.
You are not the only animal in the forest so if bear spray applies to your situation have it on you at all times.
So why in the heck would you go through all of this just for a few tugs, or one on your bug rod?
When you have successfully landed, your first wild steelhead, it is a feeling of accomplishment that makes you want to scream, cry, grab your closest bottle of whiskey to share with friends, and or all. That’s why it’s sexy, this moment right here! When holding this iridescent fish of perfection, you realize what a gift it is to see this creature and the setting which it’s done. The allure of steelhead will bring you to these locations, but the forest and this moment will bring you back!