My first fly cast was roughly 2 and a half years ago. When I was 5 my dad put a spinner rod in my hands because he just couldn’t wait any longer for his future (yet nonexistent at the time) son to be born. Little did he know he was planting a fishing seed that would grow and grow with an insatiable thirst. Before fly fishing came to me I had heard of the fish Steelhead trout but knew nothing about it except for old fishing tales my dad talked of. Being born and raised in Seattle my favorite fishing use to be the endless species inhabiting Elliot Bay. When I cast my first fly rod that all changed.
I quickly realized the challenge that it presented. As an electrical engineer, I see the world in numbers. I saw fly fishing as a physics problem with endless parameters and variables and most importantly an infinite amount of solutions. Solutions that I became addicted to solving. I saw it as a problem that I could take around the world and solve it anywhere! About 3 months into fly fishing it occurred to me that I actually lived in a mecca of sorts to one of the most resilient and highly sought after fish: the Steelhead.
The first winter I drove out to the Olympic Peninsula almost every other weekend from Nov-April in search of them. Not even a bite the entire winter. And also I have a confession…every blue moon I would bring out a gear rod and use it. I needed the fix!!! Especially during salmon season, those hos saved my life and kept the addiction alive. Ok, I said it. Back to the glorious steelhead on the fly story.
Winter Season #2
After what was probably one of the greatest pieces of advice I decided I would not pick up a spinner rod even if I went all winter without a bite. A friend once said, “How will you ever catch one on the fly if you don’t use your fly rod?” That kind of stuck in my head, so I chose to dedicate myself to the challenge.
I spent, even more, time out there. Sometimes every weekend I would make the 4-hour drive and fish my heart out. I’d catch cutthroat and sometimes the occasional salmon but never that steelhead. Checking river gauges and forecasts became a morning ritual. Because even if I wasn’t there I could talk with friends and check my predictions that the river was in ideal conditions. By the end of winter number 2, I felt like I had walked/waded the entire coast. Part of the problem was I straight up just wasn’t that good of a fly fisher. I acknowledged that. I wasn’t that good of a fisherperson PERIOD. That’s when I decided well since I know the waters but I’m not good at catching fish I had better practice getting good at catching fish. And that’s what I did. From about May 2016 until just before steelhead season this winter I probably averaged about 2-3 days/week on the water. It worked! I started catching fish. My dead drift was ballin outta control by the end of summer, I could catch fish after fish on the swing given the right conditions and I felt unstoppable. This is progress considering when I started I didn’t know a single person who fly fished and I would spend my days on rivers watching YouTube videos on how to cast while trying to mimic what I saw.
I knew I was ready. I knew the waters. I knew how to catch fish. I had confidence. Sometimes driving out to the coast I would envision the fish, watch it notice and take my fly and feel the imaginary set. On my first trip of the season, two of my friends joined and on the second day, we took a guided trip with Justin Tenzler. First-day nada. The second day, there he was. My first Washington steelhead. A beautiful rosy-cheeked hatchery.
That kind of adrenalin cannot be easily replicated unless you do it again. So, of course, I went back, we fished 10 hours in torrential downpour and freezing crosswinds without a bite. It was glamorous. Did this make me want to stop? No. It made me want to come back… kind of like a crazy person. And so I came back. My friend An Ren Tan and I booked another trip with Justin he said to meet him at 5:45 AM to head to the boat launch. I had no inkling about what was going to happen in the next couple of hours…that I would not only get my first Washington wild steelhead but that it was going to be the biggest fish I had ever caught…also that I was going to get two of them.
At first, I had no idea I had hooked him. I thought it was a log and so I sort of jerked on it to try to get it loose, that’s when it displaced 15 feet in about 2 seconds and revealed itself in its true glory via a free Willy style burst from beneath. I thought, actually I think I said, “OH SHIT it’s a fish!” even then I didn’t realize what I had come across, I just focused on trying to get it on the reel. I have sort of trained myself not to be too excited about a fish until it is physically in the net. I think Justin and An Ren were quite surprised at how calm I kept as well as the way I played it and took suggestions about how not to lose it! After a battle of what seemed like a lifetime, An Ren netted it. That’s when I lost my shit. It was like opening a present on Christmas morning.
I got out of the boat looked in the net, hands trembling and said, hmmm that’s a little wider than usual. It was love, at first sight, I looked up, all 3 of us smiles from ear to ear. The boys confirmed, “Ruth, that is a fish of a lifetime.” My quest for my first Washington wild steelhead was over and I was on cloud 9.
The cherry on top was knowing that the way these two helped me through the fight and how they were just as excited as I was, meant these guys were automatically fishing friends for life. I am a strong believer in by surrounding yourself with positive people, places and things, good things will happen. Indeed they did. And as an extra bonus, I ended up catching my 2nd biggest fish to date, another wild. And now here I am, I’ve fallen in love with this thing we call fly fishing all over again.
Congrats on the monster steelhead, Ruth! For more of Ruth’s fly fishing journeys, follow her on Instagram.