|First and Only|
While we complain about its lack of comfort and food the rest of the year, when you're in Steelhead Camp, none of that matters. Each day is ended with the fueling of the mortal shackle, the tilting of bottles, and a rapid decline into slumber so as to be prepared for the next day's toil in cruel weather on cruel waters.
The first year I fished for steel I landed one. I hooked a bunch but it was only the one that came to hand though another got close before coming unpinned. The frustration only made success that much more delectable which is probably why the sport is so intoxicating. I was told that it was a good outing for a rookie. I was also told that I should have been there last year. “Last year” the digits were double, the grins painful to maintain, the memory cards full.
That first outing ended with the sense of satisfaction one has when things start to make sense. But I was also left with something else. It was the gnaw of the addict’s craving. I went two years without landing another; plenty hooked, but no grip and grins. These were also lean years for the more experienced anglers in the troupe, so the sting of failure was mild though it did leave a scar on the part of my brain that noodles the steel. The touch of steel, cool and strong, cannot be shared with words or images. It defies understanding without suffering; endless casts, cold, stiff limbs, cheekbones scoured by frigid winds.
This year, because important non-angling matters pressed, I missed Steelhead Camp. The vagaries of managed water flows, barometric pressure, and perhaps something divine aligned in the unknowable mind of the west coast transplants and they ran upriver into diminishing flows. The fishing was good; great, even. Forum scorecards flaunted the success of the players. This year has now become a “last year”. A really good one.
I'll get to steelhead water for a few days next month. I feel like I’m going through the motions, yet my imagination partners with memory and calls me to action. The desire to feel the strength of bright chrome on the line and in the hand is strong. Without the grins and backslaps and jealous glances of my Steelhead brothers it won't be as good, but it could be good enough.