For years, my fly fishing experience was just trout. A fine game fish, one that some would argue is the pinnacle of pursuit with a fly rod. Over time with some different opportunities, bass, panfish, and carp were added to that list. The little light bulb of the thought that the world of fly fishing was more than just trout began to burn a little bit brighter. Three areas of study have critically eluded me over the years though: saltwater, salmon, and steelhead.
One of those I can now check off the list. Last week Blake asked if I wanted to join him and a friend for a float on the [Redacted] River. So Friday morning we met up and headed out. This was Blake and Michael’s first time on this particular river, so we were all excited to try something new.
Certain aspects of the river reminded me strongly of home. The observation that a certain run would make for killer dry fly fishing, or looking at an undercut bank that I could swear would house big brown trout. I constantly had to remind myself that I am not in trout country anymore.
The day started off slowly, until we reached the honey hole. This was a particular spot that Blake had found on the map, and his suspicions that it might be good were confirmed by the presence of five or six gear fishermen. We watched as big salmon disturbed the calm surface of the big back eddy with their backs and fins. To a guy who comes from a place where anything over an honest 16” is note worthy, it was a sight to behold.
Blake hooked one right off the bat, a nice looking coho. Following his instructions on where to fish, what to fish, and how to retrieve it, I soon found myself casting to fish as big as my arm. A couple of slow strips later, my fly stopped. Just stopped. A strip set didn’t move the fly, and suddenly I felt that sweet weight on the end of the line. Oh man.
Back in Montana, if anything really fights hard you are either using really light tackle or you have hooked the fish of the year. The chum pulling hard on the end of my line was peeling line out of a reel cranked all the way down, and had bent a Scott 8-weight to what seemed like a dangerous level. The feel of a big fish fighting hard is one of the best in existence.
Once it got a little bit closer, Blake moved in for a picture. Even though he called it just a little chum, it sure seemed big to me. Picking it up for a picture I can safely say that it was the biggest fish I’ve ever caught. And my first anadromous fish.
Ok, I am beginning to see what all the fuss is about.
The honey hole yielded a few more fish for all of us that morning, including a very nice coho with a big kyped jaw for Blake. The rest of the day saw little action. But we got a feel for some new water, spent a day out of the shop, and had a good time.
It doesn’t really matter what the context is, you always remember your first. In the years to come I’m going to catch many salmon, steelhead, and other large fish, but the memory of this first catch will stick with me always.