Mallard's Rest Boat lauch area on the Yellowstone under ice
Mallard's Rest boat launch and camping area
on the Yellowstone  with packed ice. Chunks
rise up under pressure to five feet.

The Defining  Moment
The Hoh River some time ago...

The mist of fog ran through the trees like white fingers. The gravel freestone riverbank along side the long pool slid under our feet as we moved as quietly as possible to  take our positions. In the morning light nothing seemed to stir but the river. Then the distant sound of line being pulled from a reel reached me. I stood motionless as Amy began to false cast along side and parallel to the bank. It was a Kodak moment as her line arced in fluid motion and finally, when she reached the distance she needed,  she let the colorful streamer settle to the water at the head of the pool.

The water took the streamer under and made it tumble for a moment. The steelhead that waited to take their turn in their climb up the confronting rapids watched as the fly slid over their heads and continued downstream. Mid way through the fly’s course of the cast a hen fish rose to intercept the colorful minnow imitation. For some unknown reason it refused the fly and slid back to the bottom to wait for nature to tell her to move upstream. The fly reached the confines of the line and began to be striped back as Amy took back line to ready her second cast. She looked downstream and saw me watching. She shrugged her shoulders and methodically sent the fly again to the head of the pool.

The fly touched the water and was quickly pulled back as a few extra feet of line was added to this next cast. She made one false cast and let the fly land those few extra feet into the falling white water. The fly was pulled under deeply. As it entered the long pool as it came out of the white water it was even with the eyes of the fish waiting their turn to climb the chute.  It was too much of a temptation. An easy meal to sustain the energy needed to breed. The fly was quickly taken by the fastest or maybe the nearest fish.

There wasn’t much of an indication that the fly was taken but for the moment Amy saw the line hesitate. Before she could react the downstream fly line tightened its resistance to the water and the hook began to penetrate. Amy gently lifted her rod and with a quick strip sent the hook deeper into the fish. There was no question. The fish was now fighting for its right to continue upstream and do its part in the continual legacy of the steelhead.

Before Amy could say anything the fish rocketed out of the water and landed on its side. The sound mixed with the descending waters rush and was quickly lost in the air. Her line began to scream from her reel as the fish raced by where I stood. I sent my own fly quickly  to the bank and I began to retrieve my line. Amy was now busy with the first fish of the day.   

There is something that gets into the bones of the people who pursue the steelhead and salmon in the Pacific Northwest. It’s the same urge that haunts all anglers in their search for the one defining moment that says, “this was no mistake. I knew the fish was there and I knew what it would take. I caught the fish.  And yes! I can catch another at my discretion.”

Except, wise men know that even the best of anglers have days where nothing that they can do will produce a fish and sometimes the fish may not be where they are expected to be. Other times, it would be a number of other factors that makes the angler rethink his once chest thumping cry of, “all fish will fall before me.”

No one likes a bragger unless they can pull it off like Mohammad Ali. These people are few and far between. A humbleness before the masses will serve to create the honorable stand to the people who will not or can not learn the experience of choosing a fly or lure,  casting and then playing a fish to your hand.  

I am certain that every angler who loves the smell of water, wind and rain has come to this defining moment at some point in their life. As Tom Petty once sang and I‘ll paraphrase this, “the rock and roller loves what he does as much as you love Jesus” sums it up in a nutshell. There are different strokes for all of us whether it be rock and roll, Jesus or just the love of going fishing. A love is a love the last time I checked.

Amy brought the fish to where she stood in the river. I was standing next to her as she leaned over  and using her forceps slipped the hook and mangled fly from the fish’s mouth. The fish looked quizzically at her for a brief instant and then seizing his moment flipped his tail. There was no noise or cheering  as he slid back quietly into the main flow of the river.

The emotions ran full circle in those fleeting moments on  that morning.
The sullen questioning of yourself when you first viewed the river of whether your skill was enough to seduce a fish into striking.
The primal cry you may have echoed along the water once a fish was connected or during the ensuing fight when your aching arm muscles  keep telling you that you may lose this tug of war.
Then there is that quiet moment when the fish is either released or taken from the river. Fishing can be all of these.
 Doc Knoll       

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