Mallard's Rest boat launch and camping
on the Yellowstone with packed
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
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
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.