By Josiah Darr
Mountain climbing…. Back to the roots
When I was a wee little lad, barely cutting my tiny teeth in the world of steelhead fishing, I used to see the armada of drift boat launching at various points in the river and think to myself that there wasn’t anything better being in a drift boat. Of course I had only been in a drift boat a few times at that point in my life and I was barely old enough to drive. Plus pushing carts and carrying out groceries at the local Fred Meyers between baseball practices put me a long way from ever owning a boat. Hell, I couldn’t even afford a Sevlor blow up rubber raft that was sure to drowned me if I’d owned one. It’s probably better that I didn’t. So, to quench my thirst for the pursuit of the flawless electric flashes I’d felt so few times in my adolescent life, I took to the bank.
I started my banking career in a tiny unnamed creek that I don’t believe is even open for steelhead fishing anymore. Of course that wasn’t due to my steelhead fishing prowess. I didn’t catch jack! What I did do was learn how to fish. Where to put my body to cover certain pieces of water. How to raise and lower my rod tip to get the perfect drift through a likely looking spot. I learned the art of falling in while crossing more times than I care to elaborate on, but I learned every day what to do and what not to do.
I’ll never forget the first time a pitched too much pencil lead, a corky that looking back was way too big and bright for the size of this creek, and a cluster of eggs the size of my 14 year old balled up fist, into a swirly hole along side of a bridge abutment.
My friend Dan and I stood there in amazement as a flash like neither of us had ever seen came firing out from the shadow underneath the pillar, scarfed my eggs and disappear down a rapid before either of us knew what to do. The line came tight, the fish freaked out, Dan and I about peed ourselves and the fish was gone in a matter of a tenths of a seconds. It was over before it barely ever started, but that single unidentified flash lit a fire like a ember falling in an old hay loft. It was on…. I was hooked and I wasn’t going to stop until I felt that rush over and over again or until I wasn’t fun anymore…. That has never happened.
The College Years
Besides being the most fun I ever had with my clothes on, and occasionally off, college was the perfect time to be completely irresponsible and use Uncle Sam’s dime to fish and much as humanly possible. Teachers didn’t take attendance, classes weren’t graded on participation and there was no mom and dad to give me that, “You should be doing something more productive with your time” look when I ditched a class and headed for the river. It was awesome.
It was the college years where my steelhead fishing skills were honed. They weren’t exactly razor blade dangerous, but I could pop a balloon or two if they held still.
With the limited success came learning…. I just got one. Or better yet, I hooked five today. What did I do to make that happen? What were the conditions? What day of the year is it? What did I catch them on? The mental Rolodex of fishing information started to build and steelhead fishing became more of a math problem than a fishing trip. “If water level “A” + time of year “B” + sand shrimp tail and a pink pearl corky “C” all come together it should equal = steelhead “D”. That might have been the only math problem I learned in college, but unlike the ones that were taught in class, this one I was going to use over and over again for the rest of my life.
Buying a Boat
It wasn’t long once I figure out how to earn a few bucks, I bought a drift boat. And the rest, as they say, is history. All the learning and tromping up and down moss covered rocks and the countless endos into root wads, sticker bushes, branches or whatever else God and left to soften my dismounts had finally been worth it. All that work climbing and learning and backlashing into tree behind me was over. Now I could float these mountainous raging rivers through the pristine glory that is steelhead water. I could position the boat where ever I wanted and cover every spot from the perfect angle time and time again until I was certain I’d caught every scaly critter in a run. I could float for miles at a time covering dozens and dozens of likely looking spots with the easy of simply pulling on the oars. I could….. wait…. All my friends are fishing…. Damn it!!! I’m just rowing!!! I’m back to never catching anything!!! This sucks!!!
The Guide Life
To rid myself of all the ungrateful friends and all the awesome times we had hanging out on the river, I got my guide license so I could fish with people who had more money. Of course I didn’t know them from Adam, but who cares? I was getting paid to fish. It seemed like a great idea at the time, and looking back it still was.
I’ve relearned more about the passion of the chase and the desire to learn and experience something I’ve done so many times. It’s awe was often lost on me and watching other people experience is brought it back for me. It’s that gleam and excitement that every guest bring to the boat with them that reinforced my love game. There’s nothing like it. It’s the greatest sport in the world.
There’s chance, there’s practice, there’s patience, there’s heartbreak, there’s pain and there’s love. Pure, unadulterated, unblemished, inspiring, life changing, love. A love that is hard to find or duplicate at any corner of the earth. A love that is so overwhelming it can steal a man’s mind for years and years even if he’s only felt it once for merely a second under a bridge with Dan when he was 14 years old.
I said I’d stop chasing steelhead when I stopped feeling the rush…. It still hasn’t happened.
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