Last Friday a plan was in the works to fish somewhere that weekend. Many options were passed around via all forms of electronic pulse. Texts and emails all conjuring images of throwing line through the air – but the targets varied from the Cascade Lakes above Bend, to urban streams with steelhead over the mountains.
Honestly I was reluctant to begin chasing the chrome again. This winter was filled with many casts and only 1 take – and my recent trips around Bend to both local rivers and lakes were action packed. But the draw of the chase, and the stoke of my friends won out and Saturday morning Josh and I headed West, fueled by the optimism that is overflowing at the beginning of a steelhead trip.
We met Jon at the take-out as he and some other friends were finishing up their morning drift. They had hooked into a few fish, both spit the hooks, but one put up a great fight prior to doing so. This good news added a bit more optimism to our cups, and we set off for an afternoon drift down the Willamette.
The water was beautiful, the color was amazing, and the skies were mostly overcast. Optimism ++. I started out nymphing – a security thing for me since my spey cast is novice and not dialed in. I hooked into a few fish on the first run – a white fish and a cut throat. Optimism++
Funny thing is about a steelhead trip – that optimism cup is overflowing at the start of the day. The visions of tugs dancing in ones head power you, cast after cast, to keep sending out your line in hopes of that connection with the animal that has traveled hundreds of miles – that animal that *you know* is lurking in the emerald green waters you are wading in.
Those casts slowly draw from the Optimism tank (–). Beautiful run after beautiful run, Optimism–. Stories are told from prior hookups with chrome in an attempt to keep the optimism tank full, beers are drank, whiskey is sipped, and chants of “oooh that is the drift right there, be ready” slowing the tank from hitting EMPTY.
And so the afternoon went down the river. Trout were brought to hand here and there – some of which on any typical river day would have been photographed and lauded for their beauty – but therein lies the irony of the situation – only one species mattered that day. That one that was out there in the emerald waters, flowing past our feet.
I then decided somewhere mid day that I was going to work on that novice spey cast of mine – and under the guidance of Jon – began to work through runs. Turning a blind eye at my optimism tank that was running terribly low, I kept at it. Run after run, swing after swing I kept on casting. Sometimes the cast clicked, and line would shoot to the far bank (or so I told myself), other times it was an absolute train wreck. But one of those casts that clicked and felt good – there was a response at the end of the line deep in the swing. Optimism Orgasm.
The jolt of that moment, the firing of all the synapses, the rush of my adrenal system, the optimism orgasm is freaking delightful. I hooted and hollered during the fight like it was a powder day, knowing well at any moment it could be over. I didn’t care, I wanted to live it and be stoked on the moment. Jon and Josh helped me land the fish, a hatchery jack – and lets just say I’m still grinning while I type this.
This was my first steelhead on the swing, and I will never forget it. Grown men hug, especially after they catch a chromer.
The balance of the trip was pure delight for me. We floated by a wedding reception in progress… Josh hooked into a much larger, more pissed off steelhead right before the end of the drift – but sadly the fight was short lived and his leader snapped – likely wrapped on a rock. But that night we celebrated with a feast at one of the filming spots for Animal House and slept under the stars.
The following day the optimism again was full. But the sun was high in they sky, no clouds to give us shelter from the heat or shield the eyes of those wild animals – at our feet, in the emerald waters. Even though I didn’t get an answer from one of them deep in a swing on the second drift – it really didn’t matter – that optimism orgasm has my tank filled for at least another 1,047 casts.
And besides, when you are spending a day on the water with good friends, and you look up and see a sight like this… the optimism comes easy.
Big thanks to Jon Tapper for photos, and for advice, and for being an all around great dude – likewise to Josh.