By: Chase Walker
Most fishermen would agree that the primary goal of fly fishing is to hook and land the biggest or most beautiful fish, especially in today’s world where pictures of these fish can be so easily shared on the internet. While landing a trophy brown trout or chrome bright wild steelhead is a special moment, it is not what hooks people on fly-fishing. Ask yourself, would it be as fun if you knew you were going to go out there and land every fish you hooked with 100% certainty? I highly doubt it. Part of the challenge and mystique about fly-fishing is the fact that you will probably not land the big one every time. But when you lose that big one, the desire to keep coming back only gets stronger. You become obsessed with exploring new water and doing everything possible to put yourself in a position to land the next one, and this is what this story is all about.
Almost exactly a year ago, I convinced one of my best fishing buddies to pick up a spey rod and begin swinging flies for steelhead with me. As many people reading this probably know, this is not a style of fishing for the faint of heart. Being a very good fly fisherman already, with considerable experience chasing trout and a variety of salt-water species, he was eager for the new challenge. And challenging it was. With the crazy winter that hit Oregon last year, there were many days spent between us standing in everything that mother nature had to throw at us, without much indication that steelhead actually swam in the rivers we were fishing. While I was fortunate enough to connect with a few fish, he underwent the season with little more than a grab. As April and the end of the winter season approached I could tell his eagerness to swing for steelhead was fading and that his mind had shifted to trout and other species once more.
Fast forward to fall on the Deschutes. With the memories of bitter cold and pouring rain having faded from the past winter, I had convinced my buddy to join me in the mild October temperatures of the lower canyon for a couple of days. We rose at first light on the first day to hit a run that looked promising, but were not rewarded. After returning to camp for some breakfast and a break, we arrived at our next run around noon. Since he had led in the first run of the day, it was my turn to step in first. Although it was a sunny day I opted to stick with a floating line and small hair wing pattern, under the assumption that the sun may be at a low enough angle at this point in the year that it would not be an issue. Once I had fished far enough down, he stepped in above me rigged with a light versileader and larger fly in order to get down slightly deeper. Shortly after is when it happened.
As I was zoning out looking for bighorn sheep climbing the canyon walls, my lazy thoughts were interrupted by a yell of “Fish on!” and some loud hoops and hollers from above. I quickly jolted around to see his line tearing through the water with a hot Deschutes summer steelhead attached to the end. I quickly reeled up and began running up the bank to watch and cheer him on as he battled his first steelhead on a swung fly. The feeling of watching your good friend hook a steelhead after putting the time in is often times just as good as hooking one yourself, and I was ecstatic as I made my way up to him. Just as I arrived, I turned to see the steelhead roll near the surface and watched the fly pop out and the line go slack. Game over, fish gone.
I turned to look at my buddy, who had sunk to his knees in the current, and was sitting there staring at the water. This moment is one where no words needed to be spoken. I let him sit there as he processed the experience of connecting to one of nature’s most incredible creations. But, just as all things do, this moment came to an end and he found words. Most of these words will not be repeated for the sake of keeping this family friendly, but some of what he said is worth sharing. “Unimaginable euphoria quickly followed by this: soul crushing defeat. Hooking a steelhead on a swung fly is one of the craziest experiences I’ve ever had, I can’t wait to land one.”
While only he could feel the euphoria and defeat in that moment, that moment is what epitomizes what hooks people on fly-fishing. He did not land that fish, and that is perfect, because now he wants to find the next one that much more. The frustration will always pass, and there will always be another fish out there sometime down the road that will erase the crushing feeling of losing the big one. Today, we are back out in the cold and rain, swinging, looking for that one fish. He has yet to find one on the swing, but I know he will soon. He is hooked.