Where: Snoqualmie River, Methow River
When: Last Friday through Thursday
Species Pursued: Steelhead
Song of the trip: “Texarkana,” R.E.M.
It’s the middle of September and I suddenly realize that I have four weeks of vacation left to burn. Understandable, given that fishing this year hasn’t warranted a need to take time off and temporarily live the dream.
Still, there’s something unmistakable about the feel of Fall; a sentiment that permeates everything, chilling your hands in the crisp morning air then later warming your face in the afternoon sun. With every fire-orange leaf that falls during the dwindling warmth, you’re reminded to enjoy the time you have left.
This year’s La Nina forecast only compounds the sense of urgency and it’s anyone’s guess as to when the gray shroud of Winter bulldozes it all away.
Maybe sooner, maybe later.
Maybe I ‘d rather not wait and find out.
Thinking about it that way, getting away from the daily grind became an easy decision to make.
But what to do?
Another easy decision: given the precious amount of time left, it would be fitting to spend it pursuing something equally precious.
Steelhead it is. And let’s make that inland, high desert steelhead.
I could think of only a few other ways to immerse myself in the spirit of Autumn but none came so quickly to mind as this.
Friday came swiftly, despite a busy week.
Unable to wait until Monday, I jammed my equipment in the car and headed to the Snoqualmie for a weekend of camping and a little Wetside fishing.
Things started nicely enough–warm weather, blue skies, and a little Chinese food made it a good day.
What’s this? An omen?
Saturday night changed everything. The rain came around midnight…
…and decided to stay.
From shorts and a t-shirt to Gore-Tex, we suffered through the muggy moisture and hit a few spots, but to no avail.
Rather than give up, I slogged through the rain one more time and ran across another fly guy who had also decided to stick it out.
About an hour later, just as his resolve was about to break, the moment we all wait for opened its bright, shiny mouth.
I was some distance upstream at the time, but could tell it wasn’t a cutthroat.
I had to check it out.
As I approached, the bend in his rod had become even more pronounced.
He looked over his shoulder at me, his face painted with elation and relief.
“Hey, can you help me out and tail this thing for me? It’s a wild fish.”
I obliged him and as I entered the pool, the fish flashed.
It came around a few seconds later, gliding toward me. I botched the first attempt, my mind still trying to wrap around the fish’s size.
I fared better on the second shot, grabbing its wrist and cradling its belly.
It sat there, seemingly content to rest while the guy grabbed his phone to take a quick snapshot.
And then it was gone. If the experience hadn’t been burnt into my brain, you would never know it happened.
I shook his hand, congratulating him and thanking him for the opportunity to handle such a beautiful fish.
We talked for a few minutes and it turned out that this was his third similarly-sized fish this season. Incredible.
Before parting ways, I asked him if he’d be so kind as to share the picture he took.
“Gladly,” he said.
A long soggy night turned into another muggy, but drier morning.
It was time to make a break for it.
Our destination of choice was the Methow. Things hadn’t turned on quite yet, but we were hoping to be there on the cusp of when they did.
The forecast for the week was in the high 70’s to low 80’s, with cool mornings and no rain.
A different world than 200 hundred miles ago.
Instead of camping, we opted for a motel and, as an aside, I have to say that the place we chose fulfilled my three C’s for a good place to crash on a fishing trip:
3) Close to the water.
The place in question is the Blue Spruce Motel in Twisp. If you’re headed that way, I recommend checking it out if your criteria are the same as mine. You can call ahead of time at (509) 997-5000. If you want to fish lower in the system, it’s not as close as the place in Pateros, but that place is twice as much. Just a little friendly info from me to you–I don’t have any relationship with the Blue Spruce, I was just really happy with my stay there.
Back to the trip…
Along the way, we scouted some locations and planned our approach. The rest of the day would be spent on preparation.
I wonder if they’ll hit hoppers?
The venerable Muddler.
For three days, we swung through various runs, never expecting anything except to find another nice piece of water.
In that, we were well rewarded. The Miller Hole seemed to be the only place people were catching fish, but that came at the cost of having to fish right next to everyone else–a price we weren’t willing to pay.
After all, there’s plenty of access along the river, including…
A view from above.
By the end of the trip, we had one tug between the two of us and that belonged to Don.
He felt a peck, then another and then The Pull. A second later, a steelhead shook its head out of the water, spitting the fly.
A shout of surprise and it was over.
“Now I understand what you mean about the shakes,” he said, sighing and sitting on the rocks.
I laughed. “Now you’re halfway to your first steelhead.”
I finished my way down the run, my senses piqued after what I had witnessed.
That is, nothing, but the experience of the pursuit.
Maybe that’s the great fortune the cookie was talking about.