She probably weighed an honest 18 or 20 pounds, but I never brought the fish to hand so I guess I've the luxury of suggesting that she may have been heavier. Across the back, she was thick - at least as thick as my thigh, and I am 6' 3" tall and weigh in at 290 pounds. Her tail looked like a Geisha's fan as it danced through the air in wide circles above the shallow tailout of the pool. I remember thinking that fin would have been as wide as both my hands if I were to place them side by side with fingers spread. I suspect she knew I was a rookie. At the very least, she took full advantage of the fact that I was a rookie. The first steelhead I ever hooked was likely the biggest steelhead I've ever hooked, and I never had her inside two rod lengths.
What's amazing is that in the ten or twelve years between then and now, the memory hasn't dimmed or been otherwise distorted. Naturally, the details on the periphery of the moment have been blurred just a bit, but every heartbeat of my connection with that fish is crystal, as clear as a Montana spring creek. While I cannot imagine our connection lasted more than 20 heartbeats, it's hard to be sure. Time slows to a crawl when a steelhead takes a fly, the world moves frame by frame, and it's impossible to focus on anything but the fish.
I suppose it's safe to say that my too few readers might assume I've spent the past decade trying to recapture what I experienced in the fleeting moments of that first hookup. If I were reading this blog and not its author, I would probably think the same, but nothing could be further from the truth. Yes. Fishing steelhead does have a narcotic effect, but unlike cocaine, steelheading does not give up the ghost and leave an angler forever chasing that original high.
The thing about steelhead fishing - whether it's done with sucker spawn, classic speys, or even egg sacks I suppose - is that every time is new. Every time is original. Every time is exciting. Every time is unfiltered, undiluted adrenaline.
Every time a steelhead takes a fly is just like that first time. There's nothing else in the world quite like it. Steelhead never lose their appeal; they never fail to impress. There is little I would rather do than throw a line in the hopeful anticipation of that first hookup.
It was a long, hot summer. Thank God steelhead season is finally here.