Thinking, talking, or writing about fishing neither satisfies nor sustains me. I need to step into the water and wet a line. I relish that moment when I lay out a cast a little farther than I'm usually able, turn over the leader as leaders were meant to turn over, and place the fly just about where I hoped to place the fly. I need to be there in that the moment when a blackened and scarred snout emerges from the grey green depth. Even thinking about it now, I can feel my heart skip as I wait for that imagined fish to inhale my diminutive and poorly tied hendrickson. I need that moment as I need the love of my family, and could no more abandon the water I fish than I could forgo the water I drink. Fishing nourishes me every bit as much.
Enter the sting of a new year's weather and an`annual winter-run of steelhead. If not for steelhead, January, February and March would mark a barren, dreadful season. Steelhead save us - the afflicted - from ourselves. Steelhead give us hope at a time when many other anglers can do little else but pine for warmer days and open water.
To my way of thinking, there are few game fish that are quite as game as a fresh chromer, even when water temps approach freezing. Few animals are quite so fast, and fewer still as unpredictable. When a steelhead enters the river she is hell bent on procreation. When she is hooked, every ounce of that preternatural, adrenaline fired sex drive pushes her toward escape. The takes are sometimes very soft, a series of gentle, almost imperceptible taps. More often, however, a steelhead will attack the fly with absolute abandon - be that fly a #8 beaded stone or a #2 Purple Peril.
And what won't we do to satisfy that January jones, to get that mid-winter piscatorial fix? In my little corner of of the world, the closest steelhead are Salmon River fish - two and a half hours away. On average, we make the trip some three to five times a month. That's two hundred ninety miles and five hours per round trip. Two hundred ninety miles and five hours of sore backs and heavy eyelids, bad weather and snow slick roads. Most days, it's a suicide run to get from here to there and back again. To some small degree, we're taking our lives in our hands every time we make the trip.
"Is it worth it," my wife asks. "Is it really necessary to drive all that way for a fish?"
I smile at the question, kiss her cheek, and slough off into the living room to play with the kids. She doesn't understand, but in her defense - few people do. We don't make the trip for a fish.
Suicide runs aren't about steelhead. Suicide runs are about opportunity. They're about possibilities, slim chances, and overcoming the odds. Perhaps more than anything, they're about hope.
Few things could be better, and fewer still are quite as necessary.