Consider the fella' in the above photograph. Tim Blair (you may recognize him from S.S. Flies and Tim's Warm Water Flies) has been fishing the Lake Ontario watershed since he was a boy. In the 20-odd years that he's chased steelhead on the Salmon River, the specimen pictured above is his best. This fish - caught on day one of a four day bender - made his trip. Tim was as happy as he was not because he bested a fish but because he bested himself (and inebriation), and demonstrated his skill at hooking and playing such a trophy before a very appreciative audience. I maintain that he's more lucky than good, given his lack of sobriety at the moment of the hook-up.
And then there's Shawn Brillon - one of the Orvis company's product developers. Shawn's best steelhead came on the same trip to the river. As you can see from the photo, the fish was a thick and powerful buck that weighed in at some 15 pounds (Boga-grip on the net ... not on the fish). That fish alone was reason enough to elicit a happy dance from the faithful employee of The Big O (he did dance ... I have it on video, and will happily sell to the highest bidder), but the quintessential icing on the cake was that the outsized buck took a traditional spey fly - an Orange Heron - on a long and slowly swinging line.
Typically, I do not catch very many big fish. My friends do, but either through a general lack of luck or skill, the river gods never seem to smile on me quite the way they do the people with whom I surround myself. And the truth is that I've come to terms with my turn of fate being what it is, because sometimes the biggest fish aren't what matters most. With all due respect to Shawn and Tim, sometimes catching just the right fish at just the right time is what most matters.
Through it all, Ben was resolute and never allowed his frustration to show. In the waning daylight - just minutes before regulations demanded anglers stop fishing for the day - he hooked and played to the net a genuinely magnificent fish. As impressive as it was, the brown trout wasn't Ben's best simply because of it's size. Rather, that trout remains a special fish because it was the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That trout signified Ben's resolve, his absolute refusal to have anything but a good time, and a willingness to learn lessons born of frustration and disappointment. Such lessons are difficult lessons to learn, but they are often the most useful.
As steelhead season creeps ever closer, I find myself looking forward to learning a few lessons of my own. I've no idea what they might be, but I know they're out there waiting for me, and that they'll be difficult lessons to learn. Steelhead lessons always are, but here's the thing: difficult lessons are often the best lessons, and the best lessons always help us to catch our best fish.
So as summer gives way to fall I find that I am hopeful; hopeful for my best steelhead, but more hopeful still, for my best day.