Hmmm, I think I might want to fish where Ghostrider408 fishes. I've been fishing for steelhead since 1969. Oh, I read the magazine story many times. It goes something like: Suddenly the water exploded in front of me as the rocket fast silver flash, wearing his ambassador's red sash, slashed through the water's surface grabbing my swinging fly as he arced skyward before commencing his downstream run, spinning Hardy's gear wheel to a high pitched scream, emptying the spool of line, then backing . . .
Yeah, maybe on the compute game "Virtual Steelheading," but in real life? Not so much. I long ago concluded that steelhead are the most over-rated gamefish I know about. And I've caught steelhead through much of their native range in WA, OR, ID, BC, and AK, both coastal and interior inland varieties.
On the whole I've observed that about 20%, only 1 in 5 steelhead are "hot." A hot steelhead is one that is magazine or internet worthy. The actual take may be vicious or quite subtle. Meaning that it makes strong and long runs and jumps clear of the water multiple times. The other 80% I can play and land, or lose, on the length of line I was fishing when the fish was first hooked. Meaning that 80% of steelhead make short runs if they make any runs at all, rendering the 150 yards of backing on my reel spool nothing more than a spacer so that my fly line isn't wound in such small coils.
Interior steelhead, as pleasingly trouty as they are, are especially prone to this disappointing behavior. They rise, take the fly, and I immediately reel in several turns of line, and their short runs fail to take out more line than what I had originally cast to make the hookup. Then proceeds some back-and-forth tug o' war bulldogging that may or may not include some jumping. A lot of those fish can be landed in 2 minutes and sometimes less, although a respectable number of them are stronger and pull hard, and can take close to the one minute per pound of fish rule of thumb to land. That can be tense, and exciting because of the size of the fish.
And it's not just interior steelhead that are so doggish. Coastal summer runs after they've been in the river a couple months or so are like that also. And a lot of winter runs, maybe because the water is cold, maybe because they are hatchery slugs, maybe because they are small and I pull harder than they do, and maybe it's because steelhead are so over-rated as gamefish relative to my expectations. After all, I was young and impressionable when I took up this game.
And then there are those 20%ers, that 1 steelhead in 5 that makes an arm wrenching strike, then jumps clear of the water surface, maybe more than once, then immediately makes a run that shows me my generally unused backing line, and actually makes me work to regain the line, once, then again a second time. The fight, as they call it (I don't fight steelhead; I play them since fighting suggests some degree of mutual peril than is non-existant when I'm fishing) isn't any longer than it takes to play and land a typical doggish steelhead, but is it ever so much more interesting. Bordering on excitement, some might say. The experience doesn't raise my heart rate much, if at all, being of the calm nature that I am. But it sure keeps me coming back, searching for that not-so-typical, hyper-active steelhead.