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Jeff's post on tradition in the sport got me thinking again about why I flyfish for steelhead. It isn't for the vast numbers of fish I can catch, if I wanted that I fish gear and bait. I used to think it was about the challenge but as I get older I realize that is only a small part of it. More than anything I know, steelheading is an endevor whose rewards far exceed the sum of its parts. A few years ago I attempted to capture this in narrative. Please forgive me for those that have read it before but for those that haven't, I thought it might warrant dusting it off.

The Pursuit

It is the peace of mind that comes during the o’dark-thirty drive to the river. The cool feeling against your legs as waders meet water for the first time that day. The heightened palette of senses that compliment the day’s first run and the sense of sensory detachment in the ones that follow. It is the ritual of checking the river level before bed and at first rise. The comfort of a new length of tippet to replace the one that has gotten a bit too short or too frayed. The contrast of the reel’s ratchet against the gentle gurgle of the current. The joy in watching the flight of the first swallows of spring, the last bats of dawn or the upriver blow of emerging March browns. It is the smell of rotting salmon in the fall, snow crisp mornings in winter and the budding salmonberry in spring.

It is the first taste off the flask in the morning mist and the way that gas station coffee and deli-sandwiches can taste like 5-star cuisine on the water. It is the gentle lap of water against the side of the boat and the low rumble as the oars slide down into the locks. It is the discomfort of the pinhole in your waders and the relief when you finally get it patched. It is the dissonance of finding joy in drizzle and distain in sun. It is the frustration that the river is never just right and the confidence that if it was, “boy would we be nailing them”. It is the understanding that the fly matters little but the sudden “knowing” that you need to use a particular pattern on a run. It is the priceless solitude of a day alone on the water and the loving camaraderie of a day spent with a small group of similar affected peers. It is the small smile as a powerful cast unfurls pulling a click of line off the reel. It is the rhythmic swim of a deeply sunk fly and the erratic surface chug of a surface pattern.

It is all these things and countless more that draw me back day after day. Draw me back through month long dry spells and weeks where the fish seem to come to hand daily. These are the thoughts that fill my head before sleep. These are the things that define not why I fish for steelhead, but why I am a steelheader.

Duggan Harman
"sinktip"
9-14-04
 

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:) Duggan,

Thanks. Your eloquent and accurate description details clearly a major reason I've been depressed of late--no time on the river. I guess I'm NOT a steelheader (right now) and it hurts.

But, your prose is enough to get me to rush out there sooner rather than later, as I know it will do me a world of good. Thanks for the post.

--Bill
 

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Skidrow Woolley Fly Club
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Nice 'tip, very nice. What you wrote spells out in a little more detail why the following is my favorite fishing quote:

Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.
- Henry David Thoreau
 
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