Fall Steelhead And Trees

Stealing down out of the trees, we come from above. The approach needs to be slow, deliberate. Non-threatening. Our colors either mimic the background or, at the very least, absorb light. My light-weight LL Bean waders seem to help in that regard, when we're trying to blend in while stalking the fringes of bank grass separating the river from the forest. Seemed to help me gain position on this fish, which was hooked close to me, under broken water (this one also escaped a lamprey, yet retains the chance to spawn, if no one else keeps her).

As mentioned in the last post, rivers were low and clear. Steelhead can see very well above the surface in those conditions. And the closer they come to the surface, the more they see. Make rapid gestures, walk too fast or too loud and they can disappear. The same steelhead that spirit away from you in low, clear water will put up with a lot more noise and activity in high, cloudy, or dark water.

Steelhead were the most romantic fish imaginable, where I grew up. Thoughts of steelhead averaging 8 pounds, ghosting through narrow forest streams inspired a wealth of regional angling literature.  None of which was much help in catching one, as it turned out. I recently admitted to a good friend that it took me 5 years to bank my first one.

My father and older brother thought of fishing as something to do when nothing else could be done. Neither cared to pursue wild rainbows that from a wading position in rivers checking in at 35°F or so. Yet, the brutes found their from the vast expanse of the inland seas into the narrow trout streams wending through the dark deciduous forests nearby. Fascinating stuff, it seemed to me. So it was up to me to learn how to catch one. At 17, I was a very poor teacher. As were the "experts" of the day. And every time a silver and pink boil occurred in the middle of a pool I'd just fished, the fascination grew stronger: Big, paranoid trout slipping ninja style through the  shadows of fallen trees into deep pools then under the cover of broken water, making their way deep into the woods? Cool stuff.

The fascination pays dividends along the tribs of Lake Superior. Forests here are truly wild. Cabins are few and far between. Walking becomes a steeplechase. Here the intimate relationship between fish and trees becomes as crystal clear as the water. Steelhead are born in the rapids here, of parents born of parents dating back over 130 years, when the first rainbows were shipped in from their native West. Not native, but certainly wild, they've adopted this region — adapted to it, though the climate is colder than the point where steelhead cease to persist in the northernmost portion of their natural range along the shores of Alaska.

More on fall steelhead, and their relationship with trees, coming....

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