The Draw of the "Pull"
Steelheading Through the Eyes of a Novice
By Joe Fitzpatrick
It all began many years ago as a kid growing up in Washington State. I remember fishing with my father as he would tell me tales of beautiful rainbow trout that made their journey out to the ocean, only to return to the river’s we fished. I remember my father fishing extensively for these elusive fish, only to return home with just stories and images of this great phenomenon of wildlife.
As I grew, I stepped away from fishing to pursue my career and life in general. About 9 years ago, I was drawn back to fishing, specifically fly fishing. Being a person who only does things 100%, I decided at the same time to take up fly tying as well.
Through the years of stumbling through casting and tying flies I met Rodney Williams, a person that would change my life as a fly fisherman. As we shared our stories of fishing, he told me about steelheading. This reminded me of the stories my father told me as child of these great fish, chrome bright and full of energy. I was drawn into this like no other thing in my life.
As a gift, my friend built me a beautiful Sage Xi2 8wt rod and I armed myself with various steelhead fly patterns that I saw in magazines. Then, we were off to the famed Sauk River in Northern Washington. A place, I knew from my readings, that had many steelhead.
Neither of us had ever been there, and we had no idea what to expect. We both looked at this as an adventure. I remember that every day for weeks before the trip we would share in the excitement like it was Christmas day. I couldn’t wait!!
The day finally arrived, and we left. We fished several runs throughout the day, some of which were perfect for holding steelhead. I didn’t even see a fish that trip, but Rodney told me of a large bright fish coming to his fly. Just that alone was enough to keep the spirit alive in me.
Several months later I learned of this new casting called “Spey”. I took several classes from the now defunct Morning Hatch Fly Shop in Tacoma. I realized that this new style would help me cover water that I never could by just using a single-handed rod. It was a hard transition and my casts were nominal, but I knew if I stuck with it I would soon find chrome on the business end.
About a year went by and I was fishing the Cowlitz River. If you don’t know about the Cowlitz, it’s an absolute fish factory. It’s also very crowded most of the time with guide-boats “gear fisherman”, some of which do not understand the concept of “stepping” down a run.
I was fishing the Blue Creek area and was forced to step down under a “gear guy” who wouldn’t move. Little did I know that this would be a godsend. I started short making several casts, watching my fly swing. I had about a head length out, remembering to cover the water close to shore. Then it happened….a pull. It was a soft take and I felt the loop slowly release from my fingers ever so gently. Was this a cutthroat, I thought? I lifted my rod and then my reel started singing a song I had never heard before. Oh lord, I have one on!!
I could feel an incredible weight on my rod as it doubled over, the reel still singing as the line quickly un-spooled to my backing. “Crap”, I thought, what do I do? I palmed the spool in an attempt to stop the fish and then the tragedy happened. The fish broke off. I remember shaking as I waded into shore, shaking from the adrenalin. I sat down and went over in my mind what had happened. There was nothing I could have down, I thought.
I continued fishing for the next year only touching fish and not getting one to the beach. It was often frustrating, but I knew someday it would happen for me. Then, one fall day in Idaho, it did.
I was invited to tie flies at the famed Clearwater Spey Clave in Peck Idaho. I had heard great things about the Clearwater and was excited to fish it. I met up with a couple of friends of mine and we fished before the clave.
I was taken to a section of the Clearwater called “Pine Tree”. There were three of us there, including a new friend, Chris Cornelius. Chris had fished the Clearwater extensively. Paul Jacobsen was the other friend that was with us. Both of them knew that I hadn’t landed a steelhead yet and were determined to get me into fish.
Paul started the run and I was about 50 yards behind him. Chris showed me the sweet spot, or “Bucket”, and I started my casts, working to the “Promised Land”. As I got closer, I felt an incredible anticipation.
It wasn’t a soft take, like the Cowlitz fish. It grabbed my fly and the loop before I even knew what was going on. I lifted my Meiser MKS 7wt. rod and felt the weight of steel. I remember screaming, “Fish On!” so loud, it echoed across the water. I’m sure I woke the people living in the ranch across the stream.
Chris quickly responded, and helped me land a beautiful 7 pound hen. Paul came over and took a few pictures. I look back at those pictures and realize that was one of the most memorable things that had ever happened in my life. I don’t think I had ever smiled so hard until that day. Finally I was holding the amazing chrome beauty that my father told me about.
I often wonder what draws us to steelhead. Now I understand. Steelheading is like a drug that we can’t get enough of. The addiction to this drug makes us spend long days in the rain and snow under miserable conditions - just to feel the “Pull”. Every time we land one of these amazing creatures it only makes us long for the next one. We will do anything to feel that experience. Even though we might catch many steelhead in our lives, it always feels like the first time. This, I believe, is where the term “Steelhead Junkie” was created.
I believe that every person who fishes for Steelhead has experienced the same thing I did on that fall day in Idaho. And, like me, they too had to sit down to calm themselves after the adrenalin dump. Each time we go steelhead fishing, we always long for the “Pull”. It’s amazing to me how just feeling the pull of one of these fish is enough to create a lifetime of addiction. An addiction I like to call The Draw of the “Pull”.