Words John Larison

The operative verb in winter steelheading is “to wait.” First, the rivers hang too low, restricting schooling fish to the estuary. Then the rains finally arrive and the rivers swell to biblical proportions, the fish lost under the murk. The waiting becomes tense, the steelheader’s mind synched as tight as Jimi’s guitar string. Will the rivers drop to fishable shape before the next spiraling mass of moisture sweeps off to the Pacific? Sometimes you get lucky, usually you don’t. So, you go back to waiting.

But the winter steelheader waits more athletically than any other sportsman. He awakens in the morning and rushes to the computer, surveys the current and projected river levels, cross-checks the weather reports issued by three government agencies, and finally examines NASA’s images of the North Pacific. If variables look promising, he ties flies. If not, he calls his fishing buddies—the only other people sufficiently under-employed to be bored on a weekday—and they plan some visceral activity to pass the time. For the winter steelheaders I know, that means some compilation of the following, the specific order determined by the whims of the participants: casting down at the dock, disc golf over in the park and fine Oregon microbrews at the local pub. Before the sun slips over the ridge, the waiting steelheader surely breaks a sweat.

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