In the fishing world trout are the men and steelhead are the women. Trout have one track minds living their lives searching for ways to feed as much as possible while expending the least amount of energy. They generally don’t like to work very hard for their food. If you study the feeding habits of a man while his wife and kids are off visiting the inlaws, you will notice a very close correlation to trout. Like a trouts lie, a man will have his lazy boy chair fully set up to expend the least amount of energy while watching tv. The phone nearby to call for food delivery, a pizza box with a few slices within arms reach, and the remote control for the tv on his lap. Having to stand up from the lazy boy to do anything is a troublesome thought. This is the exact mentality of a trout.
The difference between men and women is a simple one, and ties directly into our world of fishing. Men compartmentalize everything in their lives. Men have the work life, friends life, family life, fishing life (or any hobby or sport). Each fits neatly into a box and does not mix, or correlate with any of the other compartments at all. Each one is totally separate in a mans world. This is why when worlds collide for a man it is a complete catastrophe and melt down. For a women, everything in their lives is very related to each other, each connected in many ways. A mans life is a plate of food with neat piles and absolutely nothing touching each other . A women’s life is a beautiful plate of spaghetti, with the finest marinara sauce, robust meatballs and parmesan cheese all intertwined together. Wonderfully complicated like a steelhead.
Similar to men, trout will migrate up and down a system strictly in search of food. They are nomadic like ancient tribes wandering the land in search of bounties to live on, following seasonally available food sources. Once trout find a good source of food they settle in and feed as much as they can. When the food source begins to disappear the trout will move on. Trout travel through lakes and rivers in search of a good diet, their lives revolve simply around maximizing food intake and minimizing energy expended.
Steelhead enter a river as battle tested warriors that have seen and done things no trout could ever comprehend. When they pull into a river they recognize everything but certainly feel on edge and out of their element. It would be like throwing a 40 year old adult back in high school. It snaps them back to when they reared in the river as young fry and smelt, those same feelings start to take hold. Feelings from being young never quite leave us either. As parents we can’t help but getting butterflies sitting in the principles office getting scolded for something our kids did, it feels the same as if we were 15 all over again. That fear never goes away and neither does the fear driven instincts of a steelhead.
In Big systems like the Skeena, the earliest part of the steelhead run travels the fastest through the lower river, and moves further up the river than the rest of the fish. This makes complete sense to avoid traffic jams as rivers tend to fill from top to bottom, back filling. However to complicate things, Steelhead can move into a tributary to hang out for a while and completely drop out of it and never return. Stray fish like this are a small percentage but very common in most systems of wild fish. The migration of steelhead up and down the river is extremely common, and tributary spawners often poke into the system for a while and then drop back into the main stem for the winter. Non of this is determined by feeding like a trout, most likely more related to a steelhead looking for somewhere to lay its roots for the next 9 months of its life. It is common nature to want to check out an area before you move there. Meet the neighbours, check out the schools, have a look at the local pub long before ever deciding to move into a new location. It makes perfect sense.
Steelhead are a much more complicated fish than a mere trout. Trout are quite predictable and easily fooled once you figure out what they are eating. Steelhead on the other hand are filled with romantic mysteries that keep us up at night thinking. Like a women, steelhead have amazing strength of will, yet a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances. They use their intelligence for the job at hand, but in concert with intuition for the subtle changes a river goes through each and every day. Steelhead like women will go it alone if they have to, but would much rather do it with others.
Most male steelheaders know that there are only two things that can make your heart sing falsetto, and that is a women and a steelhead. I think Trey Combs put it all in perspective when he wrote about the tug of a steelhead and may remind you of the first time you made eye contact with your wife. “The pull can be as simple as a pluck, as strong as a hard yank, and it may even have weight to it. It is not a hookup, however the whole affair is usually over in an instant. If this occurs after several fish less hours, pull-less days the initial reaction is stunned disbelief, followed by discust, evaluation, recrimination, more evaluation, and then, blissfully, the rationale that the fly and the presentation were right."