It is the 5th of September and we have a cold front moving through Seattle with a bit of rain. It feels like fall. Yesterday when there were a few hours of sunshine making its way through the trees, I recognized the angle of the shadows as a forecast of autumn a few days or weeks ahead. Within the last couple of decades I would go into a funk because of the diminishing daily sunshine. Some years it would develop into a serious depression. I don’t do that now (thank God). I have learned to accept the day for what it is. And what it is, is that I am coming into my favorite time of the year: Steelhead season. I love fishing for chrome in late summer but I am dedicated to fall and winter steelhead fishing. To those who know me, it is such a switch of personalities that they don’t know me anymore. I am a true sun-lover. I have had an affair with tropics and flats for decades. I truly love to fish without waders. I would rather sweat than shiver any day of the year. So, why do I enjoy steelheading in the fall and winter so much? I really don’t know the deep-down truth answer to that question. It is just something in the air I breathe.
There is somthing amazing about having my nose and face cold while the rest of me is warm. I have learned to dress for the weather. And I have learned to dress warmer than I think necessary. Some the medicine I have to take in my old age, I have discovered, makes me colder than just about any other creature within a hundred miles of me. My baggage is always bigger than any of my friends when we head to the river. I just need more clothes, I need toe and hand warmers (the ones you shake and put in the appropriate place). I need two hats and a belief that I have enough to keep me comfortable. I usually do. Every day I am thinking of taking my first October step into a river where I think I might have a chance to swing a fly into the jaw of a native steelhead. I know most of you have heard of “Visualization”. I picture myself in that first run of my season every night. It always results in a pull. Maybe not a full connection, but a pull nonetheless! I love to see and be fishing when the first snow is falling on the river. What a quiet and calm time to be alive and knee deep in a gentle current swinging a fly.
I remember a Thanksgiving several years ago when my wife was in Seattle tending to an ailing father. I was in Wenatchee and invited to my cousin’s house to dinner. I decided to fish for a few hours before arriving to a great meal. What a fortunate decision. I was fishing through a run when it started to snow. It was a beautiful place to be at that time. There is something about snowfall while fishing that makes a troubled soul feel relaxed and able to just be there at that moment in time. I had a few more minutes before check out time, so I decided to go through the end of the drift again. A few casts into it I was given a pull I still remember today, I just started to smile. I was almost giddy. I don’t know when I have ever felt so good fishing. I brought the fish to hand and admired his colors matching the autumn leaves stacked against the shore. I let it swim. Then I went to Thanksgiving dinner. I had so much to be thankful for.
Several years later, now, I am cleaning off my desk so I can start tying fall and winter flies. This is such a fun time at the vise. I will sit and stare at a bare hook for minutes, hours or longer, trying to think of something that I haven’t yet fished or expand on a pattern I’ve tied in the past. I have so many past patterns that I have fished with success and so many that I thought that would be the best pattern I have ever tied. Sometimes this takes me many nights of getting it straight in my mind what I want. I have watched tiers sit down and tie-a-soon-to-be classic with hardly a thought, I need time. Thankfully, I have and like my time to get it right.
Sometimes, even when I think I get it perfect, I get it so wrong. Maybe I just didn’t fish it enough to see if it was right or I lost faith too soon. It really doesn’t matter. Some of you tiers know what I’m talking about. I have been told “Just tie a fly and fish it”. I can’t quite do that. There has to “something” to it. I try to imagine a fish caught on every fly I tie. If I can’t, I strip it with a razor and start again. This might sound like anguish to some, but not me. I like the process of figuring out a fly puzzle. It may be sink-rate, floatability, color combinations or material application.
Yes, it is in the air tonight. Chrome is not far away. I need to ready my gear. But this is fun time for me. I remember when there was an opening day for trout season. I would start weeks ahead of time to make sure I and my gear were prepared. It was a ritual. Not so much anymore. But I have the same enthusiasm.
I don’t get to fish as much as I used to, but that is OK. Each trip is an epic journey. I hope yours are all epic.