Swinging flies for steelhead, like baseball, is not for everyone. It is a love developed by only the minority of both sports fans and anglers. It is just too complicated and tedious for the casual spectator or participant to appreciate, so those that are into it are usually hard-core. Most true believers in either sport acquire a real passion over time, passed down from family and friends from the generations of passionate fans before them. The vast majority of people think it is boring to watch a whole game of baseball, with thousands of pitches for only a few hits, or actually fish for 10 hours straight, making thousands of casts, for again, only a few hits. You have to be crazy about each sport to endure and enjoy what most would consider monotonous, but the die-hard fan of each sport considers their own a religion and they vibrate with anticipation as they watch the game of chess unfold.
Baseball and swinging flies can both have long eventless stretches, which usually weed out the non believers, but the fanatic of both sports is patient, waiting for the inning of red hot, bases clearing action, that brings the crowds and your heart roaring to life. It is in these rare moments that the faithful are rewarded and become even more transfixed by their sport. Once you are hooked you are forever living for the next big play, and are willing to be patient and wait in the mean time, covering the plate or the river with the next pitch, or cast.
Your typical day of steelhead fly fishing is like a pitchers duel, which most people hate. Each good cast is like a good pitch. You must stay fully concentrated, executing with control and accuracy on every cast, all day, to have good game. When the pitching falls apart you are bound to lose the game. Every once in a while you will just briefly lose your confidence in a pitch and have to go to the bullpen, change the fly or the sink tip, something to get the team going again. Sometimes it takes the closer to win late in the game.
Steelhead fishing, like baseball, is not a big numbers game. It is about the grind and staying in there and scratching out the runs. No one hits .500 all season long. We all have those epic days when we can do no wrong and hit for the cycle, but these are always days to remember when we find ourselves in a slump and have to fight through a few weeks of fruitless attempts to get a hit. The batting avg. will tell the story of the bigger picture and batting .320 is excellent, in baseball and swinging for steelhead, a cross section of hundreds of days on the water or at the plate.
Most anglers have a river that they consider the Holy Grail. We fish hard the whole season, enjoying every game on our home water, and fighting hard to scratch out a few wins on the away water, even through the dog days of summer, but we always have the yearly pilgrimage to the Big Dance on our minds. The long drive or plane ride up North must feel just like the team does on their flight to the first road game in the playoffs. Pulling up your waders and lacing those boots and taking the first steps into the river are like walking out of the tunnel onto the field at Fenway Park. All senses heightened, the colors brighter… and the smell of the grass. Then suddenly you come tight and watch as the hottest, toughest fish in the river cartwheels downstream then pulls 420 feet of line off your reel into deep center. You got that one right on the sweet spot. Landing the Big One on your dream trip makes you feel like you just won the World Series.
Bottom of the ninth, 10 hours of casting, not even a hit….stay in the batters box, just one more run, who cares if you get to bed at 2 am, the drive home is always easier when you get one…. Here comes the wind up, and the cast! It’s a laser beam across the river, perfectly turning over into the catcher’s mitt across stream, the perfect placement you chose, for maximum control. The fly begins to slowly swing across… and the hit! He’s really crushed it! The fish burns out like a frozen rope, rounding the first rock, back back back, gone! Out the back of the tail and over into the white water below. The angler just standing there like a shelled pitcher, head down, wishing he could have that one back. If only he had just done something a little different, the game could have had a better outcome. He was pitching a perfect game, a thousand casts, meticulously covering every corner of the pool. That one moment defined the entire day, could have gone either way. An excellent day or a tough one can be the difference made in one second. With the limp line in the backing, the angler slowly starts to reel up. We’ll get ’em tomorrow. It’s a long season and you can’t win ’em all.
Let’s go OAKLAND!!!