The flakes are spaced just sparsely enough so as not to obstruct my view. A cloak of white adorns the hemlocks that overhang the far bank, drawing itself tighter by the moment. Dusk looms heavy. A calmness overcomes me, the likes of which could only be described in retrospect and even then perhaps insufficiently. Alone but not lonely, indifferent toward past or future, awareness reduced to sensory perception; I am, as much as I have ever been, in my element. If it weren't for the two guys swinging the run below me, this would be the solitary steelheader’s quintessential moment.
Anchor placed, the rod tip embarks on its spiraling path, hoarding potential energy as it goes. At the top of the ride there is a pause before the moment of truth. Pull bests push, generating a jolt that ascends some 12 1/2 feet of cork and carbon fiber before exiting in the form of a bullet-shaped loop. 70 feet later I watch as my flash and feather unfurl upon a submerged rock ledge on the far bank. A downstream mend pulls the fly into the milky green depths where dreams become reality.
The take is slow and heavy, a purposeful grab. This is not the tap-tap-tease-me-baby bullshit you'd get from a smaller fish. This is a predatory strike from an experienced killer. The rod is instantly corked.
This is it. This is my perfect fish. My perfect moment. My cover shot. My "SOTM" entry.
The fight is fitting; a test of wills in which the fish is grossly over-matched by modern technology, yet still manages to maintain the upper hand for most of the battle. In time I find myself kneeling over the most humbling specimen I have ever beheld.
Tail scars betray the fruitless fornication of fall runs gone by. This is the Mick Jagger of steelhead, clearly on the back side of a career in proliferation but still owning the stage and oozing with 'fuck-you' attitude. Even as gravity's pull is mitigated by the water enveloping it, I can feel the mass of this fish as its tail dances against my hand. This is not Lani Waller's 20-pound double-banded Skeena buck. This is not Dec's uber-siver Skagit slab. But it's as close as I may ever get, and a quick Photoshop shower and Instagram bath should clean it up enough to achieve the desired effect.
There will be no glory shot though. My buddies are a half a mile downstream, and I’m pretty sure I can make out two big middle fingers in the run below. It's just me and Mick, exchanging glances, questioning each other, questioning ourselves.
"What’s with the poop face, bro? Is this not what you came for? Are you not entertained? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? Listen, why don’t you just wack me and string me up. No? You sure? ‘Cause I’ve got a date with a few central basin hussies in the Irishman Hole, and this whole ‘Sad Sam’ routine is really killin’ my mojo.”
“I’m sorry man. I don’t know when I started fishing for a picture. Once upon a time, I fished for a fish. I fished for a story. I just… fished. Could it be that the grip-n-grin is eroding the soul of the sport? Do the countless photos plastered across the walls of my basement represent a lifetime’s worth of accumulated karmic debt? It would certainly explain the shitty fishing I’ve had of late...”
“ Ahem… Not getting’any younger here, dude.”
I loosen my grip and with an exclamatory splash, Mick morphs into a memory. I stand and gather my running line, preparing myself for the questions the next pellet-head might pose.