A strong pull with my left hand torques the rod and fills my Skagit head with mechanical energy and fires it towards the far bank. The pale orange rocket lifts off and carries my hope - in the form of fur, feathers, and flash. The payload is a pattern refined and improved over-and-over by a tightly-knit group of fishing friends, and now a stand-by taking up a significant amount of real estate in "my" swinging box.
As the engine's momentum flames out, the head unfurls and delivers the fly on target, impacting the water with a dull-thud which carries over the sound of rushing water and wind blowing through the half-full trees. A short pull-back mend positions the line, and the fly slowly descends, aimed at an boulder-filled shale slot beneath the walking speed, waist-deep water.
Despite the tea stain, the copper flash pulses like a homing beacon to it's living metallic counterpart. As the fly swims though the dark water, the line slowly tightens, but then releases. A pull? My fingers white-knuckle the cork, waiting for the fish to come back around to finish the job. Nothing. I look down at the water and watch a yellow, red, and green mass tumble by. Probably a fucking leaf.
Step, cast, swing. The repetitive motion is mind-numbing. Every step brings the riffle below nearer - a foot closer to failure, one fruitless piece of river bottom at a time. Every swing presents the fly in an unsuccessful bid to entice a grab - if the fish are even there.
Another snap-T launches the line and tip into a backwater at the far end of the tailout. A quick life of the rod puts a downstream belly in the line, and the fly begins this next pass across the boulder-filled shale trench. Zoned out, the first sharp pull catches me by surprise. It's gone as quickly as it came. But within seconds, the fish strikes again. This time, it's a deep pull as the steelhead aims to finish the job it started seconds before.
After a spirited fight, carefully crafted graphite and machined aluminum win the day. After I place her back in the water, the fish kicks her powerful tail, soaking me with water and leaving me sputtering as she shoots back into the run. Round one goes to the angler - but the fight is far from over.