Outdoors
The innocuous morning clouds provide a fuzzy canvas for the color orange. Not a deep orange, more like a sweet creamsicle orange.
Steelhead time 021517 OUTDOORS 1 For the Capital City Weekly The innocuous morning clouds provide a fuzzy canvas for the color orange. Not a deep orange, more like a sweet creamsicle orange.

Ketchikan resident Steve McLaren with a steelhead caught on a Southeast Alaska river in 2016. Photo by Jeff Lund

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Story last updated at 2/15/2017 - 12:22 pm

Steelhead time

The innocuous morning clouds provide a fuzzy canvas for the color orange. Not a deep orange, more like a sweet creamsicle orange.

The water is flat, the air cold but still. Unfortunately I’m heading to work, not out to catch my first steelhead of the year.

I had a great alibi when I lived in California – I lived in California. There were plenty of chances to get stocked trout, or drive a little farther and get native browns and rainbows. (Native in the sense that at some point the browns too had been stocked or the rainbows reintroduced, but they were certainly not the dull-colored, lazy fish with fins rounded by the time they’d spent wearing them down on the concrete raceways in which they were raised.)

We never got into steelhead. I had a group of buddies that went steelhead fishing on the Russian River near Guerneville, but the general stores and shops seemed to be holding on to an age that had long since passed. There was still a run of steelhead, but if you wanted a good shot, you had to pay for access, be on a float and stay away from Steelhead Beach since that attracted the most rods, reels, dogs and swimmers. Still we’d make our annual trip in late April or early May when there wasn’t much of a run but that wasn’t really the point. We used the wrong flies, or the right flies in the wrong spots, or the right flies in the right spots, but the run was pretty much over by March. It’s a little disheartening to walk into a rustic general store and shuffle across the wooden floor to the fly-fishing section. The pictures, some even in black and white, tell a story from before the digital time. The river has become an afterthought. A couple local guides know the river and offer services, but most people head to rivers like the Trinity, Klamath or Smith. So while basketball season or weather prevents me from living the steelhead life my former fishing buddies in California expect me to up here in Alaska, there is something to say for being in such proximity to that life, even if it is just out of reach for now.

My local buddies are torturing me with photos online and in texts. Chrome steelhead. Blushy steelhead. Steelhead with dark red flanks and cheeks. What is comforting is there’s less pressure, more fish and they will still be around — in fact, the fishing will still be good — by when I get time to go. In short, there’s hope. A lot of it. I will have a chance at a steelhead. It would be more shocking to not catch one.

So I can wait, knowing what’s on the horizon.