Story last updated at 6/4/2014 - 3:06 pm
In late May and early June, nature wages psychological warfare on fishermen.
You look out at the ocean knowing that there are probably a few kings out there. Should you go? Should you take a breather and save fuel money for when they really show up?
You stare at the fly rods in the back of your truck. Do you keep with the 8-weight or target those smaller, feisty fish with a five?
The steelhead run has peaked, but you know there have to be a few more out there.
After 1,000 casts, rather than think you are due for a steelie, you take a breath and reason the season has tapered.
Two years ago, I was drifting a rather large prince nymph with a few wraps of green thread behind the bead and getting consistent action from cutthroats when the bobber dove and stayed down. My reel cried and 5-weight bent like a cooked noodle as the line took off. It ended up being a steelhead. I brought the fish to hand and haven't been able to ease my mind since.
Last week I was out with a 6-weight, which epitomizes my quandary. It's not really stout enough for a big steelhead, and it's maybe a little too big to make foot-long trout a blast. I went with dry flies as a non-verbal declaration to the steelhead, if there were any around, that I was not going to chase them.
However, should they choose to attack a No. 12 elk hair caddis as it swung, I wouldn't protest. That thought was holding in my mind as the water erupted just as the fly reached a complete drag. In that fraction of a second the brain moves too quickly and, thanks to being caught in a thought about a steelhead taking a dry fly, my instant reaction was that it was happening.
It was a fingerling. A minnow. I was surprised the thing had managed to get its mouth around the hook and feared carnage when I brought it in, but it came free just before I reached for it.
On the next cast I hooked into a foot-long rainbow. It was really pretty and made me feel like a fisherman again. But as anglers know, once you start feeling good about yourself, everything falls apart.
I noticed a smooth brown log swimming up river toward me. Otter.
Its body curled as it dove and became a torpedo, chasing the same fish I was. I was at the end of my drift when I heard the noisy exhalation of a second otter as it surfaced 20 feet from me. In its mouth was either an unlucky rainbow or Dolly Varden. I looked back downriver just in time to see a small steelhead jump over my floating line then fly past my legs, an otter on its tail as it took the straight line through the thigh-high water.
I was watching one of those National Geographic "Hunting and Escaping" episodes happening right in front of me. I felt bad for the steelhead, which is what happens when a fish is going to be caught be someone or something other than me.
I was too scrambled to get anything properly documented digitally, and I'm still cautious after losing a camera already this season.
The world calmed down, which means that the steelhead had escaped or become supper. The spot was all riled up so as I turned upriver to walk back to the trail, an eagle dove into the shallow riffle and picked up a rainbow trout bigger than the one I caught.
I had spent a bunch of money to assemble an angler's appearance and arm myself with all I needed to be a great fisherman but I still got third place to a pair of otters and an eagle. I guess I'm OK with that.