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It was either absolute skill, or absolute luck. Or maybe one of those times you have enough skill and experience to put yourself in the position to be lucky. But at that point, it might cease to be luck…
Skill or luck: Does it matter? 062117 AE 1 For the Capital City Weekly It was either absolute skill, or absolute luck. Or maybe one of those times you have enough skill and experience to put yourself in the position to be lucky. But at that point, it might cease to be luck…

The author with a Madison River rainbow trout caught on a snowy June day in Montana. Photo by Jeff Lund

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Story last updated at 6/20/2017 - 7:07 pm

Skill or luck: Does it matter?

It was either absolute skill, or absolute luck. Or maybe one of those times you have enough skill and experience to put yourself in the position to be lucky. But at that point, it might cease to be luck…

Anyway, I was on California’s Truckee River headed to my cousin’s wedding. The river was high, almost angry. Still, I had been dreaming about fishing it, so its mood didn’t matter. The plan was to hit the Truckee on my way to Sierra City, where I’d stay in a cabin on the north fork of the Yuba River. Perfect. Runoff from the epic winter would make it difficult but I reminded myself that some of my best days came when the water was raging. My first silly-good steelhead fishing day was in crazy high water. At that point I was good enough to know what I was doing and could identify fishy water and how to get my fly into it. I was rewarded with multiple fish and it didn’t take thousands of casts. It was awesome. It made total sense, but that doesn’t mean the fish have to agree. A steelhead isn’t just going to bite because you did everything right. No fish bites out of obligation or reverence to you as an angler.

So as I pulled off onto my favorite turnout off Interstate 80, I rigged up and looked for the slowest, deepest water I could work well. Sure enough on the third cast, about 10 feet down river from the rock on which I stood, boom. Fish on.

It was a 17-inch rainbow shaped like a bus. It wasn’t one of those pretty, torpedo shaped fish built for efficiency — this thing meant business.

I had allotted half an hour to fish the Truckee before I continued to the North Fork Yuba so I fished a few more pockets haphazardly, probably because I had scored such a great fish in conditions that were less than ideal. I had already won. I proceeded to get shut out on the Yuba. I shrugged it off and counted the first hour a scouting mission. No big deal.

The next morning I got serious. And got seriously skunked. Again.

It’s hard to know what to do with that. I guess it was humbling, but I didn’t feel as though my ego was out of control after that bruiser on the Truckee. I didn’t feel like I deserved a heat check. I posted a picture on Instagram of course, but since when does that necessitate a thorough beating like I took on the Yuba? I ended up getting a fish, 10 minutes before I changed, by the river, for the wedding, but it was of such insulting smallness, it would have fit through the web of the rubber net.

I guess the boot was on the other foot. I’m usually the one explaining to my buddies who come to Alaska during the summer that, “It happens.”

But it does.

My Lower 48 road trip continued after the wedding in West Yellowstone, Montana where a buddy and I fished the Madison and Firehole Rivers where I lucked (or skilled) into a bunch of brown and rainbow trout.