I don’t know if this fish was on a late spawning run, or if I was simply late to the event this season. With the strangely cold weather of the past few months, in addition to all of the imbalance we’ve created in the natural world, it’s hard for me to make sense of the Great Lakes steelhead situation right now. As I’ve mentioned before, the past few years have not been especially good steelhead seasons for me, so I guess I’d better be thankful that I had a fair encounter with the fish last weekend, when I decided to give it one more shot.
It was a beautiful morning, even though I got a late start on the Cattaraugus tributary and had to head upstream in the wake of other anglers stirring the already clay-colored water. I wasn’t hoping for much, but the walk was pleasant and, as I stated to another angler I met, I usually don’t see my first fish until approaching the distant gorge.
In truth, I saw the first trout dropping backward through the currents long before I reached the cliffs. The next fish came an hour later, fairly close to the gorge, where gravel beds invite the annual spawn. I saw the profile of a steelhead resting near the bank in two feet of water. I backed away and gained a bank position well above the fish where I could swing a streamer past the window of its vision.
The fish struck, and I walked it downstream to a gravelly pull-off where I photographed the battle-scarred male and quickly set him free. Okay, I thought, this trout has allowed me to get free of one desire this spring– to catch an April steelhead as I have done for many years on end. If I didn’t do it at the moment of release, I now thank the fish as I write.
I saw several more of them in a large pool just upstream. The fish were crazy with the spawn and chased each other all around the deeper portions of the stream. I could barely see their motions or their profiles ghosting through the cloudy pool, but I could tell the fire of a season was in them. I made some half-hearted casts at moving targets but to no avail.