A Late Spring Steelhead

I don’t know if this fish was on a late spawning run, or if I was simply late to the eventOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI 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.

It really didn’t matter now. One fish was enough. I could go home happy. I could give up their chase until fall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA



About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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10 Responses to A Late Spring Steelhead

  1. Alan says:

    Nice fish Walt. They love streamers in the Spring.

  2. Thanks Alan. And I love fishing these big flies in the cold, dark waters of spring. They just seem natural.

  3. Mike says:

    I wouldn’t know the first thing about catching that fish but DAMN that looks like fun!! Well done!!

    • Thank you Mike. Steelhead fishing is fun. I’m not a hunter, per se, but I look at this type of fly-fishing as a form of hunting. You’ve got to like walking, studying the environment, and waiting for the occasional, exciting find. Then comes the experiment of presenting the correct lure/fly.

  4. LQN says:

    Nice Walt, just waiting for the salmon to drop in flow some more. Nicely done on the streamer!

    • Good hearing from you, Long. As you know, this type of fishing can be a crap-shoot at this time of year. The main stem Cattaraugus was impossibly high and muddy to fish correctly, though no doubt there were steelhead in it. The feeder stream was possible, IF your timing was good. Once in a while the stars line up.

  5. Jay says:

    I’d take that one fish over the many smaller ones that are caught on other days. Glad to hear you kept your April Steelhead tradition intact.

    • Thanks for commenting, Jay, and yes– sometimes one is enough (if we’re lucky enough to get that), especially if it seems like a quality fish that’s caught under challenging conditions, or is special in some other way. And every little tradition kept alive can help to carry us along to the next experience.

  6. Bob Stanton says:

    If that was to be your April steelhead, then it’s appropriate that it was as fine a specimen as he is. Now, let’s get some bugs poppin’!

  7. Thanks Mr. Bob, and let the poppin’ begin!

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