top of page

Fishing for Unicorns

We drove alongside the river, the ranges of grassy hills casted shadows over each turn we made with each river bend. The river looked bigger than I had imagined. I was intimated and eager at the same time. I have heard many stories of anglers catching many fish out of these waters. I tend to be an optimistic person but I have humbly remind myself that I have spent the last four years swinging for theses fish. When we approach the campsites it’s pitch black and we cant see a thing. They all look full from what we can tell. We continue to push on in search of a spot. We tirelessly just park in a pull out and call it a night. We wake to the high desert temperature drop. I can just about see my breath in the van. We take a look at our surroundings and drive to a spot we’ve heard of to see if there’s any room to swing. As we drive and pass site after site being so full and with people waiting in line to swing the run next, my fishing partner gets discouraged and argues with himself if this is worth it.

He says “I don’t fish to be around people, I fish to get away from people”

I laugh and tell him it’s his call. He begins leaving the river. As we drive farther and farther away from the river, I have a wave regret sinking into me. “We didn’t drive all this way to not fish this river?“ I say to myself. After contemplating and a bit of persuading, my fishing partner reluctantly turns back around. We get to a site that has a promising long run and park the van and set up camp.

It’s about 3pm and we gather our gear, get our waders and boots on and trek down to the river. We start behind two men that our swinging the “juice” of the run, as I like to call it. My fishing partner has a dryline on and I am swinging a light sinktip with a small green Butt fly. I glance up and around me, following the lines of red rocks protruding high up into the sky from each side of the river, the sun is slowly slipping behind them. This place has a way of making you feel so small as you look all around yourself. I watch October caddis bop up and down on the water surface, and with each bop I picture a mouth coming up to chase it. This never happens. Just when I have the steelhead zone out (if you don’t know what this is, it’s when you are stuck with your thoughts and silence for so long while swinging that you start to drift off into staring at the moving water, zoning out, or even into a hum that turns into singing a song softly to yourself) The guy at the very end of the run hooks into a fish, my fishing partner turns to me and yells, “he has one!” He quickly brings it near shore. Just as fast as he lands the fish, he leaves the run. We continue to press on with each swing. It feels as if hours have gone by, twilight hour is approaching. The transition from day time to night fall, the air is getting cooler and I take a few steps after my swing. As I move my left foot I feel a flood of water hitting my calve and trickling down to my heel. ”Great” I whisper, as my foot eventually fills with water. My foot is already numb and I just started in the “Juice” so I can't get out now. I swing through the entire run and even farther than I really needed too. It’s dark now and I can’t see the rocks in the water anymore resulting in each step being a little more cautious. I have made up at-least four songs about steelhead fishing in my head and have talked to myself more than I ever have.

Steelhead fishing really has a way of making you feel crazy at times.

I reluctantly accept defeat and head back to shore where my fishing partner had been for quite some time. it’s quite typical for me to be the last one off the water.

Even though I didn’t catch anything I genuinely enjoy Spey casting and attempting different techniques and improving on current casts. There is something so magical about steelhead fishing to me. I never think I am going to catch a fish when I’m out, after four years of swinging I think I have just convinced myself that it’s just casting practice. ;) I have hooked two and never landed them so don’t get me wrong, I have the desire to land one, and I’m adamant about getting one swinging. Without this, one would not be motivated enough to keep going after so many years. I romanticize in my head what my first encounter would be like with one of these unicorns. This thought is what fuels me to see one up close, to feel the fight that so many others light up when they share stories of their first encounters. I will welcome when this time comes for me, but until then I will enjoy the process, because once I do catch my first one, that feeling will be captured.

The adolescence of experiencing something for the first time is not replicated in life.

When we get back to camp the three older gentlemen that were camping next to us, with a dog named quill, have packed up and are about to leave. I spoke with them before they headed out and they told me they have been camping here for 20 years. They stayed for a week this year. They also added that it’s the worst fishing has ever been for them. “We didn’t get a single fish between the four of us“ the older gentleman expresses in defeat. Walking away I didn’t really feel much of anything from him telling me that, I was never convinced I was going to get one anyways. We wake up the next day and swing the same run along with many others, no one hooks from what we saw. As mid day hits we make food and hang around camp for a bit. We get new neighbors, two older gentlemen from whitefish. They ask how the fishing has been and we reply with a somber “slow”. They set up their tent and 3pm hits and my fishing partner has already started the trek to the run to swing it again. He changes up to a heavier sink tip. I am slowly duck taping my waders and getting my gear in order. The older gentlemen approaches me and says, “here, try this fly” I reply with “really?!“ It was a hot pink stonefly looking fly with rubber legs, he calls it the “stupid fly or the ugly fly” I kindly reply with a smile and a thank you. I opened my soap box of flies to place the gift inside and he let’s out an exciting “ohhh!“ “let me show you mine”... he secures fastly to get his fly box, and returns with s rectangle wooden box that is covered in dollar bills that were all glued into place. His fly box was immaculately organized, filled with beautiful flies. He hands me two more flies. One of them looks like something I would use on the coastal rivers I am use too, bright blue with pink and flash but still small. I reply with an eager “thank you!” and immediately choose to tie that fly on and head out. There is one person above us, I jump in below my fishing partner and swing, step, repeat.... and the cycle continues for a while. We fish all the way until the end and head back to shore. We decided to walk down a bit to find a new run we haven’t fished yet. Once we get to it we notice that someone is fishing where it starts to get good. My fishing partner says “just start high”... I reply “no you go first” and he insisted that I go. Without much of a debate, I cast just a small amount of line out and swing through the faster water. I make a few steps and cast again, I look back at my friend with a squishy face in reaction to the shit cast i just has made. He shrugs in response, showing me without words that it doesn’t matter. Then all of a sudden, I feel it.

My line goes tight. I froze in a mix of emotions, adrenalin starts pumping, my thoughts start to flood in with “is it a rock? could it be a fish!?”As im processing each thought my line starts pulling faster from my reel. “Zzzzz! Zzzztt! Zzzzzzttt!!” With the echoing sounds of the reel spinning brings me confidence that its a steelhead on my line.

I am so scared as I have lost my last steelhead setting and Fucking it up.

I don’t do anything for a moment. I just listen and feel the pressure and weight in my line and then finally, when it feels right, “Set!” and before I knew it I was hooked into a fight, and quickly learning it wasn’t going to be easy. I am screaming “no way!, no way! This isn’t real!”. I am shaken, I can’t even think. The place in the river I am standing is granite like rocks and a foot in front of me is a drop-off. I attempt to run down river with the fish, I feel each pull so vigorously. One wrong step and I am in 6 or more feet of water. My fishing partner keeps yelling at me but I can’t even make out what he is saying. The fish jumps and I see my first glance at what I am up against, it’s beautiful. The chrome belly shines at me. Each head turn and run are so violent yet feels like a well orchestrated dance. I concentrate on my line, my rod tip, and keeping tension as the fish runs up and down. As she do I. After a few more moments I manage to bring her into slower water. We missed the tail the first time, by the second time we learned from our mistakes and did not fail. I watch the fish thrash around as my fishing partners hand clutched her tail.

I’ve done it. My eyes water as a stare at this glimmering fish in shock. I have caught my first steelhead. Unbelievable, that’s the only word I can’t think of to describe it.

I release the large hen back to her home waters where she will continue onto her journey. I sat along the river with my emotions of joy and gratitude for the fish, reflecting on the four years I have spent swinging for these fish. Persistence pays off and I am proud I stuck it out. I returned to camp, and wrote a note to the gentleman that gave me the fly that caught my first steelhead. I thanked him for the gift and wrapped the fly with concluding that it was his turn now.

caught 10/15/18


bottom of page