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Fishing for Unicorns

We drove into the river, the ranges of grassy hills casting shadows over each turn we made with each river bend. The river looked bigger than I had imagined. I was intimated and excited at the same time. I have heard many stories of anglers catching many fish out of these waters and as optimistic I like to be I have humbly been reminded that I have spent the last four years swinging for theses fish - and yes these fish have been in freshwater longer than the ones I am typically going after but it’s still fishing. When we approach the campsites it’s pitch black and we can see a thing. They all look full from what we can tell and we continue to push on in search. We tirelessly just park in a pull out and call it a night. We wake to the high desert nightly 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. As we drive and pass site after site being so full and with people waiting in line to swing the run next, KC 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 and I deep down keep feeling regret as we drive farther and farther away. We didn’t drive all this way to not fish this river? I say to myself. After contemplating and a bit of persuading we turn 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 and start behind two men that our swinging the “good zone” of the run, as I like to call it. Kc has a dryline on and I am swinging a light sinktip with a small green Butt fly I am watching the sun slip behind the ranges around me. This place has a way of making you feel so small as you look all around yourself. I watch October caddie bop up and down on the water surface, and with each bop I picture a mouth coming up to chase it into its mouth. 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 attempt to zone out but forever fail) The guy at the very end hooks into a fish, KC turns to me and yells, he has one! He quickly brings it near shore and then their off, both men leave the run and Kc and I press on with each swing. It feels as if an hour has 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 and as I move my left foot I feel a flood of water fish in hitting my calve and trickling down to my heel and eventually covering my foot. Great. My foot is already numb and I just started in the “good zone” of the run 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 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 accept defeat and head back to shore where Kc has been waiting.

Even though I didn’t catch anything I genuinely enjoy Spey casting and attempting different techniques and improving on current techniques. There is something about steelhead fishing for 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 I am just casting. Now I have hooked two and never landed them so don’t get me wrong I want to land one and am adamant about getting one swinging. 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 and they told me they have been camping here for 20 years and they stay a week this year and it’s the worst fishing has ever been for them. None of them got a single fish. Walking away I didn’t really feel much of anything from them telling me that, because 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 on 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 Kc has already started the trek to the run to swing it again, his changes up to a heavier sink tip. I am slowly duck taping my waders and getting my gear in order. The older gentlemen next to me 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” hah I kindly reply with a thank you, and I open my soap box of flies and he says ohhh! after seeing my box, let me show you mine... and he opens his fly box (that had dollar bills covering it all over $ and he has an immaculate organized box of beautiful flies. He hands me two more and 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 a eager thank you, and head out. There is one person above Kc, I jump in below and swing, step, repeat.... we fish all the way until the end and head back to shore and walk down to find a new run we haven’t fished yet. Once we get to it someone it fishing where it gets good, and Kc says just start high... i reply no you go first, and he insisted that I go. I cast just a small amount of line out and swing through the faster water. I make a few steps and cast again, and look back at KC with a squishy face after I just made a shitty Kc, he shrugs and then all of a sudden, I feel it. My line, goes tight. I feel line start pulling from my reel.

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

I don’t do anything for a moment and then finally set and before I knew it I was fighting a fish.

I am screaming “no way, no way! This isn’t happening” I am shaken I can’t even think. I am standing on granite like rocks and am trying to run down with the fish, I feel each pull so vigorously. Kc 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 chrome belly shines at me. I concentrate on my line, my rod tip, and keeping tension as the fish runs up and down. As she do I, I bring her into slower water and KC tails it. I’ve done it. I am nearly in shock! I have caught my first steelhead! Unbelievable, that’s the only word I can’t think of to describe it.

Persistence pays off and I am proud I stuck it out.

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