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Category Archive:   Non-Texas Fishing

Steelheading is the rare exception where the media seems to be reporting what they WANT you to believe as well as mostly factual information, unlike so many other stories. Here is the truth about steelheading, it IS a tiny worm that will in fact creep under your skin and cause you to look at your earthly belongings and suddenly see them translated into time spent on cold and flowing steelhead waters.

I should know, i’ve got it bad.

Check out Ryan’s guide service for steelhead here.

On our way out of Portland (Oregon) we made the last minute stop that generally marks the beginning of all the best fly fishing trips. A brief stop at Northwest Fly Fishing Outfitters on the east side of Portland (where Jason provided customer service that was simply off the charts), had me stunned as i wandered through the maze of tying materials and flies of every shape and size. Making my way around the bins i eventually came upon the steelhead flies and was immediately bewildered not only by the size of some of these flies, but also the intense Technicolor Rainbow selection they seemed to come in. While standing there gawking at the luminous selection, the quote “We’re not in Kansas anymore!” started pulsing in my skull almost as though it were being punched out in morse code, it was a feeling that i would experience many times over on this particular trip.

Eventually, after making our way eastward from the radiant colors of the fly bins as well as the eye popping colors of the Portland area, we made our way pass the Dalles and landed at the junction of the Columbia River and our final destination, the Deschutes  River.  It was here that we met the man who would be our host / instructor / mentor for the next couple of days, Tom Larimer.

Living in Texas, i have had next to no knowledge about spey casting and the whole scene that it entails (a mighty big one actually). This was probably a good thing for this trip, because to me Tom just seemed to be another cool guide, albeit one that had their guiding program dialed in tight, and seemed to make throwing 50 yards of line look like as simple as tossing 20 feet of 2WT line to the nearest bluegill. Upon re-entering civilization though, i’ve been met with hushed tones and reverence by fly fishing friends that have lived outside of Texas simply upon mentioning his name. To put it mildly, he’s the shit.

The crew he’d been entrusted with included my father (from Colorado), his friend C.J. (Colorado as well), my brother David (from Portland) and myself. Two full days on the water, multiple meals, 3 absolute beginners and one experienced steelheader (David). Somehow he managed to keep us all fed (thanks to his assistant Heather), teach us the complexities of spey casting, get us on steelhead, and keep all of us from going ass over tea kettle and drowning on his river.

Not far into day two, C.J. had the first hook up that came to fruition. Even though i was 60+ yards below him, i heard his nervous / excited cry for help as he called to Tom that he had a fish on. Excited for him, i none the less kept on fishing before my reverie was interrupted by Tom shouting my direction to get my line in, a demand that made zero sense to me. At first i thought i he must be paranoid, until i started reeling in and saw my hook catch on C.J.’s line…holy cow. That initial fish ran in access of 125 yards downstream before finally being coaxed to the net. It was a sobering site to say the least, and it was obvious at that exact moment that we were all now in the big leagues whether we wanted to be or not. Immediately the morse code tapped the message that echoed in my skull, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Later, left to my own devices while Tom ran to drop the others off at various spots (the only bad thing about one guide trying to cater to four clients) i was left to work a run known locally as Green Light. My first bite tugged on my my line like it wanted the entire world to know it was on the other end before it decided to take off like a torpedo. My reel became a blur of activity as i saw it run into the backing within seconds of the tug. Watching the line shoot 50 yards downstream in the 5,000 CFS current, i observed  it pause for the briefest moment before an easily 35″ monster shot out of the water perfectly perpendicular to me. It took one long second for me to realize that the fish i was watching was hooked into my line, it had shot 50 yards downstream and 50 yards up in a matter of seconds. Unfortunately by the time it dawned on me that i had no idea how to land one of these rockets by myself, it was gone, and i might had weeped but for the adrenaline pulsing through my veins like Popeye jacked up on his canned spinach.

Fortunately it wasn’t much later that the entire scene played out again. This time with the fish racing down the class III rapids into the next pool, and me navigating slick ass rock after slick ass rock, waist deep in water, falling again and again trying to do anything to keep the fish on my hook. Eventually working the steelhead into a calm pool off the main current i was greeted by an ecstatic female angler that shrieked as she approached from downstream “Is it a keeper?!” she screamed.

It wouldn’t have been a “keeper” to me anyway, but sighting the adipose fin (the mark of wild trout and salmon) allowed an easy out as i replied “no”.

Slightly deflated but still excited she snapped the above photo of my first landed steelhead (with bad composition and waterspots but still a record of an amazing triumph) before we high fived and i turned to let the fish go. Unbelievably at that exact moment i realized the hum  that i had heard in my head was not adrenaline, but my jet boat with my guide and three compatriots cruising by, yards away. Smiles of hapiness and pride were exchanged and i almost passed out from the dizzying excitement of it all, it’s an understatement to say it was one of the finest and most beautifully intense moments of my life. Really.

Later in the day my brother David (the experienced one) managed to catch and land the monster pictured above with Tom’s expert help. Although he’s landed a few, it was a personal best for him, you could tell by the smile on his face.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to go steelhead fishing, it’s a little hard to explain how one landed fish in two days can cause you to grin so hard and feel so good that you just sit back and enjoy seeing others catch them almost as though it were you with the rod and reel tied into the fish. The odds are not in your favor, so anything, whether it’s yours or a colleagues are truly magnificent, but still doubly so if it’s your line running with a hum.

My only sadness with the fishing was that my father didn’t manage to catch one, and not for a lack of trying or decent casting. I wanted him to catch one so bad, that even though i had been plopped on a spot hundreds of yards from him, i tried to cast well enough to please Tom, but hopefully sloppy enough to keep the fish from taking my fly, in hopes they would scoot downstream and go for my fathers well intentioned streamer.

It would have been AMAZING had all four of us caught a steelhead, but then again, if we had, it wouldn’t be steelheading.

No this wasn’t Kansas, it was steelheading, it was the Deschutes, Valhalla and Nirvana all wrapped in one, and i, for one, want to go back.

Minutes before heading back to break camp. Heading off into the inky mental void.


With the last two days of my recent trip to Colorado approaching, it was hard to pull away from the Taylor and head back to my parents place in Monument, Colorado. The end of a good trip is always depressing as hell, but with the late start to this trip, the drive out of the mountains was doubly painful. The only bright light i could see was the fact that the following day my father wanted to go fish together on Eleven Mile, a favorite stretch of water for both him and i, and a chance to get some father / son time that has been in short supply.

The next day as i drove us through Woodland Park, home to the recent fires, i think we were both humbled by the fact that in an instant you can lose everything, like so many people around there did. The travesty seemed to open up the conversation and set the tone for a wonderful conversation that lasted until we pulled off the road and strung our rods along the AMAZINGLY scenic ripples of Eleven Mile. It was wonderful not just because it was time alone to talk and learn about each other, but because the tone of the conversation was more that of adults sharing thoughts and opinions, as opposed to that of the parent/child dynamic (that as a parent i realize is EASY to fall into).

The day started slowly, most likely because we had a slow start as well, not getting on the water until sometime around noon. As the hours ticked away and nothing was caught, it seemed probable that the trip was going to end on the same frustrating note that it had begun. My wife had worked so hard to make this day happen (thank you), and my dad had been so willing to put aside the many projects that i’m sure he needed help on, that in the back of my mind i had the faintest hope that somehow things would work out, even though things were looking dim.

As i started to prepare mentally to break down the rod and head home i whispered the words out loud to the river, “Just ONE fish, anything will do.” In moments of desperation, any wish or prayer seems comforting and worthy, and these words were no exception.

On the next cast (i know it sounds like b.s. but i swear it’s true), my line hit the water gently behind a rock close to shore, right on the edge of a feeding lane, the shallow water erupted and i was SHOCKED to see my 3WT bend and my line run as though it were trying to place an order minutes before last call. Keep in mind that not only are these waters fished hard, but they are catch and release waters as well, so the fish have a ridiculous amount of experience thwarting anglers. There were the usual runs broadside into the current, trying to circle rocks to break (6X!) tippets, as well as a new one for me where the trout beached itself and jumped wildly in the low underbrush trying to snag the line on the branches (my dad says he’s seen this before on these heavily fished waters).

The fish was one of (if not “the”) largest tout i’ve ever caught, as well as being one of the most glorious fights i’ve ever participated in. I yelled for my father to join me so i could hopefully get some good photos and have him share in the victory, but the waters commotion, his distance, and the fishes size as well as the length of the struggle compelled me to snap what photo i could quickly and get the fish back in the water, so the photos aren’t the best but hopefully they give some idea of the excitement i was tied into.

As i watched the fish swim away vigorously, i thought of the Buddha my wife and i had seen at a restaurant in a tiny ass town the previous day (in the top photo). Standing there in the cool water surrounded by amazing wilderness, with the sun setting and the adrenaline from the “fight” lingering in my system i felt relaxed and happy beyond measure as i started packing down my rod and feeling like a jolly, content and wealthy Chinese Buddah. Walking the dirt road his direction i was smiling like a child, anticipating the pride my father might display on my success. As i approached, his smile met mine and instantly told the story, he had experienced some amazing fish too. As i showed him the image of my fish and he beamed with pride of my catch, the old dynamic returned and suddenly we were father and son again…and i didn’t seem to mind.

As we drove back home, the loose and casual talk commenced, and the dynamic returned to that of two adults sharing stories and thoughts, it struck me how the trip had been a rough start, but here it was ending beautifully and perfectly for many reasons.

Life is strange like that…

Thank you Mom, Dad, Paolo and Liza for making it all happen. T-minus one year and counting.