Steelheading is challenging. Collectively as a crew we’ve had great success getting these unicorns to the net; myself not so much. Ive had plenty of takes, a handful of drawn out fights and a technical “catch” on a tippet touch that have left me without a glory gram shot for the second season in a row. At the end of the day on that long three hour drive home all I can think about is wanting to hold one of those mythical creatures, I just want to feel it’s weight and strength in my freezing cold hands. But from reflecting on another “unsuccessful” season I understand the enjoyment I get is from the process. Getting the shot for the gram is the cherry on top and if I put the time and work in I’ll get it eventually. Being on the water, freezing with 5 of my best friends is what its about. Enjoying the creekside whiskey breaks and sharing laughs is the real reason I continue to go back, and why I smile when reflecting on another season passed with no hero shot to speak of.
The winter weather patterns in Northern New York are volatile. Our trip was pushed multiple times because due to frigid cold temps, nuclear lake affect snow, or high unwadeable flows. Finally, the last weekend of February we caught a break and we took our shot.
This would be my third steelheading trip of the season and I was determined to get on a fish. Going home empty handed probably meant I wouldn’t have another real shot until next fall. Friday night we checked into our Airbnb above a small bar and pizza joint on the main strip; right above the river we’d hit early the next morning. With enough beds for a small army, so plenty of room for our party of 6. Friday night we got our gear organized, rods rigged and leaders checked twice. After that was done the Modelo’s got cracked and the special beers tasted better than ever. My determination for success lead me to research Euro style nymphing for Steelhead. The last trip up my buddy Greg rigged up a euro leader for me creekside and I was hooked up on the first run after tying it on. This strong buck ran me to my backing in seconds. I’ll never forget the sound my reel made when he took off. Knowing this was the biggest fish to ever be on the end of my line I went into full panic mode; and I started chasing it down the run! Needless to say mistakes were made and I lost it. But from that failure I learned plenty of valuable lessons. One being…the Euro style technique I’ve had great success with for trout on my home waters works for steelhead too. I also learned nothing good comes from panicking. When Ive got the fish of my life on the end of the line I need to take a deep breath and focus on the techniques that got me here.
I’ve been doing big days more and more lately, but lunch was never a priority. The older I get the more I enjoy the comfortable things; like a warm bowl of noodles after standing in freezing cold water for hours. If you’ve ever chased Steelhead you’re part of a select group of humans that find enjoyment in torture. I drive three hours one way to stand in frigid water for hours on end, drifting flies through every riffle and pocket and somehow there’s no place I’d rather be. This last trip was no exception, but this time I had some new gear to try out on the bank. Biolite was kind enough to send me their new Campstove 2. The first thing that came to mind when I unboxed everything was that it’s big and heavy. The opposite of my norm. I usually stick to small gear bags or hip packs to keep things simple, with the mentality of “if I don’t have it, I don’t need it.” So with packing light in mind I wasn’t sure how it would fit in, but to my surprise all the pieces packed together like a nesting doll to about the size of a football; perfect for the bottom of my pack. Don’t get me wrong it’s still heavy, a jet boil is a tenth of the weight, but that’s not the point with this piece. It’s multifunctional and environmentally friendly; two things I can get behind. Once I understood to not to start it like a traditional fire it was off to the races. Feeding it was key, but once you have a good flame going your waters boiling and phones charging in no time. With a warm bowl of noodles in hand, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier stream side.