Faith and Steelhead

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by Tim Harris

I just returned from my first real steelhead trip to the Deschutes in a couple of years.

I had to miss out all of last  two summer seasons due to illness though I did manage a few days last winter where I actually hooked up several fish and landed one nice hatchery fish.

Now I’ve got the steelhead sickness again, it is time though to break out the floating line and the switch rod and begin to swing Streetwalkers across the currents.   I’ll get up before dawn and head to the river in the early morning, rig up and wade out just as it begins to get light.  Then begins the methodical, meditative practice of cast, mend, swing, and step until I am at the bottom of the run and I pack up and go to work.   The cast is meditative too – strip, lift, swing, create the D loop, and let it rip.   Mend once, maybe twice.  Swing slowly.  Take one to two steps down.  Repeat.  Repeat. Repeat.

All the while you are keeping faith.  

Faith that there is a steelhead lurking in front of that rock where I got 5 fish one season.  Faith that a steelhead is following the swing and will maybe grab it on the hang-down if not sooner.  Faith that the fly is so damn enticing that  a fish has to be looking at it.  Faith there is at least one fish in the run at that moment.  Faith that, as you near the end of the run, the last cast will connect to steel which has happened to me more than once.

The 13th century Zen Master Dogen taught that Practice is Enlightenment.   In steelheading if the cast and swing is the practice, then the grab of a fish is enlightenment.  Maybe just the act of having faith and following the practice is the true catching and you don’t really need the steelhead at all.


Tim Harris
Gink & Gasoline
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7 thoughts on “Faith and Steelhead

  1. Wow, my mind is blown! Love this short and sweet. Practice, meditation yes, but I’d also call it “dialing it in”. I love that.

  2. Faith. Confidence. Enlightenment. It’s a constant balance of learning and remembering. It’s been said many times and many ways, so hard to maintain. And, it’s probably one of the major reasons some of us choose to fish with a fly.
    On a trip to Wisconsin, this summer a relative watched me use a light switch Rod to catch Brookies. After a while, the comment came. ” I’ve never seen a style like that. It was like Zen.”
    I was just walking down stream. Flipping double Spey left and snap t right bank after every step; catching a Brookie every few casts.
    It’s cool to learn that Tim knows Dogen.
    Thoughts of Loving Kindness, to all at need..

  3. I woke up yesterday not sure if I was going to put in what may be my last weekend of fishing this fall by driving a couple hours for a surefire day of good trout, or a few more hours for a chance — the always slim chance — for just one steelie. I’m not saying this post made my mind up for me…… but it didn’t hurt.

    Neither did seeing that picture of what looks like Henry’s Camp on the Deschutes (am I right?), the very place where a steelheaded freight train first crushed my swinging fly and tried to pull me to the Columbia gorge, and got me hooked on this ridiculous, stupid, remarkable, unforgettable brand of fishing. I’ll think about that when its raining sideways and 40 degrees this weekend and I’m slowly stepping and swinging my way downriver, keeping the faith.

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