SFR: Thoughts on Addiction, Steelhead, Flow, and Protecting the Supply.

Dan Cuomo

Active Member
I wrote this a while back after yet another leave the house at 2:30 am suicide run out to the OP. This morning I heard a spot on the radio about operating beyond the "norm," which referenced the concept of "flow." It reminded me about this piece, so here it is.

Addiction is a funny thing. Not that being actively addicted is particularly funny - although there are objectively funny moments - but rather the process and drivers of addiction.

Fishing for Steelhead, is one of my few remaining addictions, since my wife declared war on cigars. I used to be pretty good at drinking, but then I went pro and screwed that up. At one of my early AA meetings I was present for a conversation between some old AA hands during which the absence of one of that groups usual attendees was discussed. One guy stated that their MIA friend, was "out doing independent research;" code for saying hidy-ho to your higher power and "hello beautiful" to your favorite bar maid. Without missing a beat one of the other long timers stated, "better him than me," to which I blew coffee out of my nose. That's some cold shit, and to my skewed sense of humor pretty funny too. No one else even cracked a smile. Later I came to learn that while I can still find the humor in that statement, the fact is that when it comes to many addictions, it's better that it be anybody other than me. Chiefly because I don't want "me" to die. Thankfully the pursuit of steelhead, in-and-of-itself, is rarely that high risk. That said, it can be serious stuff and many of us are pretty dependent.

Addiction is tied to the "vehicle" that allows one to conduct a search for an experience outside of the normal. I've never met a junkie who enjoyed inoculations as a child, but transform that needle into a vehicle to that warm fuzzy junk blanket and you have a guy who really really likes needles. Most first beers taste like horse piss. Hard liquor is pretty rough at first, and most of what I've put up my nose didn't feel good… at first. All that said, those things did open one of Huxley's doors into a room outside of normal experience, and like all exclusive clubs the folks who work those doors are mean, greedy, power-mad bastards, and you will pay to enter. Steelheading is no different.

You can die while steelheading but the odds for survival are better than shooting heroin or even commuting to work in a Smart Car. Infidelity and boredom still account for more marital strife, but I and others could have had a steelheading buddy named as a co-respondent in our divorce papers. Drownings, bears, vehicle wrecks, and hypothermia, claim Steelheaders each year. Other humans can be problematical. I no longer carry a gun on the river after being forced to exert more self-control than I sometimes have available, to refrain from shooting three low-holing sons-of-bitches on a break from their elk hunt, on the Upper Hoh. I now carry bear spray. It's way less fun to discharge, but its effects aren't permanent and it's more effective on bears which, unlike most humans; I respect and admire.

Steelheading, with a spey rod in particular, is my search-vehicle for transport outside of the normal experience. Cast, mend, step-down, swing, and repeat, is the embodiment of the focused attention that becomes mindful meditation. While Steelheading I become Kwai Chang Caine in waders. My cast my meditation, repeated without conscious thought. Hours pass unnoticed. Cold, rain, and snow, fail to register. When they do, it becomes cruel farce and it's better to take a break or surrender and go home. Psychologists, interestingly enough for us Steelheaders, refer to such sate as "flow." It's been described as "a state of effortless concentration so deep that one losses their sense of time, of themselves, of their problems." Sound familiar? The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has called this "optimal experience," and who hasn't felt that on the water. Swing up a steelhead, and the ecstasy you feel comes from the ancient Greek, and means "to be or stand outside oneself, a removal to elsewhere." So if you meet me, or someone similarly afflicted, on the river deal with us with the following understanding.

We're there in search of the flow, the optimal experience, the removal to elsewhere. We are unpredictable, and we attach more importance to this thing than you might easily imagine. Allow us our particular addiction. Don't inflict your purism on us and we'll leave you to your way of doing things. Don't destroy our experience because of your stupidity or greed, or selfishness. Don't squander it away because you lack the courage to do what's necessary to protect it, and don't come to the party if you come empty handed.


Well-Known Member
Fortunately fly fishing has been a mild addiction, with the principle side effect being that I could have amounted to something in life had I not become addicted. But it's been otherwise very manageable. Never been into drugs, due in part to equal parts of poverty and good sense. I probably drink to much, but have the gene that causes me to get sick and puke my guts up before I get addicted.



Ignored Member
Nice piece of writing and an interesting view of things for those that may not fully understand the nature of addictions. I also have some hands on experience with the addiction of substances. I have several pursuits I am involved with that with a few word tweaks and changes in your piece it would fit any one of them. I have also been accused of this type of behavior at work. Something to do with a compulsive obsessive mind. It is both a blessing and a curse.

John Hicks

Owner and operator of Sea Run Pursuits

That was a great piece of writing. I think that most everyone on this board can use those words that you wrote, on their bio. I have never met more addictive personalities in one sport, than that of steelheading, me included.