A winter steelhead report of sorts… aka, Steelhead Fool…. “It’s just fishing” “It’s just a fish” Phrases I live by and that come to mind whenever I hear someone wax poetic about some aspect of fishing. Life is so much bigger than fishing. And how much more true can this be said of steelhead fishing. Think of the time and money invested just to freeze your butt off for hours on end and probably NOT catch a thing. It’s pure foolishness if you think about it. Idiotic - if not totally insane. I’m mean, c’mon, it’s just a stinking fish!! I remind myself this fact as I listen to my alarm going off too early this morning. No, I don’t need to be at work early today. I could sleep another hour or more and take my time. But I still find myself getting up, and getting ready for work. But I put on wool sox today instead of my usual cotton. I put the cotton socks in my pocket to change into later. It’s about 38 degrees out and only sprinkling. Just right really. I grab my light fleece jacket and old REI packable rain jacket that isn’t so water proof anymore. But the combination is just fine for a mild winter morning of fishing for just an hour or so. I check the flows online. Looks perfect. My coffee mug is full and I’m on the road – timing it just perfectly so that I’ll be a few minutes ahead of daybreak and hopefully ahead of anyone who has ideas of fishing my new favorite spot. I get about a mile away and realize I left my wading boots in the garage. Nothing I hate worse than having to head back when I’m on a mission. Oh well, I may not be the first one there now, but I gotta turn around. Twenty minutes later, and with just a bit of daylight building up in the dark rainy sky, I find my parking spot… empty. YES! I gear up and hit the trail within 2 minutes of parking. I have it down to a science after being beat to a spot more than a few times in the past by some dude better prepared. That doesn’t happen anymore… I like the big purple articulated fly I already have tied on, based on the conditions: med\low water visibility, low light. I begin at the top of the run, knowing the sweet spot is ¾ of the way down. I force myself to take my time. I’m focused on the swing and the rhythm – ready for any variation that could mean a take. It’s barely raining. It’s just enough that I put my hood up over my head. The temperature seems to have dropped some. But I stay focused. My pulse quickens a bit as I approach the sweet spot. The 30 to 40 foot stretch that recently greeted my swing with 4 steelhead takes over my 3 short visits here. I know they like this spot. The rain has picked up quite a bit. As has the wind. But I stay focused. Each cast and swing is filled with anticipation. The wind has really picked up now. The rain is coming in horizontally. But I cast, mend, swing and stay focused. I’m in the heart of the run now, and even though the ice laden rain drops are blasting my exposed face and ungloved hands, I stay focused. My hands are burning from the cold and wet ice pellets that continue to relentlessly hammer them. I can only see out of one squinted eye as the ice rain pelts me head on. My hood is pressed tight against my forehead by the force of the wind, covering my right eye. I’m forced to look down and only glance at the line and swing progression every few seconds as water and ice (and yes, eventually snot) stream down my face. It’s hard to take my steps now since I can’t really see, but I fumble along feeling with my boots. My fingers sting and I hope they just go numb, except that I can barely strip in and control the line as it is. And yet I stay focused. I don’t allow my mind to drift off and think about the heater in the truck. Or the warm mug of coffee that will heat both my hands and my body from the inside. My casting is nearly impossible with the wind, but I manage, even thought it looks ugly, it still get’s the fly out just enough. 20 to 30 feet is more than enough for this particular run. The rain is driven easily through the 10 year old nylon fabric that once offered reasonable rain protection, but no more. I can feel water coming in and my body is shivering. But I stay focused. Between glances up into the frontal assault of icy rain pellets with my one squinted eye to see my line, I glance to see my progression down the run against my carefully selected land marks. I’m running out of room and into the tail out now. I know I’m also running out of time and will need to be on the road to work very soon. But I stay focused. "Two more casts" I tell myself, and then take 4. After my 5th 'last cast', I reel in the line and wade back to the shore. The wind has died down as had the rain. But my body still shakes and my hands and face still burn. My arms, head, shoulders are soaked. My wool socks kept my toes from getting too far beyond mildly numb and sore. But my work pants offer no insulation and the chilly water had pretty much full access to my legs through my thin breathable waders. I convince my stiff leggs to walk me past the top marker for my ‘sweet spot’ then glance at the water that just looks so damn fishy. Before my brain can reject, my hands are moving for a different fly to tie on and I scurry over for one more pass through the prime holding water. What’s 15 more minutes? The wind is gone, but the rain drops are now massive and coming down hard. But at least I don’t have to squint to watch my line. Then the big rain drops turn into full blown heavy wet snow flakes and start coming so hard I can barely see the end of my line as it swings. But again, I stay focused. I know there is a fish here. Each cast is followed by anticipation. I’m probably in the first stages of hypothermia, but I stay focused. Just a few more feet. Just one more cast. And another. And finally, I reel it in and head back to the bank. Then I make the walk back to my truck. Fishless. Back at the truck the snow-rain continues to dump. I’m soaked, and only get more soaked as I peel off my completely water logged rain jacket and then the fleeced jacket that has managed to keep most of the water out except for around my shoulders and neck. My wrists up the elbow are soaked though. I wring the sleeves out as I hang it on the seat to dry. My shirt leaves are soaked too. I can only hope I’ll be dry by the time I get to work. By the time I’m well on my way and fully engaged in the commute with all the other morning zombies on the road, my body has regained most of its feeling and the shuddering has stopped. My hands are no longer burning. I then remember those words… “It’s only fishing”. “It’s just a fish”. What a fool I am. Back in the office I look at my schedule. I’m running late for my first meeting and I have a 3 o’clock as well. Can that meeting be moved? Could I slip out for a quick pass down that run in the afternoon? Is that rain making the river swell too much? Fool! Steelhead Fool!