I was 15 when I caught my first steelhead on my 6 weight fly rod. 6 lb leader, floating line, reel with no drag, etc., bare bones. I felt as if I achieved the greatest feat of any human in the history of earth. I finally landed the fish and it was getting dark in the canyon. It was a very warm day but was starting to get cool. Bats were starting to fly around and you could see them against the blue-black sky. Nobody was around to witness my monumental and spiritual achievement but I felt so elated I did not care. I was so happy I probably would have said that day that I could now die a happy man. Since that day I fly fish probably 95% of the time and 100% of the time I wish I was fly fishing. I tie my own flies, incorporate things I've learned about my rivers and my fish into my patterns, and I feel more connected to the whole thing. That being said, I love to catch fish and I still think I'm going to catch one on every single cast. Of course, I don't. I usually catch them when I decide to take a gear rod and always tell myself "Oh yeah, he was hanging below that rock in 3-4 feet of water, could have got him on my spey rod..."
Mine was more than 30 years ago on an Oregon coast stream that's now closed to fishing. It was a really cold December day. I hooked him on a copper colored Metric spinner. The water was so cold that the little 8 pound buck didn't fight much. But I still remember the rainbow stripe along his side and the feeling of elation at finally catching a fish I'd pursued for almost four years.
Just a couple of years later, my first fly-caught steelhead was on the Siletz, a summer fish and very active. She seemed to jump so much she spent more time in the air than in the water. That was a definite turning point in my fishing because, once I put down the spinning gear, I have pretty much stuck to the fly rod for all my fishing.
Wasn't long after that when I caught my first waking-fly steelhead. It was on the Nestucca, and also a summer. She took a riffle-hitched Silver Hilton. Seeing a torpedo wake suddenly appear and begin to overtake my fly, it almost killed me to wait for the take.
In the many years since, there are very few fish that I can specifically remember. They mostly run together, a jumble of pleasant but indistinct memories, the sum total of which now forms my own personal understanding of what a steelhead is: the nuances and complexities, character and behavior that are this magnificent fish.
But, I never will forget my first.
How about you?