that everyone goes bonkers over. I know nothing about the species what so ever. Its it the elusiveness, the fight?
Yes and yes. Big strong fish in what can be small streams is a challenge. It's a challenge to get the feel for when they take and a challenge to land them without their having their way with you by heading down-current or for any brush pile or sharp rock in the area. The fight is the draw for me.
This is said concerning east coast steelhead. In the west I understand them to take differently and the streams to be quite large.
They fight well and can be tough to catch, but for me it's a respect thing, especially after learning about their life cycle and the journey they go through to return to their home water to start the cycle all over again. The fact that they can return to spawn 3 or 4 times, some as many as 5 doesn't hurt either.
Dec Hogan's book 'A passion for Steelhead' gives some fantastic detail into the life of these amazing fish.
I am in full agreement with my fellow posters and will add this; whether you fish the Snake River system, the legendary rivers of the Pacific Northwest, or here in Alaska, these fish can often be very hard to come by. Everything there is to like about a wild rainbow trout is present in a steelhead trout by a multiple of '10'. This is not meant to disparage the Great Lakes fish but my experiences with the Lake Run fish has been considerably different than the wild fish that inhabit the Pacific Ocean and its rivers. In the great lakes the fish sometimes clog the channels of small creeks and although they often will exhibit lockjaw and be nearly impossible to entice to a fly, other times they can be caught in great numbers. This is seldom the case with the wild cousins and that only aids in building the mystique.
I think all of the explanations regarding their strength, elusiveness, and their incredible battle for continued existence in the wild contribute to the vaunted position they hold with the fly fisherman / naturalist.
Haven't been able to make it to the great water back east.
So can't compare the two like Ard.
I believe what difference there is, may stem from the fact these western steelies fight for their lives in the Pacific ocean.
The first time I hooked one it took directly below me on the end of the swing just like we expect. I couldn't figure how I suddenly lost near a hundred feet of line in less time than it took to blink. My jaw dropped as it jumped three feet into the air on the other side of the river, with the line buried under heavy water currents. I couldn't believe it was my fish for a second. Took close to 10 minutes to land it. Wasn't that big. maybe two feet+.
That ain't your normal rainbow.
I believe the term that covers it,"heart stopping".
Andy Burk helped me learn some steel patterns this winter. One day he leaned over my shoulder and quietly counseled me how to approach it.
He said, "Tye with respect for the fish".
It seemed to help.....
Our Laker fish here are fun and all but they definitely lack the mysticism of Pacific Chrome. For the most part the lake fish tend to fight a little on the lazy side, don't get me wrong you'll get a few hot fish that make you wonder weather 100 yards was enough backing. Chances are its more than enough, still the thought of a 24"+ acrobatic rainbow does get the blood moving. Plus its something to do in the dead of winter when the resident trout don't feel like moving.
My friend and guide Tim drove up to Olympic peninsula to fish last year.
3000 mi. round trip from here.
He is fine tyer of classic patterns, and fishes well.
In two weeks, he had 6 grabs, 3 fish on, none to hand.
He had a big one air out less than fifty yards from the ocean, fresh as it gets....
He has the bug as bad as ever. Going again this year.
That is a pretty typical as far as I can tell, this is a habit as bad as any you can get.
Ask a guide years ago what I needed before taking up steel.
He said, "are you married"?
I said no, "good" he replied. "Otherwise you might need to get a divorce".
It's amazing to me that such an elusive fish can keep a person coming back for more abuse.
My first year I hooked three...landed none.
Mrs fysh hooked two and landed both. Her first was a 24" wild hen, her second was a bright chrome 33" natural male that came clean out of the water and tumbled head over tail no less than a dozen times.
Second year I hooked three more fish....landed none. Mrs fysh touched nothing.
This past October I remembered some sage advise that Ard gave me and landed my first Steelhead, a nice 30" natural female. It was an emotional moment for me knowing the journey these fish make and how damn hard I worked for it.
You hear of people needing to take a break after they catch their first, I was no different and sat on the bank sipping a mini bottle of 12 y.o. Glenlivet that had been making the trip with me since I started 3 yrs ago.
I hooked and landed one more smaller fish the next day, Mrs fysh hooked two and lost them both.
We both know the chances of getting skunked can be high but there is truly something about these fish that will keep you coming back for more. Next October cannot get here soon enough.