Why I should hate steelhead fishing

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska – After returning from a steelhead trip I tried to understand why I looked forward to hiking a long way for just a few fish, in the cold. I tried to convince myself I shouldn’t like it.  So, here’s why I should hate steelhead fishing.

I don’t catch a lot of fish
The point of fishing is catching. Steelhead sometimes don’t bite even when you do everything right. They don’t stack up like salmon during the summer or fall runs so getting one per day is the goal, catching six or more with a fly rod is near an anomaly. 

What I do catch, I don’t keep
I sent a picture of a steelhead to a group chat. A reply was, “Dinner?” I replied simply that I had venison thawing and didn’t get into the phases of a fish in freshwater and how a spring steelhead that was a holdover from the fall and would likely not taste very good; nor did I mention that I couldn’t stomach killing a steelhead. Taking a limit of salmon from a river that has tens of thousands isn’t putting too much of a dent into the population. Killing 1 of 400 or so can have a much more profound impact going forward. Steelhead are sturdy and resilient as proven by the fact that they return to the ocean after spawning then repeat the process unlike salmon. It’s also illegal on many rivers. So, what I’m doing is also completely unnecessary by “getting my own food” standards.

It involves work
My most used program is a skiff ride to a river, a two-hour hike to a Forest Service cabin where I camp for a night or two, or an hour hike to a tent camp. The hike is work, and while it’s four miles over pretty docile terrain by southeast Alaska standards, I sweat. I stop hiking, get into the water and am promptly chilled. I stay in that state until I get back to camp where there is no dry wood to make a fire, but try anyway and just end up coating myself in wet campfire smoke. Misery.

In light of all this information, I can’t wait to go again. It doesn’t matter that one or two fish is a great day, or that my body fluctuates between hot and cold with almost hazardous regularity. It’s perhaps a little mean to catch a fish by the face only to release it, but knowing a steelhead exists is different than feeling the slime and marveling in something so unique and beautiful. Life will always confront you with arguments that challenge your worldview and either changes your mind, or solidifies it. Sometimes the reason is not in the words but in the feeling. It’s not surprising then, that some don’t understand.

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