A client recently asked me what the best big steelhead battles I’ve seen was… I could think of quite a few.
There was the fish on the Deschutes I hooked deep in a tailout one October morning. It beat me many times over with impressive runs but I bounced behind it through some really rough rapids (places people don’t normally go) and finally landed it…
There was the giant B-run fish I hooked on the Deschutes in November (it was one of the BIG run years – 3 of us hooked 64 steelhead in 3 days). That fish was such a beast it tore me up one side and down the other. It was within three wraps of the backing knot several times and took me through rough stuff down river 1/2 mile before he tore back upstream into the backing and then just came off! Meanwhile my lungs were aching as I was heaving trying to catch my breath from the exertion in the 28 degree air!
But the one the big steelhead battles that stands out the most for me is one with Nick W. several years back on a coastal river. We were fishing in March when there weren’t many fish around but the ones that were there were big. It became apparent that we found one of those big ones when Nick hooked up and the fish didn’t leave the hole for about 10 minutes. Big head shakes gave it away that this was not an average steelhead.
Finally after 10 minutes this giant ripped across the river nearly to the far bank and then went upstream between a huge boulder and the bank…we had a problem!
“Jump in the boat!” I yelled. Nick and I scrambled into the boat while his fishing buddy stayed put and took photos. I rowed hard across the current to the rock as the line peeled into the backing going fast upstream. Another sign this was truly a big fish – it was going upstream into the backing!
After getting the line off the boulder the fish came back at us through some fast water. Nick reeled like crazy to keep up with him. That’s when the next disaster happened. This monster wild fish had more tricks up his sleeve. He raced again to the far side of the river opposite of us and ran the line under a branch that was pegged to a rock. The extra drag on the line was going to be a big problem. As fast as I could we raced across the river with the boat, parked it and I jumped out with the net. My plan was to use the net handle into the deep water and get the fly line off the branch it was stuck on. I waded deep into the fast water straining to get to the submerged branch when I heard Nick’s buddy yell, “Hey Rob, your boat is floating away!” In the hurry I didn’t anchor the boat very good and it started to take off.
I yelled for him to grab it quick and then focused on the deep/fast water line extraction I was attempting. One more step into the fast chest deep water and unfortunately my new prototype boot traction failed me on the right foot. This was even more fun! My right foot was losing grip and slipping, moving back and forth to maintain position like the Wiley Coyote when he sailed off the cliff trying to stay mid-air. With a deep breath and a big stretch I bumped the fly line off the branch just right and Nick came tight to the fish! The monster was still on!
Nick’s buddy was able to grab and secure the boat and commence photographing but Nick still had his hands full with a powerful wild steelhead.
Finally, it tired and I slipped it into the net. We were all exhausted but overjoyed at the monumental battle that we had barely won!