February must be my favorite month. It’s when we catch the biggest steelhead of the year. Steelhead don’t feed when they enter fresh water so no one knows why they bite.
We have all kinds of excuses for them not biting like, using the wrong lure. So we buy another and another as if whoever dies with the biggest tackle box, wins.
One man’s hoarding disorder is just an average steelheaders tackle collection.
Unfortunately, all the gear in the world won’t necessarily help you catch a steelhead. Here is my story.
The old guy that showed me how to catch steelhead didn’t even own a tackle box. He carried a wicker creel. Inside he had a few leaders tied up, some split shot and a jar of eggs cured in sugar and salt. Once in a while Harry would get fancy.
“We started tying yarn on our leaders after the war,” he said. That would be the big one, WWII.
The rest of Harry’s gear looked like it had been through the war. The guides on his rod and his reel were held on with electrical tape. He would strip out some line and swing his little glob of caviar out into the river, usually less than 10 feet from shore.
One morning he caught both our limits before I got my fancy gear untangled.
“You have to feel the bite,” Harry said. That hurt. A fishermen’s ego can be as delicate as the most fragile ecosystem.
Harry had a 35-year steelhead fishing head start on me. I thought it would be only fair if he let me catch a fish once in a while.
My hurt feelings didn’t keep me from showing up at his house bright and early the next morning. That was stupid. Harry never caught a steelhead before 10 and he wasn’t going to be rushed by some kid. We were going to have breakfast, which was fortunate.
Harry and Lena were great cooks. They had a wood cook stove that was prone to chimney fires once it got hot enough to boil water. Harry claimed there was nothing like a chimney fire to take the chill off in the morning but he worried more about igniting a sizeable deposit of bat guano that was up in the attic.
The house had been built by a pair of Norwegian bachelors who never once used a square, tape measure or a level. The place had more holes in it than one of my fish stories.
The bathroom was the coldest room in the house so it served as a cold storage. Harry kept the steelhead in the bathtub until it was time to put them in the smokehouse.
Lena wondered just when he was going to get those fish out of the tub so she could take a bath, but Harry wasn’t going to run the smokehouse for just four fish, no. We were going to catch some more.
That was the old days when fishing was all that really mattered.
It was in the high 30s and raining when we drove to the river. Perfect steelhead weather.
“I think I’m having a stroke,” Harry said. I turned the truck around.
“Where are you going? He asked. I told him
“If you’re having a stroke, I’m taking you to the hospital.” Harry said not to worry,
“It won’t hit until tomorrow. Let’s go fishing.”
I turned the truck around again and headed back to the river. Harry caught our four fish again that morning. It was the last time we fished together.
It was good to be alive.