Eleven down, one to go!

A river doubled in size – yet still clear enough to fish.

By Jerry Myers

Terry continues her hunt for steelhead. Last year she was unsuccessful in catching a wild steelhead the months of May and July. Since I act as the Official Rules Interpreter for “THE WILD EXPECTATIONS QUEST” and am easily bribed, the rules were bent to include May and July of 2016 to see if a wild steelhead could still be caught every month of the calendar. Plus, we still have some credit line available on our Visa. The bank was very agreeable to an expansion.

Good to be back in Alaska.

Further more, two young women of remarkable artistic talents and proven stamina have joined THE QUEST. Sarah Menzies and Becca Skinner are photographers that found THE QUEST intriguing enough to merit a story regarding Terry’s steelhead condition. Trout Unlimited awarded Sarah a $5K grant to assist in producing a short film about women and fishing (sounds a bit like Terry). More funding is currently being sought from sponsors to complete the film project by December. Proper film making ain’t cheap!

You can’t fix the weather, but you can fix the attitude!

So I found myself in SE Alaska earlier this month testing the limits of rain gear and attempting to keep up with 3 gals as they pursued steelhead in a swollen river that none of us had seen before. Two were armed with cameras, one with fly rods. We rented a drift boat and loaded our camping gear for a 3 days float to the Gulf of Alaska. The photographers doubled up in an inflatable kayak using an umbrella over their cameras to shoot in the incessant deluge. I bailed rain water out of the boat continually. We fished in the rain, we ate in the rain, we slept in the rain and we drank a hot toddy or two in the rain. Cold and rain for 6 days is perfect steelhead weather but challenging for humans packing finicky electronic gear. I had to toughen up to hang with these women as all four of us pursued our favorite fish with lens and fly.

Alaska was our longest sojourn from our home water here on the Salmon. SE Alaska has numerous streams that support spring run steelhead while most rivers in the lower 48 are running swift and high with spring runoff. Our northwest summer run steelhead are in their spawning phase in May and June. Most steelhead fishermen find it unsporting to cast to fish that are on shallow spawning beds attempting to mate. Alaska has both spawning fish and ocean fresh chromers this time of year, it was easy to avoid the active spawners and seek the new arrivals in deeper more traditional runs. Alaska, for us, is an eccentric old friend, wild and full of surprises. We spent our early marriage in Katmai National Monument managing a fly-in sport fishing lodge where we were immersed in the immensity of the landscape and the productivity of it’s streams. It was great to be back!

Sarah has the fever and takes a well earned break from the camera.

So I’ll cut to the chase. Terry was able to tie into a couple of impressively strong wild Alaskan steelhead, one within earshot of nearby crashing ocean surf and both as bright as foil. And our two photographers landed some digital silver and gold of their own, displaying formable perseverance waiting for the real action to begin. Assisting your wife with a net-less landing in a bank-full, log infested river and her first hookup in 5 days can be a bit nerve-wracking. Add a couple of professional videographers armed with audio and visual zeroing in on the money shot of a fish in hand. I think they call it dramatic tension and I think I had it. Fish landed, photos taken, cameras tucked in outta the rain, flask uncorked, mission accomplished, (well for May anyway). That leaves this July as the final chapter in the Quest. I can feel the dramatic tension building already!

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Rare May silver.

Faults, Foibles and Faux pas.

In keeping with the Oops! theme, it seems the video did not play the first time around. It should work this time! Enjoy.

I’m sharing some ‘less than awesome’ moments along the 2015 steelhead trail in this short video. JM supplies some barbed commentary and I supply the flavor of the full fishing experience, with ample helpings of humble pie. A whole lotta humble pie gets served up when one pursues steelhead.

And, I am not walking away from this Quest until I give May and July another shot. Those were record-breaking hot months last year and very hard on NW salmon and steelhead. With a building snowpack in 2016 we just might have better summer river conditions and I’ve been given the nod, permission, hall pass, blessing and fun tickets to satisfy the itch. January is over and I have NOT yet swung a fly. My itch is turning into a twitch.

While you’re hunkered in this winter, check out TU’s Wild Steelheaders January Newsletter to see the latest on steelhead issues and conservation. Join Wild Steelheaders United, it doesn’t cost a thing to sign on to the Credo and the “The Wild Steelheader” will keep you informed about good stuff being done for steelhead in your neighborhood.


Faults, Foibles and Faux pas.


Seems appropriate that the Oops! video did not play. Try again!

I’m sharing some ‘less than awesome’ moments along the 2015 steelhead trail in this short  video. JM supplies some barbed commentary and I supply the flavor of the full fishing experience, with ample helpings of humble pie. A whole lotta humble pie gets served up when one pursues steelhead.

And, I am not walking away from this Quest until I give May and July another shot. Those were record-breaking hot months last year and very hard on NW salmon and steelhead. With a building snowpack in 2016 we just might have better summer river conditions and I’ve been given the nod, permission, hall pass, blessing and fun tickets to satisfy the itch. January is over and I have NOT yet swung a fly. My itch is turning into a twitch.

While you’re hunkered in this winter, check out TU’s Wild Steelheaders January Newsletter to see the latest on steelhead issues and conservation. Join Wild Steelheaders United, it doesn’t cost a thing to sign on to the Credo and the “The Wild Steelheader” will keep you informed about good stuff being done for steelhead in your neighborhood.



Low-lifes in Paradise

My first impulse was to wear my waders as a hermetic safeguard against the questionable looking sheets. The strong smell of Pinesol and the spider trap in the bathroom added to the ambiance. It was Christmas Day, we were beggars not choosers and we were seeking shelter from the cold night temperatures in this seedy dive after standing in 36 degrees water all afternoon. To celebrate the season, we mixed a couple of tall toddies, the color of Christmas and cheerfully potent. We dined on a microwaved calzone and followed it up with some well traveled cookies, by now mostly crumbs. Piles of damp fishing gear fermented on the shag carpet in the corner. Was catching a December steelhead worth catching body lice? Hell Yes!

Any port in the storm.

Our strategy of heading to the waters of the Olympic Peninsula was thwarted en route by coastal storms and rain swollen rivers. A call to an OP guide buddy reinforced our worsening fears. The rivers would be “out” for our allotted time away from work responsibilities. So our westerly direction took an abrupt detour south, hoping the Snake or Clearwater River would be fishable and that air temps would hold above freezing. At the time I couldn’t help but feel a lump of disappointment bubble up. My visions of standing in the majestic Hoh or catching a Queets “hog” would have to wait for another day.

Hells Canyon wasn’t so hot.

Fishing the Snake River intimidates me. It is massive and her waters unfamiliar. The steelhead holding water was hard to identify and a determined downstream wind never let up. Combined with 34 degree air temps and equally as cold water temps, I was feeling less than confident. So when Santa came down my chimney the day before Christmas with a sturdy 28” buck I was more than surprised. When I brought this sweet, robust wild fish to hand I was a believer again. I have to admit I felt huge relief, a humble satisfaction and even a little regret that this fish may be the grand finale in my final month of the Quest.

My Christmas gift.

A quick reflection of the 2015 Quest finds unabashed joy in the experience of casting my line in so many new rivers throughout the Northwest and Canada, places I have often read about and pondered. I also found a renewed appreciation for my home water. Perhaps it’s the comfortable “old shoe” familiarity or the history of friendships forged on her shores. The year’s travelings introduced us to random fellow fish heads. Some lived in vans by the river and others had egos as big as their boat, but all chased steelhead like knights after the Holy Grail.

Steelhead addiction, dawn ’til dark.

I am a fisherman, not a writer. This blog has pushed me out from a place of comfort. My intent of the Quest was to share the fun, beauty, adventure, and camaraderie I found along the way, while weaving in the concern I feel for the future of our wild places and wild critters. There is a part of me that is reluctant to let go just yet. JM reminds me that there were two months that I never even hooked a fish. So before I push my chair back from the desk for the final time I may have to ponder a revised Quest for 2016 and try for the May and July wild steelhead that eluded me in ‘15. Hmmm, looks like the Quest never ends…

This simple quote from Maya Angelou is an eloquent start to the new year. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

A golden scene along the river.
A rare open-water day on home water.

A Storm is Brewing

Bulkley River Smithers British Columbia Canada
…for better or for worse.

Finding a wild steelhead on a fly each month of the year might be just as difficult as finding a sane presidential candidate for 2016. Throw in some seriously unwelcome events to the Quest and the spousal tension mounts. I have been reluctant to share much of the underbelly of our marital relationship but things here are teetering on the brink.

A chill in the air.

In late October my waders blew out of the back of our truck, on a black, rainy night, on a 4-lane highway in Lewiston Idaho. It was near mid-night when we rehashed the series of events and went in search, but not before offering up a quick invocation to the patron saint of lost things, St. Anthony, who is now a Favorite on my spiritual speed dial. After a few accusatory comments and some tense backtracking, there they were! Laying on the side of the highway, spread eagle, like the human inside had just evaporated. I jumped out between the flow of headlights and grabbed them. It wasn’t until the next morning when I threw them on that I noticed tread marks, crushed buckles and a big rip in the foot, it was obvious they had been run over. (At least I hadn’t been in them.) It was inevitable that they should slowly fill with water as I waded into the river that day.

A week later the old man asks to borrow my rod to try a new line as he ran out the door with a couple of fishing buddies. I gave a nod yes as I was elbow deep in an apple pie for dinner that night (‘wife of the year’ credits). Later that evening,  during a well lubricated mealtime conversation, I was serving up the pie and the confession came out about how my rod now had an extra section. Apparently it had snapped while JM was landing a fish that afternoon for some “unexplainable” reason. I’ll admit that he did have eye-witnesses that claim it didn’t get slammed in the truck door. I was consoled by the fact that at least I had my new rod, the one that I really, really love, but my old standby was a goner for the season.

On the move.

The VERY next day we were loading the truck in anticipation of a new river and wild steelhead. The last thing to pack were our rods hanging in the shed. As we started breaking them down, one of my ferrules was a little stuck so I asked the “ ol rod breaker” for some help. We were bantering about how soon we could leave when I heard the little snap-pop, at the same time my eyeballs beheld Jer’s hand with the offending ferrule busted in his fist. What in the name of Satan had just happened? My NEW Winston rod, the one I really, really loved was broke and here he was, looking at me like I’d just caught him pinching the ass of some young chick. I deliberately turned and stumbled away, fearing the emotional possibilities that could arise here. We hadn’t broken a rod in over a decade and then bang, bang! Time to consider a full time marriage counselor, one to follow us around like a nice little border collie. More realistically it was time I reach down in the bowels of our 36 year marriage and pull out my July mantra, No Time For Whiners. So, I dusted off an old beater rod and went on to catch a BEAUTIFUL November wild steelhead, on a new river, with Jer fishing nearby. I guess I’ll keep the old ham-handed husband around for another month or two. He is putting snow tires on my truck and pulling the shoes off the mules. Guilt has it’s uses.

Standing in the mighty Snake River can put a humble on you.

As I finish this post I can’t help anticipating December and likely the final month of my year long quest. I have a framed painting in my house that shows the Snake River with rays of moonlight coming through the clouds shining down on a raft. The artist describes how the moonbeams came through after a dramatic storm and then abruptly disappear causing him to reflect on the impermanence of time and how quickly it passes. This fall, the pinnacle of steelhead season, has sped by all to quickly, as did these past 11 months. It’s too bad this election process can’t go by as fast.

Winding down.


Home Water

IMG_1547We all have one, the place where we recognize some unexplainable energy in ourselves, a reflection of the landscape around us. The place could be a river, hike, ski run, bike trail, or a favorite fall hunt. Wherever it is, in our mind’s eye, it’s where we go to recharge, it’s our place that holds inspiration and begs our appreciation. Steelhead fishermen refer to such a place as “home-water”. That doesn’t mean its close to their actual residence, it just means that when they are there fishing it they know they’re home. The home-water connection can be instant or come from years of familiarity. But like a siren’s allure, her call is hard to escape. I’ve been fortunate, I met my home-water 40 years ago. She’s seen our life roll out in her current, from the birth of our children to the ashes of their grandparents, and all of our trials and triumphs in between.

But back to fishing…steelhead are my connection to home-water, they draw me to her shores come sun or snow. They are the surprise bonus to time spent learning the river’s secrets. Hours, even days, can result in an empty search and then when I’m about ready to turn away, there it is – a fish ripping out line. A fish that has traveled from here to the ocean and back again, close to 1500 miles round trip! Once again, I’m honored.IMG_1029

I saw my home-water through new eyes this October, for me it was one of the finest in years. I found success seeking out new pocket water, I explored runs I had never fished before and shared the mild autumn days with some uncannily fishy folks. We caught wild fish and we caught hatchery fish, we caught them high and low in her reaches. The water stayed clear and beautiful, floating lines and skating flies found steelhead throughout the month.


Over the decades our home-water has become a place of camaraderie that has brought numerous friends, old and new, to our dinner table and riverside camps. Fish history is made, stories gel, fires fed, food and drink are shared again and again. Rare is the day when the banter doesn’t turn toward steelhead trends, fishing etiquette, issues and politics, which is how it should be. Increasing pressure on a diminishing resource needs our constant attention and continual self-education.

When the weather goes down the Scotch comes out!
Sharing lies and Scotch.

In a wicked twist of steelhead irony, I didn’t officially tail a wild steelhead in my home-water this month. In the dice roll of fishing my fly connected with hatchery fish as my companions connected with the wild fish, oh well! Numerous times my tussle with a steelhead ended up with a limp line, perhaps a few of those escapees were wild. I caught a number of wild smolts sporting healthy adipose fins that made me smile, confirming my hope the wild genetic seed remains in these waters. And I did manage to fill the smoker with hatchery fish, a fall treat for family friends.

I used this fly so often – I thought I’d carry one in my ear! (Snake roll in a swirly wind, ouch!)



Hats Off to Voodoo

September is my favorite month of the year, a month of gentle transition. Being part coyote, I have always been a lover of change, be it the seasons or the scenery. So as the leaves began to color on the Salmon River we headed north to one of my favorite places on earth, the Skeena watershed in B.C. My most fervent hope was that I would have a September posting of a behemoth, silver steelhead, my fly gently fastened in its lip and a smile on my face as I held it by it’s muscular tail. It was not to be. Heavy, and much needed rains, had temporarily blown out the area rivers. After a fun but brief effort, we reluctantly broke our rods down, pulled camp, and pointed the Dodge home, the prospect of a Skeena fish will swim in my hopes for another season.

A Bulkley River beauty obliges.
A Bulkley River beauty obliges.

Before my waders were completely dry I was in full planning mode for the next destination. I’ve been accused of being sick, not in the cool hipster way, more of a sideways mental accusation. After some mad catch-up work at the ranch we again turned the truck west toward Oregon and the Deschutes River. My selective memory had erased the sweltering 110 degree air temps and brutal conditions of the two trips prior. The 3rd time is a charm, right? The blood moon was under full eclipse and eerily welcomed us to our first riverside camp. The same bright moon lit our next two camps like stalag security.
Day 2, at 4 o’clock Jer boasts 2 fish under his belt, both wild. The repeated stress of finding my own wild steelhead in the waning hours of each month was further creasing wrinkles in this already weathered face. I try not to be superstitious but growing up with saints and crosses added a certain degree of gullibility to my blood. Hmmm? Time to bust out my new cap from my buddy that works for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. It was a September birthday present, clean and creased, and yet to be tested. I’m not sure how it all works in the fuzzy world of charms, medicine beads, crystals and chicken bones but less than an hour later I held a beautiful wild fish in the water. Positive reinforcement in exactly what, I’m not sure. All I know is that as the sun set on the second to last day of the month, here was my hooked wild steelhead, jumping and bucking to the far side of the river like a dallied colt. I had excitedly given the traditional whistles signaling “fish on” to Jer who was out of sight around the corner below me. His support was curiously absent, so I carried on not realizing that he was busy with his own fish and that he was whistling to me hopefully to summon MY help. A double steelhead hook-up! That is rare stuff – anywhere! So for now, superstition can remain a religion of this feeble mind.

It's a dogs life!
It’s a dogs life!

As we hunt for wild steelhead to the far ends of the North Pacific Coast, fascination for these furtive fish only increases. They are some kinda wondrous creature. Exploring their widespread reaches, from the rain forests of British Columbia to the desert lands of Oregon, and back home to the vertical canyons of my home water, only multiplies my awe and appreciation.

Breaking in my sweet new Winston rod.
Breaking in my sweet new Winston rod.

The heart of steelhead season is upon us! Care about the catch, limit the hero shots. Keep those wild ones wet!

The wetter the better.
Wetter the better.
Don't forget to look up!
Don’t forget to look up once in a while!