The author with an Olympic Peninsula steelhead. Joe Princen image.
As I shuffled my feet away from the bank and into the main flow of the current, my Water Master began to lift around me. I hopped up into my seat, grabbed the oar handles, and dipped the blades into the soupy brownish-green water. I started my descent into the thin layer of fog blanking the small coastal tributary with my excitement level though the roof. I’ll never forget those first few seconds of a trip I’d dreamt about for years. It was so surreal. As I floated downstream looking for the first likely steelhead holding spot, I couldn’t help but think to myself, is this really happening right now? I know it is, but I can barely believe it. My anticipation of what was ahead had my hands shaking and my imagination running wild.
This was the beginning of a dream I’d had for years, but it was one of those pipe dreams I never thought would actually come true. It was nothing more than a thought that whimsically danced through my brain and was quickly dismissed. Like being a billionaire or hitting the game winning home run in the World Series or even being able to fly! It was fun to think about, but likely wouldn’t ever happen. Yet here I was, floating down the river right at sunrise with my good friend Nick Amato pushing off the bank a few yards behind me. I may as well have been flying.
That was day one of a two-week adventure Nick and I went on exploring and fishing for giant wild steelhead in a river I had only visited vicariously through photos on the web. I’d spoken with others who’d been there, researched maps and scoured through magazine articles and internet forums to get much info as I could. Truthfully the preparation was half the fun. Now that it was actually happening, it didn’t seem like it took much work to get here. It was just a matter of how bad I wanted it and actually using the energy and the time to make it happen.
The last few years have been a blur in my life. I’ve went from working for a newspaper in Tillamook to guiding part time while selling boats for Clackacraft, all the way to getting married, and buying our first home. Now I’m guiding full time and my wife and I just sold our first house and bought our forever home where I’m currently sitting writing this article. As much as it feels like life has been going a million miles an hour and the piles of responsibilities have continued grow along with it, I’ve never stopped doing what I love. Exploring new water and chasing my dream steelhead in rivers across the upper left coast. Truthfully, I’m writing this article today to encourage you to do the same thing.
Maybe your dream fish isn’t a giant coastal steelhead, but a trevally in the Christmas Islands. Maybe fly fishing for bonefish in the Cook Islands is enticing to you. You could be into a crazy acrobatic sailfish off the coast of Belize or something chunky like kings on the Kenai. It doesn’t really matter what you’re into, you should do it. I know sometimes it seems like a lofty goal, but I promise you with a tiny bit a discipline and proper planning, your dream trip is within reach.
The first step toward making your dream fishing trip a reality is reaching out to either people who’ve been there a few times or reading as much information about the area you can find. If your experienced friends have recommendations for the fishing or lodging or good fishing guides in the area, I’d start there. Second, call the guides your friends recommend or you found while researching.
Most (not all) fishing guides are super personable and will gladly take a few minutes out of their evening to talk to a potential customer about run timings and realistic expectations for your dream trip. Once he’s got you fully excited about it, the next thing you need to do is probably the most important step. Get it in the books! If the guide charges $350 a day or whatever, try to get a deposit down. We all know how easy it is to forget about something we’ve planned months in advance, but if you have $150 bucks already spent on it, you’ll probably pay attention and make sure you keep the date open.
Once you’ve marked the date and can figure out how to get away from work if needed, I’d start trying to recruit a buddy to go along with you. I wrote an article a while back about road trips to fishing destinations with buddies and how great a time they are. And I may have touched on a few near disaster moments I’ve experienced along the way, but those only made the stories about the adventures more fun to tell when we got home. The point is, if you have a buddy you can get on board with your big adventure, it gives you someone to stay hyped up with about the trip before it goes down. Not to mention it gives you someone to share lodging and gas costs with, and someone to talk to while you drive a long distance if that’s a factor.
Nick Amato and Joe Princen with another Olympic giant.
Now that you’ve got the trip in the books and a buddy to tag along, all you can do is work your butt off at whatever responsibilities you have to take care of between now and the time you go on your trip. I don’t know about you guys, but I always feel crappy about bailing out of town to go screw off when I don’t have all the things knocked off my to-do list. If you spend your time before your trip working hard—maybe putting in a little overtime, working on the garden, mowing the law, taking down the Christmas lights or what-ever junk is standing in your way—when it comes to the day of the trip you can glide out of your regular life and into full fish-and-chill mode with zero interference. It’s a good feeling leaving your house for a big trip you’ve been looking forward to knowing you have all your ducks in row.
I’ve been blessed to get to go on a few pretty exceptional trips to fish with some really incredible people. Not one of those trips I regret. Some of them turned into big boys’ weekends of hanging out, tipping cocktails and laughing with old friends and meeting new ones along the way. Almost no fishing at all. Others turned into some of the most bloodbath, free-for-all, lights out, fishing so good you just have to land it in the water kind of trips.
Some of the top trips I’ve ever been lucky enough to go on in no particular order are the time my dad and I spent the first week of July on the Nushigak at Alaska Kingfishers with Bob Kratzer, Rob Fuentes, Danny Stonedahl, Cameron Black and Nick Fernandez among others and absolutely uncorking on Chinook and chums until our hands were sore. Another time Nick Amato and I set up a trip to the Olympic Peninsula and fished back to back days with Mike Zavadlov and Joe Princen on two bluebird beautiful days that resulted in multiple hook ups including landing a steelhead in the mid-teens and three breathtaking wild specimens pushing the magical 20-pound mark. Another great trip was the time a friend and I drive almost 20 hours each direction to steelhead fish in Canada and ended up hooking one in-credible fish after another, including myself landing the biggest steelhead I’ve ever actu-ally laid eyes on and losing one the was much bigger than that! I don’t even know how to rank them as to which trip was the best.
What about the day my buddy Nick Arnold and I headed south to meet up with my guide buddy Mike Kelly and ended up landing over 20 of the most chrome and fresh steelhead I’ve ever seen before lunch? That was almost as good and day my friends Tyler Newsome and Sam Remington got to fish on the Quinault Indian Reservation with Richie Underwood and had one of prettiest rivers chalked full of steelhead completely to ourselves. Please understand, I don’t mean to brag about these adventures I’ve been on. On the contrary actually. I simply wanted to share a few of the top adventures I’ve been in in hopes of inspiring you go make your own stories!
There are so many insane trips to do out there, it’s hard to just pick one. I, for one, have a never-ending bucket list of rivers and fisheries I’d like to see at least once in my life. The more I talk to people who’ve done incredible trips, the more I want to check them out myself and the longer the list gets. And to those clients and friends that tell me over and over about their dream trip they’d like to go on, but they never seem to get around to, I say make it priority. What are you waiting for? The sooner you get out there and make those memories, the longer you’ll get to think about them and smile. Maybe the trip won’t be as quite good as expected. Maybe it will be way better than you could have ever expected. Either way, I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty I’ve never regretted going on an adventure to chase my dream fish—whether I caught him or not.