I think I speak for almost all diehard steelhead fishermen when I say there there’s at least one river far away from where you live you’ve been dying to fish, but haven’t.
Who am I kidding, there’s probably dozens!
...but there’s at least one that you long to fish more than the rest. To some fishermen, they’d like to fish those mysterious rivers someday, but they’re perfectly content fishing their local haunts. Their experience shines on their home water and they can hammer fish after fish with ease.
Why would they ever need to leave?
Other fishermen however, have a thirst that can’t be quenched with the same old, same old. Standing on a rock outcropping casting across the tailout at the hatchery pool until you leave with a limit stops feeling like an accomplishment and you need to step up the degree of difficulty.
They need adventure and have desire to chase fish in new foreign locations.
Every fish caught or lost in a new place is so much more exhilarating than being successful on the water you already know.
Something about the need to discover new water and hook fish in unfamiliar places leads fishermen to go through a strange and powerful ritual. It’s a rite of passage all steelhead fishermen should to go through someday to understand a part of what being a steelhead fishermen is all about. Something that can’t be understood any other way. It’s a dangerous journey that can change your life forever, but to be a full-blooded steelheader, you have to do it. Sometimes it changes you for the better, sometimes for the worst. While most people might call it just a long drive, steelheaders know this journey as a Road Trip.
Road trips are to steelhead fishermen what prom night is to an 11th grade guy.
No matter how the chain of events unfolds throughout the course of the journey, you’ll be wiser when it’s over. You’ll have seen things and experienced real life situations that you’d never have gone though without taking the leap.
I’ve been on tons of road trips to various destinations with a wide variety of people.
A few of those trips have been absolutely incredible.
Angels singing from the heavens while rays of light beamed down on us between the clouds, type of good. Others were down right horrid. Like having someone get their teeth broken miles from civilization kind of bad. The worst.
After experiencing some of the best and some of the grossest, I’ve found that there are a few major factors to consider when planning your next road to trip to assure it has a fighting chance.
The Right Guys
Hands down, without a doubt, the people you travel with will make or break the road trips regardless of how epic or cataclysmic the events are that unfold.
Nothing is better than someone cracking the perfect joke at the perfect time when a situation seems hopeless to lighten the mood and keep you motivated. On the contrary, nothing can screw up even the best fishing days like getting stuck with a downer who just doesn’t want to be there.
Personally I like to keep my road trip buddies to a minimum.
One other person preferably, two people max. Unless of course it’s a fairly cake trip. In that case, the more the merrier. Having a larger group might give you a better chance of posting bail.
Deciding what vehicle to take on your grail quest is just as, if not more important, than whom you travel with. First and foremost, above all other concerns, the vehicle has got to get you there. Nothing ruins a road trip faster than getting two-thirds of the way your destination and having your rig crap out. Note that I said the car has to get you there, not necessarily get you home.
Once the fun part of the trip is over and you’re rolling back, some kind of debilitating car conundrum will only be keeping you from getting back to work. Not nearly as catastrophic as being delayed on the way to the adventure.
While getting to and from your destination is the most important part, it’s nice to do it in style. Yes, most of us have been on some crazy road trips in straight up pieces of crap that barely rattle their way down the road.
I once took an ’83 civic wagon with a squished front fender on a spur of the moment trip from Salem, Oregon 430 miles to Orofino, Idaho to fish the Clearwater. A river I’ve never even laid eyes on before. I got there, but let me tell you, I never thought I would.
There may have been a girl living near the river as well, but that part is a little blurry. What I do remember is the limitless power that steelhead and pretty girls have over young men.
Now that my fishing buddies and I make a little more money than we did in our early road tripping days, we take much nicer rigs. My last few road trips have been in big beautiful trucks that were essentially cowboy Cadillacs. It’s not the cheapest way to get there, but the comfort, aftermarket speakers and heated seats make an otherwise mind numbing drive a lot more bearable.
Let me just advise you, if it comes down to taking a reliable, but otherwise mediocre ride on a long trip or spending a little more money on gas to take a much nicer truck, cough up few more bucks. You’ll be glad you did when it’s all over and you’re reminiscing about the adventure. Your butt and back will thank you.
One of the requirements to classify as a full-blown road trip is that the trip includes at least one overnight stay. In a perfect world, we all have a good buddy, or at least good enough buddy, who lives a reasonable distance from the area you plan to fish and you just crash at their house. You can get a hotel, camp, or sleep in the rig.
Hotels are easily the best option, but they’re the most expensive. If you have the money to crash out in a nice warm hotel and maybe wander across the street to the local sports bar to catch whatever game is on the TV while you annihilate a pizza, more power to ya.
This can also lend itself to meeting some of the locals. Depending on the type of local you meet, this can be a great thing that leads to a wealth of knowledge about the river and how it’s fishing or can lead to black eyes and running for your rig with one of the local Cyclopes close behind. I’d recommend lying as low as possible in local hangouts.
When you’re trying to keep the trip under a budget, camping is a much better alternative. If you’re planning on staying a while, a wall tent is ideal, but let’s be honest. It’s a lot more work to post them up for steelhead camp. Instead we do stupid things like deciding we’re going to do three to five nights in a 10x10 pup tent with your buddy.
While this seems like a great idea on paper, the smell in tent could become unbearable within two nights and God forbid it rains. Oh, how quickly tent life can become a soggy, stinky pile of blankets, waders and pillows. You better hope to God you fished to the point of exhaustion or drank your ass off when you got off the river because those are the only way you’re ever going to get to sleep in the giant spongy cesspool known kindly as a pup tent.
Sleeping in the rig really isn’t much of an option unless you have a full size vehicle that you know will work. Don’t just assume you’ll pass out in the front seat of your Corolla and call it a night. It doesn’t work that way, at least not for me.
Something with back seats that can be removed or fold down to totally sprawl out is the only way. Mini vans, big SUV’s and trucks with campers or at least canopies are all good options. They’re not the warmest or the most comfortable, but they are free and they do keep you mobile which can be essential.
The Major Downer
A road trip has an unlimited number of variables that can’t be measured, prepared for or expected. Yet any of these little blemishes can screw up an otherwise flawlessly executed adventure in mere seconds. Slipping between roots on the riverbank and tearing your ACL or getting an eye infection so bad you can’t sleep or see out of that eye for the duration of the trip will certainly throw a wrench in your gears, but those are anomalies. There’s one frequent buzz killer that rears its ugly head more often than anything else on a road trip. Crappy weather and unfishable water.
Nothing sucks worse than driving 23 hours one direction only to get to the river as dark clouds began covering the autumn sky. Without warning the wind begins to whip, the golden leaves fly around the sky like angry bees and the ominous sky breaks open dumping rain like the tears of ten thousand ruined fishing trips. Within seconds, your fishing hopes are ripped away as the water goes from an emerald green to more of a mochaccino frappe. All the time spent driving was nothing more than that. Just time driving. If you’re lucky enough to have knowledge of alternative fishing spots, now is the time to check them out. But if there’s no hope regardless of where you look, you better hope you’re traveling with one of the right kind of guys. This is where they’ll say just the right thing.
“Did you know Coors Light in Canada has twice the alcohol content by volume than it does in the United States?”
Making it all Worth it
Every once in a while, things just work out. All those things that can go wrong and ruin a trip simply don’t. You’ve done your research, you’ve studied your maps, you’ve learned the access points, you’ve got your hotel booked, and you’ve checked the weather. Everything works out. You get where you’re going safely, the water is in shape and the fish are willing. These are the trips that change your life in a way nothing else can. Discovering new cities, new water and catching fish places you’ve never seen before. That’s what road tripping all about. Going further and pushing yourself and your skills a little out of your comfort zone and experiencing things that you’d never had known had you stayed at home.
- written by Josiah Darr