At some point in your steelhead and salmon fishing career, it’s going to happen.
You’ve done your research and have been watching river levels like a hawk all year waiting for the perfect time to hit it and hit it hard. You are willing to drive hours into desolate wildernesses with only a map that looks like it was drawn by a drunk 3rd grader as your guide.
You’ll gladly climb through the thickest of wader-tearing west coast underbrush hell like it’s nothing just to stand on thin moss-covered boulders leaning over churning water below. The kind of water that has the potential of sucking you down and pinning you into any obstacle your near-frozen body slams against. None of this has even crossed your mind.
You’re here to catch a fish and nothing else matters.
Of course, every insane steelheader has an equally insane friend who knows there’s no way they’re going to let them ride solo on this ridiculous odyssey, so your buddy who’s just as bonkers about steelhead fishing has been keeping you company and on your heels throughout your quest. He’s no slouch when it comes to busting badass fish so its no surprise when out from behind a wall of downed trees blanketed by ferns you hear the oh so sweet cry.
Personally, I couldn’t be more excited for my good friend.
Not because I want to take his picture or I feel like somehow this fish was a team effort.
No. I’m jacked because if there’s one there’s probably more and there could be way more.
Selfishness trumps friendliness when steelhead are on the line.
I like my chances as I climb back to my perch staring out at the water that’s already been split into a mental grid like a game of Battleship and I pick up where I’d left off dissecting the water when it comes again…Fish on!
Unfortunately, like before it’s from the other side of the thick brush and I can only stand there helplessly wondering.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an expert fisherman who’s been up and down every river on every continent or you’re barely cutting your teeth when it comes to chasing salmon and steelhead, it’s eventually going to happen.
Somewhere, sometime, someone, is going to kick your ass all over the river.
You’ll probably be in disbelief thinking to yourself fishing is the stupidest hobby known to man and you have no intention of ever doing it again, but we all know that’s a lie.
The only reason you’re there in the first place is because you love the pursuit, but when you’re watching someone else succeed over and over while you’re left empty-handed it actually breaks your heart.
Not dumped by your high school girlfriend kind of heartbreak, but the kind of internal pain where it hurts so badly you’re you just want to go in a dark place alone and scream until your voice is gone.
The question is when going through this kind of pain, what do you do about it?
One approach when you’re in the process of being the recipient of a fairly serious ass-kicking is to be the “get super pissed off guy”.
"Get Super Pissed Off Guy"
You know the guy.
He’s the guy who even though you’ve been friends with him for years has pretty much decided as soon as you started leaving him in the dust, he’s not going get excited for you. In fact, he won’t take your picture or give you a cookie from his lunch even though he has an entire bag. He’s gone into battle mode and he will never let you get the first crack at a hole for the rest of the day or until he catches a fish. But, he will sneer at you if you start to fish behind him.
He can’t stand the thought of you getting one in water he just covered and it may be better if you don’t cause he is already on edge and he might just up and lose it.
Honestly, I hate fishing with this guy because I want to have fun when I’m having a great day and this guy kills the buzz fast, but hey if he’s already torqued may as well keep it up and get a laugh out of the meltdown.
Another course of action while being drug out behind the woodshed by a fellow fisherman is to become the observer.
Maybe you’re anchor fishing the Columbia for Fall Chinook and the boat next to you is absolutely touching ‘em off. Here’s a perfect chance to become a better fisherman.
Since you can’t look at their graph and see what kind of bottom structure they’re fishing (which I feel is usually the main factor when someone if on fire on anchor) you have to do what you can.
Maybe you can just ask.
What’s the worst that can happen...and really a lot of guys will gladly tell you. What about the lure? If you’re both fishing wobblers is theirs a Brads or an Alvin? Maybe it’s a Simon.
What about the dropper?
There are so many little things it could be that you really have to be incredibly detail-oriented because any one of these subtle differences can be the kind of thing that makes all the difference in the world.
Holding it together while you do everything you can to match what they’re doing while they continue to beat your tail probably won't help you that day. At that point, you just have to accept it’s not your day and take all those little details you observed and start filing them away. It will add to your fishing repertoire and someday it will come into play and when it does you’ll remember where you learned it.
There is the occasional river beating where you don’t have anyone to blame but yourself.
Those ones are the second-worst kind because you know you could have prevented it. While you watch your buddy’s rod dump time after time and all you can do it think to yourself, “Damn it. I can’t believe I didn’t bring my jig rod. That was dumb. I earned this one.”
When stuck in the middle of a self-inflicted beat down you kind of just have to laugh it off.
You knew better and you did it anyway. It’s your fault and no one else’s.
There’s no getting mad and there’s no chance to save it that day because you’ve already dropped the ball so you may as well just cheer on your friend and try not to ruin his good time. Maybe if you’re lucky enough and you’re being a good sport he’ll let you use his baits, jigs, spinners, or what have, you to get one yourself. A good friend will do that for you and it will lessen the blow, but in the back of your mind you know it was 100% your fault and you wont be making that mistake again.
Lastly, there’s one ass-kicking that you can be dealt by a friend that is far worse than all others.
As Bill Herzog would say, it’s the beating of biblical proportions.
"Beating of Biblical Proportions"
It trumps any pain and suffering caused by other ass-kickings because it’s not that you’re bummed out because you’re not getting fish. You’re ego a has taken a direct hit because this guy is torturing you like you’re an ant under his magnifying glass.
The problem is he’s not doing it on purpose, he’s flat out better than you.
You’re fishing the same gear, you’re fishing the same water, you’ve discussed a plan of attack as far as where the fish are holding or where they were the day before and you put everything into motion. You execute everything precisely the way you wanted to. Your gear swings through the slot exactly how you’d imagined it or you’re herring is spinning exactly how you hoped it would and after relentlessly pounding away you’ve given up. You’ve decided the fish simply aren’t there today and then it happens and when it does it happens fast.
After pounding a hole for 25 minutes because you saw fish rolling in the seam you’ve walked away fishless. Your buddy says something to the effect of he won’t ever get one out of there because he’s doing the same thing as you and you pounded that slot pretty hard, only to walk in behind you and drill two chromers in two casts.
And that’s how the whole day goes.
He gives you first water and cleans up behind you or you get the choice between holes and you pick wrong. He whacks them in the one hole while you stand there and watch. You’re scrambling thinking this can’t be happening. He’s got to be using a heavier spoon or have a piece of colored tape on it.
“There must be something in our gear that is different”, you keep telling yourself because in the back of your mind it’s creeping in. The thought that it’s not the gear. There’s nothing tangibly different. It’s as simple as it can get. He’s that much better than you. He has the experience and the intangible factor of touch, finesse, and repetitions that you can’t duplicate with any rod or gear. He’d be doing the same thing with a Snoopy rod and you could have the newest graphite rod they design airplanes with or something crazy like that and it wouldn’t matter.
Once that realization has set in you just have to fish hard and accept that it’s happening.
Don’t be mad or frustrated….Be inspired.
Know that what you’re watching is not only impressive, but a level that with enough time on the water you can get to also.
Continue fishing and enjoy the day.
If you end up getting one, great. If not, no big deal.
Celebrate with your fishing buddies when they celebrate and die with them when they lose a monster at the boat.
It’s the way life is supposed to go and it not only makes the days on the water better for everyone but makes you feel like when it’s all said and done it was a great day no matter what.
- written by Josiah Darr