Fall is finally here, and I am beyond happy to see the autumn colors all over the trees and scattered on the ground below them… This is just the beginning of my favorite time of year.
Every fall, since I started fly-fishing, Andrew and I have made a trip to the Salmon river to fish for steelhead with a group of friends. We call it our annual “fish camp”. It’s a gathering of a handful of people who are equally passionate about steelhead and Spey casting. We fish our hearts out and share stories of triumph or humility over a hearty meal and drinks together in the evenings. It’s a time of the year that I have looked forward to over the past 4 years.
|(Left to right: Gloria and Dave Clark, Pam and Jim Harris, Debbee Trent, Al Emerick, Lisa and Andrew Schweitzer)
|With Whitney Trent on the Clearwater river
This year, I flew into Boise to meet up with Andrew at the end of September, as he was just finishing his Family Medicine clinical rotation in South Eastern Wyoming. We had our good friends’ Whitney and Dan’s wedding to attend in Boise and planned to drive together from there to “fish camp” in the northern part of Idaho where we would fish our hearts out for a week straight.
The wedding was beautiful. It was the perfect celebration for two people we have become good friends with over fishing and hunting adventures.
|Whitney and Dan Ciani
Whitney’s dad, Tracey, was the reason Andrew become so committed to steelhead fishing in the first place. The two of them were like brothers, even though Tracey was well into his sixties when they met. Andrew had always talked about this man who was more passionate about steelhead and fished harder than anyone he had ever met before. He said Tracey taught him to “pursue the fish with vigor”.
|The big man himself, Tracey Trent, on one of his favorite runs.
Sadly, I never got to meet this incredible man that Andrew always talked about, as Tracey was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer within the same year they met, and he passed away the same year Andrew and I started dating. I remember the day Andrew found out that Tracey had passed on so vividly, as I had never seen Andrew cry before then. It was heartbreaking to see, but I knew this man was truly special to him.
The best part of knowing about Tracey and the legend he was, is being able to hear all the stories about him and his insane fishing and hunting prowess through his loved ones who survived him.
I feel like I had actually met him through all the fond memories shared over “back-porches” (a whiskey, lemonade concoction he came up with specially for fish camp) and the many photos Andrew, his family, and friends have shown me over the years– Hunting, fishing, cooking, dancing in a sarong (those who knew him will recall this one and laugh). Thankfully, his wife Debbee, kept the ritual of steelhead fishing on the Salmon going, and each year when everyone gathers again, more fish stories are shared, retold, laughed over, again and again. There’s even a special run on the river where some of Tracey’s ashes are, so when we fish that spot, we feel like he is watching over us (and swearing like a sailor as he used to when the person behind you catches a fish or a cast just won’t turn over…). Despite his absence, Andrew says he always thinks of him when he fishes, because if it weren’t for meeting him on the river all those years ago, his passion for steelhead wouldn’t be the same.
This year, the Salmon was not how it usually is during this time of year. We know rivers are unpredictable in flow and temperature, but this year was strangely off. The water was chocolate brown and far too high to even think about casting a fly into the entire week we were there, and many afterwards, as we later heard reports of from our fellow fish campers who were planning on staying there for the month. It was disappointing to say the least, but thankfully there were other river options.
Andrew and I have a special affinity for the Clearwater river (which runs through Lewiston, ID) and just happens to be only an hour away from our old home in Cottonwood. When we lived there, we would make weekly trips during the prime steelhead season to the Clearwater as well as the Salmon. Those were the days…
We booked a hotel room for a few days, and we kept the river flow database on constant ‘refresh’ on our phones and laptop. The conditons didn’t prove to be at all decent at first. The first day was extremely windy, to the point where a cast felt like you were throwing a piece of yarn into 30-40mph wins gusts in your face… Our Scandi lines were impossible to get to turn over let alone cast more than 10 feet. Our lightweight fall flies continuously fell onto the water in a pathetic tangle of tippet line… “A thousand casts” felt more like two thousand by the end of the day.
Between uncastable wind gusts, every so often, I was able to get a bit of line out at least that was fishable. I was just starting to feel like I might have a chance at a fish, as I watched my line swing around beautifully for the first time all day, when I look down to the run below me and there was a splash of chrome and Andrew’s 7 wt TCX was bent. I reeled up and happily ran down towards him. Before I got within 10 feet of him, his rod went straight and I got that quick sinking feeling that you get when you lose a fish. He just looked at me and smiled, “at least we know they still exist.”
I ran back to my favorite spot above him and pulled the line out to recast approximately where I had left off. There was the on and off wind gusts still, but I wasn’t giving up on that feeling I had right before Andrew had that fish… Maybe 10 minutes go by, and I look up to see his line moving. “Damnit.” I mutter as I reel up again. I jog a little less jovially this time and this time I am able to reach him in time with the fish still fighting. I wade out into the shallow water where Andrew is ready to land his fish, and I tail a beautiful small steelhead for him.
After he released the fish, I gave him a celebratory “high five”, then promptly kicked him out of his spot, since clearly my favorite hole wasn’t producing, and I couldn’t let him catch another one in front of me. (We have a friendly competition when we steelhead fish, but that’s part of what makes it fun for us.)
That night the river blew out. We drove by the river to see how badly, and we were quickly assured that staying in for the day was going to be our best bet.
Thankfully, the next day the weather cleared despite the gloomy forecast and the river already had dropped over 2,000 cfs by 5am. Our hopes were rekindled. The river would be high, but we figured what the heck, we only had a couple more days to fish, so we might as well wet a line and see what happens.
We decided to fish the lower part of the river, where we figured our chances at touching a fish were slim to skinny. (Hey, that’s the window of optimism fishermen dive into.)
I was finally casting great, the wind was nearly dead calm, and it was sunny. The only thing missing was the hit on my fly.
Sometimes the tug on your line is the only thing missing, but the bigger picture is getting out and trying. I am grateful for fall, because winter follows and spring after that… Some people look forward to summer all year. I look forward to the colder months. Hopefully there will be some tugs to write home about soon…
Cheers and happy swinging,