I started fishing for steelhead on my high school spring break in 1998 at Tippy Dam. I was unsuccessful that week in catching a steelhead, and little did I know then, it would take two years at somewhat of a decent attempt to catch my first steelhead. I watched friends and other anglers fight these fish many times through those two years, and I can say watching the fish fight is what drew me to fall in love with the sport without ever reeling in one for myself.
It would be the spring of 2000 when I finally tore into a silver bullet; running spin and float fishing gear. Beneath my float was what my buddy Cam called a bumblebee fly. He had a half dozen tied up and we ran through all of them that day. It was my most memorable day on the water. I love watching other anglers next to me fighting these fish. I grew a hunger inside me I never knew existed, the chase was on for steelhead, but I still had some learning to do.
Over the next few years I was found buying, reading, and researching everything I could about river fishing steelhead. I loved it and I had all the right equipment and read all the stories and articles to become a successful steelhead fisherman, but I was lacking the one thing I never needed before: the confidence to go out and catch the fish. I grew up fishing and hunting. It’s all I ever knew and it all came naturally to me. I was good at it. Steelhead though; they came with a price. A price my mind would have to pay dearly for (and my wallet, I’ve learned).
There was no steelhead mentor in my life. Dad was always a big walleye nut. I tended to fish alongside others on a riverbank, asking questions when I could work up the nerve, and taking a few guided trips when the money allowed. Hiring a guide was one of the most unrealistic ways to learn because I was catching so many fish with them I lost sight of why I wanted to take the trip in the first place.
The high I got drove me back to learn, so I had to book a second trip. I was mesmerized once again with the fishing and found myself off course of the reason I was there, and so I booked a third trip. This time, though, something was different. Somehow I could see my confidence growing. I learned more from watching the guide than I did asking questions. I knew my confidence was low on the river, but after catching some fish with the guide (quite a few fish actually) I had a renewed faith in river fishing for steelhead. I knew I could take them on, and win.
When I dive into something like fishing, I go head first, and I dive deep. I’m a gear guy, and whether pursuing ducks and geese in the corn or fish on the river, I love the gear that surrounds it all. A day on the river bank a few years ago with a good fishing buddy of mine, I was told I spare no expense in my gear and attire. He was right. Just as right as my wife every time I swipe that card to purchase the latest and greatest. Everything from leader line and split shots to waders and coats is a must-need. I found that it solidified my confidence over the years, knowing I was using the best or near best on the market. Side note: Believe it or not, there are companies out there that do not make good lead split shots.
My confidence was built over 20 years of chasing chrome, but nothing like the hours and days spent on the bank or in the boat one drift at a time: always learning, always trying to create a strike I wasn’t sure existed. A year or so ago, while fishing a bank alone, I realized that I am the guy fighting the fish as you walk around the bend. I’m the guy the younger, less experienced guys are eyeing. Last year, for example, I was approached by other anglers that had been going through the same torment I had endured at the start of it all. I have given every piece of wisdom and knowledge when the time (and the fish) allows. I have even taken the rod and reel from those seeking insight and set up my rig onto theirs. Knowledge should never be kept tucked away in the mind but given to those who seek it.
Every year when I step in the water for the first time my confidence level is as if it were day one of 1998. It’s not until I roll out those first few casts and watch my float drift away that it starts loading back up. It’s that first drop of the float that sends the fire back into my arms. Lack of confidence is a fisherman’s biggest fear. It is the one thing most will probably never admit. I know, I’ve seen, lived and have thought it many times. Every step into the water is just another day to build even more confidence in what we all love and live for.