I have never been the type of girl who likes Valentines Day. I just don’t understand making men stress out about picking a gift just because its February 14th, or standing in front of the card isle trying to make that awful decision of what card to get. I like flowers and all, but I would rather receive a single, hand picked flower, than waste $50 on overpriced roses that are just going to die. Oh, and I hate chocolate. Sorry if this seems like a negative start, but I had to fill you in on my previous thoughts about Valentines Day. It was always just another day to me, but that recently all changed. I had the most memorable Valentines weekend ever, and we didn’t even step foot into a restaurant.
The week before, I had gotten a new North Fork Custom Rod. It was a custom pink camo rod that I nicknamed the “Spoon Special,” and with that thing in my hand, I could not get fishing off the brain. Winter steelhead fishing was hot, so I was dying to try it out. Well, needless to say when Brady came home Valentines weekend with a pizza box (instead of a box of chocolates) in one hand, and a dozen different pieces of new fishing gear (instead of a dozen roses) in the other hand, my eyes lit up and I was smiling ear to ear. Then he said three very memorable little words that kicked off a weekend of pure fun…”Let’s go fish!”
Once at the river, I was so excited that I flung the truck door open and jumped out before the truck was in park. I opened the canopy and pulled out my lovely ensemble I picked out for this special Valentine’s occasion…my felt soled waders. I couldn’t tell if Brady had been hit by cupid’s arrow, or he just felt like being funny, but when he told me my butt looked good in waders, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Right women? We all know what waders do for a woman’s figure…nothing. So there we were, instead of getting all dressed up to go to a fancy restaurant, we walked down to the river with waders on and rods in our hands, to stand on the banks of the river on a cold drizzly February night, with hopes of getting to see some steelhead chrome.
We got out there with about three hours left of daylight. As soon as we set our gear down and let the first cast fly, it felt like we were in a world all to ourselves. I thought to myself, “Man, this is the life.” It was so relaxing just being out there; I didn’t care if we touched a fish all night. “Fresh steelhead would make an awesome dinner, but if we didn’t land a fish, oh well, I had that pizza sitting up there on the bank.” With no real expectations of catching fish, my plan was simply to hang out at the river and lose some gear together. And for the first few hours, we did just that. We were figuring out where all the snags were by way of losing gear and were spending a lot of time re-tying. Then the magic hour must have hit. While Brady was re-tying, I was flirting with a snag and had a jig drifting through the same slot it had dozens of times already, but this time, “BAM,” my pole violently bent over, and my initial reaction was, “Dang it, that snag again.” But I quickly felt a head shake and yelled out, “FISH!” Brady stood up and looked at me like I was playing an April Fool’s joke on him, and he said, “yeah right!” Then his expression flipped a 180 when the fish at the end of my line lurched out of the water and came back down with a splash right in front of him. I started making my way downstream towards him. That fish had some fight in him for sure. We battled back and forth for a while and finally I was able to get him to my feet. He was a beautiful native with great colors. We snapped a picture and then sent this beautiful fish on his way. As he swam off, we looked at each other with HUGE smiles on our faces, and both said at the same time, “That was awesome!” We had NO idea that that was just the start to our weekend steelhead fishing frenzy.
Still with smiles on our faces after catching that fish, we were both pretty hungry and we thought about having some pizza before we got back to fishing. But that idea quickly vanished as we heard a splash behind us. We stood up and turned back around to face the river, and again, “SPLASH!” Fish began to jump out of the water straight across from us. We looked at each other wide-eyed and smiles on our face. With a chuckle, Brady said, “Well, at least we know there are more fish in here.” The fish continued to jump out of the water, taunting us with that blazing chrome shine each time. We had only about 30 minutes of light left, but from that moment until dark, it was “FISH ON!” We couldn’t keep them off our hooks. It didn’t matter what we threw at them. They were hungry for it all. We were hooking up on fish left and right. Some got off, some were natives, then, finally, our first romantic steelhead dinner took off with Brady’s line downstream towards the rapids. It was a bright chrome hatchery that had BBQ fillets written all over it. Our first keeper of the trip! We were super excited that we had dinner for the night and it was about dark, but I couldn’t help it. I had to throw out a few more casts. I’m so glad I did, because the result was not just one fish going home with us, but TWO. Yep, last minute, I managed to hook up on a beautiful hatchery myself. Not bad for the first night out.
Back home, we laid the fish on the counter, poured a dark beer into some frosty glasses, stepped back to proudly admire our catch, and clinked our glasses together for a Valentines Steelhead Cheers. We sipped our beers, cleaned up the fish, and when we finally got to sit down to some delicious BBQ’ed steelhead fillets, we couldn’t help but recap our entire day. We laughed at ourselves for all the gear we lost, and got so excited all over again about all the fish we hooked into, that we were already planning out our next day.
The next morning we were like kids on Christmas morning, lying there awake just waiting for the alarm to go off. When it did, we were up, out the door, and river-bound. Walking down to our spot with gear in one hand, and some warm coffee in the other, I was almost nervous. I didn’t know if we just got lucky last night, or if the fish were still stacked up in our spot. It didn’t take long to figure out which it was. Just like last night, there it was again…”SPLASH!” We stood up and spun around just in time to see a second chrome flash as it fell back into the water. We looked at each other, mouths open and eyebrows raised at what we were seeing. As much as I wanted to just sit there and watch these fish jumping out of the water and tail-dance across the water, I couldn’t get my line in the water fast enough. The bite was unbelievable, and if I was by myself, no one would ever believe me how many fish got hooked that day. Anything that could happen that day, happened. We caught fish, we lost fish, we had a really big fish bend a hook and get off, and we even got a few fish clear up to the bank only to have them shake the hook. Guess what was on the list to remember to bring next time? Yep, the net. 🙂 With so much action, the day flew by! I was sad to leave that day, but we still had one more day to fish.
When we arrived the next day, we had no idea that the Grand Finale to our Valentines Weekend was only a few short hours away. I had been fishing the same set up for a while with no action, so I said, “I’m gonna try green.” It only took two casts, when almost instantly, I felt two tugs. It happened so fast, that I held my rod tighter to keep it from coming out of my hands. I could instantly tell that it was bigger than any fish I had on my line before. At first, it swam straight towards me, then turned 90 degrees upstream into the rocks. I started working my way back downstream towards the slower, shallower water. It began to work with me at first, making its way down to the tail out of the rough water. Then, my reel started squeal, as it ripped downstream. “No, no, no!” He had almost made it down to the fast water, and I knew down there my 10# test would not be able to hold any longer. For 20 minutes we jousted. Upstream, downstream, upstream, then back down. I thought he finally tired when I gained ground on him, then, in a last ditch effort, he burst downstream for one last chance at fast water. Then I caught a break and the fish was swimming straight towards me. As it got closer, I got a glimpse at this beast. “WOW!” I worked him into a shallow pool near the bank. Walking up to it, it doubled in size. It was ginormous. I have NEVER seen a steelhead this big. All Brady could say was, “Do you know how big that fish is?!?!” As much as I just wanted to admire this freak of nature, we had to send it on its way. As we did, we were able to take some rough measurements laying my rod next to it in the water and snapped a few pictures. He was tired from the fight, but after a few seconds, “splash,” he aggressively swam off, swishing his tail, splashing me in the face, as if to give me paybacks. It was amazing to see those genetics that in that river, and above all, I was just thankful to be in the right place at the right time to not just get a glimpse, but land this once-in-a-lifetime steely. It was a crazy feeling after watching that fish swim away. My heart was pounding and my hands were shaking as if I just pulled the trigger on a monster blacktail. We sat there for a while in amazement of what we just witnessed. The fish was 42-inches long with an estimated girth of at least 25 inches.
It was a Valentine’s that I will never forget, and I had laugh at myself for looking forward to next Valentines Day. I have never planned a Valentines Day before, but you better believe that next year is already planned out. If you’re looking for me next February 14th, you’ll find me in my waders standing on the banks of a river, casting for chrome. Now, if I can just get around having to leave each day at dark. Maybe I can talk Brady into a Valentines Weekend Fishing Camping trip! Think he’ll go for it?