This post is part of our Throwback Thursday series and originally appeared on the now deceased blog “Voluntary Beatdown.” Author Jason Koertge can be found on Instagram @bacon_to_fry. Thanks to Jason for letting WSU revive your epic work as one of the best fishing experience writers we’ve had the pleasure of reading. RIP VB.
Let’s face it critters: You’re crittery. Maggoty. Greasy. Always looking for that out-of-the-way little cut, pool or pocket of shnittle someone forgot about. Trying to eek out some sort of metaphysical advantage borne out of your flat-out need to keep exploring, to keep looking, always wondering what if? with an annoying little voice that won’t stop nagging at you to seek out the overlooked, the hidden and the frustrating.
There will be a time, if of course it hasn’t already happened, where it pays off. You find the bucket ‘o’ gold. Or silver as this case maybe.
not just any bucket, THE bucket. the one that’s so gotdamn lights-out consistent you believe you can call the fish. And you have, several times now and you’d prove it but you’re not stupid enough to take even your best, longest secretest of steelhead partners there. fact is, it’s good enough that you park a mile downriver in the wrong direction to protect its chaste.
you even skip the entire rest of the pool because it’s the one spot on the planet you let yourself be greedy. if that rock doesn’t give it up, you’re convinced the rest of the pool isn’t holding. Course, you know that’s wrong and fish set up in different spots depending on the light, atmospheric conditions and a million other variables, but this spot is different. You don’t wanna know her any other way. You’re a touch selfish like that.
Her secret didn’t come easy, you stumbled upon her while bumbling around years ago, hidden by a steep, rocky bank 20 carbide studs driven into your wading boot felts, plus six more you took out of your last pair and added, can’t quite grip. The rocks, they’re snotty with boogers. Alders and spruce branches hang within four feet of the waterline and there’s nary a casting lane wider than three feet. you consider sawing these limbs off, but you know that’s dumb, ’cause on this river, you’re always looking for other clues some angler left. You don’t wanna play their game. Hell, it’s your spot, far as you can tell. There are no trails leading into here within a half-mile above or below.
So you fish the spot as it’s been presented. Hard. And you lose flies to these branches, you snap hook points on the rocks behind you, generally getting more and more beaten and downtrodden until the one that finally threads the riverine puzzle starts skating out there, gurgling and waking deep in the grease and mojo.
Count it: Grab the slack out of the cast, little mend, steer left, twitch over the light spot in the rocks, the fish rises, you freeze and it’s on. Just as predicted. As opposed to every thing else, that’s the one easy part.
You never, ever consider the implications of hooking fish in these places. You can’t follow it, cause there’s too many trees and it’s too deep to wade. You can’t make it stay in the pool, pretty much cause if you could steelhead wouldn’t be so magic anyway. Hell, if you get lucky and keep a hold of hell breaking loose, you can’t land it ’cause there’s no beach, it’s 6 feet deep right off the bank and you’re not about to play a wild steelhead to exhaustion.
So basically, you know the score. Its happened here many times. Either you’re gonna soon see that fish 250 feet downriver and three tailouts away, cartwheeling until the hook is thrown in slow-motion 1/4 time and you’re left thinking what-the-hell, or you’re just immediately fucked.
It’s beauty. Epic beauty and worth every fly, bruised shin and cussword ever so you bow your head to the river and her steelhead. Again.
You roll into camp that night and take your place at the fire, open the first of a few Rainier Talls, put the dog at your feet and the stories begin. They ask if you visited that place they can never seem to find you in and whether it went down. You reply with the obligatory truth: Yes you did, and yes it did. Again, you explain how you still haven’t figured out a way to land a fish there and camp erupts with theories. They’re your best of friends. They want to help, secretly knowing they can’t. They’ve got similar places.
Moving on into the night, they explain the happenings in places you can never find them in, and the whole ju-ju cycle of the steelhead beatdown continues. This is the collective notion of respect that feeds your crew. We all have our secrets, except they’re not secrets ’cause nobody’s gonna tell.
Laying in your cot that night looking up at the stars with the dog snoring underneath, you pray this will never change. Somehow you can’t escape the truth of your little bucket or your circle of trusted few: It can’t stay this way forever.