By Sam Davidson
Among the better excuses for going fishing is to celebrate a birthday. One’s own, of course. But also your father-in-law’s, the 4th of July, Christmas, Rutherford B. Hayes’s, and your yet-to-be-born nephew’s.
The point is that you can use “celebrating a birthday” as a legitimate excuse to go fishing for any day of the year.
I remind everyone of this because today is the first birthday of Wild Steelheaders United. Just saying.
Of course, WSU is far more than an excuse to spend a few hours slinging threads at river ghosts. It is a great cause, a vision of hope, an investment in our fishing future, a vocal community whose common value is the legendary freshwater sportfish of the West Coast and whose common trait is an obsessive compulsion with suffering.
I saw all of these things—and other qualities that make Wild Steelheaders United the best idea at a critical time for wild steelhead—recently on the Trinity River, while celebrating WSU’s birthday a few days in advance(I never said the excuse can be utilized only on the actual date of birth).
I saw three generations of anglers in two boats braving sub-freezing conditions in the early morning to get a single grab in the first three hours.
I saw a father and his daughter chasing beauty in reversed roles—she, a popular guide, instructing him, a well-known angler and fly-tier, in the low art of dead-drifting nymphs below a bobber.
I saw a gal gone fishin’ putting her values into practice, donating a full day in the prime guiding season to the cause of conservation.
I saw my own son go wide-eyed as he witnessed one of our party finally land a nice buck. I saw him return to casting moments later with a burning desire and felt a mixture of pride and regret that I had so contributed to the abrupt right turn he had just taken from sanity.
I saw graceful loops traced with long rods, like artists sketching dreams in the palpable air above the water. I saw mends good and bad in the tricky seams. I saw the rare take-down and the almost inevitable miss.
I saw other anglers and guides on the same journey, trying not to say too much while still being friendly.
I saw the tremor of calloused hands in the aftermath of an all-too-brief encounter with the “fish of a thousand casts.”
And throughout the day I saw the tenets of Wild Steelheaders United playing out in real life — utterly committed anglers of all stripes seeking and finding a vital connection, embracing the society of others drawn to the siren’s song, all the while talking about how better to protect and sustain the precious natural resource on which everything depends.
It’s customary on the occasion of a birthday to reflect on the highlights of the celebrant over the past year. WSU has had many highlights in its first year, and I encourage you to check them out. However, I will describe one of the organization’s finest accomplishments now—by saying simply that it has provided one of the best excuses ever to drop everything and hit the water in pursuit of a handsome fish with the power of Mjolnir and an amazing life history.