Text and Images Copyright February 2000, Juro Mukai (All Rights Reserved)

 

Although no giant by steelhead standards, this 33" summer run steelhead had the stuff that gives the species their reputation.   
This is a true story of a particular rainbow trout that had made the big circuit around the North Pacific, dodging orcas and sea lions for thousands of miles of open sea.
Having entered the river during summer, it melted into the subtle hues of the rocky glacial river to sit out the dog days, then survived an onslaught of four fall salmon species to welcome it's brethren through the winter.  He spawned successfully in early spring and headed back from the headwaters toward the sea.  By this time most anglers are awaiting the run of spring natives.  I caught wind of a rumor spread by the hardcores telling of a ferocious fish in the "potty hole" on my home river.  These guys had been spanked by a nasty fish, readily hooked but breaking tippets or leaping to freedom after a hellacious fight.  They dubbed it "the steelhead from hell".  I had to meet this fish. 
 

Using my lightest sink tip on a hybrid line system, I swung a "purple magic" fly over the teeth of a volcanic rock outcropping that breaks the current to form a promising hole lined with smoothly polished gravel in it's hollowed wake.  It looked right, the mosaic of stones under the crisp mountain flow of the river's currents weaving patterns as if something serious lay in it's midst.  As I held the rod in tension to swim the fly, it slowly swam toward the inner current seam closest to the shore, suspended in the curtain of forces between the water held captive by the eddy and the chute rushing hurriedly toward the eternal cycle of stream and sea.  

 

Juro Mukai

Suddenly, my arm was wrenched out of socket by a fish that was in the air as soon as it was on, clearing nearly a grown man's height from the water over and over again, screaming the drag with such ferocity that the flyline friction burned clean through a pair of fancy neoprene gloves I had gotten for Christmas just a few weeks prior. 

After eight or nine tooth-grinding leaps and many blistering runs I took the above photo for bragging rights and let him go.  With a hard tail slap, he disappeared into the legend from where he came.

The advent of two-handed rods changed all the rules for winter run flyfishing for steelhead - along with the thicker neoprene waders and polypropylene sportwear.  It's a year-round venture in temperate areas like the pacific northwest.

Through the many winter weekends when I fished for steelhead, I'd look at the cleanly sheared cut in my middle glove finger and think fondly of the steelhead from hell.  That thought and and a flask of single malt whiskey would warm me through many miles of February riverbank over the years to follow.

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