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Spring Steelhead

By: Brian Klemme (Meet the Writer)

It’s that time of year when fishing isn’t on the forefront of the mind; that time of year when it takes a little bit of crazy, a lot of luck, and a healthy dose of patience and tolerance for bitter-cold and constantly changing weather and river conditions. While most outdoors men are either indoors or have taken to the hills enjoying some other outdoor sport, there are a certain few that get that insatiable drive to chase steelhead – the fish so elusive that it’s known as the fish of one-thousand casts.

Growing up, being in the outdoors was just a part of life. Whether chasing upland game, backpacking to some remote lake in Idaho’s back country, camping out under the stars in a new-found campsite, following the blood trail of big game, or getting out on some body of water chasing every species of fish – to live was to be in the great outdoors.

Steelhead fishing was something my brother and I started at a very young age, tagging along as my dad’s fishing buddies. My dad had a couple of friends that he had talked to for some time about chasing steelhead – the many steelhead stories had piqued their interest; the thoughts of catching an ocean run fish and listening to the scream of a reel, seeing the curve of a bent rod, and the aerial acrobatics of a hooked fish was almost unbearable. After listening to so many steelheading adventures and hearing reports of steelhead catches, my dad finally caught the bug and before we knew it, we were all outfitted and standing along the cold winter banks of the Salmon River outside of Riggins, Idaho, casting and hoping to hook into, what seemed to be, an elusive steelhead.

While so many of those trips, over just as many years, weren’t filled with a lot of catches, the memories of being with my dad, watching him live and do something he loved so much, learning fishing knots and different fishing techniques, talking about life and the lessons he had learned over the years, were experiences that have become memories that I will hold forever…experiences and lessons, at that time, that I hoped to be able to carry on and one day, share with my own kids.

Fast forward to summer of 2007.

I hadn’t been on the river fishing for some time as my first job out of college had taken my family out of Idaho and had us moving and living in various places, all in an effort to hopefully return home. When the chance finally came to return to Idaho, we jumped at the opportunity.

Spring of 2008 proved to be the first of what would become an annual addiction of chasing steelhead on the fly. Over the years outside of Idaho, my two lifelong “everything outdoors” buddies, Justin Borg and Travis Holding, had shared stories and had emailed numerous pictures of steelhead – steelhead that they had caught on a fly rod. So, after the dust settled from moving back home, the talks between the three of us started about getting me out on the water again, chasing ocean run fish, and in all that, being on the water again seemed as natural and as necessary as breathing.

It was a cold, cold early spring morning on the headwaters of the Salmon River in Stanley, Idaho - one of those mornings where everything was frozen and still encased in winter’s white breath. We were up before sunlight, dressed for whatever Mother Nature would throw at us that trip as we were destined to get outdoors, enjoy the beauty of Idaho’s back country, and hopefully, catch a steelhead!

Once we were on the water, it didn’t take long before the holler of “fish on” could be heard. Finally, I had hooked and landed my first steelhead on the fly – that moment was nothing like I had anticipated or experienced in my life. I knew two things the minute I felt the hooked fish start its run for freedom: one, that this would be a lifelong addiction and two, that I needed to get my own boys on the water and share this experience. The fish made some long, hard and fast runs, wrapped me up around a few rocks, and had worked my reel, rod, and my arms to the point that I thought one of the three (or all three) would give out, ceding victory to the steelhead. After I managed to land the fish, I took a few pictures and returned the steelhead back to the water to continue on its journey home, leaving an indelible and unforgettable memory that I have carried with me ever since

Over the years, we’ve made numerous trips to Grangeville, Idaho, chasing B-run steelhead on the South fork of the Clearwater as well as A-run fish on the Salmon River outside of Stanley, Idaho. Each year has been shared with new company, whether my own kids, or friends from work that saw pictures of steelhead I’d caught and hoped of doing the same themselves, or friends that just needed some time away from the bustle of life – and each trip is just as memorable as the first. Each new year and fishing season is filled with eager anticipation of catching steelhead…and like my father, I have passed on this passion to my own kids, teaching them life lessons that only come from being in the outdoors, where, as my father taught me, one truly learns how to live.