Written by Bob Melrose.
In 45 years of Steelhead fishing there are some of those fish that just stand out, indelibly and photographically imprinted in the mind. The first ones hooked will always be memorable, because that is the way with firsts in life.
That first Steelhead came about because of a ski trip. Gary Pittman at the end of the ski season asked me if I would be interested in finishing off the season with a trip down to Mt. Baker in Washington. It seemed like a good idea, and when he said we should bring our fishing rods along and fish the Thompson on the way down, it seemed like an even better idea. He wanted to fish the Bighorn Pool. That was OK with me and since I had never fished for Steelhead on the mighty Thompson, I was gung ho for any new adventure. We parked along the river and walked down to the pool. Gary had already made a dozen or so casts while I was setting up. Gary had told me what to do on the drive down but I was much slower getting ready. He told me where to cast and on the fourth cast the roe bag was inhaled by a 7 pound doe. I thought this was easy. We decided we should celebrate by having a brew at the Spences Bridge Hotel. Of course, there were other Steelheaders there who were told that this beginner had just got his first Thompson Steelhead. Many toasts were raised and it was pretty dark by the time we got out of there and Gary wasn't feeling too good, neither was I. We had heard the night before that the Nicola Pool had some fish in it, so the next morning, not too early, that is where we headed. There were three guys fishing there and nobody had touched a fish. I made the first cast and the Steelhead God was smiling, because the river gave up a 15 pound buck. I thought, five casts-2 Thompson Steelhead, I like this fishing.
Many thousands of casts, thousands of miles, lots of campfires and many great companions and mentors and fish have filled in the years since then.
In the early 80's the fly rod became the weapon of choice and Gary and I were flying into the famous Dean River where he had a place. I had bought one of those brand new secret weapon Sage Graphite rods and hoped to christen it on a Dean fish. We took the little Zodiac up to 5 mile to try that run. A couple of Steelhead were rolling and there was a high level of expectation. It didn't disappoint and I was soon into my first fly-caught Steelhead. Thirty years later I can shut my eyes and recall that memory easily.
Sometimes it is not about the fish you caught that make great memories but the fish that fishing friends get. I had taught a couple some fly fishing lessons. They had purchased the gear, vest, waders, all the equipment, had looked at videos, had done everything right, but after the season still had not hooked a fish. The next season he had asked me for a little help with his roll casting so we arranged an evening on the river. There were 4 or 5 guys fishing so we went down to the tail-out to practice. It was getting dark when he asked how would you fish this pool. I looked upstream and the other anglers were gone. There wasn't much light left so we quickly walked to the top of the run. I told him don't get in the water yet and start short. The first cast and I had about 10 feet of line out when the 10 pound doe hit. I handed Daniel the rod and said "Here's your first Steelhead". The look on his face as he fought and then cradled that fish to release was even better than catching it myself for I know how I had felt that first fish.
Another time a friend Darcy had come out to see me for a steelhead weekend. He only had trout gear so I had lent him some gear. I got him into a hole I was sure would yield a fish. I stood 10 feet away with the camera and luckily got the whole sequence as he landed 2 beauties in that little run. He still talks about it.
My best fish on the Bulkley came about when I didn't want to catch a fish. A local Catholic Father was interested in buying a pontoon boat. I suggested we go for a short float so I could teach him a few pointers and since it was Steelhead season maybe we could fish a little. We worked the currents until he felt pretty comfortable and fished a few runs. I was anxious for him to christen his pending new boat with a hookup. I followed him through each pool, thinking that divine intervention would surely favor him, when a huge buck took my fly. This wasn't supposed to happen. He was to get the fish! It was a beauty, heavy 40" buck, my biggest Bulkley fish. I don't know if it was coincidence or penance but every picture he took of my fish all had my head cut off, he said he wasn't used to the camera, and to be fair that camera did have a tricky viewfinder.
I'm sure in each Steelheaders memories there are some fish that stood out, they are all special, but some more memorable.