In all the many books I have read over the decades about steelhead fishing, I haven’t found a description of the passion for steelhead that matches how I personally feel about steelhead, what they mean to me as a lifelong fly fisher, and why they hold such sway over my heart - until now.
Oddly, it was not a passage in a how-to nonfiction book or reminiscence, but a few paragraphs in an entertaining fictional whodunit novel. In fact, a terrorism mystery thriller set among the environs and habitués of the Deschutes River and the river town of Maupin in Oregon. River in the Sun is a novel by one of the long time fly fishers and chroniclers of the river, Scott Richmond. Those who frequent the Deschutes will readily recognize the fictionalized, barely disguised places and people archetypes mentioned in the book, which is much of the fun of the read. Craig Lesley, author of Winterkill and The Sky Fisherman, describes it thusly:"Scott Richmond writes a splendid novel blending fly fishing, second-chance love, and international mystery. His colorful characters, clever plot, and fishing know-how make this book a gift for those who love to fish or read."
However, for me it is Richmond’s description and explanation of the soul deep passion, respect and love for steelhead that some steelheaders have that is the real value of the book, in my opinion. Even such notables as Haig-Brown, McMillan, Arnold, Coombs, Waller, Chatham, among others, have never quite captured in words the essence of steelhead as symbol, touchstone, icon, and object of fishing passion as well or succinctly as Scott Richmond in the personage of his protagonist, Logan, and his philosophic musings about steelhead. In a few well honed paragraphs near the middle of the book that are more poetry than prose Richmond captures the essence of what steelhead mean to many serious seasoned contemplative chrome anglers.
Here are some selected excerpts:
" . . . Why would a rational person fish this way? Why do anglers put so much effort into something so rare and elusive? After much reflection, he'd concluded that the reason was deeply subconscious: steelhead make a hero's journey; anglers seek to connect with that journey."
". . . a steelhead risks everything so it can become more than a trout. It migrates down (long rivers) . . . and finally swims into that vast deep where all the rivers of the world empty their waters. It will wander for a year or more, going places a trout will never go, seeing things a trout will never see, facing dangers a trout could never imagine."
"Those that survive return to the river transformed, tempered. They are bigger and stronger, of course, like a rainbow that never stopped growing. For many anglers that's enough . . ."
"Other anglers, however, see more and therefore become more. They see a survivor that has been through dark waters, that has risked all to go beyond what it was. When their flyline goes tight, the connection is not just the eighty or one hundred feet to a steelhead: it goes deep into the sea and touches every place the steelhead has been, everything it has seen, all that it knows about survival."
"These anglers know that they, too, are on a journey, and they ask, How do I become more than I am? How do I travel through dark waters and return safely home?"
"For trout, you need hope. But for steelhead you need an abiding, persistent faith - faith in the invisible fish; faith that if you keep doing the right thing in the right place at the right time ... It. Will. Happen. At any microsecond you could be connected to something magnificent and grand, wild and natural. Your faith is rewarded right here on earth."
There is more like the above, but you’ll just have to read the book. Nobody has ever said it better, in my opinion.
Further, for two hand Spey fly fishers, right after the above entries, there is a hilarious dead on description of the difference between Spey fishers, especially long belly folks, and all the other varieties of steelhead fishermen, including bobber nymphers.
I highly recommend the book River In The Sun to the members of this forum, especially those contemplative anglers who fish for other, deeper reasons than for self aggrandizing "hero shots" to impress their beer buddies.