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Steelhead West Coast

In Pictures: A Winter Steelhead Grab

by John Larison   |  November 19th, 2011 0

Winter steelheaders often go days between grabs.  Ours isn’t an obsession with quantity; its an obsession with quality.  After you’ve put in that kind of effort, the tug of a big bright steelhead will have you perky for a week.  The rewards aren’t frequent, but they’re profound when they come, and they always come eventually.

Your odds of getting grabbed on a given day go up exponentially with each season you devote to a specific stretch of river.  Eventually, you’ll have a handful of spots that seem to produce as often as not.

Which is what makes the following series of images even more unlikely.

Last winter, California and Kamchatka steelhead guide Justin Miller and I were fishing a stretch of river in Oregon that was relatively new to both of us.  Collectively, we might have fished the run in this picture a dozen times.  Hardly enough to know precisely when and where a fish might take.

Nonetheless, the rain stopped for a moment and as Justin stepped in, I took a position in the rocks behind him, my camera coming out of my backpack.  I thought I might get a nice picture of a cast landing.  Little did I know…

What follows is a full sequence of images, all taken on one cast and swing.


Miller sends a 50'-60' cast out to the pocket under the alders of the far bank.


A big pull-back mend to slow the swing and give the fly and tip time to sink into position.


As the fly comes into swing, the fish takes. Miller is feeling the tension grow, but doesn't yet know...


The line tightens and the rod bends, and Miller knows--and knows enough to wait. What you can't see is a half second after this shutter closes, there is a massive flash of chrome at the fly as the fish shakes his head.


At the headshakes, Miller strikes. What he couldn't know was the fish had just turned toward the belly of line--so the fly pulls free.


My two cents:  Miller does everything right here.  Had the fish turned the other direction, turned a half-second sooner or later, or not turned at all, that fly would have stuck.  They say “better to be lucky than good,” and there may be some truth to that.  But then again, if Miller wasn’t good, he wouldn’t have felt that fish at all.

More to the point, that take energized the day, leaving us confident and optimistic and eager to keep rolling the dice.

Until the next grab.


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