An Epic Battle and a Boy’s First Steelhead

I was unhooking the drift boat Friday evening, when the neighbor kid ran over in his bare feet and announced “Me and my Dad are going fishing all day tomorrow!”

“That’s great, Sam!” I said, imagining how long he would really last. Sam’s a great little angler at seven years old, but he rarely lasts a whole day.

“You should go with us, Rob. Wanna go with us?” He looked more hopeful than usual. He really wanted to go fishing, and I had the morning open.

“Sure, Sam. That sounds grea…” my voice trailed off as Sam ran back to his house screaming for his Dad. In just seconds my weekend had taken on a new shape. A minute later, Sam was back on my lawn firing off questions faster than I could answer them. “Do you think we’ll catch a steelhead? Should I bring my waders? Did I tell you about the steelhead I hooked once? It got away…”

That night I talked it over with Sam’s Dad. We agreed to take my boat and get an early start. I went to bed early.

The next morning was silent and heavy with cloud cover. In the predawn stillness, I poured hot water over a filter full of fresh ground coffee. The incredible smell was flipping on the lights behind my eyeballs with each deep breath, Then I heard the familiar slapping of tiny bare feet on the pavement. Sam broke through the front door and chased my cat out the back. “Hi, Rob!”

“Hi, Sam. Ready to go fishing, I see.”

“Yeah, Dad forgot something at the warehouse, so we’ll meet you at Valley River. Okay? See you there!” And zoom, he was gone.

We launched at D-Street and fished the main pool and tailout for trout, catching some beautiful wild cutthroat on small soft hackles. I showed off my new fly-trolling skills, learned from some of Eugene’s fishiest guides. I swung the boat from side to side, Sam casting occasionally. ZzzZzzZzzzzzzzz! And another nice one! Sam was on fire, and Dad was happy to watch and give pointers. We dropped through the Pez Dispenser, a complex of rapids with little islands dotted throughout, over-arched by a high span of Interstate 5. The intense white noise of the rapids drowned out the sound of traffic overhead. Between shutes, I made a random cast and a strong steelhead grabbed ahold. It’s tail arched out of the water and away it went.

“Sam, take this rod!” Line zinged off the reel a top speed. The fish was leaving the little tailout and heading into the main rapids. “We’re going down with him!” I yanked in the anchor too hard. “Boom!” And we were running the rapids. Sam had control and was doing great. I pulled hard right, seeing a place where we might be able to land the fish. But the fish had other plans, heading down and away, and around the wrong side of a large protruding boulder. Line peeled. The fish was still there! I tried wading up and out, lifting the rod tip, hoping to free the line. No dice. Then, back in the boat, we pulled her up the river until we were again above the boulder. We rowed out and around the rock, the line came free, and we were riding the final drop of the rapids, fish still far below us.

As we slid into the next pool, I pulled hard left into a back eddy. The fish was circling around with us. Sam kept reeling, and the beautiful summer hen came to the surface. Gorgeous! I jumped out and slowly eased the fish to hand. A perfect, spotless summer steelhead, between six and seven pounds. I looked up and saw big grins all around. Sam’s eyes were fixed on the steelhead. His dad leaned over his shoulder and beamed, “Your first steelhead at seven years old? I didn’t catch my first ’til I was fourteen!”

Sam finished the day with a couple more trout on his one-weight, including a nice rainbow pushing thirteen inches. “This is my best fishing day ever!” He exclaimed as we hit the landing. He ran across a patch of wild mint, sending the fresh scent into the air. I turned to admire the Willamette River, then gazed down river at the next corner. I wondered how many other steelhead were sprinkled through the tailouts and riffles below, and how many kids in Eugene might never know the river that runs through their home town-RR


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3 Responses to An Epic Battle and a Boy’s First Steelhead

  1. RB Allen says:

    Way to hook up the youth.

  2. Nate says:

    Awesome stuff, Rob, good on you.

  3. b. burkman says:

    great story. sammys hooked 4 life .awsome

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