The Spiritual Steelhead Journey

Steelhead fly fishing is everything they say: It’s freezing, mentally and physically challenging, and full of long stretches of boredom. Rarely, there is a moment of chaos when a fish is on.

Steelhead are two- to three-feet long and are absolute brutes. Words cannot explain how tough it is to land one, particularly without a fishing buddy with a handy net to help.

You rarely get a steelhead to take. In the end, you’re able to land very few that do. You work very hard for very little action. In other words, it is perfect for the fishing-demented.

I took some days off to do my semi-annual fishing trip. This time, I went to the Salmon River in upstate NY. It was a five-hour drive each way, and I encountered a snow storm and slick roads each time.

It was my second trip to this river. I am a DIY type of angler and didn’t hire a guide either time. I think there’s a lot to be said for learning-by-doing.

My days started at 4 am. I back-packed my food and drink, a portable seat, and gear for the day. I fished long and hard until dark. Each night, I had my one hot meal of the day for dinner, tied flies, checked work emails, and collapsed into bed by 9 pm.

I met some friendly anglers and a few grumps. I met people from Pittsburgh, NH, and NJ. I fished in snow, sleet, and freezing rain. And, I was fortunate to land a few fish.

Chasing steelhead starts off as an adventure. It then becomes an experience. It is only after reflection that you realize it was an actual journey.

For me, it was a very spiritual one. You see, you get up early and hike in while it is dark with a headlight on in order to claim one of the choice spots on the river. You then sit for hours and wait for dawn. You have time to think and reflect, alone in the dark. For me, I did my spiritual reflections for the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.

Honestly, it was both very moving and very peaceful to think and pray along the river, all the while wondering if I might be lucky enough to land a steelhead. It sometimes can take multiple trips over years before you get one.

What a great journey. It is good to be back home.

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