Every so often as a guide you meet someone whose such a blast to fish with. They get it. They know how hard this is. They understand how special every grab is. I'm as guilty as the next guy who steelhead fly fishes. When it come down to it, we talk about fish hooked and landed, making it sound like it's really not that big a deal. We catch fish...right? Every time we're out on the water?...well not so much. Truth be told, steelhead fly fishing, especially in the winter is HARD! I expect to catch fish everytime I'm on the water, but there are times, more often than we want to admit, that it doesn't always happen.
Steve Mealey is a man who has devoted his life to the outdoors. He had an amazing career working for the U.S.F.S. and has spent many years, in fact decades, imersed in the outdoors. He's worked as a guide, volunteered untold hours for a myriad of various organizations from the Boone and Crocket Club to the McKenzie Guides Association.
Steve started fishing with me seven years ago. It's always in the winter when he books with me. It's always on the North Umpqua. Steve just wanted to catch a winter steelhead on the North Umpqua on the swung fly. The first couple of years, Steve fished his single hander. Eventually he started to spey fish. He worked hard. Damn HARD! Year after year we'd fish. The fish wouldn't ever show Steve any love.
For years Steve told me a story about a client he had when he was guiding Sheep hunters. This man came year after year, trying to harvest a big horn sheep. I don't recall how many years this fella came to hunt with Steve, but it was several years at least. The guy just wouldn't give up. Finally, the guy tells Steve "look, when you finally get me into a sheep, I'm done. You'll never see me again!". So one day, Steve and his client are up on the mountain. They've worked hard! They find a ram the guy wants to harvest. He lays his rifle across a steady rest...he takes his safety off when he's ready and had his cross-hairs centered on the ram. Seconds pass....he squeezes the trigger...CLICK! Steve is stunned. The loud report of the rifle that Steve is expecting doesn't come. The guy has just dry-fired his rifle. Steve watches incredulously as the ram walks out of view. Turns out the fellow had no real interest in harvesting a ram. He just wanted the opportunity and to spend time in the incredible environment that bighorn sheep call home. Steve said that he never saw the man again.
Steve has always told me that story, telling me that when he finally catches a winter steelhead on the North Umpqua..I'll never see him again. When Steve lands his fish, I give him a big hug and we're ecstatic that its finally happened for him. Check that box...he's caught his North Umpqua Winter Steelhead on a swung fly. The fish fought hard. Long runs, several jumps. Steve complains with a smile that his arm is getting tired. The snow has fallen. It's cold. The river is that perfect "steelhead green" we all love. It's PERFECT! and after its over Steve tell's me with a big grin, that he'll be back.