by Ryan Peterson
We understand mere fragments –
of most things really, but especially of a fish called steelhead. Its nominal definition goes that it’s a rainbow trout that migrates from river to ocean and back again to spawn, like a salmon. But like most living things, after you dedicate time to deep observation, their essential superpowers transcend human understanding. Just ask a grooved-out steelhead fly fisher.
In doing so you might hear how, for instance, steelhead have been tagged in Oregonian rivers and recaptured years later off the coast of Japan. You will then be entreated to confirm that that’s crazy, right?!
You might also be regaled by the legend that high-seas commercial fishermen rarely intercept steelhead as bycatch in their nets, suggesting a steelhead’s epic peregrinations are committed to solo, without friends in schools. They’re lone wolves out there, mysterious and supremely noble in the icy gray – the ultimate, fitting match for someone unimpressed by the listlessness of day-to-day society.
At that, you’ll be encouraged to exclaim something to the effect of, “What?!” or “Whoa!”
Then ask the steelhead angler about the special ones that run into rivers in the dead of winter and watch as their frantic code-red tone trails off. They fall silent, look you in the eye, and quietly, carefully size up whether you really care, or whether you’re just humoring them. Because now you’re talking about very serious stuff.
[Above: Close encounter with the wild winter kind: A moment worth the world to a steelhead fly fisher. Photo: Justin Crump]