One of the many reasons I love steelhead is that they are acrobatic fish. After being hooked they think nothing of leaping three feet into the air, doing a cartwheel and splashing down into the river. On occassion I've had steelhead swim right at me, leap from the water and nearly strike me with their bodies. Fortunately, I've never been hit.
Simply put, these fish are not shy about showing themselves. That's why it's so intriguing when a mystery fish shows up on the other end of the line.
On the Friday after Thanksgiving on the Rocky (Flow of 400 cfs and falling an temperature of 34 degrees), I encountered an lost such a mystery fish. The clay particles from the high runoff earlier in the week were still suspended in the river, giving it a brown-green tinge. Visibility was about 12 inches, maybe a little more in the slow water. The conditions looked promising, but the cold snap obviously had the fish lethargic.
An early dead drift through the tail end of a hole produced a foul hooked fish. The hook was firmly planted in the tail -- normally I snap off such fish quickly. But this one came to the surface and rolled to shore without putting up a fight and I quickly released him.
A little while later I switched spots with a friend and tried the neck of the pool, where the water narrowed just slightly. On the first drift through there was a pause in the drift and I quickly lifted the rod and set the hook. The head shake confirmed that I was into a steelhead and off he ran. Or she ran. Or he ran. I will never know. The fish ran far and hard. And circled back and ran right at me, before racing to the far bank. Never did the fish clear the water. As I backed to shore, he/she ran a little downstream. Not far, so I was confident I could turn the fish and bring it shore. No such luck. As I pulled the rod over my shoulder, trying to keep it parallel to the river, the hook came shooting out of the water and past me. The hook had pulled out. The fish was gone. A few minutes of fighting the fish had taught me nothing about it -- other than it was big, and smarter than me.
Much to be thankful for this year, including the mystery fish.