I’ve got another amazing first steelhead fishing story from Chris this week.   There’s a great reminder for all of us who steelhead fish, and for life in general – The only way to Fail is to Quit.  Take it away Chris!

Landing a fly-caught steelhead on the Deschutes River was a rite of passage in our family. It shouldn’t take long, I thought. But over a two year period, beginning when I was 13, this simple goal turned into a fight for survival.   At least for my confidence.

Over that time, I lost 13 steelhead. With each lost fish, fate appeared to be turning against me.

One windy summer evening on the lower Deschutes, I hooked a nice one in the rock garden hole. This is it, I thought. I got him this time. The steelhead leaped as they often do. While in mid-air, a large gust of wind came from nowhere and blew the fish right off my fly. My seventh lost fish.

There came a time the following summer and several more lost fish later that I reached a breaking point. We were on the lower Deschutes at a favorite camp. The evening fishing was about over and I had given up. There was still more time to fish, however.  Dad walked into camp and asked me why I wasn’t fishing. I said, “I quit.” He looked at me and said these words I’ll never forget. “If you quit on this, you’ll quit on everything else in life.” I sat in self-pity for a time, but soon got back after it.

His words really didn’t make sense to me then. But he was right. Success is usually a matter of attitude, habit, and simply refusing to give up.

Bill Kalbrener is a wonderful friend of our family. Dad had asked him to shuttle the vehicles for his latest guide trip, and Bill suggested we go early to catch a morning’s fishing at the Friday night hole. We would meet up with Dad later that morning at the boat ramp.

As the morning was winding down, I hooked a hot one. After several runs, the fish tired out and in utter amazement I landed the fish. Hands shaking with the fish on the bank, I reached to pick him up. But he began to flop and bounce wildly. Incredibly, He slipped out of my grasp and I watched the fish flop its way back into the river. No, no, no! Luck was on my side that day, though. The fly had sunk deep in the fish’s jaw and after a few minutes, he was finally landed for good.

There’s one small fading picture in my parents’ home of me holding that wonderful fish. At the boat ramp I presented Dad with my catch. With a proud smile, he shook my hand and congratulated me. He knew there was more to this fish story than just a fish.

If you want to get in touch with Chris, leave a comment below and I’ll make sure that Chris checks back in.  I also wanted to give a special thanks to Katie, who edited this article.

Next time you are in that steelhead run and things are slow, remember that the next cast could be a steelhead.  The big question that comes to mind to me is – What were you doing that lost 13 fish and what can you teach someone to not do this.  Chris, leave a comment below if you have an answer to this.



    • Yeah, that is a crazy story. I hope it will help a few people understand a little bit about that persistence piece. Steelheading can be a lot of work but the pay off is huge.

  1. Great piece. Persistence is key when steelheading and leads to us doing crazy things for just a glimpse of chrome. I was once asked the story of my first steelhead and surprisingly enough I was unable to tell it. It wasn’t until later that I realized why; every steelhead I catch brings the same excitement the first did, therefore it’s as if every steelhead is my first. No matter how old I get I will always have the same heart pounding thrill every time I hook one if these magnificent fish.

    • Well said. My hope is that more people get the experience, feel what you are talking about, and give back to the resource. If you feel like trying to conger up your first or most memorable steelhead experience, I would love to post it on the site here so others can tie into what you have experienced.

  2. Lol my first Steelhead almost did the same thing, rolling back into the water while I was doing my best impression of Tiger Woods fist pump. I have that picture framed with the Fly I used in the frame and it’s my favorite piece in my house.