Post written by Cody Walk, Digital Media Marketer | RMC Alumni | Avid Fisherman | Youth Football Coach | Amateur Photographer | SKOL Vikes
It doesn’t take much to convince me to go fishing – especially when monster fish are the target.
The rivers and streams in Montana have lead to a few big trout at the end of my line, but none compare to the wild Steelhead or “The Fish of 1,000 Casts”, that make their long journey to Idaho from the ocean.
My quest for a Steelhead began a few years ago. A friend of mine takes a trip or two every year to Idaho in hopes of landing one of these elusive fish, and every year I have been unable to go. This past spring, my senior year of college, I was finally able to go.
When I was asked to come along and try to land a Steelhead on a fly rod, without hesitation I agreed. As plans began to unfold, it was becoming more apparent that landing one of these fish was no small task.
I was advised to purchase at least 100 barbless flies to ensure that I had enough. Having never been and not knowing what to expect, I thought that was an outrageous amount. I’m glad a listened though, because after two trips, I came home with only 7 remaining.
With everything packed up and ready to go, we made the 500 mile drive to our destination: Secret, Idaho. We arrived in the middle of a warm spring day. Eager to fish, we decided not to set up the tents and ran straight to the river to begin casting away.
With no success in the first few spots, we put the rods in the windshield wipers and drove up river to see if we had better luck there.
With sore hands and aching shoulders, we decided that it was time to quit fishing for the night.
As we were stepping out of the water, the rain began pouring and there was no way we were getting the tents set up in the greasy mud that lined the rivers and roads.
The nearest town was 40 miles up a winding mountain road. Rather than risking the drive up there in treacherous conditions, we resorted to sleeping in our cars. Instant regret! Wet waders that fogged up and eventually froze the windows, plus the pounding rain made for a miserable and restless night.
The next day was more of the same. The rain finally quit but it turned the river into a chocolatey milkshake and diminished any hope of catching a fish that weekend. Still, we casted our fly rods until blisters began forming on our hands and the sun went down. Unfortunately, there was not even a bite on our lines.
The next day we fished until noon and, discouraged and disheartened, made the 8 hour journey back to Billings.
Three weeks later, another opportunity arose to go back. River reports said that fishing was slow, but with high hopes, me and six other friends loaded up in two cars and headed back. We arrived about 1:30am and slept on the shoulder of the road as there are no campsites to be found for miles.
That morning, we drove up river to a spot that seemed perfect.
The fast water on the far side of the river and a couple large boulders on our side created a perfect, long and deep seam any angler dreams of. We began casting in hopes that the Steelhead were running through. Only twenty minutes in and one of us was hooked up.
I ran to grab the net and when I turned around, the fish bolted up and out of the water with so much power that it broke the line.
As it splashed down and swam away, there was nothing but smiles. Just getting to see the size and strength of these fish was something that left us in complete awe.
Less than two minutes later, I was hooked up. At first I thought it was a snag because the line had stopped dead and my 8wt rod was bent into a complete U shape with no signs of movement at the end of my line.
I gave it one quick jerk and the “snag” began running down the river. With one aggressive bolt out of the water and a viscous head shake, the fish spit the fly and again swam off to find friendlier waters. Although it sucks losing a fish, excitement filled the air as we continued to hunt for our prize.
Three casts later, I was hooked up again. This time I knew it was a fish, so I set the hook and held on for the ride. Trying to keep the fish on, I began chasing it down river struggling to keep it out of the fast water, knowing it would have been gone in an instant.
After 200 yards of frantic chasing, fighting, and 2 missed netting attempts, my good friend, who was standing nearly chest deep in the middle of the river, reached out and scooped up a monster of a hen Steelhead. It finally happened. We landed a wild Steelhead on a fly rod! (I say we because it is not a one person effort by any means!) Keeping the fish in the water, we walked it near the shore to snap a quick picture and then released it back into the river so another angler could maybe get the chance to experience the excitement we all just did.
Overall we ended up landing a total of 10 fish between the 7 of us and lost around 30 more. That weekend was possibly one of the best in my entire life. Sure, landing some giant Steelhead was cool and all, but getting to share my excitement with my buddies and seeing them light up with excitement when they caught theirs was something I will never forget.
When someone hooks into a fish of that magnitude, time stands still and everything around you seems to fade away. In that moment, nothing else really seems to matter. Standing chest deep in the river, netting these fish for my friends and seeing them drop to their knees in elation was the most satisfying thing I have ever experienced.
After the fishing was over, for two nights we sat by the campfire telling and retelling the stories of not only the fish we caught, but the fish we missed, and excitement and joy never once dwindled.
2,000 miles driven, countless dollars spent, and sleeping in a pickup for two weekends may seem ridiculous just to land a fish, but in the end, it was all worth it.