The rain seems to never let up. The forecast is endless, and the ground moisture sneaks into your boot with every step. Trees continually drip with dew like a spring with an endless reserve. The rain is no coincidence though. Northern California sits geographically perched where the ocean meets the mountains. Tectonic plates continually shift and change the landscape like every wave that crashes on the shore; moving sand to its placement. Like an artist moving their paintbrush to whichever mood they feel.

But with the paintbrush, the artist dips into the blue paint and squiggles lines down from the mountains to meet the sea. The most erosive force on the planet also boasts the greatest natural spectacle we have on this earth. One that no museum or artist can share. The life cycle of the salmon.

Though for the moral of this story, the salmon aren’t the lead characters. Instead they are the older sibling that shares a bunk bed. The one that always steals the conversation, gloating of their endeavors, and story tops everyone else in the room. This story however is of the younger brother on the lower bunk. While the older sibling may lead my example, the younger follows their own path.

Salmon enter the north coasts rivers first and charge their way to the spawning grounds. The steelhead follow much like an older brother or sister would that goes to college, but with one’s own passions and dreams. Salmon are born in the river and when mature enough, go to sea and fatten up. Living most of its life in the sea until they are ready to spawn, returning to the same river they were born in and die leaving their nutrients for the trees and surrounding environment.

Steelhead are a rainbow trout, like the ones we catch in inland lakes, rivers and streams that don’t meet the sea. But unlike those rainbow trout, steelhead, like the salmon, also head to the sea. They reach sizes and colors unlike there counterparts inland. Steelhead gain the rich and boastful nutrients from the sea and reach size and strength similar to salmon. They too also return to the river to spawn. But unlike the salmon, they don’t die after. They can decide if they wish to return to the sea again or of they want to stay in the river. Making them the ultimate survivors and a sought after prize for the coastal angler.

Though Northern California is home to many of the greatest rivers in the Pacific Northwest offering the angler a chance at landing a steelhead, it doesn’t make the endeavor an easy one. With what is dubbed in the fly fishing world as possibly the hardest fish to catch, it takes an angler of extreme patience, outrageous perseverance, and grit to withstand the coastal storms that lash the landscape. All to stand amidst the river, trees, and weather for the chance at a lightning bolt of a strike at the end of the line.

Beyond the hundreds to near thousands of dollars needed to purchase the gear, a California fishing license along with a special steelhead report card are also required just so an angler can meet the fish legally. There are also a litany of regulations to follow depending on which body of water you wish to fish. Long are the days of a worm can, a dock, and an alfalfa stick hanging from your teeth with a straw hat and a beautiful sunny day.

These fish have gone through Mother Nature’s hell and they will bring some of that hell with them as they swim up river. They dodged every predator in the ocean from seals, sharks, whales, squid, and many other creatures. Then reach the shores of the brutal north Pacific waves and currents to dodge the seal buffet line waiting at the river mouths. To top it all off, the North Pacific isn’t exactly a swimming pool with clear warm water, and neither are the rivers that drain the rain down from the redwoods, bringing soil that stains them brown at the peak of a storm.

The moral of the story is just to have that conversation with the ultimate survivor and long distance traveler. Just to set foot on these rivers and witness the power of nature. It’s hard to fathom a creature with the tenacity and strength of a steelhead. You wont be able to fish every day of the season, nor even guarantee a chance at a catch. But that might just be the greatest thing about chasing steelhead on the fly. Their story and their home are what make swinging flies for steelhead the ultimate prize. The fog through the trees, the cool turquoise water lapping up against your leg during the wade, and the redwoods towering overhead make chasing these almost ghost like fish such a challenge and joy for the north coast angler.

As seen in: Sensi Mag