I left the Olympic Peninsula in September of 2005 after closing up my charter fishing business. Leaving started a journey of jobs and cities I might never have discovered had I remained. My journey back to the peninsula began in the winter of 2009.
My first trip back to the coast was in February 2009. I had some vacation time so I decided to make the long drive out to the coast from Colorado. What made this winter steelhead trip on the coast unique was the lack of rain for the entirety of the trip. The upside was that the larger glacial rivers were low and fishable for my entire trip as well as the bright, sunny weather. The bad thing was that there just were not a lot of fish around.
I fished hard for the first four days with nothing to show for it. What I could have never anticipated was that the years away from steelheading messed up my mind a bit. My memories gave more weight to the fish I had hooked in the past and had minimized the skunkings. The tough fishing I had experienced vanished from my memories as the trip approached. Of course the hyped-up fishing reports and blogs on the internet did not help. I had this laughable notion that I could just come back and quickly start hooking fish again. The first four days were a rude awakening.
The reality of steelhead fly fishing and my past memories couldn't have been further apart. I was unsure of where I should fish and really started to question my fishing decisions and my skill swinging the fly. I had entered a deep state of despair so I decided to take a break for a day and clear my head. I decided that a walk through the rainforest would be just the ticket to calm the static in my brain.
The next morning I arrived at the trailhead and just started walking. The hike was along a riverside trail but I was not wearing waders or carrying a fly rod. Three hours later I was well upstream and feeling much better. There is something calming about the simple act of walking and I sure needed it. I arrived back at the car feeling refreshed and ready to fish the next day.
During the walk I realized that I was probably not going to hook a fish during my trip. The low water and lack of fish were not working in my favor. I had to find another way to make the trip great. I came to the realization that the simple act of fishing the water well would have to do. I had to let go of all of the expectations I had before the trip and just simply enjoy spending time on the river regardless of the fish.
This realization did not come easy for me. It is hard to put aside expectations and push the ego aside and just fish for the simple act of fishing. Even today it can sometimes be difficult to go against the grain and do things your own way regardless of how everyone else is doing it (often with more success).
After setting aside my expectations and just working on fishing well you can imagine what happened. I ended up hooking a single fish about three hours of fishing "well." The fish was only on for maybe fifteen seconds but that single fish made the entire trip worth it.
I eventually moved back to the Olympic Peninsula about a year later. I try to remember the moment that fish grabbed the fly mid-swing whenever I am in the midst of a fish-less stretch or tempted to fish in ways I dislike just to catch a fish. I try to remember that fishing well is its own reward.