Nobody likes being the nostalgic steelheader in the room, but increasingly I find myself as the gray haired guy at the table waxing poetic about how great wild steelhead...
I admit it, I’m a snob. I like trout. Well, all salmonids, actually. I’ve had more than a few fun afternoons roping mountain whitefish and once or twice out west I caught a steelhead. I even caught an Atlantic salmon on the Winnipesaukee one night but let it go thinking it was a brown trout before I realized what I was doing. But I never understood the appeal of bass. Every bass I ever caught, I caught while I was fishing for trout, except for one time when we hired a guide for stripers out on Casco Bay. But even a 32” striper comes up like an old boot after thirty seconds of fight.
It was that distinct big-hound bawl booming up from the hollow that got my attention. The sound rolled over top of choppy beagle barks and brought my focus to the mountain bench below. Gripping the shotgun, I focused every bit of my 10-year-old awareness on that Ozark bench and waited as plumes of vapor drifted up with every ragged breath. Dry oak leaves crunched with the rhythm of a running deer. But before I could shoulder the old 16 gauge, the brown form dashed across my lane of view and that familiar white flag of defeat waved goodbye.
I fish, so I love the valleys. The further you travel upstream and into the mountains, the narrower become the ravines and gullies where trout live. The streams turn to a trickle, leaving a soggy riverbed upstream of flowing water. And somewhere above that is a dry floor of cracked mud, littered with dead leaves and smooth rocks. You can keep going, but before you know it, there’s no stream at all, and you find yourself walking a wooded hollow leading to the top of a mountain.
I'm situated on a bump of grass rooting its way into the Fljótaá River. My earthen perch is barely bigger than my boots so my balance is precarious. Despite wobbling, I'm content concentrating on the current in front of me. I don't have to worry about snags on my back cast because there are no trees in Iceland. No shade either, but it's the island's first cold snap so I welcome the sun seeping over the top of surrounding ridges dusted white overnight after the northern lights went to bed.
I’d been on a Jim Harrison binge in the wake of his death—easy to do given his prodigious output.