The sea-run rainbow trout, or steelhead, stirs passion in all who pursue it. From the south-central California coast to far northwest British Columbia and from the southeast Alaskan panhandle across the Bering Sea to the Russian Kamchatka peninsula, steelhead and their parent rivers inspire and sustain us. They instill in us a sense of awe and wonder and offer a connection to the pulse of the great boreal wilderness.
For some, the pursuit and appreciation of steelhead becomes a way of life, even a philosophy. Look closely for long enough and you see steelhead and salmon rivers as arteries linking land and sea and these magnificent fish as their coursing lifeblood. You see that we are inexorably bound to these creatures and their compelling story. Their journey is ours. And with them our fortunes are held in the snow on the mountain peaks, the ancient trees in the forest, the time-worn rocks in the stream, the water spilling to the sea and to the ocean itself in all its remote vastness and mystery. The steelhead is our totem, a rugged, shimmering icon representing the vitality of Cascadian life.
In his book, Steelhead Country, Steve Raymond puts it straight:
"The return of the steelhead is an integral part of life in the great Pacific Northwest. A whole tradition has grown up around it, a tradition with a complicated code of behavior and ethics, a complex set of tactics, and a growing body of literature and lore to which each succeeding generation of anglers contributes its own share. The steelhead has become a fish of legend in tales told around the campfires that flicker on countless riverbanks in the raining dawn, or in tall stories swapped over steaming cups of coffee in the greasy-spoon diners of little towns clustered along the rivers. There are other great fishing traditions, but none quite the same as this."
The steelhead flyfisher's privilege and pleasure is to become part of this tradition, to participate in the long-running story. And it is his or her very important responsibility to see that the story continues. Enjoy your fishing, celebrate the rivers and the fish, but always leave a small footprint and do what you can to protect the future of wild steelhead.