It all started out early in the morning. I’m talking really early. I had an appointment with my guide at 8:00 am and the excitement level was pretty high. I awoke at 4:00 am. I was ready. My first fish on a fly rod was a steelhead on the Situck River in Alaska. That was 19 years ago and today I was going to try for an east coast Steelhead. It was like a full circle had been completed.
When I stepped outside it was perfect spring Steelhead weather. The wind was blowing, the temperature was in the 30’s, and it was cloudy signaling the coming rain.I was on vacation to see my father-in-law in Buffalo, New York. Being from Texas, the weather was a little different than I was used to. It didn’t matter though, I had fish on the brain and I was ready.
This would be my first trip with an Orvis endorsed guide and I was looking forward to comparing Alberto Rey with the many other guides that I have fished with. I always try to use a guide when I travel. If I am on a river I have never fished before and I’m there for a few days, it just makes sense to fish with someone who knows it. Alberto certainly knew the waters we fished that day.
We fished four different streams that day. There had been a lot of snowmelt so the water reminded me of glacial streams in Alaska. They had that milky color to them which to me makes it hard to see the fish. This didn’t appear to be the case with Alberto. He put me on fish within ten minutes of entering the stream.
We had just arrived and put our rods together and were walking down the stream. I thought we would be going to a pool to drift fish. We were walking along the stream when Alberto sings out “there is one, no, wait, there are two of them” and that was the start of a really great day. One of those ones you look back on in old age and smile at the memories.
I threw to that fish several times. He was so aggressive that he came out of the water and you could hear his jaws snap shut. He just couldn’t hit the fly. After about six tries he finally hit the fly and the fight was on. I didn’t do so well on that fish. I got a little excited because I really wanted to land him so I could say I caught one. I was so excited that as soon as Alberto went to net him, I lowered the rod so I could run over to the fish. Any one who has fished very long knows you never count a fish as caught until it is in your hand and the photo has been taken. Also barbless hooks have to have tension to stay in the mouth. I lowered the rod, the hook came out, and the fish flipped out of the net. Alberto said it was his fault but I know better.
I didn’t have to feel bad for long though. It seemed like just minutes later Alberto was pointing out fish to me again. This time there was no celebration until I saw the fish in Alberto’s hand. That fish was the first of four that I landed that day. All of the fish were between 27 and 30 inches. I caught three before the rain and lightning really decided to kick into overdrive. Since by then it was around lunch time, we went to Alberto’s house where his wife had lunch waiting for us. Actually it was more than just a lunch.
It started out with Butternut Squash soup, then the salad, after that it was grilled chicken and fried potatoes along with cold cuts. For dessert there were chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven. We finished lunch off with a glass of 15 year old port. Then Alberto offered me a cigar. This is something I have to say has never happened on another guided trip. I don’t know if this is normal treatment for all Orvis clients, but I can say it will be awful hard to top.
After lunch we went back out to the river. The rain had continued but it was tolerable. This is where Alberto really proved his prowness and skill as a guide. All morning long he had impressed me with an uncanny ability to spot fish that were invisible to me as well as his knowledge of where to put the fly and how to retrieve it.
As an example: while walking up the stream we passed a flat boulder in the middle of a bend in the river. I could tell a fish should be there but I saw nothing. I would have fished below and in the eddy. I’m also sure that Alberto knew there was a depression along the side of the rock, but there is no way he could see or know that fish a was there.
He told me throw a fly in there and after two casts he said to drop the fly on the back of the rock and let it fall off. That fly hadn’t fallen three inches when from out of the darkness a monster steelhead nailed it so hard I was in shock. I’m sure I set the hook out of instinct, but I just stood and watched as this huge fish rocketed past me, came out of the water, shook his head, and threw the fly back at me.
It was so funny I couldn’t help laughing. Yeah, it was a big fish, and he sure enough showed me who was boss that day but he did it with style. I don’t mind if the fish win some of the times. The fact is, once I catch the first one it is all a game after that. Maybe I have reached that stage in my life where it doesn’t matter how many I catch as much as the fight I get from the fish. I don’t mind if they win as long as I have a chance.
The final fish of the day was the toughest and the battle was epic. Which is really how a day like this should end. As we walked down to the river we met another fisherman. He told us he had fished for three hours and only had three bites. We were not in the stream two minutes when Alberto showed me five fish. It was amazing. I had a fish on five casts later.
As soon as I hooked the fish I knew the battle had begun. He ripped off forty feet of line in the first run towards the falls. When he looped around and got behind me, the hackles on the back of my neck started to rise. I was running for all I was worth to catch up and get ahead of him before he went over the two foot drop in the river. I didn’t make it. He went over the drop and then I think he may have seen Alberto who had run faster than me with the net.
The fish turned around and stopped. He stayed there right at the start of the drop at the bottom of that fat part of the water before it drops over and rested. I’m not kidding. He was looking at me, I was looking at him, it was a stand off. Alberto called out “pull him down river it will make him mad”. Sure enough he went back up, then when he came back I listened to Alberto and angled him over the first drop in the river. When he made a dash for the last drop off before the rapids, I could angle into a backwash by some rocks where Alberto was waiting with his net. The whole time I was fighting the fish, Alberto was always working to get in the best position to be of help to me.
I really had a good time. Alberto had a lot to do with that. He was fun to fish with and that isn’t something that can be said for a lot of the guides out there. Just so you know a little about me: I fish with a guide at least once a year. I worked for the Dept. of Fish and Game in Alaska and met my fair share of guides, as well as worked for an outfitter as horse wrangler for his guides. I only say this so you know when I say Alberto was the first Orvis guide I have fished with and was impressed, he wasn’t the first guide I have been around.
Well done to him and thank you for providing me the opportunity to fish with a guide of his caliber.
Thank you for the memories