But if one month owns this most truly, though often more in quality than in quantity, it is October. One October steelhead, freshly over the lip of the river mouth and with room to run, is worth two in November and three or four in December.
An October steelhead has not yet begun to feel the freeze of the approach of winter. It lives in its chosen temperature; it is livelier than a November fish and has taken on none of the half-somnambulant sluggishness of its December alter-ego. It's like a stick of dynamite, awaiting the first spark to explode from the water in a literal storm of white shrapnel.
In the flesh, the October steelhead scoffs at the King salmon. Every pound of it is worth double. I would wager that the poundthrust of one of these Mykiss would equal that of a fresh Chinook in early September, though that King were twice its size. In fact, in my case, roughly 120 yards of 12lb nanofil says it is more than that.
In battle, it is unpredictable and exhilarating. The only certainty is that the fish will shake its head wildly upon hook-set. Thereafter, if the fish will leap immediately, run, zig-zag, speed and boil, charge the angler, or execute a combination of some or all of these - it is useless to foretell.
If, as in my favourite saying, it is true that "the gods do not deduct from a man's allotment those hours spent fishing," then perhaps it is equally true that through the gift of a battle with one of these piscatorial masterpieces, the gods have found a way to restore whole hours to the ledger.
There are only Three Commandments:
- Savour thy encounter with this beguiling and powerful athlete!
- Adjust quickly (lest thy hook through slack line betray thee)!
- Hold on!
And the fourth, perhaps in these later times: "Treat them with mercy." Let them go! Let them swim! Release each one gently; and if you do not release one, then be humane and let it not suffer overlong.
I admit some level of frivolity in this regard, if I am judged through the eyes of a hunter, since I have great difficulty bringing myself to ending the life-cycle trajectory of one of these torpedoes. I will only kill if it is necessary, otherwise I wish only to share the wonderful and precious creature that I was given the honour of subduing through rod and line.
And once the fish is released, and you have watched it swim away; and if you are lucky enough to be fishing near a Great Lake, take a moment to listen to the waves, and to the flutter that can still be heard in the wind from the flaming leaves that still cling to the branches of nearby trees - a music that will be altogether absent from later trips in the fall. Breathe in the cool, clean air presaging frost but still warm with the fragrant musk of expiring foliage. Cast your senses outward, like cramped limbs luxuriating in a much needed stretch. Later, you will find that you have stitched these minutes into the hours that you have regained.
Although presently, the float lances down again below the surface and the laughter of battle resurfaces somewhere on your soul, as you have again been reconnected to the deep pulse of antediluvian instinct; which resonates at the cellular level, defying description. And if it could speak, it would say:
"Just enjoy it!"
It's time to listen to it! Get out there quickly, because the True Chrome - Chromium Verum - will soon begin to wane and tarnish. While it's still here: enjoy it!