steelhead rivers

The Art of Falling

Any amateur can fall in a river.  The seasoned professional knows how to do it right.

By Terry Otto

The steep bank looked slick and dangerous, and I thought briefly about the tired shape of my wading boots.  The smart thing to do would be to back down the incline carefully, even though I was eager to fish.  I chose to ignore the little voice in my head, and I stepped forward.

The result was predictable, and I went into the river face-first. Sputtering, I crawled up the slick bank, looking like a drenched cat, and headed back to my rig.  I was an expert at this falling thing, and I never went steelhead riversfishing without an assortment of extra dry clothes.  As I shed the wet ones and pulled on the dry ones, thinking that if I had had more sense I‘d be fishing the river right now.

I started my dunking career modestly by falling into creeks I fished for catfish, perch and bass.  However, I really started to perfect my technique when I started fishing steelhead rivers.  I had no choice but to get better, given my clumsiness and the rocky, rugged nature of steelhead rivers.

There came a day when I found myself in the doctor’s office to see about some bruised ribs from a steelheading fall.  The old doctor stepped out as a young intern looked over my files.

“Let’s see,” she said.  “You’re here for bruised ribs, from falling while fishing.  About a month ago you were here for a busted knee from a fall while fishing.  Before that, a fall on a river bank sliced your hand.  A year ago you twisted an ankle while night fishing.  And another fall, this time while getting out of a boat. You were fishing.”

She grinned at me. “I’m detecting a pattern,” she said.  When a pretty young nurse has fun at your expense, it cuts pretty deep.

My Buddy Gravity

Gravity has always had a good grip on me, and that grip has strengthened as I have aged.  It’s also true that there is more of me for gravity to grab hold of.  Gravity also grows in strength in direct relation to its closeness to a stream with steelhead in it. Gravity always wins, always holds all the cards.

I have often looked over the edge of some mud-slicked ten-inch pathway perched on a clifftop 30 feet over the stony creek bed of some steelhead stream, and envisioned with great clarity what would become of me with one miss-step.  Those visions are always full of vivid reds.

Gravitational pull, steelhead-style.                                                                                                              

I would further theorize that steelhead rivers exert an over-riding magnetic force that is increased ten-fold when there are other fishermen around to see you fall.  Who hasn’t risen from a sound drenching in some freezing river, only to look around, hoping they weren’t seen.  But of course they were!  A tree may fall in the forest and not be heard, but a fisherman never falls but someone doesn’t witness it.

Not to worry!  Falling is all about damage control.  First, stay low to the ground, so you don’t fall as far.  Always expect to fall, so you’ll be ready when you do.  And always try to land on your butt, so you won’t damage your face.

I could give up steelheading as I age, but that’s not happening. So, I guess I’ll just continue to hone the art of falling.


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