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I was recently reminded what this saying meant when judging a horse’s health and physical shape. In a more universal term it simply means don’t judge something that is free and without conditions. That is a pretty good rule to live by in general. My steelhead world often collides with my real world. After all, steelhead don’t really care about my business meetings and modern life affairs. In fact our relationship is rather one sided and I am consistently on the losing end having to adjust my schedule to meet on their terms. If it weren’t for pure chance and happenstance, our brief encounters might even be fewer and further between visits. I’d like to say that my trips are well planned and meticulously detailed but sometimes it is literally the night before on the "fly” that a final go-no go decision is made. Half the time I forget something that I really need. I am sure my co-workers, family and friends think I am nuts, and to their credit I am pretty sure sometimes that is how I appear.

This year has been tough. The pandemic has cancelled some trips and made it hard for some of my elder fishing friends to accompany me and life in general is just a lot harder now. Needless to say it has been a long time since my last chance visit with Oncorhynchus mykiss. I was jonesing real bad and being located in Montana it is a bit of a trip to the nearest steelhead waters in Idaho. This is where I share my dark confession, I’ve made a deal with the devil and sometimes take up the indicator/bobber fishing with yarn eggs in order to satisfy this addiction. It is not that I look down at this technique or those that practice this method, it is just that it is not my preferable method of catching steelhead but it is usually more effective then swinging a fly. The downside is that this usually involves combat fishing where the experience can sometimes be diluted. Such is the case of the Southfork of the Clearwater in late winter where it is every angler for themselves.

Now I was jonesing real bad to touch a steelhead so desperate times called for desperate measures. To my horror after three exhausting days on the Southfork endlessly watching my bobber all I had to show for it was a rogue whitefish that grabbed my yarn hook and a beautifully tied claret and black unweighted intruder that I found on the bank. Talk about a gift horse, I forgot to mention that in my haste to pack the night before, I forgot to throw a fly box in with winter swing flies. I had three fly rods, a bunch of different tips, yarn balls and bobbers and swivels and lead weight but not a single spey fly or intruder.

On the morning I was getting ready to come home I was mentally preparing myself for the long journey back home without my addiction being fulfilled. It had snowed the night before, so the journey over the pass was looking even less attractive. I had a new R.B. Meiser switch rod which hadn’t been out of its tube and was screaming to be cast. So I got up at sunrise and took a moment to appreciate the new snow, glistening to the setting full moon. It was quiet and peaceful and I was completely by myself. I went out to the big river and took my prize claret and black intruder and decided to fish one run. I was just hoping for one run, one fly, one fish. The new rod casts exceptionally well and as I got closer to the spot where I knew steelhead resided in late winter, I consciously slowed down and meticulously began to cover the water. On about the third cast she just so “matter-of-factly” turned on my fly at set the hook herself. I was dumbfounded just how easily this all transpired. I effortlessly turned my tip and buried it to the bank side and the dance was on.

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