How I Caught 60 Steelhead in One Hour

By Scott Richmond

"How'd you do?" my friend Berkeley Merchant asked me.

It was a relevant question. We were on a four-day float trip, seeking the Deschutes River's prized steelhead. We'd stopped at a campsite neither of us was familiar with. The water in front of it looked promising, but it, too, was an unknown. We'd divided the run between us, and I'd spent the last hour of daylight casting to the lower end, around the corner and out-of-sight from where Berkeley was fishing.

So when Berkeley asked how I did, I jubilantly replied, "I caught 60 steelhead!"

Berkeley gave me his best "explain yourself soldier!" stare. It's a look he does well: both his grandfathers were army generals and his father was a no-nonsense, full-bird colonel.

"Well." I paused. "Sixty steelhead-equivalents."

The hard stare continued, demanding further explanation.

"It's like dog years," I said, "where each human year counts as seven dog years. You have to take into account the situation, and there are special multipliers. Hooking a steelhead in a well-known run counts as one point--one steelhead-equivalent. But it's twice as much fun to hook a steelhead in a new run, so that scores two points. If it's my first pass through a run I figured out and choose on my own, without anyone telling me about it, that's really special and counts as five steelhead-equivalents."

Berkeley still wore a skeptical look. "So," he said slowly, "this is a run that you choose yourself, and each fish counts five . . . what did you call them?"

"Steelhead-equivalents."

"Five 'steelhead-equivalents.' Are you telling me you caught twelve fish in the last hour? One every five minutes?"

"Not exactly. There's a difference between hooking a fish and landing it. Landing a fish doubles the score."

"So you landed six?"

I spread my hands and screwed up my face. This was obvious to me, but I was having a hard time explaining it. "No. Not quite. There's a double-fish score for wild fish vs. hatchery fish. It's like double-word scores in Scrabble."

"Dog years AND Scrabble?"

"Yeah, and there's a double-fish score for a steelhead that's unusually large for the river."

An executive with high-tech firms, Berkeley is good with numbers. He worked it through, ticking his fingers. "So you hooked and landed a wild fish that was bigger than the average Deschutes steelhead . . . "

"Yes, about ten pounds."

". . . in your first pass through a run you'd chosen yourself. Let's see, that's one times five times, then double because it was landed; that makes ten. Double again because it was wild. That's . . . twenty. Double again because it was big. That's forty of your 'steelhead-equivalents.'" He took a deep breath. "So then you must have hooked and landed another fish. Was it especially big or was it wild?"

"Wild."

"So that's another 20 points."

"Right. Forty plus 20. Sixty steelhead."

"Or two."

"It felt like 60," I said defensively.

Berkeley rolled his eyes and shook his head. He didn't speak to me the rest of the day.

Perfect Sense . . .

It made perfect sense to me. In fact, I think my steelhead scoring system should include other factors, such as the difficulty of casting. I'd award extra points if a fish is caught on single spey cast instead of the easier double spey. And a long single spey cast off the left shoulder with brush at my back . . . hooboy, that's worth a lot. And maybe some style points if I'm wearing a new hat. And catching a steelhead on a new fly that I've designed and tied myself should be worth plenty.

Shoot, I figure next year I'll have a day when I catch 500 steelhead before lunch. Of course, some people would only score that as "hooked three, landed two", but who's counting?

Scott Richmond is Westfly's creator and Executive Director. He is the author of eight books on Oregon fly fishing, including Fishing Oregon's Deschutes River (second edition).