By Cameron Scott
The soft light of dawn softly creeps down the volcanic basalt walls of the Lower Deschutes River Canyon.
I find heaven here: Standing waist-deep in the cold, clear waters of these high desert cliffs, pursuing the elusive native steelhead.
I silently pray to the river gods to bless me with a hard-hitting, head shaking, wild steelhead as I step out of my drift boat. I cast, mend the line and swing my fly over what I believe to be the perfect steelhead lie.
Time stops. Light and shadows dance across the water’s surface. The soft breeze carries the aromas of sage and wild desert grasses. Yellow Grosbeaks and Meadowlarks sing in the praise of a new day. The river whispers her melodies to me, and the sounds of the deep canyon and river become a symphony.
I feel the soft, consistent pull of the current down the length of my fly rod. The water pushes against my waist as I move down river, half in one world and half in another. Lost in the art of thought, I’m totally connected.
Then I see the line tighten. My rod tip bends toward the surface of the water, and I feel the power and weight of the ocean in my hand. I bury the butt of my rod in my hip, and my reel screams. I can feel almost every move the fish makes, as it violently shakes its head and races across and downstream.
We wage a game of give-and-take, but I slowly gain the upper hand. The fish jumps, rolls and tail-walks across the water as I draw her closer. For more than 15 minutes, we fight a battle that plays out between land and water, man and fish.
In a sudden flash, a chrome-bright steelhead rolls to the surface of the water at my knees. I reach into the river and softly wrap my hands around her tail and midsection, staring with awe at her beauty. She stops fighting and lies softly in my hands, slowly breathing in the river’s cool rejuvenating water through her gills.
I whisper “thank you,” and smile as I release her, alive and well, back to the unknown depths of the current to resume her journey upriver.
This story was first published in the summer 2014 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.