Updated: Jan 5
Travelers from a distant underworld, Steelhead live a life of change unlike most species of gamefish. This nomadic lifestyle is part of what makes them so special to encounter and at times tough to find. They are a lot like most die-hard steelhead anglers in that sense which just might be of the same genetic make-up of the Cowboys that Waylon sang about. When I think back on all my times of pursuing these Cowboys of the Inland Seas here in Michigan, I am reminded of one fine Summer day long ago. It was a day unlike any other and will likely always be.
My Friend whom happens to be a Veterinarian, and I launched his drift boat at first light and began fishing our way down river. As I maneuvered the boat towards our third run that morning, dropping anchor next to a tiny grassy island and sitting there sipping my coffee. My buddy hopped out and stood next to the boat, switching flies and getting ready to work his way through first. Before he could finish, I watched a fresh run Summer Steelhead work its way upstream through the head of the fast deep slot of dark water just downstream and across the river from our boats anchored position.
To this day what happened next both perplexes, astonishes and intrigues me to understand these fish more than I likely ever will. As the fish ascended above the deep slot it began to swim towards us, crossing directly downstream of the bow of the boat, swimming upstream along the 4' gap between the boat and the island. Once it neared the transom of the drift boat, there stood my Friend and as fate would have it, the fish stopped right at his feet, sitting there holding in the shallow water. We both immediately noticed the 5" or so long native Chestnut Lamprey that had recently attached to the fish and he reached down, plucking the parasite from the fish's body. The fish never panicking, merely turned on its side seemingly to get a better look at the creature which had just removed this bothersome hitch-hiker, gazed upon him momentarily and slowly continued its journey up river as if it had just strolled into a rest stop on the interstate and was now continuing on to their destination refreshed and a little bit lighter.
Now Science, perhaps even common sense would say this was purely coincidental and the fish had no idea what it was doing, however I have always liked to think as humans we give off energy and being someone who saved animals on a regular basis for a living, my Friend on that day was giving off just the right energy to provoke such contact from the traveler from a faraway inland sea. None the less I have never seen anything like it before or since and likely never will.
I do however treat even the simplest creatures differently since that day and am always searching for that next deeper connection between life, Earth and the Cowboys of the World.