Steelhead by the Numbers

I’ve been fishing for a week and my biggest fish has been 29 inches, not 30. It makes no sense at all but it’s really under my skin.

There’s no 13th floor. But there is a lucky number 7. If you’re Chinese, the number 4 may give you a little chill. If you’re Buddhist you have 108 reasons to be content. The holy Trinity, the 3 Musketeers, the Triple Crown. Maybe 3 is the magic number? The 4 horsemen, the 7 seals, the 12 Apostles. Why are we so hung up on numbers? 9/11 comes to mind?

Why do we give such power to simple mathematical ideas. Since I was a child I have carried a number in my head, stuck there like the barb of a hook. The mathematical constant Pi. A simple idea, but why, since I was a kid, has it stuck in my head to the 21st digit? 3.14159265358979323846, look it up. Numbers are part of our wiring, part of the puzzle, part of the human condition. If you’ve read “The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy” then you know the answer is 42.

So there I am at 7:00 am, stamping my numb feet, yawning and stressing out over a  number, 30. I’ve been fishing for a week and my biggest fish has been 29 inches, not 30. It makes no sense at all but it’s really under my skin.

There’s been plenty of pain this week. Burning fingers and ears, numb toes, hangovers, aching backs and heads but there’s been other pain too. The pain of watching half a dozen fish that I know were over 30 inches break off or unbutton. I saw a few of them. Big damn fish. So there I am at 7:00 in the morning looking at the river and feeling like a loser for catching a 29-inch fish. What in the world is wrong with me? I’ve brought over a dozen fish to hand and none under 23 inches, can’t I be happy with that? How many inches of fish is that? No time to do the math.

This is my last day. We’re driving home tonight, I gotta fish. I step into the head of the run, work out some line and make a cast. Drift, swing, lift, snap, cast again. Drift, swing, boom! Second cast and I’m chasing a big hen down stream. She fights hard but before long my buddy Kent makes a big swoop and she’s in the net. She’s 31 inches. 7:00 am on the 7th day of fishing and all is right with the world. It’s not that 30 inches is that big for a steelhead. It’s more of an average fish really. It’s not that, that extra 2 inches of fish make me a better fisherman, they don’t. For some reason, in my head, a 30-inch fish is just a different thing and it makes me feel different.

I fish out the day and get a couple more fish, but it’s a whole different vibe. I’ve got nothing to prove and when we make it back to the truck, I’m ready to go. I don’t have to drive until morning so I crawl into the back seat, put on my headphones and pull my stocking cap down over my eyes and count sheep. 106, 107, 108, I am content.