First of all, relax.
Secondly, don’t let the title throw you. You don’t have to be a full-fledged member of the fly fishing fraternity to get into Michael Checchio’s “Mist on the River: An Angler’s Quest for Steelhead.” So if shallows and steelhead aren’t your cup of sunshine, don’t fret. There are plenty of good reasons to reel in this read.
Checchio’s style is graceful and fluid, unwinding like a robust backcast over ten chapters which include Summer River, Winter River, California Dreaming, The Doomsday Book, A Run of Salmon, A Small Matter of Ethics, and The Shining.
This gentle read is part botany, part biology, and part history with some marine biology, travelogue, conservationism and zoology thrown in for good measure. I almost drowned while foaming through the opening pages, neck-deep in creeks, holes, pools, runs and rivers. Got my head above water long enough to enough to enjoy the view after that. Thankfully, we’re downriver by chapter 2 and skimming through steelhead, solitude, soaring redwoods and South Forks. Sink tips. Spey rods and streamer flies.
Along the way I also learned that, “Strictly speaking, a steelhead is not a salmon but a seagoing rainbow trout; yet they are so alike as to be practically the same fish.” The author also provides a Eureka! moment regarding the definition of “Pacific Northwest.” Says Checchio, “If you need a definition of the Pacific Northwest, say it is wherever steelhead and salmon can swim to.”
I got a little lost in some of the later chapters where the author gets hip-deep in fly fishing technique and equipment. I also learned more about salmon, color receptors and lactic acid than I ever cared to. Just about the time you think the author has run out of line, however, he’ll hook you with an unexpected twist and toss in some gentle humor like: “In the Pacific Northwest, steelhead fishing is a kind of religion, and winter fishing is strictly for monks.”
Mist is perhaps best summarized in the final sentences of chapter one:
“I look out over the redwood spires and see a golden eagle turning above the forest. The clear sound of the bubbling river is in my ears. I never want to leave this place.”
I know exactly what he means.
This gentle read is as cool and refreshing as an autumn mist on the North Umpqua. Give it a chance.