“Truth is stranger than fishin’.” -Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America
There is no question that right now the world is a scary and confusing place. As we each do our part to stay safe and healthy—so everyone will stay safe and healthy—those once simple actions require much more discipline than ever before. A day off every so often to hide from the world and veg out on Netflix was once a welcome escape, but as it becomes more and more the norm, the novelty begins to fade. But, just because we need to practice social distancing doesn’t mean we have to stay locked away in our homes. We just have to think a little outside the box and a little outside the normal boundaries of our lives.
Besides being a well known Portland personality, and all-around great guy, my friend Bob Rhoads is a true outdoorsman. So, when I was thinking of things to do to get myself out of the house but still steer clear of people, he was the first person I called. I requested something that would be a close drive from Portland where I could meet him. He suggested we go fishing.
Now, to our north, Washington has temporarily outlawed recreational fishing, effective this week, and this may be the case in many places right now.
For most of Oregon however, fishing is currently still allowed as long as you’re careful of how you do it, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. They recommend you maintain a social distance of at least six feet from other people who don’t live in your household, including during travel to and from a fishing spot. Officials also stress that anglers should minimize traveling and stay as close to home as possible.
Rob and I followed these recommendations and traveled only a few miles to the Sandy River. As I sat on the banks of the river I couldn’t see another person in any direction (save for Bob, of course) and I was filled with peace and tranquility which I had not felt—nor realized I had not felt—in many weeks. For the first time in a while, I was at peace and the fears and uncertainty of life had momentarily faded.
But enough introspection. Let’s talk about Bob and fishing for Steelhead on the Sandy River. Some refer to fishing for Steelhead as ‘chasing the ghost’ because it can be a very elusive fish to catch (spoiler alert…we didn’t catch one that day) but fly fishing can be a very meditative and relaxing activity. I learned quite a bit from Bob that day.
Steelhead are actually trout but look much more like Salmon. That is because they are Anadromous, meaning that unlike the smaller trout that live their whole lives in the local rivers, Steelhead swim upstream in the freshwater to spawn but they reside in saltwater. Rainbow trout, on the other hand, stay in freshwater all their lives. When fishing for Steelhead you are only allowed to keep the ones raised in local hatcheries, which can be identified by a lack of an adipose fin (the small fin just in front of the tail.) All other Steelhead must be caught and released.
Bob practices a style of fly fishing called Spey casting (named after a style of fishing developed on the River Spey in Scotland). In short, this technique allows for longer casts without the overhead backcasting motion and presenting larger flies. As for equipment, Bob has a collection of flies, some he has bought but many he has made himself. His rod is a custom-made CF Burkheimer, (made for the specific technique just mentioned) a local company that Bob was an apprentice rod builder for. Once we found a suitable spot, we cracked a few cans of Underwood Pinot Noir, Bob chose his fly and got suited up.
I was more than content sitting on the bank, documenting the day and imbibing the tranquility (and the Pinot Noir). Plus, I’ve tried to fly fish and it is really freaking hard until you get the hang of it! Anyway, who would complain in such surroundings? As I mentioned, we didn’t catch any fish that day but just getting outside in the sunshine and fresh air made the whole adventure a complete success.
Even though we didn’t catch anything, I now had Steelhead on the brain and needed to cook some up ASAP. Luckily, Flying Fish Company just reopened about a mile from me and they have a wide selection of some of the freshest local fish around. I was in luck and they were stocked (no pun intended) with some gorgeous Steelhead fillets. As you can see, although it is a trout, Steelhead very much resemble Salmon.
I decided to cook the fish “En Papillote” or in paper. The technique, which makes for an incredibly easy and delicious meal simply requires putting all the ingredients into securely wrapped parchment paper and then baked for about 15 minutes—easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.
Steelhead and Vegetables En Papillote
1 Steelhead fillet, about 7 oz
Half a large zucchini
1 small pepper
3 slices of lemon
5 sprigs of fresh oregano (reserve 2 for presentation)
1/2 t coarse sea salt
1/4 C Kings Ridge Pinot Gris
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay a large piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet.
Place the fish on the lower part of a large piece of parchment paper so you will be able to have enough paper to fold over everything and securely crimp.
Set the fish down, season with salt and place vegetables, lemon slices and oregano on and around the fish. Squeeze a little lemon juice on top and drizzle with white wine.
Tightly crimp the edges of the parchment paper, leaving a little space inside for the fish to steam.
Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Carefully cut through and peel back paper and Voila! You have a complete meal ready to eat.
The oregano will be pretty dark and wilted, so I recommend replacing it with a fresh sprig before serving.
Pour yourself a glass of Kings Ridge Pinot Gris and dig in. Bon Appétit.
My sincerest thanks again to Bob Rhoads, not only for his vast fishing knowledge but for taking me out of my funk and filling me with a renewed sense of hope and happiness.
You can follow Bob’s adventures on IG at @ptowndutch