By: David Frulla
After 9 hours in single-digit temperatures, I wasn’t quite sure if my feet were cold because there was a hole in my waders or if I should have worn a thicker pair of socks. It didn’t really matter. We had fished all day without even a glimpse at a chromer. The temperature had dropped almost 30 degrees overnight and the snow fell like a heavy mush; if the fish were going to bite, it wasn’t going to be today. We couldn’t have picked a worse day to book a steelhead charter. Months of planning and hundreds of dollars washed away with every fishless cast; at the end of the day it came down to our last drift. Not even Hemingway could have scripted this scene. We decided to give another pass over a sunken stump behind a root burl. Our day had culminated in this one last cast.
There turned out to be a steelhead lurking behind that stump: he bit, I set the hook, fish on.
Steelhead, or ‘chromers’ as they are called once they lose their color after being at sea, are the anadromous variant of fish that you might know of as a rainbow trout. These sea-run fish spend much of their life in open water, such as seas, oceans, and great lakes. They’re strong, they fight hard, and have an acrobatic nature which makes them incredibly difficult to keep hooked. For years my dreams have been filled with the thought of landing such fish, a bucket list item if you will. They are my white whale.
Fishing has always carried some strange connection to the spiritual for me. Something about the silence and the stillness. Something about the intensity in the search, the faith it takes to know there is something thriving below the surface. Rising with sun and venturing out into the unknown. There is a certain monotony to both fishing and the spiritual that is somehow always refreshing. In my decades of fishing, many times I have returned to the same waterways, the same exact spots, fished the same lures, and yet despite this pattern of redundancy, there is always something new, something unfounded about each day on the water. Just like the chapels I have known for years, the same Eucharist I have tasted day in and day out, there is a monotony to our ritual that is mysteriously novel.
So, what do steelhead have to do with salvation?
I can’t tell you what it’s like to catch a steelhead, the fish won the fight that day. I can’t tell you what the splendor of heaven is like either, I seem to lose the battle for holiness day after day. But that doesn’t stop me from going back to the river again and again. The thing about steelhead fishing is that someday I’ll catch one. Someday, the line will hold. That’s the thing about salvation, no matter how many times you feel you’ve lost your way, no matter how low you sink, there is always redemption. Every day I fail is a day I learn about how much I need Jesus. Every failed attempt at holiness is another attempt closer to heaven.
Jesus meets you there, wherever you are, whether that is in your deepest sin, or in the back of drift boat with a broken line and an empty net.