RWONWF: On Her Own

Editor’s note: If it’s December, it’s time for our 5th Annual Real Women of Northwest Fishing feature! Once again we’ve gathered some great pics and stories for our tribute to the fairer sex of Washington, Oregon and Idaho anglers. For one, it’s a self-taught love, others an activity that 5thAbegan down at the bulkhead or with Dad many years ago. For some, it’s come a long ways – Barb Koos tells us about her “all-female” crew now out on the Columbia, while Jennifer Stahl and Rebecca McClain enjoy working in the field, and Heather Hodson is busy bringing more women to the water. However they reached the water, we salute the Real Women Of Northwest Fishing in these and the following pages! –The Editor

By Alycia Schuster

I was always curious about fishing at a young age. No one in my family fished, but for some reason I had a strong desire to find out what lurked in the cold depths.

One day in the back of my parents’ garage I found an old bamboo fishing rod with an old Mitchell reel with some monofilament line that had probably been spooled in the 1960s – indeed, the reel once belonged to my grandpa. Along with that reel I found an old rusty spinner missing two of the hooks on its old treble. I was maybe 11 years old. I took that old gear and walked through our woods to a private pond. My parents told me many times there were no fish in there. I taught myself to cast and waded into the water. I could barely cast more than 20 feet with the old mono line full of memory. I caught my first bass – and a decent one at that, maybe 2 pounds. I let it go, and triumphantly ran home to prove to my parents there were fish.

From that day I couldn’t get my mind off fishing. I was lucky enough to meet an old neighbor who saw me fishing out there. He was kind enough to give me pointers and a little tackle box of gear. I spent many nights organizing and reorganizing my little tackle box. Slowly I mastered the fish in that pond, and began to name them as I caught them over again.

That same neighbor saw my passion and would take me fishing once in awhile off of Point No Point. My family could not figure out where my obsession came from, but I think it was somehow in my blood. My dad took me on a guided fishing trip to the Hoh when I was 16. That’s where I caught my first salmon; it was a chum, and it was on a plug. Funny thing is, it was the first chum the guide had seen caught in that river.

Though she prides herself in her self-taught ability to catch fish for the freezer, Alycia Schuster “couldn’t bare to bonk” this gorgeously colored summer steelhead buck. (ALYCIA SCHUSTER)

Though she prides herself in her self-taught ability to catch fish for the freezer, Alycia Schuster “couldn’t bare to bonk” this gorgeously colored summer steelhead buck. (ALYCIA SCHUSTER)

WHEN MY NEIGHBOR could no longer go fishing and with a family that knew nothing about it, I gave up chasing salmon for years and stuck to lakes, until I met my husband. He too had never been taught fishing, and one of the first things we did together was I took him out to the private pond and showed him how to fish for bass. Somehow I got lucky and that made him just about as excited about fishing as I was. I now had someone to fish with.

We knew nothing about river fishing, but we had heard about an elusive fish called a steelhead that lived out in Forks. On our first trip there we did everything wrong. We had no idea what we were doing, not to mention the rivers were blown out. But somehow through that wet, two-day trip with no fish and a ton of lost gear, it only sparked our passion even more. It took another year before I finally hooked my first steelhead, drifting a pearl pink Corky with sand shrimp scent on the Skookumchuck.

I started asking myself, why did I hook one in the spot I did, why did it bite my Corky, why did I hook it the time that I did? I delved into studying everything I could find about fish behavior, reading water, fishing presentation, different methods, bait, lures, etc. I couldn’t get enough – I began studying state hatchery plants and their locations. I scrimped and saved every penny I could for gas and we started driving to every river and figuring out on our own the run timing of every salmon species. That led to so many nights camping in the cold, so many miles hiked to find spots – and so many hours spent fishing empty rivers that we had no idea were empty of fish. And yet at night I couldn’t stop thinking of fishing. Rivers and fish were in my dreams. The catching part slowly came, and with every fish hooked I memorized why, how, where, and when.

 

SOMETIMES I WISH that I had a family who fished, so I didn’t have to spend years teaching myself everything. Or that I had been born into a family with a drift boat, and a dad with knowledge of all the great holes his father had once shown him.

But maybe the struggle is what makes me so passionate about fishing.

I do feel pride in the fact that I am a very successful fisherwoman, and it’s because I worked my butt off. I never chased reports, as people say; I make my own.

I guess what I would want you to take away from this is, I had no one to teach me or walk me through anything. I never had a family to teach me fishing from a young age. I never had that dad, boyfriend or husband with a drift boat, jet sled or sea-worthy craft, to rig up my rod for me, hook the fish, and hand me the rod to reel it in. I suppose that because of my struggles one of my passions is imparting my knowledge to anyone seeking to expand their own fishing knowledge. I get just as much excitement out of teaching people how to fish and getting them on their first salmon as I would hooking my own. I plan on one day having a family and teaching my children how to fish, so they can have the luxury of being born into fishing knowledge, and I just hope and pray that they continue my passion. My family is very thankful for it, as I now fill our freezers with delicious fish. I spend most of my time now fishing with eggs, and, if I can find the right spot, twitching jigs.

I dream of winter steelhead year-round, but I might dream about spring kings just as much. 

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