"I've lived here in Douglas County 45 years. You think I don't know a salmon from a steelhead yet?"
"You saw a 40-inch steelhead going over Winchester Dam?"
"More like 42 or 43 inches. A male. Pretty dark already. I mean, the lateral line was good and pink."
"Come on. That would be 20 pounds. More, even. That would be a hell of a trout."
"He'll be up here pretty soon, if he doesn't get hooked down in the bait water."
"If he does, we'll hear about it."
"That's for damn sure. Here. For the coffee."
"Never mind," I said. "It's on me."
It was an excellent year for steelhead, with more fish than ever before coming over Winchester Dam. Half were hatchery fish, and although oldtimers on the river would argue that planted steelhead don't fight as well as natives, the fish were certainly there. They averaged about seven pounds, and I usually caught at least one or two on my evening fishing trips, and occasionally four or five.
In mid-July, making one of my weekly drives to Roseburg for supplies, I finally saw the monster steelhead for the first time. I made these trips after lunch, on a highway that follows the river most of the way to town. With the sun high I could look down and see into many of the slicks and pools. Usually I stopped at Lower Archie, Burnham, Rattlesnake, Wright Creek, Fairview and Fall Creek to check for fish. It was always exciting to see them, so clearly visible that it was possible to distinguish the males from the females through the blue-green water that was almost as clear as the air. They held close against the gravel or bedrock bottom, the females thick-bodied and silver-gray, the males a little slimmer, a little darker across the back and lateral line. A mile or so below Fall Creek I stopped to check a spot that, as far as I know, has no name.