Into it. (Intuit)

All photos Jonathan Barlow.

I knew the instant I stepped into the water there was a steelhead in this run.

If I did my part right I was going to hook her. I made a good cast into a slight downstream wind and a small elegant mend. My size 10 Blue Charm swung into the soft water this side of the seam. There she was – a nice strong pull, then a very strong run towards the Pacific Ocean. Into the backing, with me running over basketball sized rocks to catch up to her before I was able to recover some line and get downstream of her. I tend to horse steelhead because I’d rather break them off than tire them out. I tailed her at the bank in deeper water, the fly fell out of her jaw and she was gone, the silver flash of a dream.

I’ve experienced that intuition numerous times in my life. Another occasion had me fishing a run when the feeling came on so strong that I was gobsmacked when the cast swung out without a pull. I had broken my fly off in the brush behind me and didn’t notice. I have no doubt if that size 10 Blue Charm was on the end of my leader I would have gotten a grab.  

That feeling, that intuition, if you will, has fascinated me since I became aware of it many years ago. I can say it’s never been wrong. Empirically I have no data to back that position up. But, I’m not alone. My brother feels a pulse in his rod hand before a tug.  

Photo: Jonathan Barlow

I’ve pondered it deeply and I have a few ideas concerning it; how it develops and how it expands as time goes on. I do not think it is innate. I think there’s an accumulation of experiences and observations that, over time, delivers “the feeling”. A person does have to learn to trust it and, more importantly, notice it.

I’ve been trout fishing with a fly rod for a long time, and steelhead fishing with a fly rod and a floating line for nearly as long. Following what is I think, a natural progression, a person gets a fly rod and starts trying to catch trout. He fails, learns, succeeds, and so on. This progression builds a foundation of observations and experiences that informs current and future endeavors, and not just in fishing.  

Photo: Jonathan Barlow

We all make thousands of decisions every day. Some of the decisions are conscious and some are not.  I’d argue that the majority of the decisions we make are sub conscious. When we drive to the river, we consciously think about things like tackle yet few of us drive the truck by consciously deciding to keep it between the lines. One of the best steeheaders I know, a guy that guides hundreds of days a year and has an enormous dog, is a very deliberate and thoughtful angler. He consciously takes note of water levels, sun position, line angles, etc. It’s what makes a great fisherman. Additionally however, he pulls from a vast storehouse of experience and observation and is able to intuitively predict outcomes.    

Intuition also has broader connotations in daily life. A person that is aware of and trusts all the mysterious forces at play that guide our true selves pulls from experience and observation subconsciously. In my own personal experience, the trust I’ve developed in “the feeling” informs and guides my art, my musicality, and most certainly my fishing. Have you ever been at the vise working on a size 10 Blue Charm and the feeling washes over you that this is special somehow? Sure enough that one fly turns out to be lucky.

When fishing, we take note of every kiss of the breeze, every tendril of sunlight filtered through the trees reflecting on a wet mossy spot in the woods, every run, riffle, pool and tail-out,every seam, foam line, eddy and even the sweet whispered song of the Ousel. These all inform and teach. Listening, observing, and most of all trusting the universe is what solidifies and makes this intuition.  

The point of all this is to try and convince you to trust and nurture your intuition. Pay attention to it. Be observant of circumstances and surroundings. Trust yourself to make subconscious decisions that your true self believes in. These simple actions, while easy to write and say, may prove difficult. 

The payoff for slowing down and expending the effort to be more aware is fantastic. Habitually trusting that feeling, the surety that things will happen as they are intended provides a solid foundation for peace on the water and frankly, more fun.