PAT NEAL: Yes, Virginia, there is a steelhead

I am 8 years old. My family and I have been fishing for steelhead all year and haven’t caught one. Some of my friends say there is no such thing as a steelhead. That they are just imaginary beings that people fish for but never catch. My Papa says “if you see it in the Wilderness Gossip Column, it must be so.” Please tell the truth. Is there any such thing as a steelhead left on the Olympic Peninsula?

Virginia O.

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the fake news of our apoplectic age. They do not believe in anything they cannot catch. They think that there is nothing that swims that they cannot catch with the contents of their little tackle boxes.

In reality, all tackle boxes are little compared to our great rivers where man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the natural wonders that are all around him.

Your friends think they will not be able to catch steelhead in the future because they cannot catch them now. This is incomprehensible since just a few years ago humans could catch all the steelhead they wanted.

Just remember the Earth has been here for billions of years while humans have been here since the day before yesterday, geologically speaking. Man is a greedy insect powerless to control his unbridled lust to subdue and plunder the boundless world about him. He is as unable to grasp the truth and knowledge of the tragedy of his deeds as he is to reverse them for the common good of the planet.

Yes, Virginia, there is a steelhead. We will save them from extinction as certain as we will save the other endangered species that we are creating daily with our busy modern lives. Alas, how dreary would be the world if there were no steelhead? It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginia. Don’t believe we will restore the steelhead? You might as well not believe in leprechauns, lotteries or that big fat tax break for the middle class.

Have your father hire guides to fish the rivers. If they do not catch a steelhead, does that mean there aren’t any? Half the people who go fishing have never caught a fish. What does that prove? Just because you can’t catch a steelhead does not mean they are not there. Believe the steelhead will be restored just as sure as there are leprechauns hiding buckets of gold at the end of the rainbow.

You can tear apart one of the engineered logjams we have spent a fortune making and wonder where the steelhead are. But our child-like faith tells us that just because building logjams hasn’t brought the steelhead back so far, means nothing. We must believe that if we just keep spending billions more, building more logjams, buying more property (from willing sellers), planting more native vegetation and spraying more herbicides on our rivers, we can see that even if this does not bring the steelhead back, we’ll keep on trying as long as the money lasts.

Believe the steelhead will come back, someday somewhere. Our government agencies and career politicians do not lie for money.

No steelhead! That’s ridiculous. Thank God they will live forever. A thousand years from now, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, the steelhead will still swim in our rivers. The only question is: will man still be around?

(With apologies to Francis Pharcellus Church, editor of the New York Sun, Dec. 21, 1897.)


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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