Don’t shoot the weather prognosticator

Thank you for reading this.
Sometimes I think that if you didn’t read this no one would. I know because you send me such wonderful messages.
It might be time to review the letters policy for a wilderness gossip column. Even the most significant expressions of human thought can appear confused if not downright scary when they are presented in a disorganized fashion.
Remember “Kill” is spelled with two “L’s” and “U” is spelled Y-O-U. Use a little more glue on those letters you clip out of the bass-fishing magazines.
Even the most heartfelt expressions can be difficult to read when they are in a jumble at the bottom of the envelope. Work on your scissor skills, that’s if they still let you have sharp objects.
Even if they don’t and you are nothing but a glue-sniffing bass fisherman just remember, your opinion counts as much as the next guy.
When leaving me a telephone message please include your own telephone number with the cursing and heavy breathing if you wish to have your call returned.
I am just a lowly freelance wilderness gossip columnist. “Freelance” is newspaper talk for “unemployed.”
I am not a clairvoyant. If I was then it might have been possible for me to produce a more accurate long range weather forecast of the viscous winter we are now experiencing.
Some of the more uncharitable readers have recalled that this was the winter that I predicted would be wet, warm and mild.
Now that the governor has declared the state of Washington an official federal disaster area with hundreds of thousands of homes without electricity and uncounted millions in property damage it might be time to review my own winter weather prediction methodology.
This is not an exact science. Based as it is on the appearance of spiders in the fall, the thickness of the husk on an ear of corn, the amount of wax on a winter apple and the fat on a buck’s back.
These observations are valuable weapons in the prognosticator’s arsenal that leave little margin for error.
Still weather prediction errors do occur. I blame the government.
You have to shoot a buck before you can check the fat on his back.
Here in Washington, we manage our game in a way that tries not to hurt anyone’s feelings. So we protect the varmints and leave the hunting season open half the year. Then we wonder why it’s so hard to get a deer.
This year it took me all season to get a buck. Even then it was an accident.
I was cleaning my rifle. I didn’t know it was loaded. The rifle went off and hit a deer. I tried to take him to the vet.
The operation was a success but the patient died. There was a celebration of life, a barbecue.
The old rutting buck was tougher than grandma’s army boot. He had a swelled neck and an empty belly. The tips of his horns were broken off and big chunks of hair were ripped out of his hide from fighting. Even worse, there were two other bullets and buckshot in his carcass.
This guy had been through the wars. No wonder there wasn’t a scrap of fat on him. He was so tough you couldn’t get a fork in the gravy.
As for the corn husks, we had such a dismal summer last year a lot of the corn didn’t ripen. It was the same with the apples that flowered in the spring before it was warm enough for the bees to pollinate them.
Still I should not have misread the spiders. The abundance of their webs is a sure indicator. But they spun their webs too early and by the time I went to count them, the wind was blowing too hard.
Given this prognosticator’s record, all I have to say about the rest of the winter is it’s not over yet.

Patience, patience, patience

My last episode emphasized the importance of patience when fishing for the winter run steelhead. This is a waiting game.
First you must wait for the rain to raise the rivers enough to get the fish upstream. So you wait for it to rain, but then it’s a flood. A flooding Hoh River can come up three feet in an hour until it’s 10 times the size it was the day before.
Making it look like a gigantic chocolate milkshake with some trees floating in it. Fishing is out of the question on a river that can take out Highway 101 any time it wants. You have to wait for the high water to drop. You want the rivers low enough to fish. You’ll need a spell of cold weather for that, with crisp mornings in the ‘teens. This is winter fishing at its finest, except the fish become sluggish in the cold. They’ll hardly wiggle when you hook them. Sometimes a frostbit steelhead will just sort of swim right up to you like they want you to put them out of their misery. Once the edges of the river and the surface of the slower holes start icing up, fishing becomes a whole lot tougher.
Back in the last century we used to fish the canyon below the Elwha Dam for winter steelhead. It’s funny how back then, in the 1960s and early ’70s the Elwha River was one of the top steelhead streams in Washington. Then something happened. The fish on the Elwha went from being food to Endangered Species. We’re still studying the problem.
The river was freezing over. That did not stop us from climbing down into that canyon. Where, in order to land a steelhead you had to skid it over a ten foot section of ice that was too thick for the fish to break and too thin to walk on. Many a hefty lunker released themselves on the edge of the ice before a rapt audience of expectant onlookers who dispensed their helpful remarks with the certainty that you would never land the fish.
These were plunkers. At the time I was plunking with them. It wasn’t my fault. Heck, I started out just fishing for sea-run cutthroat with worms.
One day I went fishing with some plunkers. They started catching fish and before I knew it, I was a plunker too. It’s not something you have to be ashamed of anymore. Plunkers are people too.
Plunking is a stationary method of fishing that allows you to fish in the worst weather. It makes me madder than a pepper-sprayed protester to hear how plunkers are nothing but a bunch of lazy drunks who throw a rig out in the river, sit in their truck and do beer curls.
Fishing while intoxicated may not be a crime in Washington, (yet) but driving or even having an open container in your vehicle is.
Drinking and driving on the North Olympic Peninsula is stupid. The Washington State Patrol sends its new troopers up here to toughen up on the loggers. Once the loggers get done breaking in the new troopers, you definitely don’t want to get pulled over by them. You want to mind your manners in town too.
The mayor of Forks recently warned motorists that if they park on the sidewalk “you will meet a police officer.”
The fact is it’s a bad idea to drive at all in this weather unless it’s absolutely necessary. Maybe we all need a little more patience.
I’m going to wait till it warms up to fish.

A river of brotherly love

Sometimes it seems like patience must be about the rarest thing on Earth.
There could be many reasons for this.
I’m in a bit of a hurry but let me explain. We live in an age of misinformation and labor saving technology where people have no time for patience. This is nowhere more apparent than in the competitive world of steelhead fishing.
Patience was once thought to be a virtue by anglers and other philosophers. Fishing, according to Isaac Walton, “Begat habits of peace and patience to those who practiced it.”
That was, of course, written in the 1600s. Fishing has gotten a lot worse since then. I blame myself, but there are now 7 billion other people who might have had something to do with it.
The fact is the fishing is going to get a whole lot worse until it gets better.
The worse fishing gets the more you need a guide.
In the old days all you needed to be a fishing guide was a big hat, a tin boat and a riot gun.
The guides had a feeling of brotherly love, or not. The rules were strict. You didn’t crowd another guide out of a hole, heck, you wouldn’t launch on a section of river with another guide on it. Disputes could be settled with guns, clubs or gaff hooks by participants who Johnny Winter might say have “been smokin’ whiskey, been drinking cocaine.”
The one bunch you made sure you didn’t mess with was the plunkers. These usually armed and dangerous anglers could be identified by large smoky fires on the riverbank.
Plunking was a family affair where children were treasured as a most valuable resource because on a good day you could always put an extra fish on their punch cards.
The plunkers cast their gear out into a portion of the river used as a travel lane by the migrating fish. Knowing where the fish were moving up the river was the key to success. The plunkers stuck their rod in a holder that had been pounded into the beach, put a bell on the end on their rod and waited patiently for it to ring.
Conflicts between plunkers and boat fishermen were inevitable. The driftboaters called the plunkers a bunch of lazy drunks which was a lot like pot calling the kettle drunk.
Then there was the time the young guide rowed through the plunking hole with his anchor dangling down in the water. It was an inadvisable maneuver that snagged a half-dozen plunking rigs.
That set the bells to ringing!
The plunkers scrambled to their rods showering curses as I tried to explain how I just wanted to see what they were using for bait.
Professional requirements for fishing guides have become much more demanding in recent years.
These days to be a guide you will require an attorney to understand the fishing laws, a smart phone to post your latest fishing statistics on your othermost important guide tool, the Web site (www.patnealwildlife.com).
These sites all talk about the great fishing on the Olympic Peninsula. None of them mention that catching these fish could require patience.
This can lead to misunderstandings. Anglers who have spent their lives watching fishing shows on TV can be especially disappointed when fishing on a real-life river is slower than it is on TV.
That’s where I provide a counseling service that explains the value of patience in our lives.
We’re fishing for the fish of a lifetime, that may take a lifetime to catch.
What is your hurry?

Loggers I have known

Lately someone asked me to write a story about loggers, which is a real coincidence since I happen to be in the middle of writing a book titled “Loggers I Have Known.”
Loggers have gotten a bad reputation lately. They are blamed for everything from noise pollution to cutting down trees. 
Fair enough. Loggers do cut down trees.
That might be a good thing. If you’re reading this on paper, made from wood, inside a house built of wood, that’s warm and toasty on a frozen morning because you have a wood stove.
You should thank a logger and count your blessings. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have indoor plumbing. What toilet is complete without toilet paper?
Would aluminum foil be a sustainable substitute in this age of environmental awareness?
Loggers do make noise but one man’s noise pollution is another man’s job.
It seems as if people these days would rather have trees rot in the woods and make soil than give someone a job cutting a board out of them.
They believe it’s the topsoil that grows trees. If that was true then the world record sized cedar, fir, hemlock and spruce of the Olympic Peninsula rain forest would be growing someplace with topsoil like Iowa.
They don’t. Our trees grow out of steep mountains of solid rock.
That’s where Clyde found us logging on the dawn of a frosty morning.
We were trying to untangle a chunk of rusty wire rope with marlin spikes and hammers. All part of an effort to salvage some old-growth windfalls cut them into cants and recycle them into someone’s house.
“This reminds me of the last Depression,” Clyde observed.
He should know. Clyde was born in a logging camp, grew up in the Great Depression then shipped overseas in the war, the big one, WWII.
Then he came home to make the post war boom that made our country so cool. Clyde had logged more timber than we would ever see in our lifetime. By then Clyde was retired so he had plenty of time to “shoot the breeze” and we almost had enough sense to listen.
Our logging show was a pleasant setting, with mossy rocks for benches around a stump fire where a Dutch oven full of elk stew bubbled to one side and plenty of hot coffee. Clyde watched the proceedings for a while and said, “I’ve got just the thing you need in my truck.”
That much was true.
Inside the back of Clyde’s truck there was enough tools and survival equipment to build a cabin. He rummaged around for a while and came up with a magic tool, the black powder wedge.
This was an antique explosive device about the size of a quart bottle that you filled with gunpowder pounded into a log and ignited. The explosion would then split the log lengthwise, saving us the trouble of cutting it into cants.
The trouble was it had been so long since Clyde had used the exploding wedge he had forgot just how much powder you should use.
“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing,” Clyde said as he filled the wedge to the brim full of powder. Then he pounded it into the end of a log while I hid behind a large stump.
After several attempts to light the fuse there was a loud “Boom”
When the smoke cleared I poked my head around the stump. The log was shattered into kindling sticks. Clyde was still standing there, wondering where I went off to.
That was a good day’s logging.