On the river to recovery

By now it has become apparent that my seasonal weather forecast was right.

So far the weather has been cold, dark and wet. Causing inquiring minds to ask, “What will it do to the fishing?”

Plenty, that’s what.

The November rains swelled the rivers up into the flood stage. There’s a popular misconception that floods are bad for fish but that is not true. The high water gives the fish a chance to escape the nylon pollution. Nylon pollution is a term I use for the increasing amounts of nylon fishing gear that clogs up our waters to the point where fish can no longer make it up the rivers.

Once the autumn rains start and the river gets high enough, it levels the playing field so no one can fish. This gives the fish a chance to swim high into the watershed to fill the creeks with spawners.

The high water cleans the summer’s growth of slime and algae from the rocks on the bottom of the river and loosens the gravel, making it easier for fish to dig their nests and spawn.

Floods landscape the rivers with backwaters, log jams, deep pools and shallow runs while flushing the spawned out salmon back to sea where they feed a new generation of life on the ocean floor.

After the floods of autumn we start fishing for the winter run steelhead. If you don’t know what a steelhead is, you probably aren’t from around here.

Steelhead are a type of rainbow trout that are born in a river then migrate out to the ocean. Just like the salmon the steelhead return to the rivers to spawn.

Unlike the salmon, steelhead don’t die after they spawn. They can return to the ocean and grow larger.

The fact is if you have lived your life so far without knowing what a steelhead is, you’re better off not knowing. Fishing for steelhead has been described as a form of frost-bit insanity with no known cure. There is a only a palliative therapy that can be as bad as the disease.

Ironically, some people begin steelhead fishing as the result of another winter malady — cabin fever. This is a debilitating condition that can cause people to sit on the couch and change the channels on the TV until their thumbs bleed.  It is at this point some cabin fever sufferers decide to go winter steelhead fishing.

While it is possible to fish here in the summer in shorts and tennis shoes, fishing in winter can require layers of rubber, neoprene, goose down, wool and fleece for survival.

Chances are by the time you put on enough clothes to stay warm while steelhead fishing you won’t be able to move.

That’s OK.

You may have what it takes to be a plunker. These are people who sit and wait for the fish to come to them. All you need is a large fire, patience and more patience. Others prefer casting their gear out into the river and bouncing it downstream until it snags on something.

Then you have break off your line and tie on something else. Typically, this will happen about every second or third cast.

This means you may need a large tackle box to go steelhead fishing. Buying steelhead tackle is a road to financial ruin made worse by the certain knowledge that you are just going to throw it in the river and lose it all anyway.

The fact is I wouldn’t recommend steelhead fishing to anyone.

Have to go now. It’s time for my steelhead therapy session.

The Gift of the Guides

(Listen to the radio broadcast – click here)

Eighteen dollars and fifty cents. That was all. Most of it was in quarters and dimes, saved one at a time by bargain hunting the tackle stores for hooks, and fishing line and the other essentials for life on the river. Bella and her husband, Raybob lived on a plunking bar along the lower river.  They had moved there to go fishing but it was snowing too hard. Bella looked out onto the gray river under a gray sky and knew that they’d be broke for Christmas. RayBob was a fishing guide and nobody was going to pay to go fishing in a blizzard. Bella counted the money three times, had a good cry, and then powdered her cheeks with some egg cure Raybob had left on the kitchen table. They had met while fishing on the river. Raybob had given Bella a fly he tied himself.
She cast the Dungeness Special as smooth as maple syrup, clear across the river without a ripple on the water and snagged a big spawned out Bull trout right in the pectoral fin. The enraged Bull trout tore off downriver like a runaway shopping cart. It bent Bella’s fine bamboo rod nearly double, and stripped the drag washers off her reel. If there was one possession in which Bella took pride, it was her fine bamboo fly rod made from Tonkin cane her daddy brought back from the war. It was such a fine rod that if Bella and the Queen of Sheba ever fished on the same river, Bella would out fish her ten to one using dull hooks.
And if King Solomon himself ever showed his face on the river with all his fancy fishing tackle, he’d be humbled by Raybob.  He fished the Ray bobber. Raybob had been named after the Ray bobber. It was the best steelhead lure ever invented.  No longer manufactured, the Ray bobber could only be found out on the river, after it had been lost by another fisherman.
Raybob had the largest collection of Ray bobbers in the country. The trouble was he had no place to put them. What Raybob really needed was a tackle box.
Eighteen dollars and fifty cents, it was all the money Bella had for Raybob’s Christmas present. She took her fine Bamboo rod down to a tackle store with a sign that said “We buy Gear.” She sold her fine bamboo rod and bought a fiberglass tuna pole with a roller tip. With the money left over she bought Raybob a gift, a tackle box for his ray bobbers.
Until now Raybob had kept all his lures in a five gallon bucket. It was humiliating watching him empty it out on the beach every time he wanted to find a lure and tie one on.
By 7 o’clock the hot buttered eggnog was ready. Raybob came through the door. There were holes in his rain gear. He had leaky hip boots. His eyes settled on the tuna pole.
“What happened to your fly rod?” he asked
“I sold it to buy you a present. Here, it’s a tackle box on wheels. It’s big enough to hold all your Ray Bobbers.” Bella said. “It might even help you walk upright.
“That’s a nice present,” RayBob said, “but I sold all of my Ray Bobbers so I could buy your present. Here, it’s a brand new fly reel.”
People give gifts at Christmas to commemorate the Magi giving gifts to the Christ child. The Magi were wise men. Nobody ever said fishing guides were wise. But they still give the best gifts they have.

Christmas on a Budget

It’s no secret that the Holidays cause a lot of Holiday stress. I suppose anything worth doing is worth overdoing. I say if it ain’t fixed don’t break it. These days it’s every American’s duty to spend money like a drunken sailor at Christmas to maintain the standard of living that makes our country so cool, unless you can’t. Then all it takes is a little imagination, a few gallons of gasoline, a strong stomach, some rubber gloves and a respirator to turn Christmas on a budget into a free shopping adventure the whole family can enjoy.

The Olympic Peninsula is not only a recreational wonderland filled with hiking, biking and nature activities galore, the back roads of this emerald jewel paradise have become a not-to-be missed dumping ground for many of the local inhabitants. To judge from the refuse along logging roads, recreational dumping is a family affair where you load up the truck with toys, furniture and animal carcasses and head for the freedom of the hills to dump it up in God’s country.

Call it dumping with a view. Some of the more picturesque dumps allow the dumper the thrill of rolling major appliances, engine blocks and offal off a cliff to watch in child-like wonder as it bounces down the mountain. Other more accessible dumps spread the inventory in a wider area allowing the scavenging Christmas gift bargain hunters more choices for their Christmas list.

Often the people who dump garbage are multi-taskers, dropping off unwanted pets with their refuse. While I have long supported a spay-neuter program for pet dumpers, until that happens you have a good chance of picking up a cute little puppy or a box of adorable kittens at your next visit to a wilderness dump. Who wouldn’t want to share that joy of the holiday season?

Have an automotive enthusiast on your Christmas list? You’re in luck. Many hard to find parts for rare 1980 subcompacts lie strewn about the forest floor. Sometimes entire vehicles with as yet undiagnosed mechanical difficulties and minor burn marks lie just under the road awaiting a little TLC to get them purring again.

Sure you may have to sift through a ton of garbage, dirty needles and waste oil containers to get a real Christmas treasure like an exercise bike or a Vegematic or an Elvis painting. That just makes each gift more special. Call it, giving something back to nature or leaving a piece of themselves, the forest dumpers have left private dumps throughout the woods for the rest of us to discover and enjoy. These “boutique” or “designer dumps” are where you find them like, the Dungeness watershed where just downstream, thousands of people get their water.

I once asked a Forest Ranger why they didn’t do like they do in more civilized countries like Montana or Idaho, put a dumpster at the bottom of the logging roads to avoid polluting the aquifer.

“That would never work,” the Forest Ranger said, “because people would just fill the dumpsters with garbage.”

Of course, why didn’t I think of that? And besides dumpster diving could take a lot of fun out of the Christmas recycling experience. Part of the attraction is the thrill of the hunt for bargains in the wilderness. Here’s hoping you find the Christmas dump of your dreams are made of!

Pearl Harbor

(Listen to the radio broadcast – click here)

“December 7, 1941-a day which will live in infamy.” President Roosevelt said these words many years ago. Today December 7 might mean one less shopping day till Christmas. Infamy might be a good name for a rap group or maybe a video game.
December 7 means something else again to “The Greatest Generation” the people who fought World War II.
The debate over whether Roosevelt knew of the impending attack on the Pacific Fleet bottlenecked in Pearl Harbor continues to this day. Whether the attack on Pearl Harbor was indeed a surprise or a cynical manipulation in a geo-political chess game didn’t matter to my mom at the time.  Claire Quigley could see the need for long-range strategic bombers in America’s war against the Axis Powers. And besides, her cousin Jack (Jack Abernathy U.S.N.) got bombed at Pearl Harbor.  That got her Irish up.

Photo of Claire Quigley

Claire Quigley at the beach

Mom’s Birthday is December 1. The attack on Pearl Harbor could have ruined her party. It was pay-back time for Tojo!
There was a war on. Mom had some bombers to build. She found a sleepy little airplane factory down along the Duwamish River, in her home town, Seattle.  In no time mom had the Boeing plant whipped into apple pie order. At one point in the war she was rolling a B-17 Flying Fortress out the door every 49 minutes! Powered by four 1200 horsepower engines the B-17 could carry a crew of ten at speeds of up to 250 miles per hour. It could cruise 400 miles with a ceiling of 35,000 feet. Most importantly, the Flying Fortress could fly even when it was, “shot to hell.”

Cousin Donny (Donald Abernathy, Army Air Corps) always said he worked at a flower shop in the war, no. He was a tail gunner in a B-17, flying support for Uncle Jack’s (Jack Lopresti, US Army) European Expeditionary Force. The B-17 specialized in precision daylight raids, which made them an easy target for the Germans deadly accurate 88mm Flak guns.
In July of 1942 the U.S. began an island hopping campaign in the South Pacific. My dad, (Duane Neal U.S.N.) and uncle Len, (Leonard Neal, USMC) invaded and secured island airfields for Mom’s long and medium range bomber fleet to conduct reconnaissance and bombing missions. As Dad and Uncle Len’s island hopping offensive drew closer to the Japanese home islands, both sides refined their tactics into more horrifying desperate measures.
In February 19, 1945 the U.S. Marines landed on Iwo Jima to secure an airfield so Mom’s planes could bomb Japan. The Japanese defended Iwo Jima with a series of caves and dugouts that withstood the pre-invasion bombardment and waited to ambush the Americans when they could inflict the greatest casualties. The B-17 was the Marines best friend on Iwo Jima, precision bombing enemy positions right next to our front lines.
By 1945 mom was building the larger B-29 bomber. On March 10 1945, 350 of her B-29’s dropped 2,000 tons of magnesium, phosphorous and napalm on Tokyo, incinerating 16 square miles, killing 100,000 people. It remains the single deadliest attack ever inflicted on a civilization. Despite these heavy casualties, the Japanese military continued a fanatical but hopeless defense. That was until mom’s B-29 Bombers dropped two atomic bombs on Japan.
Mom built that bomber fleet, riveting them together in eight-foot sections, one plane at a time until the war was over and there was peace.
After the war mom went on to create the post-war boom in America. She never let on that she was a war hero. Just another patriotic American teenager doing her part to bomb the Axis Powers back to the hell they came from. Thanks Mom and happy birthday, from a proud son and a grateful nation.