Rough Bar Conditions.

IT WAS DAYLIGHT on the water. A heaving deck and the smell of saltwater told me I’d awakened to a real-life nightmare.

In the murk of dawn, I could see heavy surf pounding against sheer cliffs that rose into the fog.

The morning tide was taking us out into the Pacific past the ramparts of A-Ka-Lat, the Quileute fortress at the mouth of the river that bears their name.

It was aptly described by Capt. John Meares in 1788.

He said, “The appearance of the land was wild in the extreme.” Nothing much has changed.

A-Ka-Lat was also a burial ground for chiefs and a lookout for spotting whales and enemy raiders.

That’s how the Quileute saw the Russian brig Sv. Nikolai in 1808. She’d lost her anchors and sails in a November gale and crashed ashore. The 20 survivors of the shipwreck headed south for the Columbia River, where they hoped to find a ship. Instead, they were captured by the Hoh Indians.

Of the original crew of 20 — which included Capt. Nikolai Bulygin’s wife, Anna Petrovna, the first European woman to live in the state of Washington — seven died in captivity, including Petrovna.

The remaining 13 Russians and Aleuts were rescued in 1810 by Capt. J. Brown of the Boston brig Lydia. If it wasn’t for the sharp eyes of the Quileute, we might all be speaking Russian by now.

It wasn’t long before we were over the bar of the Quileute River and out into the towering waves of the open sea.

When the Coast Guard says “rough bar conditions,” they aren’t referring to the nightlife. They don’t call it the Graveyard of the Pacific for nothing.

It was just my luck to get shanghaied out into the middle of it.

Getting shanghaied was an Olympic Peninsula tradition from Grays Harbor to Port Townsend.

With the crew jumping ship to go live with the Indians every time they got near land, what was a sea captain to do but hire on the latest crop of farm boys, loggers or stray fishermen who came to town most any weekend for a spree?

There, a stiff drink and a quick trip through a trap door was your invitation to a new career at sea.

It could take years to get back home, if you ever did.

Once upon a time, a captain tried to capture a whole village.

A Quileute tradition described a large sailing vessel anchoring in the mouth of the river. The captain was attempting to entice visiting tribal members aboard the ship to capture and enslave them. An Aleut woman who was a survivor of the Sv. Nicholai happened to be aboard. She warned the Quileute in their language to get away while they could. The Quileute fled to their fortress atop A-Ka-Lat.

I thought that sort of thing had died out years ago. Then I met some shady characters at a boat ramp. They must have slipped something into my cocoa while I was rearranging my tackle box. The next thing I knew, I was headed out to sea.

Soon, we were working the gear, catching salmon as fast as we could reel them in. Until I had my limit and was just getting in the way.

Entering the cabin, I encountered something more terrifying than the Quileute bar, the captain’s dog, a hundred-pound man-hating female Rottweiler who was growling in close proximity to the swimsuit area.

I kept saying, “Good girl.”

She must have known I was lying.

Then I gave her a doughnut and made a friend. It was good to be alive.

Understanding Our Fishing Laws.

It was another tough week in the news.

The good news is the 2021 Washington State Sport Fishing rules came out. The bad news is the 2021 Washington State Sport Fishing rules came out.

To understand the significance of this annual event, you’d have to believe in Santa Claus.

He knows if you’ve been naughty or nice. You wait, not knowing where you stand, until your sock gets filled with coal or presents.

Some years, that first reading of the fishing laws is like opening Christmas presents. This year, reading the fishing laws is like finding a lump of coal in your Christmas sock.

I have spent years studying our fishing regulations in an attempt to translate them into English.

This is not as easy as it seems. At first, I thought I was just too stupid to figure out our fishing laws. It was then I discovered that most other people couldn’t figure out the fishing laws either. For example, what is a “single barbless hook?”

It was then I suspected the fishing laws were made to be as incoherent as possible for a reason.

The WDFW, which loosely translated means, “We Destroy Fishing in Washington,” is a massive bureaucracy with an enormous budget to match.

By making the fishing laws, also known as the “Fish Cop Employment Security Act,” as complicated as possible, the state was able to develop a lucrative revenue stream that had the game wardens writing so many tickets they got the dreaded tunnel carpel syndrome.

To understand how important it is to obey our fishing laws, it might be helpful to understand how they are made in the first place.

The process begins shortly after Groundhog Day, when the biologists emerge from their burrows beneath a bunker in the basement of the state capitol building.

Here, these dedicated professionals have spent months making fishing laws by spinning a roulette wheel affectionately named “The Best Available Science.”

Each spin of the wheel hires another biologist, creates a new fishing law or shuts down a fish hatchery somewhere.

The biologists then take the raw data to a magic place called the “North of Falcon Meeting,” where the imaginary paper salmon runs are divided between competing groups of commercial, sport and Native American fishers who can only agree on one thing, banning the other guy’s gear.

These are secret meetings, so we are not really sure what they do, but we’re pretty sure we won’t like it.

Shortly after the North of Falcon meetings, it’s April Fool’s Day, time to buy your new Washington State fishing license.

The fishing laws don’t come out until July. I couldn’t find a copy until August, Friday the 13th.

Coincidence? I think not.

Reading this year’s 148-page edition of our fishing laws, one soon realizes the evil genius of the writers.

Just when you think you are a law-abiding ethical angler, they change the law.

The goal of this current philosophy of fisheries management seeks to preserve and protect the resiliency of our iconic salmon and steelhead resources with a series of new laws that anglers will have a doozy of a time trying to figure out.

Biologists have somehow determined that fish hooks are a major cause of fish mortality. At first, they said you could use a single barbless hook to fish. That was wrong.

This year you can only use a single-pointed barbless hook. We can only hope that the best available science doesn’t outlaw fish hooks altogether, but you never know.

Is forbidding fishing with fish hooks foreseeable in our future? We’ll have to read the fishing laws.

Let it Rain.

“Does it always rain like this?” my fancy friend asked recently while huddling under a refreshing morning shower that hit so hard the raindrops seemed to bounce off the surface of the river.

I reassured the soggy tourist that, of course, it didn’t always rain like this. Sometimes, it rains a whole lot harder.

People caught in the rain sometimes have a hard time appreciating the beauty of precipitation.

Without rain, there would be no rainforest. We would eventually burn it down.

Someone tried to burn down the rainforest last week. That is, we can assume a human started the 70-some-acre fire on the south side of the Hoh River that fire crews and helicopters put out.

Humans seem to be the leading cause of wildfires, next to lightning, and we don’t get much lightning in this country.

Nothing will make you appreciate the rain more than not having any.

No one seems to remember the last few summers when the smoke was so thick it seemed like the end of the world, or we were living in California.

Rain is much preferable to the alternative, smoke. With an abundant rainfall, forest fires are much less likely to start and blaze out of control.

Make no mistake, despite the campfire ban, which was declared after the unprecedented heat wave we experienced in June, when the temperature went up to 113 degrees in the Hoh Rainforest, people persist in building fires.

Watching tourists stand around a campfire in 100-and-something-degree heat in a crackling dry forest is a wonder of nature thing. It makes you wonder about the place of people in nature.

A central theme of the campfire experience seems to be the construction of the campfire ring.

These miniature monuments to functional fixedness are found scattered everywhere these days. Along roads, in roads, parking lots and boat ramps — in fact, everywhere you want to be.

One campfire ring seems to spawn others, since no one seems to want to use a used campfire ring. Removing campfire rings has become a full-time job the locals are getting tired of.

The only weapon we have against the current tourist invasion seems to be an abundant supply of rain.

Unfortunately, we just can’t get enough rain. Record numbers of tourists have been crowding the Olympic Peninsula for months now, causing people to wait for hours to get into Olympic National Park.

Tourists waiting to view this World Heritage Site and United Nations Biosphere Reserve typically sit in their cars with the engine running and the air conditioning going, while their children melt into their screens playing video games as they inch their way closer to the fee station in a failed attempt to capture a moment of solitude in a crowded wilderness.

Once past the fee station, the tourists drive like the chase scenes in action-adventure movies with screeching turns around blind corners. Typically, these gangs of tourists drive inches away from the rear bumper of the car in front of them, in a conga-line of cars each itching to pass the other to get behind a different car.

That’s how a bear cub was run over on the Upper Hoh Road last week.

Every tourist on the Peninsula seems to want to see a bear, but no one wants to see one bad enough to run them over. We hope. Observing a bear in the wild is not so cool once it has been run over.

Rain is our only defense against the tourist invasion. We need rain and we need it now.

Who Owns the River: An Apology.

It was wrong to say in a recent column that bureaucrats, biologists and the bull trout owned the Hoh River.

In my own defense, there’s no way you can be an unbiased witness to a crime scene when you are too emotionally involved with the victim of the crime.

Make no mistake, the Hoh River is a victim of the gross mismanagement that can only be described as a crime against nature.

With the elimination of the salmon runs, we have stopped the massive exchange of energy from the ocean to the mountains and back that the salmon represent.

Salmon die after they spawn.

Their carcasses once littered the forest floor, nurturing everything from the tiniest bug to the largest trees in a cycle of renewal that operated since the ice age. We killed it.

The simple fact is, I am too emotionally involved with the Hoh River. Having fished this river since the 1960s and watched it be killed with a torturous death of a thousand cuts, it’s enough to make an old man cry.

Seeing the destruction of the things we love can make us unable to place the events in their historical perspective.

People who were outraged by the slaughter of the estimated 60 million bison that once roamed our great plains simply could not understand how our nation’s industrial revolution required bison hides for conveyor belts lubricated with whale oil.

They could not possibly accept that then, as now, extinction is good for business.

For example, recently Seattle celebrated the arrival of the first Copper River salmon of the season. Flown down from Alaska, they sold for $75 dollars a pound!

Even more amazing is the fact that people lined up to buy these rare salmon.

Would that Alaskan salmon be so expensive if the Puget Sound salmon hadn’t been managed into threatened/endangered species status? No.

When salmon were plentiful here, they were called the poor man’s tuna.

It took this rush to extinction to make salmon worth what it is today.

The fact is, our salmon have become much too valuable to be used as food for the common people.

Our threatened/endangered salmon are now used to fuel a vast salmon restoration industry that has spent an estimated $2 billion on salmon restoration projects with no corresponding increase in the salmon populations.

Instead, we see increasing numbers of threatened/endangered salmon and a decrease in opportunities for people to catch salmon for their own food.

It’s not just the bureaucrats, biologists and the bull trout that own the Hoh River, I forgot to include the so-called “environmental” attorneys and the myriad profit-driven “nonprofit” corporations.

They are the ones constantly blocking proven fish restoration methods that have restored salmon, even in places where they did not previously exist like Chile, New Zealand and Michigan.

For example, we cannot place remote hatch boxes full of fertilized salmon eggs in barren streams with no salmon.

This was previously done by Missy Barlow, a Hoh River resident who built these egg hatch boxes with a 4-H group to restore salmon and steelhead populations on streams all along the lower Hoh River.

We cannot use the native fish of our streams as brood stock to rebuild the runs of salmon and steelhead before they disappear completely.

The fact is, salmon are worth too much to be used to feed humans any more.

Salmon, or the idea of salmon, is now used to feed a vast salmon restoration industry whose gratuitous research, make-work projects and bloated budgets profit from the engineered extinction of salmon.

It’s the end of the last frontier.

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