An Old Fish Story.

IT CAN BE educational to look back at the history of the Olympic Peninsula and realize how much things have changed.

One of the most vivid accounts of what was once known as “The Last Frontier” comes from Pvt. Harry Fisher, a member of the 1890 O’Neil Expedition which set out to explore and map Terra Incognita, the rugged mountains between Hood Canal and Quinault.

O’Neil sent four men from the expedition to map Mount Olympus, which three of the men climbed, on Sept. 22.

A fourth, Pvt. Harry Fisher, got lost and separated from the group.

He decided to head west alone down what would later be determined to be the Queets River.

His supplies consisted of flour, bacon, bear fat and some salt. He also had a knife and 36 rounds for his revolver.

Fisher cooked grouse in bear fat, finding it surprisingly good and after spearing a salmon, he declared it better than bear or dog meat.

Fisher reported that sleeping along the Queets was like “a camp in Barnum’s Menagerie as far as sleep was concerned.”

Between the thrashing of the salmon in the river and the breaking of brush by the large animals hunting the salmon, he had a hard time sleeping.

On Sept 26, Pvt. Fisher was hailed by an Indian who was also named Fisher.

He offered the private a canoe ride downriver.

Fisher described the Native American method of taking salmon — how his friend could nail a salmon 20 or 30 feet away with a forked spear. When his host had speared six large salmon, he quit fishing. Fisher describes his “staunch friend” watching the many splashing salmon with “pride, as a farmer would his cattle.”

A recent float down the Queets River revealed a far different world than the one described by Fisher.

There are no homesteads or fish-drying racks.

There are no V-shaped ripples in water 4-feet deep, made by giant king salmon swimming upriver in uncounted hordes.

You have to wonder how, in a few short years, our rivers could be fished to extinction.

It might have something to do with a Native American legend about where the salmon came from in the first place.

It was believed the salmon came from a big house at the bottom of the ocean where they lived in human form.

When it was time for the run, they put on salmon robes.

The salmon runs were a voluntary sacrifice for mankind, the animals and the forest.

As long as the salmon were treated with honor, their bones washed and returned to the river, the fish would run forever.

To say we do not treat our salmon with honor these days is an understatement.

Instead of treating our salmon with honor, we treat them like a crop picked from a garden that we don’t plant.

Predictably, the harvest has gotten smaller.

We have not allowed enough spawners up the rivers to fulfill their role as the most important part of the ecosystem by feeding the watershed with their bodies.

Our rivers used to stink with dead salmon during the fall run.

In the last few years, our rivers have become sterile and silent.

The fish have become threatened or endangered.

In the last 20 years, the Salmon Restoration Industry has spent somewhere over a billion dollars attempting to rescue 15 endangered steelhead and salmon populations in the Puget Sound Region, with no corresponding increase in fish populations.

Still, we continue these same vain efforts.

Einstein said repeating the same failed experiment was the definition of insanity.

Today, we call it salmon management.

An Old Fish Story.

IT CAN BE educational to look back at the history of the Olympic Peninsula and realize how much things have changed.

One of the most vivid accounts of what was once known as “The Last Frontier” comes from Pvt. Harry Fisher, a member of the 1890 O’Neil Expedition which set out to explore and map Terra Incognita, the rugged mountains between Hood Canal and Quinault.

O’Neil sent four men from the expedition to map Mount Olympus, which three of the men climbed, on Sept. 22.

A fourth, Pvt. Harry Fisher, got lost and separated from the group.

He decided to head west alone down what would later be determined to be the Queets River.

His supplies consisted of flour, bacon, bear fat and some salt. He also had a knife and 36 rounds for his revolver.

Fisher cooked grouse in bear fat, finding it surprisingly good and after spearing a salmon, he declared it better than bear or dog meat.

Fisher reported that sleeping along the Queets was like “a camp in Barnum’s Menagerie as far as sleep was concerned.”

Between the thrashing of the salmon in the river and the breaking of brush by the large animals hunting the salmon, he had a hard time sleeping.

On Sept 26, Pvt. Fisher was hailed by an Indian who was also named Fisher.

He offered the private a canoe ride downriver.

Fisher described the Native American method of taking salmon — how his friend could nail a salmon 20 or 30 feet away with a forked spear. When his host had speared six large salmon, he quit fishing. Fisher describes his “staunch friend” watching the many splashing salmon with “pride, as a farmer would his cattle.”

A recent float down the Queets River revealed a far different world than the one described by Fisher.

There are no homesteads or fish-drying racks.

There are no V-shaped ripples in water 4-feet deep, made by giant king salmon swimming upriver in uncounted hordes.

You have to wonder how, in a few short years, our rivers could be fished to extinction.

It might have something to do with a Native American legend about where the salmon came from in the first place.

It was believed the salmon came from a big house at the bottom of the ocean where they lived in human form.

When it was time for the run, they put on salmon robes.

The salmon runs were a voluntary sacrifice for mankind, the animals and the forest.

As long as the salmon were treated with honor, their bones washed and returned to the river, the fish would run forever.

To say we do not treat our salmon with honor these days is an understatement.

Instead of treating our salmon with honor, we treat them like a crop picked from a garden that we don’t plant.

Predictably, the harvest has gotten smaller.

We have not allowed enough spawners up the rivers to fulfill their role as the most important part of the ecosystem by feeding the watershed with their bodies.

Our rivers used to stink with dead salmon during the fall run.

In the last few years, our rivers have become sterile and silent.

The fish have become threatened or endangered.

In the last 20 years, the Salmon Restoration Industry has spent somewhere over a billion dollars attempting to rescue 15 endangered steelhead and salmon populations in the Puget Sound Region, with no corresponding increase in fish populations.

Still, we continue these same vain efforts.

Einstein said repeating the same failed experiment was the definition of insanity.

Today, we call it salmon management.

Living in a Smokehouse.

This week has been like living in a smokehouse with swirling masses of smoke blowing in from every direction. We are reminded of the value of what we take for granted, clean air. People wonder if things have ever been this bad. A short look back into history will tell us things have been this bad and a lot worse.

All you have to do is look at a map and notice names like Burnt Hill, Burnt Mountain, Mt. Baldy and Baldy Ridge or look at some of the old photographs of the mountains above Sequim and Port Angeles with the bare hills in the background to know that almost all of the Olympic Peninsula has been burned at one time or another.

Native Americans traditions confirm this theory with legends of fires sweeping across the entire region. These fires may be connected to the Medieval Warm Period between 900 and 1300 AD when global temperatures were warmer than the present.

The arrival of the Europeans caused still more fires. In 1868 smoke from forest fires was so thick that sailing ships in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound had to navigate by compass. One captain gave up and anchored in the smoke reporting that dead birds fell by the hundreds around the ship.

The early homesteaders looked upon the forests as weeds that got in the way of agriculture. They used fires to clear their stump ranches and fires got away.

The book, “Dungeness, the Lure of the River,” describes a Happy Valley feud in the 1870’s where one neighbor tried to burn out another by starting a forest fire. The wind shifted and the fire burned south. That’s how Burnt Hill got its name. The fire traveled west across Blue Mountain to Mount Angeles.   

September 12, 1902 saw the smokiest day on record when homesteaders on the Queets and Hoh Rivers noticed that the sky got so dark the chickens went back to the roost shortly after sunrise. This was caused by a cloud of smoke and ash coming from the Yacolt burn on the Lewis River in Clark county. The smoke from the Yacolt Burn was so thick in Seattle the streetlights came on at noon. One theory claimed the fire was started by some boys trying to burn up a hornet’s nest down in Oregon. The fire jumped the Columbia River travelling 30 miles in 36 hours. 38 people died in the fire.

In 1907 a rotten log that had been smoldering just west of Lake Crescent burst into flames with a strong east wind burning 12,000 acres. The burn was replanted by 1910 only to be burned again in 1926 when a passing motorist tossed a cigarette out the window and started another fire.

That’s nothing compared to the Forks Fire of September 1951 when another east wind fanned another smoldering log into another fire that burned 30,000 acres and almost incinerated Forks.

After the fire, roads were built through the Forks burn for timber salvage and fire protection. Unfortunately, instead of maintaining our forest access roads for fire protection and recreation many have been removed as an excuse for salmon restoration. Building the forest roads caused erosion but taking them out causes still more erosion. Erosion from roads is bad but erosion and collateral damage from forest fires is worse.

When and not if we have another fire, these roads would have been a valuable asset to fire fighters. With forest access roads eliminated we have one less tool to fight forest fires. Which could prove things can always be worse.

The Love Boat


And so, another tourist season passes astern. This year’s tourist season has been a record setting invasion that’s caused miles-long traffic jams to get on the ferries. Olympic National Park was packed with people. They closed Lake Cushman. There were hour-long waits to go to Hurricane Ridge and get into the Hoh Rain Forest.

The tourists were rarin’ to get out and go anywhere after being cooped up in quarantine for months. Anywhere that is within the confines of our borders. Americans are not welcome in other countries. We cannot even escape to Canada. The tourists panicked with their new found freedom. They got lost, fell off rocks and someone started a forest fire keeping our wild land’s emergency responders hopping all summer.

This summer, it was tougher than ever to get away from it all. We weren’t going to raft at all this year but then the Covid 19 restrictions lessened to phase two and every other raft company in the country was doing it so we did it to.

That meant there could be no mixing of groups of rafters in the raft or shuttle van with sanitizing all equipment between each use and using gloves and masks where appropriate. There’s been a lot of controversy about wearing masks. Some folks would rather pack a pistol than wear a mask and that is their Constitutional right as Americans and another reason why, with only 4% of the world’s population we have 25% of the world’s Covid 19 deaths.

Internet rumors hint that masks can endanger the wearer with sickness or even death which would be news to doctors, nurses, dentists and other health care workers who spend their entire careers wearing masks.

Sure, masks are a hassle but so is intubation. They say you can’t exercise with a mask on and that may be true. I can only row 18 miles a day down the river while wearing a mask but that’s far enough for me. I tend to look on the bright side. They say you can tell if a guide is lying if his lips are moving. When you’re wearing a mask it almost isn’t fair. Wearing a mask, it’s possible to spawn any half-baked fable you can dream up and the tourists will suck it up like the Gospel truth.

The crowds and the traffic did not improve anyone’s temper. The tourists were tired, hot and cranky. Then they got in the raft. Most enjoyed the scenic tour through a rainforest canyon while watching elk, bear, otters and eagles beneath a canopy of giant trees. Unless they were American teenagers.

The American teenager and children in general have little inclination to enjoy a nature experience that does not involve a video game. Faced with the prospect of a two hour raft trip, they invariably claim to suffer from a variety of physical maladies and chronic pain issues with bad backs, arms, necks and legs. The symptoms of which they freely share throughout the trip to which I respond,

“Wait till you’re my age.”

These pampered, (American) children sit in the raft like they are going to the dentist while mommy and daddy ask them if they are ok every thirty seconds, offering drinks and snacks or to put on or take off their hat or coat or sunglasses or sunscreen.

The parents only want the child to smile for a picture for a memory of a family vacation where they spent thousands on plane tickets, rental cars, RV’s, hotels, motels, meals, souvenirs and yes, raft trips but no, the kid refuses to smile for a picture.

Then there are other days. The ones we will remember all winter. We watch the mood of the river change with the passing of the seasons. Every day brings a new hint of fall with random patches of red and orange vine maples splashed across hillsides that echo the bugling elk. A quiet young couple sat in the front of the raft. While we were watching an eagle circling far above another eagle caught a fish in the river just downstream and landed on a log on the shore to eat it. I said we’re just going to sit and watch the eagle eat the fish if they didn’t have anything better to do. They didn’t.

They put down their paddles and sat together in the center of the raft. He gave her something and she started crying. Then she said yes and he started crying. Things were getting weird so I asked them what the heck was going on up there.

He said he asked her to marry him and she said yes so, I started crying. I told them that by the powers vested in me as captain of the ship I could get them hitched right then and there but they were going to plan a big family wedding back home.

So, I started singing the theme from the Love Boat and rowed them down the river. It was the best raft trip this summer.

Migrants.

There are few birds more annoying to watch than the common nighthawk. This nocturnal member of the goatsucker family seems incapable of flying in a straight line for more than a few feet before spiraling up and diving down in a short looping flight pattern that can make a even a casual observer dizzy if you watch them long enough.

Of course, the nighthawk has a good excuse for flying like someone who has no motor control. They are hunting insects which seldom fly in a straight line either. The only thing worse than watching a single nighthawk is to watch a large flock of these nocturnal insectivores competing for the same air space. You wait for the inevitable high-speed collision of these feathered boomerangs but it never happens. Often while watching nighthawks you’ll hear a buzzing sound, not unlike a car hitting the rumble strip on a distant highway. It is in fact a sound produced by the wing feathers as the bird pulls out of a vertical suicide dive and heads up for another go round. Thankfully, the nighthawks are only here for a few short summer months before flying to South America for the winter.

The only thing worse than watching nighthawks is to observe the swift in flight. The swift is like a stealth version of the swallow with a forked tail and swept back wings that make it one of the fastest flying birds we have. Clocked at over one hundred miles per hour it must be a very short flight from here to their wintering grounds in the Amazon Basin of South America.

You’ll discover what an annoying pest the swift can be when they take up residence in your chimney where the roar of their wings will make you think you’re having a chimney fire when there is no fire in the stove. Fortunately these foreign visitors seem to have abandoned our skies somewhat earlier than normal this year.

Unfortunately, the absence of these annoying birds heralds the arrival of other migrants from the north whose appearance is not a good thing. Sandpipers are a small, drab, nervous shore bird that include a motley collection of twenty some species which often appear so similar that only a so-called bird-watching expert will bother to tell them apart.

All members of the sandpiper family share a similar pointed beak which they use to probe the shoreline for a disgusting array of gooey invertebrates on which they feed. Sandpipers are among our earliest migrating birds, moving along the coast and gathering in vast flocks that can have the disturbing appearance of an amoeba in the sky.

The arrival of the sandpiper is soon followed by that most beautiful of ducks, the Northern Pintail. Slender, elegant and colorful, the pintail is has been called the “greyhound of the skies” because of the speed at which it flies. Then again the pintail could be compared to a greyhound because it tastes like dog meat when cooked. That is just a theory. All we know for sure is the pintail is one of the earliest migrants to the Peninsula. Flying from the Arctic Ocean to as far south as Central America the sight of the first pintail is a good sign something bad is about to happen.

The fog which normally blankets the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the fall has hung around for half the summer. The spiders are numerous and moving indoors. The corn husks are extra thick. This is all evidence to the fact that an early winter will be dark, wet and cold.

The Bucket List.

Bucket list. It’s hard to think of a more frightening concept for our senior citizens. The phrase comes from a 2007 movie where the rich Jack Nicholson and the economically challenged Morgan Freeman meet each other in a hospital where they are both being treated for terminal cancer.

The movie soon deteriorates into an ego-fueled fantasy where the two decide to embark on a whirlwind around the world journey to do everything they ever wanted to do before they “kick the bucket.” This was a very popular movie. The bucket list is a concept that fostered the idea that people can live their entire lives putting off the things they want to do then make up for it all later if they have the money and the time.

Sadly, people with money seldom have time. Conversely, people with time seldom have money. People with no time or money, a group which most of us fall into, have little chance of gratifying whatever illusory whims we think will make our life worthwhile in the end.  

More often than not, this is simply not possible. For example, I used to enjoy backpacking into the Olympic Mountains. Backpacking could be considered a form of torture outlawed by the Geneva Convention if not for the fact that it is self-inflicted. We enjoyed this outdoor activity anyway. Lately however we’ve noticed that with the effects of plate tectonics and continental drift these mountains have been rising higher. In fact, the Olympics are much higher and steeper than when we used to climb them as kids. Even the flat spots seem to have gotten further apart for some reason. So, I don’t go backpacking anymore.

Instead I help others fulfill their life goals with an empathetic sensibility to their physical limitations. If you can fake that you may have a future in the tourist industry.

As a fishing and rafting guide, I have taken many people fishing and rafting that have no business getting into a fishing boat or a raft with sometimes disastrous results. There was the guy who burst his colostomy bag on a fishing trip on a hot summer day. That was an epic day on the water.

Then there was the lady who had a broken arm in a cast. She wanted to paddle a raft down the river. And you know what? She did. It’s called dealing with the public. If we only took people who were physically and mentally fit, who had a good attitude and an appreciation of the effort it takes to provide recreational activities, we would seldom be employed.

Then there was the lady who was recovering from back surgery who wanted to go white water rafting. I congratulated the lady for her successful operation and observed that she must have endured intense suffering for years.

She said yes, that the pain was unimaginable but, I know back pain and what it’s like to lay on the floor for three days unable to get up and we agreed. I said the operation must have been very expensive and she said yes it was over a hundred thousand dollars and her insurance wouldn’t pay for all of it.

I wondered why, after enduring all of the physical and financial pain and suffering, she would risk it all to go rafting. It was the bucket list thing, an unrealistic expectation. When it comes to bucket lists, the sooner you realize your expectations are unrealistic the better. Don’t wait till the end to do what you want. Make your life your bucket list. I talked her out of rafting.

Lake Crescent.

Crescent

A recent survey asked some locals about their favorite place to take visitors. Some said the mountains or the beach but no one mentioned Lake Crescent. This is unfortunate since this beautiful body of water has played such a large role in making Clallam County what it is today.

There are two theories on exactly how Lake Crescent was formed. Either by the Cordilleran Ice Sheet that covered the area until about 14,000 years ago or by a landslide sent from the top of Mt. Storm King by the evil giant Seatco that ended a three day battle between the Clallam and the Quileute and dammed the Lyre River forming Lake Crescent.

Lake Crescent was said to have remained uninhabited. It was haunted by Seatco. Recent archaeological surveys have determined Lake Crescent was home to Native Americans as evidenced by the large numbers of cedar trees that bear the scars of having the bark, which was used for clothing, stripped off them.  

In 1849, two Hudson Bay trappers paddled their canoe from Victoria, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Crescent Beach where they were adopted by the S’Klallams. From there they worked south into the foothills of the Olympics where they discovered Lake Crescent.

Trappers are generally secretive. They don’t want to give away their best hunting ground. Lake Crescent remained largely undiscovered until the summer of 1895 when the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet under the command of Rear Admiral Leslie A.Beardslee dropped anchor in Port Angeles harbor. What was an isolated frontier town welcomed the Navy with open arms.

Admiral Beardslee was a fisherman. Wanting to make a good impression the city fathers wisely took the Admiral on a fishing trip to Lake Crescent where he caught 350 trout in one day! The Admiral spent so much time fishing at Lake Crescent they named a trout after him. The Beardslee trout, named after the Admiral and the Crescenti, named after the lake are unique species that occur only in Lake Crescent.

E.B. Webster in his classic book, “Fishing in the Olympics” describes the Beardslee striking a lure at 25 miles an hour, peeling hundreds of feet of line while jumping six or seven feet in the air. Webster saw a fight between a Tacoma angler with light tackle and an eleven-pound Beardslee that lasted for three hours and forty-five minutes!

Eventually, a dozen fishing resorts popped up around the shores of Lake Crescent trying to catch the Admiral’s fish. In 1912 Dr. Louis Dechman built a health spa resort on the North Shore of the lake called, “Eugenika, Goddess of the Better Race Sanatorium and Biological Institution.” The name was later shortened to “Qui Si Sana,” or, “Here is Health.”

Dr. Deckman was a promoter who claimed he could cure influenza, tuberculosis and childhood paralysis. Some of the locals said he cured bored housewives with something called Bio-Therapy. This involved the complex process of ‘cleansing the blood,’ whatever that meant.

The English writer Fitzherbert Leather described the strenuous health regime at Qui Si Sana, breathing plenty of ozone rich air with seven course gourmet meals and fine wines served in the luxurious main hall and healthful walks through the fabulous gardens and orchards filled with statues exhibiting themes of breast feeding and female pulchritude at its finest.

Sadly, Qui Si Sana did not last. Only two of the historic Lake Crescent resorts survive to the present. Lake Crescent Lodge was originally Singers’ Tavern. That’s where Franklin Roosevelt stayed when he toured the Peninsula in 1937 to consider the creation of Olympic National Park. In 1938 the Park was dedicated at the nearby Rosemary Inn, which has been restored as the Olympic Park Institute. Lake Crescent is not only a beautiful place, it has a lot of history for such a small area which makes it a great place to take a visitor.

Can You Eat the Fish?

Lately a tourist asked me how and where they could catch and eat a fish. This is a common question that can lead us down the garden path through a legal morass of Byzantine regulations that have done much to delegate the barbaric practice of catching and eating a fish into our dark and primitive past.

Just a relatively few years ago, our waters were a place where poor people could obtain a delicious high-quality protein that was there for the catching. There was a culture of fishing and eating fish that had evolved since the last ice age when the glaciers melted, the rivers formed and were filled with salmon. These fish were an important food source for Native Americans and the European invaders who transformed the salmon into fodder for the murderous industrial fisheries, that produced the fortunes made in the exploitation of what was considered an “inexhaustible’ resource.

The salmon shared the fate of another “inexhaustible” resource the people relied on to build their homes, the old-growth timber. It was the best timber in the world, cut and sold as raw logs that were exported to the far east to the point where it has become economically extinct.

Now days our forests and waters have been transformed from a public resource to be shared by us all to a career opportunity for gangs of grant-sucking bureaucrats, biologists, consultants and heavy equipment operators to pad their resume’s with multi-million dollar pie in the sky so-called “restoration” experiments that do nothing to bring the fish back.

The more endangered our fish become, the more valuable they are to the salmon restoration industry. In many cases, our fish are much too valuable as endangered species to allow people to eat them. Our tourist visitors are often unaware of the legal implications of eating a fish.

First, they would have to consult the hundred and some odd page Washington State Fishing Regulations. Otherwise known as the “Fish Cop Employment Security Program” it is a wealth of information that can make for some interesting reading if you are a legal scholar. If you are not, it’s like we say on the river,

“If you cannot afford and attorney you probably can’t afford to go fishing.” The fishing rules as they are written in the fishing law pamphlet are so confusing that generally no two anglers can agree on just what they mean. I once asked a fish cop about the rules on a section of river and he said he didn’t know because he just got here.

The funny thing is I’ve lived here my whole life and often can’t figure out what the rules are. The only thing more confusing than the paper version of our fishing laws would be plunging into the depths of the WDFW, (We Destroy Fishing in Washington) website. Here, the legal scholar might find a reference to the dreaded “Emergency Closure.” While emergency closures to fishing are very common in Washington there has never to my knowledge been an emergency opening of a fishery.

For example, the printed version of the fishing regulations say the Hoh River is open to fishing. The WDFW website says the river has been closed to fishing. This is news to the many tourist anglers trying their luck on the river these days. They would possibly be even more surprised to learn that any fish they caught was illegal to keep even if the river was open for fishing.

Leaving only one word of advice for people who want to catch and eat a fish, don’t.

Tourist’s Revenge.

Sometimes it’s fun to make fun of the silly questions that tourists ask like,

“Is the weather always like this?” Or “Why do loggers wear suspenders?” But it’s not so much fun when the tourists ask a question that is difficult to answer. That’s because tourists are generally a lot smarter than I am. Many of our tourists have travelled the world while I’ve been stuck here my whole life going nowhere fast.

In this age of information people who choose to spend their vacation on the Olympic Peninsula really do their research. Our visitors are very much aware of local environmental issues that have made the national news. Such as the plight of our Southern Resident Orca endangered by the extinction of our salmon. Sometimes tourists ask questions that are extremely difficult and painful to answer. It’s like the ultimate tourist’s revenge when they ask a disturbing question like,

“How has the river changed?”

That hurts. It’s like asking how a friend has changed after they died. The death of the river was a death that took years to achieve. Just a few years ago, the glaciers were much larger and when the spring melt began the river ran higher, colder and with more volume longer into the summer.

Along about the middle of August the spring chinook, which entered the river in the spring and spent the summer in the river ripening their spawn, were laying their eggs in the gravel. As the month progressed the fish would spawn and die, carpeting the shore with their spawned-out bodies.

Bears came down to the river to catch salmon and spread fish remains across the forest floor. Bears were seen by the Native Americans as the mother of all creatures because they caught more fish than they could eat. They fed the other creatures that couldn’t catch fish for themselves. Science has confirmed this relationship by identifying an estimated 137 species of birds and animals that feed on spawned out salmon. In the process the remains of the spawned-out salmon were spread across the forest floor fertilizing the trees.

The smell was terrific. The water was alive with salmon thrashing in the shallows making a commotion that sounded like a herd of elk crossing the creek.

As summer turned into fall the biggest runs of salmon came upstream. The fall rains would flood the river and tributaries allowing the salmon access to the tiniest little creeks deep into the forest recycling the nutrients from the ocean to the forest and back again in an ecosystem that had functioned since the last ice age, until now.

These days the air along the river is fresh and pure. Which would normally be a good thing but the smell of fresh air is the smell of death on the river. With the salmon gone, the eagles, otters and even the mergansers have largely disappeared.

Once upon a time, people were allowed to help the salmon. They re-placed boxes of fertilized salmon eggs in the creeks. The fish would hatch and migrate out to sea without having to be fed at a hatchery for a year. Unfortunately, the use of remote hatch boxes to bring back the salmon in our streams is no longer allowed by the powers that be.

Instead, they build log jams with steel I beams and spray herbicides along the river to bring the salmon back. It is a shameful excuse for environmental stewardship that had done nothing for the salmon.

The fact is tourist questions aren’t so funny anymore.  

The Fish Camp.

It’s the simple things that I enjoy most about the fish camp, like the smell of burning driftwood and watching the sparks from the fire shoot up into the sky to join the stars before they fade. Or land on your tent to smolder as you remember you forgot the fire extinguisher. Then there are the night sounds of the wilderness. The distant hoot of the owl, the electric crackle of the bug zapper and the gentle murmur of a twenty-five hundred-watt gasoline-powered generator that tells you its summertime and the living is easy. Experienced campers know you must organize your supplies and prioritize your equipment to maximize your enjoyment of the outdoors. Life in the wilderness can test a woodsman’s skill. There’s a lot more to wilderness survival than being able to start a fire with just a single highway flare, cauterize a wound with gunpowder or siphon gas. The first rule of camping is to avoid taking along a lot of useless stuff that you just don’t need.

Still it’s the little things that can make a big difference between a memorable outdoor experience and a life-threatening disaster that tests the endurance of the human spirit. I once knew a camper who put all his food in plastic bags to cut down on weight and save space. Unfortunately, he was too busy to label the plastic bags, relying instead on a keen culinary instinct to tell the difference between sugar and spice. I carefully measured a cup of borax, a type of powdered soap used to cure fish eggs for bait, into the morning hotcake batter. Breakfast was served to the campers without a single complaint. They must have known. Camp cooks are chosen by a time-tested process where anyone who complains about the cooking is the new camp cook.

After breakfast, there were activities involving a foot race to the restroom facilities. I avoided the shame and disgust of the pit toilet with what could be the most important piece of camping equipment to come along since the turkey fryer: the camper’s portable flush toilet. When using the camper’s flush toilet, you really should read the instructions and maybe not enjoy the use of this product inside your tent. Especially while leaving an overfilled camper’s espresso maker on top of your 60,000 BTU propane crab-cooker. After the fire I wished I remembered to pack the wet-dry camper’s vac.  Instead I shoveled out the tent the best I could and tried to dry the mess with a gas catalytic heater and a battery powered ceiling fan. That’s when I noticed my queen-sized camper’s air bed was as flat as a soapy pancake. I tried to find the leak by pumping the air bed up with my camper’s air compressor, but the batteries were dead.

By then it was time for a relaxing morning shower. Whoever said fish and company smell after three days never went camping where it is possible to stink after a couple of hours. That’s no problem with the propane-powered hot water heater and the adjustable jet nozzle shower head inside the collapsible camper’s shower stall. Be sure to follow all safety instructions and check the temperature reading on your camper’s shower system, or you could get scalded and go hopping around the campground like a singed grease monkey.

The rest of the day I spent doing the chores that need to get done to keep a fish camp running smoothly. I changed the oil in the generator and filled it with regular gas. I put white gas in the heater, replaced the batteries in the fan and compressor and refilled the propane cylinders on the turkey fryer, crab cooker, hot water heater and lanterns. By then it was time for dinner which was hotcakes again.