A Fouled Future.

Thank you for reading this.

After reading about my ill-fated clam dig at Discovery Bay, where the clams and oysters were all dead, people sent stories about mysterious die-offs of sea life in Discovery Bay with documents and pictures of sick or dying crab, fish, birds and sea mammals that paint a picture of an environmental disaster paved with good intentions.

Finding dead oysters and clams on a beach covered with a mysterious algae, where even the barnacles died, we wandered to a sign that proudly proclaimed, “From a Poisonous Past to a Flourishing Future.”

The sign depicts the complex web of life of the Snow Creek estuary. Everything from clams to eagles to salmon restored courtesy of the salmon restoration industry. Underneath the big sign, a smaller sign warns of toxic shellfish. How could that be in an area they just spent somewhere north of $10 million restoring? We walked out to the estuary to find out. Bad idea.

The water was a strange color. The air smelled like chemicals.

The estuary was covered with anaerobic black muck, with a white scum of sulphur-loving bacteria covering a garish orange iron precipitate just beneath the surface. All part of a chemical reaction of toxic wood waste with fresh and salt water leaching sulphuric acid and metals into the water.

With the air, land and water polluted, it was not a healthy place to be. A sign warned the estuary was dangerous, but it didn’t say why. I was afraid my boots would melt.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that, in 2016, a year after the restoration effort, an oyster farm 2 miles away that had been operating for 25 years suffered a catastrophic failure. Strange plumes of metallic-colored water were seen drifting through the bay. Independent analysis determined the plumes were full of aluminum, barium, copper, zinc and iron. The oysters were deformed, brittle and stained yellow, orange and black.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that, in 2016, an estimated 3.5 million fish, mostly herring, perch and young Coho salmon, suddenly died in Discovery Bay. The survivors swam slowly near the surface where they were picked up by birds. Hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, was blamed for the die-off, but such an event had never previously been heard of in Discovery Bay. The fish were never tested for toxicity.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that same July between 500 and 600 dead rhinoceros auklets were found on or around Protection Island off the mouth of Discovery Bay. The auklets are a small stocky sea bird similar to a puffin. They feed on fish. Their breeding colony on the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge suffered a 50 percent loss of fledglings. Individual birds were observed sitting on the beach, vomiting.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that the Coho run up Snow Creek, at the head of the bay, crashed from a high of 4,500 fish in 2014 to less than 500 fish in 2018.

Maybe it’s another coincidence that red rock crab crawl out of the water to die, while shoals of dead juvenile Dungeness crab wash up on the beach.

And all I wanted was some clams and oysters, but I was 100 years too late.

These days, if you fail to fill in your clam hole or take an oyster in the shell off the beach, you’ll get a $100 fine. If you kill every oyster and clam on the beach, you get a million-dollar grant.

Despite or because of this restoration effort, we’ve gone from a poisonous past to a fouled future. I hope someone is studying the problem.

A Poisonous Past

What started as a simple quest to dig a bucket of clams was not as simple as it seemed. There were no clams.

Usually, when the tide is out in Discovery Bay, the clams are squirting like mini lawn sprinklers, but no, they were all dead. The oysters were dead. Their shells had mysterious holes in them. A carpet of dead oyster shells with a sickly rust-colored coating covered the beach.

It looked like ground zero the day after the end of the world.

How could Discovery Bay, which in 1900 the federal government declared a shellfish preserve for native oysters to be used to propagate other areas, be turned into a dead zone a little over century later? It was easy.

In 1914, a railroad connected Port Townsend to Port Crescent. The route, which cut across tidelands at the head of Discovery Bay, operated until 1980, carrying raw materials such as sulphur used in the production of pulp at the Rayonier mill in Port Angeles.

Notorious for accidents involving land-slides and derailments, the railroad had a switching yard at the head of the bay where it stored materials spilled from the box cars. Railroad beds are notorious toxic waste sites, even if you don’t dump sulphur on them.

But this was small potatoes compared to what happened to Discovery Bay after the end of WWII.

The United States had subjected Japan to a devastating fire-bombing campaign.

At the end of the war, the bombs had to be shipped home, but all of the West Coast ports were clogged with shipping.

As a result, the U.S. Navy anchored 16 Victory Ships, aka floating magazines with 3,500 tons of 500-pound incendiary bombs on board.

The crews were stuck on the ships for almost two years while they discharged oils, sewage, garbage and chemicals into the bay.

While it is not known for sure if any bombs were dumped in Discovery Bay, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the presence of benzyl alcohol, chromium, phenol, methylphenol, zinc, benzo anthracene, benzoic acid and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons along with aluminum, iron, magnesium and copper in sediments at the bottom of the bay is consistent with the chemical footprint of dumped munitions in other military sites.

In December 1945, the clams of Discovery Bay were temporarily condemned as unfit for human consumption.

The post-war boom provided other never-ending sources of pollution to Discovery Bay.

The log dump and booming ground at the head of the bay covered portions of the bottom with the bark, limbs and whole logs that smothered anything living underneath.

A saw mill and veneer plant were built in the 1950s that used the tidelands as a place to put an estimated 50,000 cubic feet of sawdust piled 50 feet tall, and it sank 6 or 8 feet below the surface of the estuary.

While the complex chemical reactions of wood waste in water are not fully appreciated, they go something like this: The rapid deterioration of sawdust leaches chemicals into the water, while the bacteria utilize all of the oxygen, creating anaerobic black muck. The process becomes more dangerous with the mixture of low-pH fresh water and high-pH salt water that occurs twice a day with the movement of the tides — causing metals to precipitate out of the water and settle into the septic layer of muck.

If this black muck is exposed to air, it dissolves the metals back into a solution where it can be readily absorbed by clams, oysters, fish and eventually all sea life.

Is this what happened to the shellfish in Discovery Bay?

Tune in next week …

A History of Pandemics.

 IN LAST WEEK’S episode, we were discovering Discovery Bay, a favorite scenic waterway known for its beauty ever since Captain Vancouver anchored up in 1792.

At the time, Britain claimed the vast area we call the Pacific Northwest along with Spain, Russia and America.

The Russians went broke, Spain lost too many wars and the Americans bluffed the English, who retreated north of the 49th parallel in 1846.

With the creation of Washington Territory in 1853, people couldn’t wait to get out of Oregon, a territory said to be run by preachers and teetotalers who had prohibited liquor in 1844. Washington had a government-sponsored land rush.

With the passage of the Homestead Act of 1862, a man could claim 160 acres and his wife could, too.

That’s where the treaties came in.

Isaac Stevens was charged with extinguishing the Native American title to the land so it could be opened up for homesteading.

Stevens was Washington’s Territorial Governor, a transcontinental railroad surveyor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs all rolled into one.

Stevens used intimidation and martial law to force the Tribes to sign his treaties.

Some said he wanted to start an Indian war because then, as now, war was good for business.

The Tribes signed the treaty because they didn’t understand them and they were nervous from getting their villages shelled and burned at random by various unidentified warships transiting the Straits, and their population had been severely reduced by disease.

Vancouver had noticed abandoned villages and Native individuals with “evidence of the pox.”

That would have been small pox. Which, along with a host of other European diseases, decimated the Native Americans even before the majority of Europeans arrived.

In 1855, Captain Abernathy found a schooner adrift off Diamond Point with 32 deserting British Sailors who had died of small pox.

In 1859, the Bark, “What Cheer” sailed north from San Francisco.

Sailors were dying of smallpox. Their clothing and bedding were thrown overboard and picked up by villagers, spreading smallpox from Ozette to Port Townsend.

So many people died that they put the bodies on the beaches, where they’d be washed away with the tide.

At the S’Klallam village formerly located at Discovery Bay, only two people, a man and a woman who seemed to be immune to the disease, cooked and cared for more than 100 men, women and children.

In 1893, the Diamond Point Quarantine Station was built to prevent the spread of disease from incoming ships.

No alien could enter the country without a health examination.

If disease was detected on a ship, it was fumigated and quarantined for two weeks.

If the crew was sick, they were put in the hospital until they recovered or died.

These days, smallpox, polio and tetanus been eradicated.

Other diseases are controlled with vaccines, but simultaneous COVID-19 and opioid pandemics have overloaded our health care system to the point where people are dying from previously preventable medical conditions that we cured years ago.

In spite of this, Clallam County has managed to administer an aggressive campaign of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Ironically, it’s largely due to the efforts of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, people who suffered European diseases and a genocidal policy of ethnic cleansing we used to call, “How the west was won.”

The S’Klallam stepped up and organized an effective COVID vaccination campaign, and they are building a treatment facility for opioid addiction.

Critics suggest the S’Klallam are only trying to keep the white man alive so they will spend money at their casino — but who cares?

The life they save could be your own.

Next week: Railroad’s coming!

Discovering Discovery Bay.

IT WAS GOING to be one of those days. With the razor clam season shut down, the blackmouth salmon season shut down and the steelhead fishing restricted to where you could only keep imaginary hatchery steelhead, seafood harvesting on the Olympic Peninsula has been limited.

Then the first daylight low tide exposed the clam beds and oysters just like the old days when the old-timers said, “When the tide is out, the table is set.”

Nothing compares to the succulent steamers, meaty butter clams, monster horse clams and oysters there for the picking. Unless it’s the jumbo Dungeness crab, prawns, scallops, halibut and cod lurking offshore beneath the massive balls of bait fish, being chased by schools of salmon, that are stalked by seals and sea lions, which are all prey to the Orca. It was a web of life that made Discovery Bay the most fertile body of water in the Pacific Northwest. Until now.

Discovery Bay was carved by a lobe of the continental ice sheet that covered the area with about 3,500 feet of ice and melted roughly 16,000 years ago. Geologists consider the bay famous for having more tsunami deposits than anywhere else in Washington. There are 10 layers of these deposits that average about 300 years apart, hidden beneath the surface of the salt marsh. These represent Cascadia Subduction Events as recently as 1700.

Native Americans were probably living at Discovery Bay since the melting at the last Ice Age — if the nearby Manis Mastodon site in Sequim, where a spear point was stuck in a mastodon rib about 13,000 years ago, is any indication. That’s about how long people have been digging clams here.

The Englishman Robert Duffin was the first European to visit Discovery Bay in July 1788. He had been sent by Captain John Meares to examine the Strait of Juan de Fuca to see if it connected to Hudson Bay, claim land for Britain and establish trade with the Natives. Duffin traded halibut with the S’Klallam at what is now Port Townsend. Things did not go so well at Discovery Bay which Duffin didn’t have time to name before his long boat crew was wounded and the boat was pierced, “in a thousand places with arrows.”

English claim to the North West was based on Sir Francis Drakes’s voyage of 1579 and the discoveries of Captain Cook in 1778. Spain had based their title to the territory on Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific Ocean in 1510 when he claimed all of the land it touched. The Spanish had come north to preclude the Russian advances to the south and confront the invasion of British explorers looking for furs to trade in China and a chance to claim the ₤20,000 the British Parliament would award to anyone who could find the fabled Northwest Passage.

By 1789 the English Captains, James Colnett, Thomas Hudson, William Douglas and John Meares had been arrested and their vessels seized at Nootka by the Spanish for violating Spain’s Territory. Meares had been trading along the Northwest Coast for sea-otter pelts flying Portuguese flags and using a fake Portuguese papers that would allow him to sell furs in Portuguese Macao to avoid the licensing requirements of the British East India Company and the South Sea Company in Canton all in an effort to save on the expense of Chinese port charges.

These arrests resulted in what was known as the Nootka Crisis in which the British Prime Minister William Pitt and the press were ready to go to war over freedom of navigation on the high seas. Spain had suffered repeated military defeats and rebellion at home and could not afford another war with England. The Nootka Convention of 1790 established a joint occupation between Spain and England where sovereignty would be determined by occupation.

The Spanish began their attempts to secure their territory by exploring the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In 1790 the Spanish Ensign Manuel Quimper landed in Neah Bay where he took formal possession in the name of the king of Spain calling it, Boca de Nunez Gaona. Quimper was the first Spaniard to see Discovery Bay naming it Puerta de Bodega y Quadra after his commandant at Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island.

By 1793 the Spanish viceroy, Revilla Gigedo, wrote a report about the Northwest coast that said once the sea otter were gone there would be few reasons to colonize the area. There was no gold. It was too forested for farming. There were no major rivers to the interior so there was no reason to keep other countries away.

In 1792, Captain George Vancouver sailed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca looking for the fabled Northwest Passage. He anchored in Discovery Bay, naming it after his ship Discovery. The S’Klallam traded with Vancouver while he made his astronomical observations and the crew made spruce beer. Vancouver described Discovery Bay as, “Almost as enchantingly beautiful as the most elegantly furnished pleasure grounds of Europe.”

S’Klallam tradition relates that about 1800, what they thought was a British Man of War anchored in front of their village at the head of Discovery Bay. Two S’Klallam men were invited to go aboard the ship, where one was dressed in European clothes and shot. The other escaped. The villagers scattered into the forest. That night 11 sailors from the ship went to shore to spend the night in one of the longhouses, where they were found clubbed to death the next morning. The bodies were taken aboard and the ship sailed away.

By the early 1800’s the Spanish had retreated south. The Russians were retreating north leaving the British and Americans competing for title to the Pacific Northwest. Confrontation was avoided. After the War of 1812 Britain did not want another war. With the Treaty of 1818, Britain and the United States agreed to a joint occupation of what became known as the Oregon country.

In the 1840’s American emigrants were arriving in Oregon in increasing numbers by wagon train from across the continent. The American President Polk’s militant expansionism had encouraged revolt in California and declared war with Mexico in 1846. Britain had its own problems with a famine in Ireland and a war in India. England did not want another war with the U.S. at the time so they agreed to a complete withdrawal from what is now western Washington retreating north of the 49 parallel.

In 1850, the English Captain Hinderwell started the first logging operation for her Majesty’s Navy on the shores of Discovery Bay, with a crew of 100 S’Klallam, who spent four months falling, trimming, skidding and loading 18 spars on his ship Albion. Then an American Customs Inspector appeared on the scene. He seized the Albion, towed it to Steilacoom, where the locals raided the ship’s liquor stores.  

The first thing the Bostons, a name given by the Native Americans because that’s where the first Yankee trading ships came from, noticed about Discovery Bay was the timber growing down to the water’s edge.  Trees could be felled and floated to a mill with a minimum of effort. In 1853, Captain Talbot and Cyrus Walker anchored their schooner, Junius Pringle, in Discovery Bay and went ashore where they measured a fallen Douglas fir 280 feet long and 14 feet in diameter. They got an idea to build a sawmill.

The California Gold Rush had created a huge demand for lumber. In 1858, the first saw mill was built on Discovery Bay. A clipper ship, The War Hawk, sailed lumber from Discovery Bay to San Francisco in a record four days before she sank in Discovery Bay. This began a legacy of environmental degradation we will continue next week.

A Short History of Hurricanes.


IT WAS A dark and stormy night.

The wind roared through the timber like a freight train. I thought it would rip the roof off the shack, but it didn’t.

Eventually the morning came. The crows woke up and flew around in crazy circles like they were glad to be alive, and so was I.

People don’t think of the Olympic Peninsula as hurricane country, but it is.

There was the Hanukkah eve storm in December 2006, when hurricane-force winds of 70 to 100 mph hit Washington, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, killing 14 people.

Although, most of the deaths occurred after the storm due to asphyxiation caused by people using gasoline generators and charcoal barbecues indoors.

Then there was the 1979 big blow that took out the Hood Canal Bridge.

The bridge withstood a south wind of 80 mph that gusted to 115 mph until a severe list developed, allowing water into the flotation devices that kept the floating bridge afloat.

Replacing the bridge took three years and cost $140 million, and headaches for anyone traveling to or from the Olympic Peninsula.

Who could forget the Columbus Day Storm of 1962? This big blow began life as Typhoon Freda out near Wake Island in the Central Pacific.

She grew to become the most powerful extra tropical cyclone to hit the Washington coast in the 20th century. Wind speeds were recorded in excess of 145 mph at Cape Blanco, Ore., until the anemometer, an instrument used to measure wind speed, was destroyed. A 160-mph wind gust was observed in the Willapa Hills of Southwest Washington.

I remember that storm. It blew down the fire lookout that was located on top of Mt. Pleasant.

All of which pales in comparison to the worst weather disaster to hit the Olympic Peninsula in historic times, the “Big Blow” of Jan. 21, 1921.

The storm came ashore at about 9 a.m. near the mouth of the Columbia River. The North Head lighthouse recorded gusts estimated at 150 mph before the anemometer was blown away.

The storm headed north, where an estimated 2.5 million trees, or almost half of the trees on the southwest side of the Olympics, were blown over in a path of destruction said to be eight times larger than the damage caused by the eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

Sixteen homes were destroyed in La Push. The lighthouse keeper’s bull was blown off Tatoosh Island. A herd of 200 elk was killed near Forks, along with hundreds of farm animals. Only one person was killed. He was scalded to death at a mill in Aberdeen when a smokestack fell on top of him.

The scariest description of the ’21 Blow occurs in Elizabeth Huelsdonk Fletcher’s book, “The Iron Man of the Hoh,” where she relates her father, John Huelsdonk, was upriver tending his trapline when the storm hit just before dark.

The Iron Man said he would stand under a tree until he felt the roots move, then find another tree to stand under.

With the ground-shaking impact of big timber hitting the ground and the roar of the wind, it must have been a terrifying night to endure.

Huelsdonk provided for his family by varmint hunting and trapping in winter in the mountains, so he must have been well acquainted with surviving big winds in big timber.

It’s not a question of if the next big wind will hit the Peninsula.

It’s only a matter of time.

When it does, please remember — don’t fire up your barbecue or generator indoors.

Digging the Ozette Potato

POTATOES MUST BE my favorite thing to dig, next to clams, but clam season is closed so I’m digging potatoes.

I know what you’re thinking, people are supposed to dig potatoes in the fall when the vines ripen and die down. But what if you’re too busy fishing? Then you dig potatoes in the winter.

That’s the best time to dig them in this country.

Spuds get soft if they are stored improperly, but if you keep them in the ground they stay hard as rocks.

You may lose a few to the mice, but that is a small price to pay. Some may freeze and rot, but for the most part, a light frost gives the tubers a sweet taste that is impossible to buy in a plastic bag.

There are many types of taters — red, white, blue and yellow — but my favorite is the Ozette potato, Solanum Tuberosum.

It isn’t the biggest tater in the patch, but it stays hard and fresh until spring, with a sweet creamy flavor the foodies tell us tastes vaguely like a chestnut. We’ll take their word for it.

All I know is the Ozette potato is a living piece of Olympic Peninsula history that goes back to May 29, 1791.

That’s when Salvador Fidalgo, captain of the Princessa, anchored in Neah Bay with some 70 seamen and 13 soldiers.

Fidalgo had been sent with instructions to monitor shipping in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and build shelters, an infirmary, storehouses and an oven to bake bread for the crews of visiting Spanish ships that were anticipated to reinforce their claims to the land.

Nunez Gaona is considered the first settlement by Europeans in the American Pacific Northwest. There were seven Peruvian Indians aboard the Princessa, so we might assume they brought the potatoes for vegetable gardens.

A member of the nightshade family, it is estimated that the potato has been cultivated in South America for 8,000 to 10,000 years. The Spanish conquistadores invaded South America looking for gold, but they also found the potato. The value of the humble potato has probably exceeded the wealth of precious metals since then.

That was the good old days when all you had to do to own land was to plant a cross, claim you owned it and you did!

The problem was Spain, England, Russia and the United States all claimed the same land that we now call home.

The Nootka Convention of 1790 allowed joint occupation by British and Spanish invaders in the vast area we call the Pacific Northwest. This was a diplomatic effort to avoid yet another of the wars in Europe that had devasted the continent.

Nunez Gaona was not a happy place. The anchorage was treacherous. There was no gold.

A Spanish First Mate was killed.

In a case of random retaliation, Capt. Fidalgo blew a canoe containing a Makah family out of the water. Two children survived.

Fidalgo realized his position was untenable. Nunez Gaona only lasted three months.

The potato stayed.

The Makah grew the potato instead of gathering camas. They traded garments of woven dog hair and bird feathers for Hudson Bay blankets, and the bow and arrow for firearms. It was part of the Manifest Destiny cultural grab bag that included alcohol, smallpox and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

For more than 200 years, the Makah kept the Ozette Potato for us to remember and enjoy today.

The Makah traditionally dipped their potatoes in whale or seal oil, but since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, we’ll have to settle for the garlic butter.

The Sucker Hole.

 IT WAS GOING to be one of those days.I remember it like it was yesterday, because maybe it was. It all started with a bright light in the eastern horizon that grew stronger and brighter with each passing minute, until it was impossible to look at. Oddly enough, the air started to get warmer as the brilliant orb gained altitude and burned through the early morning mist.

Being seriously disturbed, I would have dialed 9-1-1 if I could only have remembered the number.

“It’s the sun,” my fancy friend said.

I knew that, but it had been raining for so long I’d forgotten what the sun looked like.

Every winter along about this time, it seems as if the sun comes out. Causing some of the more sensitive types to declare that winter is over. It’s not.

This is what we call a sucker hole, designed to make you think we can avoid the coming long months of interminable precipitation. Causing the locals to panic with the mistaken notion that spring time is near. No. It is only a short cessation of the atmospheric river lulling us into a cozy deception that winter is over.

Creatures great and small show themselves in the unseasonably warm weather, which some optimistically delusional humans mistake for spring.

Sighting the first baby slug of the year is not an experience that warms the cockles of a gardener’s heart, but there it was. Alive and well, and feasting on the skeletal remains of a ravaged strawberry plant poking out of the soggy earth. The baby slug was about the size of a double-aught buckshot and just as cute. I was so overcome with emotion at seeing the little devil, I wanted to soak the garden with gasoline, fire up the blow torch and cook the first couple inches of soil, then start over with a whole new crop of slugs.

Things could be worse. I found that out a few minutes later.

There was a loud buzzing sound in my ear followed by a painful burning sensation that marked the appearance of the first mosquito of the new year.

The dramatic appearance of the first mosquito of the year has never been a cause for celebration. With global warming and enhanced evolutionary processes possibly accelerated with increased industrial pollution, our mosquitoes seem to be getting larger with each passing year. The one I saw was big enough to be considered a small bird, although it was a little too small for the shotgun. A .22 rifle with birdshot might be just the ticket for dealing with this new breed of super mosquitoes.

This year’s bug season is bound to be the worst ever — raising fears that these biting pests will soon be able to drain the bodily fluids from their human victims in a matter of minutes. You’ll want to stock up on my all-new pine-tar and lavender bug repellent before you hit the backwoods this summer.

This unique formula is guaranteed to stop the hungriest bugs in their tracks, as long as you do your part and don’t bathe between applications. Allow this new and improved mosquito repellent to form a hard glaze, which, after a few weeks, will form an armor coating on your hide that no mosquito can penetrate.

So, enjoy the winter sun if you must, but just remember — when we inevitably return to another round of rain and wind, you can rest assured that we will be safe from the slugs and bugs, secure in the knowledge that spring is a long ways off.

Yet Another Bad Idea.

 THAT WAS YET another bad idea in last week’s column.When out of concern for the well-being of our fellow sportsmen and women who pursue their passion for fishing for one of the rarest fish that swim, the steelhead of the Olympic Peninsula, I may have mistakenly shared an angling technique that, while revolutionary in concept and execution, was not a responsible method for enjoying the great outdoors.

It takes a big person to admit they were wrong, and I have had plenty of practice.

In the interest of full disclosure, it might be appropriate to reflect on other regrettable misstatements that, with 20/20 hindsight in the cold light of day, should never be attempted by a sane individual.

I should never had said it was a good idea to go crabbing before the expected tsunami that will accompany the impending Cascadia subduction event.

Disaster preparedness experts have warned us to expect an extremely low tide before the 100-foot-tall tsunami races ashore at speeds that modern science tells us could be up to 500 mph.

Crabbing could be phenomenal during the predicted seismic event. However, caution is advised.

It could be hard to outrun the tsunami even if you aren’t carrying a bucket of crabs.

In the interest of journalistic integrity, it would only be fair to state that you would have to be out of your mind to go crabbing in a tsunami.

Similarly, you would have to be out of your mind to take the plug out of your boat when you go steelhead fishing down one of the wild rivers of the Olympic Peninsula in the middle of winter, in the dark.

It’s yet another bad idea. One of many expressed in this column which, upon sober reflection, did not exhibit a responsible approach to safe boating.

In fact, no one in their right mind would get in a sinking boat to go on a guided winter steelhead fishing trip.

However, in my own defense, it would only be fair to point out that, as a professional fishing guide, if I only took people fishing who were in their right minds, I would seldom be employed.

The idea that people who fish for steelhead are clinically insane is not a new one.

How else could you explain someone spending thousands of dollars, traveling thousands of miles, to slowly freeze to death trying to catch a fish that, on any given day, may or may not actually exist given the rarity with which they are caught?

The only people crazier than steelhead fishers are the deranged cabal of self-serving career bureaucrats who have managed the steelhead into endangered species status with a byzantine system of inane regulations that subject the angling public to legal jeopardy every time they try to go fishing.

My suggestion to take the plug out of your boat when you go fishing was a response to the latest rule that says you cannot fish out of a floating device.

By not putting the plug in your boat, it would no longer be a floating device. It would be a sinking device. But that was a bad idea.

Instead of sinking the boat, it might be more productive to explore other angling options such as running the boat aground.

That should not be a problem.

In 30 years of guiding, I have hit every rock in the Hoh River at least a dozen times.

By running the boat up on the rocks, you are no longer a floating device, so you can fish from your boat.

Problem solved.

Steelhead Season’s Sinking Feeling.

  •  EVEN WITH GLOBAL warming, January is the coldest month. When all the rabid chickens come home to roost. When the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune find their mark in the darkest night of the soul.

Unless you fish for steelhead. Or what we call the winter run.

Then, January can be the best month of the year.

This is when the biggest trout that swim come up our rivers. When fishing is all that really matters. Unless it’s raining so hard there’s a river running down your driveway.

Or, unless the government has shut down your river to fishing, as has happened throughout much of Washington, where even catch-and-release steelhead fishing has been outlawed.

Causing what’s left of the hard-core anglers to crowd into one of the last few places left to fish for steelhead, the Olympic Peninsula.

Our bungling bureaucracies have accomplished this miracle of mismanagement through a three-step program of extinction for profit that is still going on today.

Step one involves the elimination of the hatchery production of steelhead that would otherwise mitigate the harvest of fish.

Step two restricts the rules by allowing only catch-and-release fishing.

Step three is a total shutdown of even catch-and-release fishing when the runs mysteriously vanish.

Here on the Olympic Peninsula, step one has largely been accomplished.

Hatcheries have been shut down due to the mistaken notion that steelhead that start their lives in a hatchery are somehow inferior to fish that are spawned in the river.

It is somehow supposed that after a hundred years of fish hatcheries raising and planting salmon and steelhead in every river in Washington, we are going turn back the pages of history in hopes the hundred-pound salmon will magically appear.

On the Peninsula, we are now between catch-and-release fishing and an imminent shutdown.

In the meantime, we’ve been hit with a mess of new rules that I call the Fish Cop Employment Security Act.

That is a set of fishing regulations that are so complicated no one can figure them out.

At one point, things got so bad the game wardens put posters along the river in an attempt to explain the rules because they were getting carpal tunnel syndrome from writing too many tickets.

Lately, we were handed another devastating rule designed to end steelhead fishing on the Peninsula.

As of Dec. 14, “Fishing from a floating device is prohibited.”

Now, I am not an attorney, and as we say on the river, if you cannot afford an attorney, you probably can’t afford to go fishing. But from what I hear, a “floating device” means a boat.

Darwin said it ain’t the smartest or the strongest that survive, it’s the ones that can adapt.

Not fishing from a floating device should not be a problem.

Without a boat plug, the boat will no longer be a floating device. It will be a sinking device.

A sinking boat in a river could be dangerous, but do you really want to catch a steelhead? Toughen up.

You’re thinking that fishing in a sinking boat on one of our rivers is totally insane, and you’re right.

But you have to be crazy to go fishing in the winter anyway, even if your boat’s not sinking.

Many boaters have already used this revolutionary technique without really trying.

I did it myself a couple of times just to get the hang of it.

So, forget the boat plug.

Bring a water-tight lunch box, wet suit, mask, snorkel, search-and-rescue beacon, and a helmet for the fishing adventure of a lifetime!

New Year’s Resolutions.


OFTEN, NEW YEAR’S resolutions that seem like a good idea on New Year’s Eve can seem like a bad idea in the harsh light of the following New Year’s morning.

Traditionally, many of us break our New Year’s resolutions before the first Christmas bills arrive anyway.

Every New Year’s resolution we make is one more we can break.

The secret to making and keeping New Year’s resolutions is to set realistic goals and expectations for the coming year.

With the global pandemic, looming recession and continued global strife, the sooner you realize your expectations are unrealistic the better.

There can be no better time than the present to adjust our view of outdated New Year’s resolutions.

I tried them all and failed — saving you the trouble and keeping you from making the same mistakes.

So here are a few of the most popular New Year’s resolutions from past years that we should all avoid making in these troubled times.

• Getting out of debt: That’s stupid.

With interest rates at an all-time low, getting out of debt makes absolutely no sense to anyone except the people you owe money to.

You simply need to look at debt in a more positive perspective. Don’t think of debt as a sign-post on the road to financial ruin. Debt is a measure of the esteem with which others regard you.

Our national debt is $27 trillion and climbing. Consumer debt is currently 102 percent of our gross domestic product, which means our debt is larger than the economy.

Just because everyone else is in debt, does that make it right?

The answer is yes!

• Get a puppy: According to PETA, this is a selfish desire to possess and receive love from an animal that causes immeasurable suffering and deprives them of the opportunity to engage in their natural behavior.

Not only are puppies hard to find during a pandemic, they are expensive.

Getting a puppy may be a good way to increase your debt — if you don’t mind the stress of watching all of your material possessions being systematically destroyed. Don’t do it.

• Travel more: After decades of giving billions of dollars of foreign aid to nations around the world, most of them hate our guts anyway, no matter how much money we give them.

These days, few other countries will tolerate Americans now that we are the Typhoid Mary of the global village.

Traveling around our own country is expensive and a great way to get further in debt, but how can you go anywhere now that you have a puppy?

• Learning new things can be another dead-end road to nowhere, since the more you learn, the more there is to know.

Learning new things is a vicious cycle that can leave you feeling ignorant.

Given the sense of frustration, futility and failure ingrained in the New Year’s resolution ritual, perhaps the best New Year’s resolution is to do nothing.

You can do nothing to ensure you make and maintain a transformative, life-changing New Year’s resolution for the coming year.

For example, last year my New Year’s resolutions were to get a better job and get better friends.

After a year of trying, I could do nothing to get a better job or better friends.

Modern science is only just now discovering the benefits of doing nothing.

Doing nothing is a good way to maintain social distancing.

You can do nothing to avoid being infected with COVID-19. In addition, our politicians haven’t figured out how to tax us for doing nothing but don’t give them any ideas.

Maybe it’s time we all resolved to join the millions of other Americans, like me, that are already doing nothing.

There’s nothing like it!