Patience, patience, patience

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

A river of brotherly love

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