Saturday, February 9, 2008

Inaugural Semi-Annual Piscine Biathlon.

4 am is early.

Sometimes, We really question our sanity. When the alarm rings at some ungodly hour and you wake up in a barely remembered room, in a house vaguely reminiscent of your childhood after spending a mere 3 hours in a state only casually associated with sleep, a fella is prone to such thoughts.

Then, as the previous night's beer cloud lifts, We remember...

We're going fishing.

Ratbone and his fine chariot arrived at the appointed hour, eager to get the city behind us. Old stomping grounds, new friends...a potent combination.

The drive to the river was like an exercise in premeditated Déjà vu. All of the old flows looked vaguely familiar, but with so many years, so many other waters mixed in to the memories, these flows appeared in fuzzy focus, a mix of reality and memory.

Ratbone had a grand plan, an agenda, if you will. A creek that had haunted his childhood was beckoning, and we merely needed to complete the stalk to close in on our quarry. Armed with a Gazetteer, We made our way off the beaten path and onto the final approach, only to be thwarted by fallen trees across the roadway of destiny.

After a quick conference, we decided that some fishing in a lesser stream was better than no fishing at all, and we fell out for greener pastures.

On the way to the next quarry, we realized that there might be yet another path to off we went, up and down snow-covered logging roads, seeking out our quarry with a barely functional map and a digital compass on the overhead console...

...and after 3 hours, we were thwarted again. No magic road, no clear path, no enchanted waters for us today. We settled for the lesser flow, in which we found one lonely, spooky fish. After repeated attempts with various offerings, it was clear that all Lonely Larry was going to do was give us the fin.

Just past the Tree of Inconvenience, on the Road of Despair.

We gave up and went to throw the big rods on the big water for awhile, but our hearts weren't in it. A few casts, some walking, a little mumbling...then back to the truck for beer and conveyance to Base Camp.

Interior View, after some hasty beer-can evacuation.

Fish:1, Us:0

Prior to the trip, we had made a tentative plan to meet up with esteemed guide and fish-seer Jim Kerr and do some casting with him on one of his rare unbooked days. After a quick call on a drizzly tuesday morning, we set out to meet him over breakfast and discuss a plan. During our discussion, all weatherly hell broke loose, and soon it was blowing 25 and raining cats and dogs. Jim suggested that we go take a look at a river before it came to take a look at us, so we were off and running.

When the parking lot looks like this, all signs point to suck.

When we got to the flow, it was in the process of rising and coloring - not exactly good conditions. Being the troopers that we are, fishing had to be done, even in the face of adversity. After about 10 minutes of pointless casting, Jim shouted over the wind that we had only one other option, and that window was closing fast. Without further ado, we scampered back to the truck, and after a hasty phone call had arranged a shuttle for a float on yet another river. When we got to the launch, the river was still fishable, but we all knew that it was on its way out soon. Soldiering into the fray, we pushed off with Ratbone on the bow, Us in the stern, and Jim on the sticks.

Coming around a sweeper about 10 minutes into the drift, all hell broke loose as Ratbone poked a big buck right next to the boat. Jim, ever the patient and gentlemanly guide, offered advice and wisdom in the ensuing moments..."Strip! Strip! STRIIIIIP! WHAT THE &%$@# ARE YOU DOING, MAN!" As we struggled to get the boat anchored and tossed Ratbone over the side to chase his fish, things went from manageable to uncontrollable. Curses we shouted, epithets hurled...and the fish swam into a rootwad. Even an heroic rescue attempt by Jim proved fruitless, and the fish was gone.

We shoved off and continued on our way, without speaking the jinxable thought of many more fish to come. As the day wore on, it became apparent that even the thought of more fish had broken some piscine taboo, some heretical act that made us unworthy. With the water rising and coloring and the wind starting anew, we resigned ourselves to a day of no fish to hand, content with the brief encounter but lusting for more.

Ratbone, attempting to awaken his inner Jedi and will his fish from the debris.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Presenting Jim Kerr. Give him a jingle at 360-301-4559, he'd love to talk fishing with you.

We did one pocket 3 times, then hit it from shore, it was so sexy. We were all amazed that there was nobody home. Us, in our bewilderment, clinging to hope.

Not your average channel.

This is an inside joke, but just so you don't feel left out...that's not beer.

Fish:2, Us:0

After a fitful sleep, filled with dreams of wild steelhead gleefully destroying our tackle, we set of for yet another day with Jim. The plan was to get to the put-in, anchor up the boat, and walk upstream to see about a few tasty holes above the ramp. An overnight freeze had rendered the river that opalescent green color unique to coastal rivers, the color that sets the mind on fire with possibilities of big February natives. Jim had armed himself with a two-hander for the jaunt, and We borrowed his spare, a Burkheimer 13'9" 8wt, and set off in tow, ready to unleash our meager skills.

As we have stated before, we ain't the smoothest of two-hand practitioners, and truth be told, this was only the 2nd time we had been toting a rod longer than 11' to anything but a practice session at the local boat ramp. We will be the first to point out that, while able to do justice to our switchrods on midsized flows, we don't know our ass from a hole in the ground with the big sticks. Unfettered by skill or knowledge, we happily stepped in below Jim and started flailing away.

We would really like to meet Kerry Burkheimer someday. His rods must cast an effortless mile is a good caster's hands because, despite our obvious lack of skill, we could still reach out with this thing.

About 10 minutes into the session, the unthinkable happened. We were just getting into a little zone of understanding when a fish rudely interrupted our swing. We have felt the tug, the pull of the swung fish before, but only with shorter rods, shorter casts, and smaller flows. We now understand. Doesn't mean we are going to renounce nymphing and become fanatics...but we now forgive those that are.

After a short battle, in which Ratbone's camera malfunctioned and we realized that we had left ours in the truck, we landed a chrome bright native hen of about 10 lbs. After a quick revival, she swam off to the sound of high fives and hoots.

We're not snagged up. Really.

Another hole, then it was time to float. The first few holes looked good, but nothing came out of them, save Ratbone's impressive display of angling skill in which he went 4 for 4 on whiteys at a great outside eddy. As we progressed downstream past bleeding claybanks and slides, the green color was slowly replaced by a brown cast, and with the start of a rainshower, soon to be followed by snow, our hopes faded to match. With the wind and snow falling in earnest, we made haste through the lower holes to the pull-out, with only chattering teeth and numb digits to show for the duration of the drift.

An hour-long, snowy drive later, we pulled into base camp to plot, scheme, and drink beer while we hatched a plan for an all-out morning assault on the last river on the agenda, one last chance at multiple fish immortality. But the snow did not let up, even at sea level. As the night progressed and the rain began in earnest, it became apparent that everything within 50 miles would be punched, flowing brown and bank-full. Sometimes, a fella just has to know when to quit...

Fish:2, Us:1

When we awoke, the truth was apparent: everything was blown. Hell, even the ocean had a muddy cast this morning.

We packed up and hit the road, content with cruising the backroads, looking at places that would have been great to fish if they weren't under 5 extra feet of brown water. At one such place, we managed to delude ourselves into thinking that there was fishable vis and not too much flow, but after about a half-hour of fruitless casting we came to the realization that it wasn't going to happen today.

A long ride home, filled with old stories, new plans, and the satisfaction that comes from a sucessful trip in the face of adversity. Next time, we're gonna have some good luck with the weather. Next time, we're gonna bring the other map. Next time, we're gonna hit that one first, then go pick up the spares. Next time, we're not gonna order that weird thing for breakfast.

Next time.

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