beard head

And so it begins…

2012 started with a bang, and a sneeze and a cough.  Yes, I awoke on the first day of the New Year with a head cold, and I didn’t even punish my body the night before. Upon cracking one eye open and acknowledging a sore throat, my first thought was, “No freaking way.” I usually get sick once a year, and almost like clockwork this happens each fall.  2011 did not disappoint in that regard because you see, I had a nasty case of of the head/chest flu back in November. So, apparently sick again, I questioned how could I be not only soccumb twice in one year, but within a mere month and a half of my last bout with less than perfect health? Then someone reminded me that this is a new year, and thus I did not catch a bug twice in the same year. AND, since I only get sick once a year, I’ve got 11 months of cold-free existence to enjoy. Life is good, or rather it will be after I get rid of this annoying cold.

The Skykomish War Horse

Not one to whine be deterred by a little cold, I accepted an invitation to go fishing on January 2nd. Steelhead fishing, to be sure. On the Skykomish river with my friend Brian Page, who, until he recently got a job at Boeing, was a full-time fishing guide (Steelhead Fly Anglers). He hasn’t abandoned that, but putting rivets into 777’s has dramatically cut into his time to be on the water. Knowing that time on the water is a precious commodity, I felt pretty honored to be invited along. After I realized that he really just needed me to be a shuttle driver, we put in at the town of Sultan and floated downstream in The Skykomish War Horse (Brian’s boat). The boat isn’t really named that– I just added War Horse to pick up a few Google hits based on the popular movie currently out in theaters: War Horse). But Skykomish War Horse has a nice ring to it, wouldn’t you say? War Horse.

Brian was the one to teach me Spey casting a few years ago, and each time we fish together I’m sure he’s rather proud of his student he rolls his eyes and wonders how he could have failed so miserably. I get the fly on the water, mind you, but it’s not pretty.  At one point  during our recent trip, Brian was fishing the tail of a run, some 30 yards below me.  On a particularly bad cast I blew my anchor and there resulted a collision between my backside and the fly. Goretex makes for superb accoustics and the impact resonated downstream, yielding a snicker and, “I heard that one!” from Brian. To my credit, it was the only time I hit myself with a fly all day long.

There is an eagle in this photo.

As we floated from run to run, where we plied the waters for fish that weren’t apparently there, we observed numerous bald eagles perched lazily in trees. The magnificent scavengers didn’t appear to be actively searching for their next meal, and I’m always amazed that these birds find enough food to sustain themselves since the last salmon carcasses have long since washed away and the nearest land fill is nowhere near. As evidenced by the photo above, it was a cool, gray day. Typical of Pacific Northwest winters. Typical winter steelhead fishing weather, if not a little bit warmer than normal. The air temperature wasn’t terribly unpleasant as the day topped out in the mid to upper 40’s. It rained on us, but not until the last hour of the day and even then it wasn’t much to note. The water temperature hovered right at 40 degrees, which isn’t terribly cold until you’ve stood in it for an hour, taking only a couple of short steps every other cast, which isn’t enough movement to keep the toes from turning numb. The good thing about cold feet is that it takes your mind off how cold your fingers have grown. Luckily, hand warmers in the pockets of your jacket are a welcome treat, until the dampness of one’s fingers renders the hand warmers useless. Oh well, there’s still the full thermos of hot coffee to look forward to, until you’re reminded that caffeine is a diuretic. Thank God (or Dan Bailey) for zippered waders.

My fly box, minus a few deductions.

Being a holiday for apparently the entire state of Washington, the river was not devoid of other anglers. Still we were able to fish all but one run we wanted to. This particular run–the one I wanted to fish–has been good to me, or at least it was on one occasion a couple of years ago when, on Superbowl Sunday, I landed a bright 28″ hen within minutes of my buddy yarding a 39″ chrome buck out of the same run.  I’d liked to have fished that run, but Brian and I set up on the opposite bank and fished another run that is known to hold fish. This particular run is named after a government agency tasked with collecting taxes, and from what I can tell it’s aptly named because it will collect your money, or at least your flies. To that end I was audited and effortlessly signed over a handful of my flies in very short order. At least the guy fishing the other run, on the opposite side of the river, where I wanted to fish, wasn’t having any luck either.

A taxing hole.

A such went the remainder of the day:  cast, swing, strip, step, and repeat. Catching fish isn’t part of the steelhead angler’s expectations, so when it does happen–if it happens–it’s pretty special.  I’ll hold out for another time. The year is young, and I’ve already got my annual cold behind me.

By the way, I think I may need one of these to stave off the cold weather and keep me healthy as winter trudges on. I may not be able to grow The Beard I want, but now I can have the next best thing.