standing in a river waving a stick

Mr. Salty and Pink Salmon

Just two. That’s what my dad used to say to three year-old Emily Bean (not her real name) when she would reach for the ever-present bowl of Mr. Salty pretzel sticks: “Just take two.” Emily spent a fair amount of time at our house when she was a tot. You see, my mom used to provide daycare (before it was called daycare) for Emily while her mom was at work a couple of days a week.

Emily remembers standing in our kitchen, being just tall enough to see over the bright orange counter tops in our kitchen (it was the mid 70’s after all, and in addition to orange our house was appropriately decorated with harvest gold, avocado green, and every shade of brown). Now these countertops may seem like a fairly non-memorable thing to remember, but it’s what she saw on top of the counters which left the indelible mark on her memory: car parts.  More specifically, Corvair parts. You see, my family collected Corvairs like some people collect fly rods, and my mom was the chief mechanic. If you needed to find her, chances were that she’d be in the garage. When she rebuilt the engines, the parts were cleaned in the kitchen. What? Didn’t everyone grow up with a mom who rebuilt car engines? I recall making her a mechanic’s creeper in wood shop and giving her a pair of coveralls for Mother’s Day one year. My mom was special. I think about, and miss her, every day.

This is not a '65 Corvair. I wish we'd collected these instead.

I used to also babysit for Emily and her younger sister through my early teenage years. We had a tightly knit neighborhood, and before I got my own car (a Corvair, no less) and became distracted by all the freedom of the open road, I spent a fair amount of time playing in the back yard with the little kids who lived in every direction from our house. Yes, I spent time hanging out with kids my own age, too, but I liked playing soccer and baseball and tag with the younger kids because I could win they looked up to me, literally and figuratively. They thought I was cool, which isn’t something the kids my own age would have said about me.

The backyard gang including Emily Bean, circa 1977-ish

Through the power of the internet I’ve been able to keep in contact with Emily and her family through the years, although it had been over 10 years–since Emily’s wedding–that I last saw her in person. Emily’s dad is an avid fly fisherman so it came as a great delight when I discovered that Emily also grew into a fly angling person. It wasn’t until recently that we actually got out to wet a line together.

It was decided that we’d hit a local river and try to entice some Pink Salmon to accept our artificial offerings. Emily had been out recently with a friend and had no luck. Similarly, I’d been out recently with a friend and had the same success. Employing my algebraic approach to fly fishing, I figured two negatives would make a positive and we’d get into a bunch of Pinks. Or at the very least, just two.

On a foggy morning that came on the heels our first significant rain of the season, Emily and I met along the banks of the Snoqualmie River. What I’d have known, had I checked the USGS River Flow Charts, was that the river would be running at 3 times the volume that it had been 3 days prior, with about 3 inches of visibility. Ultimately the infusion of fresh water would be good for the fish, providing them with better traveling conditions as they made their journey upstream to spawn. It would likely also bring in a new wave of migrating fish. Of course because I did not check the flow charts I mistakenly thought the fish would show a little respect and indulge us for a bit of sport.

As we approached the familiar run, I was amazed at how much the rain had caused the river to swell. It must have been a LOT of rain up in the mountains to cause the water to be this high and this off-color. In what would typically be a very shallow run that would normally be thick with Pinks, we could barely make out the occasional dark shape of a fish in 2-3 feet of fast-moving water. And the fish had an even harder time seeing our flies, apparently. We worked through the run as the thick fog slowly began to lift. It was an enjoyable morning on which to be standing in a river waving a stick, which is essentially all we were doing because there was no chance in Hell we were going to catch a fish, or even just two. As the morning wore on the sun burned through the fog and removed the chill from the air. We enjoyed the solitude and the chance to catch up with each others’ lives, reminisce about the past and of course talk shop (it’s what we fly anglers do). Perhaps the fish sensed that we didn’t want to be interrupted because they left us alone. They were either exceptionally polite in that regard, or they were simply giving us the cold shoulder. Assuming the latter, we took the hint and moved on to another location nearby where we continued to ply hopeless waters. In a stretch of river that would typically be teeming with fish, we saw one beat-up lone warrior fighting his way upstream. This fish had clearly seen better days, but despite his haggard condition he proceeded on with undaunted courage and determination.

Lacking the same perseverance as the old buck, we decided, as a large flock of turkey vultures began circling symbolically overhead, that it was time to call it quits. But before doing so I gave Emily a brief introduction to the way of the two-handed rod. Defying my own advice, If you don’t Spey, don’t start, I may have knowingly set into motion the inevitable financial demise of a friend. For that, Emily Bean, I am sorry.

If at all, Emily will only succomb to the Dark Side of her own accord. After all, she’s a mature grown-up with kids of her own now. She can stay home alone without a babysitter and have as many pretzels as she wants.

And she no longer looks up to me.