Ever since last week’s Drivel, I’m sure that y’all have been sitting on the edges of your seats…chompin’ at the bit…waiting with baited breath…to find out if I will have a fishing partner in my future years. Well, I’m happy to say that chances are good that I will, and his name is Schpanky The Crusher of Steelhead. And while the mission was accomplished, it was not without certain unaccomplishments- the stuff that keeps you, all 8 readers, coming back.
After a road trip that included 3 hours of driving and a 90 minute wait for the Edmonds-Kingston ferry, we rolled into Forks just after the sun had set. I had expected that all the hooplah over the Twilight movies would be all but non-existent. I envisioned Forks as a hard working, blue collar town with a proud heritage of logging and fishing: a town that was perhaps a bit embarrassed by the recent Twilight movies. But as we drove through town it was readily apparent that Twilight is a big deal in Forks. Well, that, and fishing. We checked in to the Pacific Inn Motel and the lobby was equally divided into Twilight paraphernalia and fishing information: strange bedfellows for sure, but who can fault the local folks trying to capitalize on the Twilight cult by making a few bucks off a movie that wasn’t even filmed in Forks? The accommodations were clean and simple, and since we’d be there for less than 12 hours, it suited us just fine. After checking in we walked the town in search of some dinner. After filling our bellies I set about the task of organizing gear for the morning. I selected the sink tips to be used on the Spey rods, inspected knots, placed new leader on the single handed 8 weight reel, and made sure I had the right clothes set out for the morning. It’s much easier to think the night before rather than at 0 dark thirty in the morning, and I wanted to make sure no details were overlooked and that nothing was left behind.
The alarm went off at 5:30, and at 5:40 I finally saw signs of life in the boy. Teenagers are fond of sleeping in whenever possible. Sleeping in was not an option on this day, as we were slated to meet Joe Willauer at the Forks Coffee Shop between 6 and 6:15. I wanted to be there at 6:00 to mainline as much coffee as possible. We waited and waited, and Joe finally arrived at about 6:17. I made a notation on my Guide Tip Criteria Checklist and docked a few bucks for his late arrival. After we horked down a hearty breakfast, we grabbed our lunches to go and loaded most of our essential gear into Joe’s new truck. I complimented him on the new rig and asked if the back window leaked like his old truck (I’d been fortunate to be wearing my rain jacket the last time I was in the back seat of Joe’s old truck). “No,” replied Joe. “And this one doesn’t smell like wet dog and ass. It’s kind of a bummer.” It was going to be a good day.
As we drove the half hour to our launch point on the Hoh River, we marveled at the lack of rain falling from the sky. Joe had been out with clients the day before when the temperature had hovered around 39 degrees with a mix of rain and snow. We passed a herd of Roosevelt elk along the way that also seemed to be enjoying a respite from the previous day’s miserable weather.
With the raft unloaded we wadered-up and began to transfer our gear into the boat. Joe had an extra 8 wt single handed rod and asked me nicely instructed me to string up my 8 wt rod. Not one to argue, I instructed Schpanky to grab the 8 wt rod while I went for the reel. In my heightened state of supreme nocturnal organization the night before, I’d managed to make sure that everything we needed was with us. Except for the 8 wt reel. Unless I was going to do a little Tenkara fishing for steelhead, I was going to need a reel for my rod.
But wait, it gets better: I’d also forgotten the two reels for our Spey rods. I’m fairly certain they were in my truck, parked back at the coffee shop. Fortunately Joe had two complete Spey outfits on board, and after a bit of finesse and sweet-talking he managed to locate a nearby 8 wt reel that only involved a 15 minute delay while he drove to meet his buddy Aaron O’Leary who had the extra reel (I never got to thank you, Aaron–so, thank you). My stupidity had just re-earned Joe the percentage of the tip he had lost for being late for breakfast. The good in all of this is that our delay allowed us to watch an angler land a big fish just a few feet from us. The matter of the forgotten reels was just a minor glitch and by 8 AM we were on the water and things were looking up, including the weather: the skies were gray, but rain was giving us a wide berth. While we anticipated plenty of precipitation, it wasn’t breaking our hearts to be dry for the time being.
As be began our descent we soaked in the beauty of the Hoh River valley and surrounding rain forest. I’ve been on a lot of rivers and they all have their own unique beauty, but there was something special about this place. Maybe it was the knowledge that in these waters ran some of the most amazing fish: wild, bright OP steelhead that were only perhaps a day or two out of the ocean. We were in the midst of the best, last remaining good steelhead fishing for wild fish in the Lower 48. It was hard to not be excited about the prospects of the day, but catching is never a guarantee.
We had roughly 12 river miles to cover, and with expectations high that we would be busy landing fish all day, each mile was met with new enthusiasm. Unfortunately each new mile resulted in no fish, and as mid day approached, I detected a certain lack of enthusiasm on the part of Schpanky. I think part of his plummeting mood came from the fact that he was shocked and offended by the colorful language pouring from Joe’s mouth. Early in the day I had requested that Joe keep his language clean because my son isn’t used to hearing cuss words. Joe was informed that his tip would be docked $5 for every F-bomb dropped, and by 10 AM he was nearing a zero balance. We had stopped and worked a run with our Joe’s Spey rods but were unable to swing up any fish, so nymphing on-the-go was the order of the day. The 5 whitefish we landed were of little consolation to the boy who appeared dejected by one hookup with a steelhead that busted him off after a brief fight. A sizable fish also quickly dispatched of yours truly, but my advantage over the boy is that, as a seasoned angler who is accustomed to unaccomplishments, I was able to laugh it off. That, and my blood sugar doesn’t plummet as does the boy’s. I can eat once in the morning and then not need food all day. The boy requires constant filter feeding. As I saw it, his nutritional needs were not my concern – I had fish to catch, damnit darnit.
Joe is a great guide, and to his credit he worked hard, tirelessly replaced the countless flies that I Schpanky lost and cheered us on—providing hope with each new bend in the river. I’d almost even go so far as to suggest that Joe is a beacon of positive reinforcement. But even that was not enough to keep the boy from plummeting into an emotional tailspin, and by lunchtime he was also getting cold. Fortunately the clouds parted and allowed the sun to warm us a bit, and Top Ramen served with a stick was a nice touch that did a lot to improve the outlook on life. I reminded Schpanky that no matter whether we caught any fish today, he’d already surpassed his old man in height. That seemed to boost his mood a bit more. To keep him from getting too cocky I also reminded that I can still kick his arse when it comes to fishing and otherwise. Then he brought up the matter of the reels I’d left in the truck and I grew sullen and withdrew from the duel. Well played, young lad. Well played.
We departed our lunch spot with hope and energy rekindled. As we dropped into “the Canyon” the rain that had been threatening all day finally descended upon us and gave us a taste of what the OP can dish out. Fortunately the rain, while heavy, lasted less than an hour. As we emerged from the Canyon the rain tapered off and the clouds of despair lifted, both literally and figuratively. Shortly thereafter the boy hooked up with and landed a beautiful chrome hen that weighed in the range of 11 to 13 lbs. It may have been 12 or possibly 14 lbs, but Joe’s policy for the day was to refer to fish in odd-numbered increments. The fish could have been 5 or 7 lbs for all that mattered—I just wanted the boy to land a steelhead on this trip, and that goal had been met. Now, the Schpanky is not one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, but even he couldn’t hide his excitement. There would be no hugs or celebratory dancing of the jig, but fist bumps were exchanged all around (very manly sort of stuff). Joe had been operating under an incredible amount of pressure all day, and I could see the tension leaving his body as breathed a sigh of relief. I thought I smelled something waft from within his waders too, but I could be wrong.
With his head held just a bit higher and perhaps a couple more hairs on his chest, the boy angled on with a new found hope, while I continued to snag every possible hunk of structure in the river. With the old man out of commission every 10 minutes or so, the boy did took every possible advantage of the power play. Eventually it paid off as he hooked up with another fish around 6pm. When the hook was set, the response was instantly, “It’s just a small one.” As the boy nonchalantly stripped in slack line, he simultaneously muttered something about a “double rainbow”. I’m reasonably certain that the collective response from Joe and I was, “WTF?” and then suddenly the rod bent sharply and the “little fish” began taking line and heading west, toward the ocean, which was only about 10 miles away. Keeping his wits about him, Schpanky succeeded in landing his second fish of the day: a super bright buck of about 9 lbs.
As the boy fought the fish and Joe stood by with the net, it became readily apparent that the random comment wasn’t so random: just like the dude in the infamous YouTube video says, there was a full on double rainbow all across the sky. What does it mean?
It means that the boy met the Hoh and lost his innocence. He became an accomplished steelhead angler and kicked his old man’s arse. It means that Joe earned his full tip.
Hopefully it also means that I won’t ever forget the reels again. Thanks Joe, for holding up your end of the bargain (don’t spend that $15 all in one place). Save us a couple days in your schedule for a year from now. Who knows, maybe I can catch a fish next time…