Rusty nails and steelhead, or lack thereof

Fear no nail.

The word Tetanus apparently stems from two words: Tet and Anus.  We’re all familiar with the Vietnamese New Year, which has no bearing on today’s discussion. It’s the latter word that we’ll be focusing on.

Young middle-aged men like me know that when we submit for an annual physical, certain procedures are going to be a pain in the arse. Surprisingly, however, it was something completely unrelated that proved to be the biggest pain of all: a simple tetanus booster. No, I did not get a tetanus shot in my backside. You see, I had scheduled the routine physical months in advance; long before a 3-day steelhead fishing trip  with the Brothers Albacore was even a blip on the radar. As it turned out, my doctor appointment was the morning of the day we would depart for Forks, WA. All the expected things occurred during my physical, butt what I did not expect was the suggestion of a tetanus shot.

This won’t hurt…until tomorrow.

Apparently this tetanus vaccination is being recommended by the mysterious people who recommend vaccinations, and since I just happened to have intentions of stepping on a rusty nail very soon, I agreed to the shot. No big deal. To paraphrase my doctor, the residual affects of the tetanus booster would be some localized soreness in my shoulder. Not a problem. Just stick me in the left arm because I’m right-handed. I’d be casting my single-handed rod as well as my Spey rod; any discomfort would be a mild annoyance at best.  Piece of cake. The shot into the muscle was hardly felt, and before long I was on my way to the Edmonds-Kingston Ferry with my fishing companions. Bring on the rusty nails.

The forecast looked promising. Flow graphs showed a steady drop on the Olympic Peninsula Rivers, with no rain forecasted. That in and of itself was a strange prospect: fishing the OP without rain? What?! We did drive through some snow showers between Port Angeles and Forks, but once we arrived at our destination the weather appeared to be improving as we fished a run on the Bogachiel River that afternoon. The river was cloudy with very compromised visibility, but things were dropping and clearing.  Though we didn’t touch a fish that first day we looked ahead to the next morning with confident anticipation.

Sampling the water, Day One

I am not a morning person, and steelhead fishing comes with early risings. So when the alarm sounded at 4 AM it came as no surprise that I didn’t feel 100%. I prepared breakfast for the three of us and sat down to a plate of eggs, hash browns and sausage—hearty fuel for a long day ahead; a meal I could eat with confidence knowing that my cholesterol levels were all good. But as I stared at my plate I felt myself feeling worse by the minute: Headache, check. Muscle soreness in the left arm, check. Overall body aches, check.  What the hell?  I understood the sore arm—that was to be expected. But the other symptoms were an unpleasant surprise.  Oh well, this was no time for being a Nancy Boy— we had steelhead to catch, so out the door we marched. Overnight the temperature had dropped and brought with it a dusting of snow.  It would be a cold start to the day, but clearing skies were promised.

Morning, Day Two

By the time we launched Large Albacore’s raft and ran our shuttle, we got on the water by around 8 AM.  I was feeling even worse by this time, but I did manage to nymph the first short run from the back of the raft. We then pulled over to swing a run with the “Poles of Futility” (as our friend Joe Willauer lovingly refers to Spey rods). With each passing moment I dropped deeper in the abyss of misery. Rather than swing the run I remained perched on my ass in the back seat wondering how I could possibly have the flu, given that I’d had the flu shot earlier in the winter. While my partners angled I took the opportunity of good cellular coverage to consult the internets about possible side affects of the tetanus booster. Loe and behold it appeared that I was a poster child for flu-like symptoms that are not uncommon side affects (although I was not informed of these potential side affects when I agreed to the shot 24 hours earlier). My only hope was that the symptoms would be short-lived; that I would feel better sooner than later.  I could have exited the raft at this point and walked back to the truck but I elected to stick it out. If by chance I started to feel better during the day, I wanted to be in the boat—not back at the Pacific Inn Motel. My decision, while perhaps noble, was misguided.

Dweller in the back of the boat.

As the day wore on, my arm became so sore that I could barely get my hand in and out of my coat pocket. Slumped in defeat, my chin rested on my chest as I either slept or remained partially conscious in the back of the boat while Junior rowed and Large fished, or vice versa. Throughout the day we would stop at a good piece of swinging water so they could both ply the waters with their Poles of Futility.  I hardly lifted my head to watch. On occasion I would get off my ass and climb from the boat just to get my blood moving in an attempt to stave off the cold. It was an increasingly nice day, but there was a chill in the air; especially for the semi-comatose. At times I would get a case of the shivers but didn’t know if it was due to the cold or the side affects of the shot. Damnit either way. As the day droned on my backside was killing me from having sat on it for so long without budging. At some point during the day, after initially ribbing me for being a wuss, I believe the Brothers Albacore actually began to take pity on me.

Unaccomplished Non-Angler.

Suffice it to say the day was long, and not just for the miserable non-angler in the back of the boat. After 9 hours on the water, neither Junior nor Large Albacore had been shown any love by the wild steelhead in the Bogachiel River. Had I been feeling better and able to fish I’m confident that there would have been 3 skunks dealt. But this was just Day One, and because we’re all three sunny optimists, it was agreed upon that at least Mother Nature had been kind to us; more typical Forks weather would have made my predicament a whole lot more miserable. Had that happened I would have complained incessantly, making the day miserable for my two angling companions. Yes, it could have been worse.

A nice day to be feeling like shit.

At this point the question on everyone’s minds is, “Hey, Unaccomplished Angler—how’d you feel the next day and did you guys catch any fish?”

The answer to the first question is, “Like crap.”

And the answer to the second question is, “No.”

After running the shuttle for the Albacores the next morning, I packed up and made the 4-hour journey home. It wasn’t until the next day that I felt better, and not until the 4th day that I was back 100%.  It was on that 4th day that I called my doctor’s office and spoke with the nurse practitioner. I told her how sick I’d been from the shot and her response suggested that that was very common.  What!? Very common?!  Had I been told that there was a likely chance of that I would have scheduled the tetanus shot for sometime AFTER my fishing trip.

When I get my bill from the doctor, I’m going to invoice them for the cost of my ill-fated trip. The invoice should come as a surprise, which seems like a fair trade to me.



  1. Howard Levett

    This is the highlight post of the year for me! Oh, not because you were sick. I’m sorry about that. But because I only know of one other person this could happen to.

    • Kirk Werner

      I respect that you derive such pleasure in my misery, Howard. It’s good to know you’re on my side 🙂

  2. Younger and Handsomer Tuna

    UA: At least you had an excuse for not catching any fish. Not sure what ours was except possibly the seal we saw way up river, but that bugger couldn’t have cleaned the entire river of fish.

    • Kirk Werner

      I think the only prudent thing to do is blame that damn seal. I mean, heck—with the ocean’s smorgasbord not that many miles away, that seal had no business being that far up the river other than to taunt us. Wish we’d had a rifle.

  3. Tim

    And thanks for the warning. I will never get any vaccinations before an expedition. Or maybe no vaccinations ever!

    • Kirk Werner

      I suppose actually coming down with a case of tetanus would have been even worse than what I experienced, but really—what would the chances of that really be?

  4. David G

    Never trust doctors or mechanics… Or Steelhead for that matter.

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