shooting fish in a barrel
A lifelong friend of mine is a rural land baron and holds title to several thousand acres in the backwoods of the southern Hood Canal region. My family has owned a cabin in this area since I was 3 years old, and when my brother and I were in high school and college we spent summers getting to know many of these acres when much of the land was used primarily to grow Christmas trees. The summer months marked the shearing season during which we would walk countless rows of cultivated Douglas, Grand and Noble Fir trees, armed with lightweight, razor-sharp shearing knives. It was our job to shape each tree with great care: Great care to not remove too much new growth; great care to properly cut the top of the tree to the correct bud; great care to hopefully avoid slicing a finger or other body part in the process. I was successful in all accounts
all most of the time.
In the 25-30 years since then market for Christmas trees has become saturated and there’s little money in that endeavor. Consequently nearly all of the land has been turned into timber property, the former Christmas trees now thinned and allowed to grow toward maturity. To visit most of the property nowadays paints a starkly different picture of the vast, formerly open fields of trees that were once 4-10 feet tall. The trees of my youth are now 40-60 feet in height and I suppose they wouldn’t recognize me, either, though not because I’m any taller. Those years provided good memories of long days spent toiling in the hot sun, running from enraged swarms of bald-faced hornets and developing forearms that would’ve made Popeye proud.
Since the demise of the Christmas tree market, one nugget of this former Christmas tree property has been turned into a recreational endeavor. It’s still working property, mind you—very much so in fact. In addition to ample timberland, several thousand Noble Firs are still maintained—no longer for harvest as Christmas trees, per se, but instead as trees for Christmas bows. Bear with me for a moment as this is where the English language gets confusing: “Bows” (as in the type of bow that rhymes with ‘now’)—not “bows” (the red ribbons that rhyme with ‘nose’).
But I digress. Amidst this beautiful, remote location there are also a series of ponds created many years ago as a means of providing entertainment for my friend and his family.
Natural ground springs in this very precipitous corner of the region make for a rather damp area so it took just a little bit of imagination (and an excavator) to create a series of ponds with a steady supply of cold water. Outflows from the ponds allow for water to flush when the heavy rains of the Pacific Northwest winters ensue. What was merely an experiment (and some down-time in a depressed timber market) decades ago has turned into a very healthy environment for rainbow and coastal cutthroat trout that were released into the ponds. Not only have the fish survived, they’ve thrived: There are nautrally reproducing fish from fingerlings to 3 ponders . A few native cutthroat also make their way naturally into the ponds via small waterways leading to a nearby river. It’s a really neat environment that was created over the past 20 or so years.
Certainly the water gets a bit warm during August, but my friend monitors the temperature and has found that the fish survive quite well, as evidenced by the big fish that can be seen hanging out at the mouth of the springs where they enjoy the cold water and ample natural food supply, chasing off the smaller fish. I’ve visited these ponds several times over the years, always hoping to hook up with one of the big players, or even a respectable 15 inch fish like Schpanky caught years ago. I’ve yet to do so.
It shouldn’t be so hard, right? After all, these fish don’t see any sort of regular fishing pressure. The public has no access to the property and only a handful of people ever fish here, and then only sporadically. And never with a fly line, expect for on a very rare occasion. I suppose I should point out that the fish in these ponds are welfare recipients: they do receive their regular rations of feed pellets. And during these feeding sessions the ponds erupt with fish. Knowing their favorite food, I reckon an angler could simply tie on a pellet imitation and it would be akin to shooting fish in a barrel. But
I’m a proper angler and would never stoop so low barring a pellet fly one tries other patterns in their fly box.
On Labor Day weekend I paid a visit to the ponds—my first visit in a couple of years. Enough time to heal old wounds, right? My buddy told me the fish hadn’t been fed in a couple days so they should be hungry—perhaps even careless, I assumed. Stupid, fat, greedy pond monkeys.
My kinda fish.
When I arrived it was clear that the neglected freeloaders had resorted to foraging for themselves as there were rise forms from one end of the pond to the other: Small fish eagerly leaping out of the water; mid-sized fish splashing raucously; big fish sipping softly as big fish are known to do. Small mayflies were hatching and the fish appeared to be picking off emergers.
Confident that there was no need to get all technical, I tied on a big, bushy hopper. There were hoppers in the grass surrounding the ponds, after all. My first cast yielded an 8 inch rainbow that shouldn’t have been able to get its mouth around the fly. A few more casts resulted in nothing. “OK,” I thought, “so you ingrates wanna play THAT game…” I tied on a size 18 Adams—again, no need to match the hatch exactly. Besides, the Adams is my confidence fly. Rather, it used to be my confidence fly. I was shunned by all but one 10 inch rainbow that made a hasty decision. During the course of a 2 hour period I switched flies and flanked the pond from nearly all sides, casting to different fish. The hatching mayflies were very light in color but even a size 18 PMD was merely nosed by several very respectable fish. None would take my offering. Various streamers including small black and olive woolly buggers were followed by curious fish from 8-18 inches, but none were willing to play. After a couple hours I called it quits. I had places to go and people to see, so broke my rod
over my knee down and packed my pride.
As I drove off I shook my head. Even I was more than a bit surprised at my angling unaccomplishments at the hands of these stupid, gullible pond monkeys.
Next time I go back to these ponds in the woods, I’ll be properly armed: