Thanksgiving

Posted on December 11, 2012

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All pictures by Mark Hoffman.

Out here on the West coast, I’m far from my NH home. It used to be that we would all go to Whistler over Thanksgiving, but that was when there used to be snow on Thanksgiving. For years, of course, I had my ex to hang out with and have many wonderful memories either of being with her family or going to the Willamette and wine tasting, just us and the dogs. Since I have been single, it seems I work non-stop and I have found great solace in taking my fly rod and going for for a day or two by myself while other people work so hard to be together.

And while “orphan Thanksgivings” are popular, lately I’ve taken to finding a little solace in these shortening days. A few years ago I went up to Vancouver Island and fished up and down both coasts like a madman looking for what may well be mythical sea-run browns. I remember at one point on that trip running full speed down the hundred-foot trunk of a fallen Douglas fir that was suspended at least 4 meters above a forest floor I couldn’t even see for undergrowth, and then rock hopping above an 80′ water fall so I could get to one more river before dark. As I reached shore I realized I had packed up and left the states without telling a single person, so I’d better watch my step because if anything happened they wouldn’t even know where to look.

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This 80′ fall goes into a gorge where it turns 90 degrees. And I found spawned out salmon on the top of it.

Another time on the Green River off of 410 by Crystal Mountain, I stepped into the woods to make some time down the trail, and ended up harvesting about a peck of chanterelles the size of my open hand. The latest I’ve ever seen them, especially so high up.

I will admit it, these trips have not yielded significant hauls of fish, or any fish in fact.  While I would never pretend that I’d rather not catch fish, I will admit that the quiet contemplation did not necessarily require them for these adventures to be complete.

This year I have only fished twice in Washington and twice in New Hampshire. Over Thanksgiving my friend Mark came over from the Olympic Peninsula, hopefully to fish a few mountain streams. But the rain that had held off for 50 days straight was here and it was here with a vengeance. These short, steep rivers can go from 10,000 CFS to 90,000 over night. In short time the rivers were blown, and  the beach was probably not much better. Likely  to be full of “salad” – small bits of seaweed in the water that foul your  line and fly on every cast.

I put a turkey breast on the smoker, hoping it would be done in 6 hours, but it was bitter cold and the banked fire went out in 4, so I got up an 1AM and tended it the night through. I slept for about an hour and got Mark up to hit the running tide.

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First we went to Karkeek park. We hit the eye of the storm and the slate blue sky turned butter yellow over the Olympics. It was like being inside of one of those “cleary” marbles I collected as a kid, over time completely clearing my collection of the opaque ones a marble at a time in recess games. Does anybody still play marbles? Anyway, I was kicking myself a little for not having my MF camera.

The water was flat as glass and from the bridge over the tracks we could see bottom for 50 yards out.  I was surprised by the number of people on the beach and none too happy about it. Turns out the biggest problem in Seattle is the back cast. The people here remind me of the lemurs in Life of Pi, standing around chittering while the tiger killed them by the simple expedient of trodding upon them. I don’t know what keeps these people alive but the kindness of strangers forever going out of their way not to hurt them. I remember when I first moved out here from college and one of my classmates said “I would love to ship this whole town to New York City for just one weekend and smarten them up.” Amen, brother.

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Besides, I don’t fish to be around people and with only an hour of sleep I was ready even to leave Mark behind as he dawdled along. Even though a darling of a sea-run jumped a cast away from Mark for over 30 minutes, I didn’t even bother going over and casting to his fish, I just wanted to leave. We pulled out and went up the creek a little bit so I could show him the chum salmon spawning the 6′ wide bed. Once, I told him, every rivulet in the sound had at least four, if not five species of salmon spawning in them, as well as two or three kinds of trout. Now you can’t even find a rivulet, and there are only fish in this creek because there is a hatchery. It’s a travesty when you think what we are doing to this paradise.

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Can you see the salmon? The ferns are pointing to it.

We went looking for the Holy Grail of Puget Sound – undiscovered, unfettered beach access. Something else you take for granted back East. My mom even fought a lawsuit over it in Rye when somebody tried to claim ownership of the beach, and used case law going back to King George. And I know I’ve used this line here before on this topic, but I ‘ll steal it back from myself anyway – the English one. Anyway, maybe it’s because the sound beaches are so protected that people see them as permanent, whereas anybody back East will tell you for sure that all beach property is temporary. Hurricane Sandy being a case in point. And just last year Hurricane Irene moved the whole river we were fishing 50′ to the left and 20’ down.

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Mark remembered a marina he once rented a boat out of to tow a grounded sailboat off a bar. We managed to find that marina and another, both north of the Edmunds ferry. In between was a lovely spit that looked like it might create a trout-collecting rip. We spent an hour oscillating back-and-forth, Mark lost in the bowels of his GPS and ignoring small things like the road signs, before we finally navigated to the park. It was a mile hike and a 400′ drop to it, so we were surprised to find people there too. However here there was no bridge over the tracks, just a tunnel under it, which doubled as a conduit for the tiny creek now in full flood. Only we with our waders were able to ford this and make the beach. This little creek also held chums, sitting in bare inches of milky water, and that in the middle of Lynnwood, traffic light capital of the world, and no hatchery on this steep little stream.

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With the lull in the weather, you would’ve thought we were the only people on the Sound. We cast a few flies, but it was mid-tide, the worst time, and I was getting a wee tuckered. We wrapped it up and headed home to have dinner with our friend Beth. No fish were caught, although it was a pleasure to see both salmon and trout, and be on a beach shared only with a good friend,even though it was somewhat grudgingly.

We talked of going to the Peninsula and fishing the next day, but Bob Triggs left me a message that even the beaches had gone to shit, and so we got up late and worked on Mark’s Howlin’ Wolf screen play. Which is what both Mark and I should be doing full time anyway, writing, but we can’t seem to lock into how easy it could be to do something you love and are good at. Look at me, I just typed 1200 words in less than 30 minutes and yet my novel is languishing right up there in the tabs at the top of the page you will never look at and I may never finish.

I guess we need more days like that, which makes me especially thankful  for the ones we have.

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